Up Up and Away …
It's our third day in Italy and once again we find ourselves back at Gianni Gagliardo’s winery - some of the press folks are starting to get upset, because they now believe they were brought here under "false pretenses" for a tour of Barolo (which they assumed would be different wineries) and instead find themselves time and again back at Gianni’s place. I, on the other hand, am experiencing being both Europe and Italy for the first time, so looking out over the countryside, albeit the same piece of countryside, is still as enthralling on day three as it was on day one … for the first time since we landed it has finally hit me, "I'm in Italy".
So today it's one of those days that everyone, including the complainers, has been waiting for – the helicopter tour of the Barolo region. First, Stefano gives us a bit of brief history about the area, he even turns the map on its side to give us a better understanding of the area (this way it actually sits North/South on the easel). He tells us of the three hills to look for, that show the recession of the sea in three stages – Serralunga, Barolo/Castiglione, and La Morra - which are oldest to youngest. According to Stefano the best growing area for Nebbiolo (the grape of Barolo) is between 200-300 meters above sea level, 50m in either direction can make all the difference in flavors. We are also told that the Nebbiolo grape does not "travel well" - meaning that it grows best in this region, the region of Barolo, and this region makes the best wines from it - a little hubris on his part, but what do you expect. Finally, we are told about the two regions of the area Langhe and Roero of which Langhe is the oldest and the more traditional grounds for Barolo production because the first families to make Barolo wine were in the town of Barolo, which is located in the Langhe region - makes sense to me.
Before we go helicoptering, and for those who don't know - the name Nebbiolo is derived from the word for fog (Nebbia) because Nebbiolo is harvested during the foggy season.
Helicopter rides lasted about ten minutes and they toured us around the above described regions. We saw little hamlets and towns, plenty of vineyards and some great castle-like buildings (see pictures to left - click to enlarge). Since there were about twenty of us, and we had to go in groups of three, there was a lot of downtime and waiting. We were served a white wine called ‘Fallegra’ as we waited. I found myself staring at a little gecko sunning himself on a wooden slat; everything was so peaceful and serene with a only the comings and goings of a helicopter to interrupt it.
A commotion behind me shook me from my reverie. One of the journalists on the trip named Tom, is making a scene - he didn't get the ‘special’ helicopter ride promised to him ... as a photojournalist he needed to have the front seat or at least the door open so he could snap “proper pictures” ... neither was done for him. He stomped around angrily, spoke in menacing tones to anyone who would listen, and even went as far as speaking in those same harsh tones to Stefano himself. This was a bad and embarrassing scene and went on for a good half hour. Many of us felt bad for the special events coordinator and press handler, as both women were put into an impossible to control situation. In truth, they had told him "we will see what we can do", which he took as the promise of "we'll do it ". Finally, the helicopter left because it was running out of fuel; Tom sulked and stewed and stomped about - and suddenly their was no doubt in your mind about why Europeans hate Americans. Tom demanded another helicopter ride, and was told, "we'll see what we can do." More on this situation on day 4.
With all the excitement and brouhaha finally under control, many were happy to get back the business at hand - tasting wine. We all sat down for a formal five wine tasting of the top wines of Gagliardo, including three Barolos. The clear winner of this tasting was the single vineyard 2004 Cannubi Barolo with its hefty 14.5 percent alcohol and full on flavor profile that kept you coming back to the glass for more. The nose was red berry, spicy and floral; while on the palate there was a delicacy and balance of fruit, wood, acidity and tannins. Red fruit dominated with sour cherry nuances, spices, vanillin … I could go on all day - suffice it to say this was the wine bottle I went back to to fill-up my glass ... when I think of the trip and the wines I tried, this is the one I’ll remember.
Lunch was another magnificent meal, chicken salad, pasta and a Sicilian Canoli.
Seminar instead of sleep ...
We say goodbye to our three days hosts; turns out we are finished with the Gagliardo family (though Stefano will be joining us for our final dinner). We are transported to the Consorzio Tutela Barolo Barbaresco Alba Langhe e Roero where we are seminared … one of those lectures you detested in high school – where the teacher reads the over head presentation; this was compounded even further because our host didn’t speak any English, so he spoke Italian and then the translator spoke English – but in essence read from the slides that were up on the screen. I speak little to no Italian but I could have done that job.
By the numbers ... points of interest before sleep kicked in :
- 1934 safeguards are set up to protect fine/typical Barolo and Barbaresco wines.
- 1947 area gets recognized as a DOC in Italian wine laws.
- 1980 area gets DOCG status.
- 1994 incorporate all wine denominations of Alba region, not just Barolo and Barbaresco.
- Piedmont makes 2,723,946 hecta-litres of wine (2007 numbers); only 447,593 is simple table wine … of that remaining wine approximately 86% is of DOC status and 14% is DOCG.
- The top five grapes of the area (in order): Barbera, Moscato, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Cortese.
- The Consorzio’s job is to make sure the wine laws of the region are enforced.
We then tried five wines that were labeless, except of the stamp of the Consorzio … these wines were to show the typicity of the wines made from the area grapes only – and not to show off individual producers.
The day ended with a fancy dinner at La Ciau del Tornavento and a tour of their vast cellar (see pictures) I’ll let the pictures write my thousand words of awe here.