Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Report from - Piedmont, Italy – Day 1 ... September 27, 2008

It all started at the Charton-Hobbs tasting and ended with me nursing a stuffed nose for two-plus weeks; but I would have to say it was well worth it …

Flying Air Italia at a time when the airline is close to bankruptcy is a scary proposition –the question of, “how the heck will I get home?” kept running through my head. But as someone pointed out to me, at least you'll be stuck in Italy. My road to get there was just as interesting as being there ... the call came in on a Monday to replace a last minute cancellation; I was up in the air 4-days later flying to Italy for my first European "vacation". Dinner on board consisted of a chicken breast and lasagna; breakfast was ham and cheese on egg bread with a danish; I loved the sweet red orange juice served at both meals. Final destination was Milan, which meant having to change planes in Rome. Walking through the airport to get to our connecting flight I noticed that the place looked more like a shopping mall. How surreal - this is an airport? My fellow traveler and wine-writer colleague Konrad Ejbich comments, "this is a civilized airport.”

We arrive in Milan a few minutes before noon (a few minutes earlier than expected), collect our bags and go to exit 4 to meet our ride. We wait, and wait, and wait … at 12:45 Enzo shows up making apologies, but alas he does not speak a lick of English. He leads us to two different levels of the parking garage and down four different aisles on each. Enzo, it would seem, has lost his car. He returns Konrad and I back to the arrivals “lounge” while the intrepid and somewhat inept Enzo goes off in search of his (and our) ride. By 1:15pm he returns for us; he has found his car and we are to follow him. He makes another wrong turn in the parking structure, but does eventually find his car. Enzo makes me very nervous - he drives way too slow, on a road that’s speed limit is set to 120km, Enzo does not break 80 … fatigue takes over and I fall asleep in the back seat, Konrad nods off in the front, neither of us can bear to watch the train wreck that is our greeter and driver.

3:15 PM we arrive in Alba, it's 15° and sunny. We have a little free time to grab some quick groceries (namely water) at a store that is recommended to us, just a few blocks away (La Famiglia). Here I found bottled water in a 1.5L size for .08-Euros ... I buy 6. Back to our accommodations to get ready for a 6:00pm dinner at La Morra and what should be a very busy few days.

Dinner in La Morra Vineyard ...

From the pictures you can see that dinner was actually held in the middle of the vineyard –we literally receive a candle-lit red carpet treatment leading up to where we would eventually eat dinner. At the back, a makeshift kitchen was also set up in the vineyard. Hosted by Gianni Gagliardo winery, who is represented at dinner by the winery’s namesake, and his son/winemaker Stefano, who took us through explanations of the various wines, vintages and the winery itself. I was lucky enough to be sitting at the table with Stefano so I caught many of his bon mots. We were served five wines with dinner, over the course of a few hours – and as the darkness of night drifted in around us the air took on a chill, which helped the wines, but not the people in attendance ... thankfully, and thoughtfully, the winery provided us all with long red polar fleece material scarves. The wines were part of the Batier line (pronounced "Bat-T-Eh" and meaning “Baptised” – wines for special occasions); made from the Nebbiolo grape. The 2006 was far too young for consumption and the 2004 was also still quite tight. The 2005 Batier was robust and powerful yet delicious, with black fruit, cherry and chocolate along with some cinnamon and spice thrown in for good measure. The oldest of the wines was the 2003, which was beginning to come around with dried cherries and herbs on the nose, great flavours of dried red fruit that was smooth and long lasting on the tongue. Dessert was a Moscato wine called “Villa M.” – which tasted like Moscato should and was delicious.

Some of Stefano’s quotes, thoughts and feelings:

On his winemaking style: "I am quite traditional in my approach, I like cork, I am afraid of our older vintages because of the cork, but our newer vintages have the highest quality corks we can find, so they're safe. "

About the Nebbiolo grape: "It is never banal, it brings complexity to the bottle of Barolo, which is one of the most delicate wines in the world, but if you respect Barolo you're in for a great experience, and by respect I mean the right glass, decanting and the right occasion, because above all Barolo is about experience and become …"

Explaining the falling mask logo of the winery: "Because as the night progresses people eat and drink, their mask-persona falls away ... it is my feeling that it is in that way that wine brings people together, they drop their mask."

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