We are picked up by bus and taken to Barbaresco for a tour of this popular area and to taste some of its wines. We meet in a de-sanctified church, which was turned into a wine shop and tourist information center back in 1986 – this could only happen in Italy where wine is a religion ... turns out the town had two churches and that's one too many for a town this size.
Points of interest about Barbaresco …
- There are four areas of Barbaresco (three municipalities and a southern area) –Barbaresco, Neive, Treiso and Saint Rocca.
- Soil Breakdown: Langhe – calcarus, hard clay soil, more compacted, wine produced here has more structure and aging potential. Roero - sandy soil, looser, produces younger, more delicate and soft wines.
- Vines are not cultivated on north side of hills because there's not enough sun.
- Minimum aging requirements: 26 months, calculated from the first of November.
- Grapes of Barbaresco: Dolcetto, Barbera, Moscato (but not in Barbaresco Village), Chardonnay, Arneis, Fraise, Favaritta and of course, Nebbiolo.
- Over the past 40 years there have been eleven 5-star vintages: 71, 78, 82, 89, 90, 96, 99, 01, 04, 06, 07. And there have been ten 4-star vintages: 74, 76, 85, 88, 95, 97, 98, 00, 03, 05.
We then hop a bus to tour the area, we make frequent stops along the way: Faset, Aisili, Martinenga, Rio Sardo, Treiso, Neive, St. Christoforo.
At the highest point in the region we stop to visit with Andrea Sattimano, who takes us on a brief tour around his property ... we climb up this little hill which Andrea tells us is not only the highest point in the area (from which you can see everything) but it is also one of the few internet hotspots in the region; along the way I stop and pluck a few of the plump ripe grapes off the vines … they are juicy and delicious. Andrea and his family have worked this land for generations so he knows the grapes and the wines of the region intimately. He tells us about the flavors in the wine by region (this, of course, is his rule of thumb): Nieve - licorice and balsamic; Barbaresco – fuller, more robust body, big red fruit; Treiso – austere, elegant, finesseful, spicy … he also says that the producer can make all the difference.
Lunch is at a local trattoria where we sample four different wines from the Barbaresco region along with some local foods. Dishes like the Vitella e Tunnato (thinly sliced veal dipped in tuna cheese paste); Tarajin suga di carne (the local pasta, tarajin, egg noodles made with up to 30 eggs per pound of flour) with veal bits, a chicken dish and Bonetta (a thick rich paste-like chocolate cake). The pasta (tarajin) was the most amazing dish - this restaurant makes their own and uses approximately 18 eggs per pound of flour, which makes the noodles very yellowy in color - so yellow in fact that when red tomato sauce is ladled on top and mixed in the concoction turns orange, the color of Kraft Dinner - but the taste is nothing like KD … I had two helpings (I didn't know about the chicken course - but then again you can have chicken anywhere).
After lunch it was the truffle hunt ... we’re too early in the season for truffles (season: September 15 to end of December) - the good truffles don’t emerge until the middle of October. But we meet a fellow that looks as old as parchment paper and has been a truffle hunter for as long as he can remember. In fact, the truffle hunt has been in his family for generations. I also meet two very nice truffle-hunting dogs, who are eager to please but find nothing on this day.
There are a few people with working cell phones on our expedition, and there is a buzz going around the group that the Gagliardo people are looking for Tom … when we return to our lodging there is also a message left for him at the front desk. Tom believes he will be getting his promised helicopter ride. An hour later, a big black car shows up and takes Tom away, just minutes before we are to leave for dinner. I mention this only because we do not see Tom at our final dinner at the Restorante Conti Roero which lasts over three-hours … someone said that Tom had to take an earlier flight (out of a helicopter I joke, nobody finds this funny - maybe I’m hitting a little too close to home ... this is Italy afterall).
Our three day host, Stefano Gagliardo, returns to have a final meal with us … two references are jokingly made about the Tom incident the day before - one early in the evening, one a few hours later . The first one Stefano does not find funny and fails to laugh at, he doesn’t even crack a smile while the rest of the table roars its approval; but the second one he laughs at uproariously – I noticed that a few whispers are pasted into his ear throughout the evening before the second remark is made – and one of the whispers illicits a wide smile and a nod proceeded by “good” ... this is Italy don’t forget.
Dinner is lovely, and culminates in a fantastic last course of pork cheeks that is melt in your mouth delicious. Five of us decide to skip dessert, as it is already late, and we have a two hour ride ahead of us back to Milan where we are flying out the next morning. Before we leave Stefano pours the showstopper wine of the evening, the 1982 Gianni Gagliardo La Serra Barolo - of which, it is admitted, there are only a few bottles left. The nose is dried: raisins, figs, other fruit, and leaves - while the palate is smooth, but also dried (fruit, cherries) with a hint of chocolate cherry liqueur. Two bottles were opened, one was poured for the left side of the table, the other for the right. I was left side table; supposedly the right side’s bottle was still on the fresh side (or fresher) with more jump to the fruit - that's one of the beauties of an old wine: bottle variation.
We say goodbye to our hosts with hearty handshakes and cheek kisses, five of us pile into a small bus (which seats 10) for the trip to Milan ... along the trip we open a local Moscato D’Asti and one of the gift bottles of 2004 Barolo we received from the house of Gagliardo. We do not have proper glassware so we end up sipping the wines out of plastic cups we liberated from the hotel bathroom - and while that may not sound like a very dignified way to end a trip through the Barolo region of Italy, I have absolutely no complaints about it. Wine is always about the people and the place (in other words, the circumstances you drink it under), sitting in that bus with three newfound friends and the guy that got me on that bus in the first place, it just felt right; I also remember that that young Barolo had some really good fruit.
Addendum: a few weeks after my return home I receive an e-mail from Tom ... it was a generic email about how good it was to meet me and about my “fine sense of humor” ... I am convinced it was a cover, if you had been privy to the scene Tom had caused and the demands he made – and generally the way he talked to people that day; I feel Tommy is at the bottom of the Tanaro River (the main river that cuts through the Piedmont region) swimming with the fishes, as they say … he disrespected the family and after all, it was Italy.