Wine tasting weekend in Piemonte, Italy by Rebecca Nightingale
Wine? Check. Italy? Check. Fab food? Check. A weekend away with Mr. O and our closest friends? Absolutely! I love our wine tasting weekends organised by Rebecca sooo much.. I had to ask her to write about our most recent one. When are we going back? Very soon, I hope! Enjoy! Mrs. O
We were delighted to be accompanied by Mr. & Mrs. O and friends, on one of our weekends away in the Langhe, in the wine region of Piedmont, probably best known for its wonderfully complex Barolo wines.
The Langhe hills are in a small basin at the foot of the Maritime Alps (Piedmont meaning ‘foot of mountain’), where we met for a gastronomic weekend visiting local Barolo and Barbera d’Alba producers to taste and learn about how they make their wines and sample the local cuisine. It was a tough gig, but someone had to do it! The region is famous for its hearty mountainous cuisine that goes so well with their full-bodied red wines and excellent lesser-known whites.
Friday Evening – Day One:
Our first dinner was at a local Enoteca (Vinoteca Centro Storico) in the Barolo commune of Serralunga d’Alba or, Alessio’s as it is also known. Famous locally for its food and wine list (Alessio also has a stunning Champagne list, but we were not here to taste Champagne!). Here we were greeted by Alessio himself and joined by winemaker Nicola Bianchi of Le Vigne di Cà Nova, a talented up and coming young producer based in Roddino, to taste some of his wines over dinner, all introduced by our generous hosts.
An aperitivo to start things off – we drank Rocche dei Manzoni’s, Brut Zero 2002, a superb vintage sparkling made in the classic method.
Le Vigne di Cà Nova’s Le Marne Chardonnay 2009 – a stunning example of an unoaked Langhe chardonnay, was lightly honeyed, fresh, fruity and floral complemented and enhanced by the fresh basil aromas permeating the air from Alessio’s wonderful antipasti, which was a deliciously light airy cross between a souffle and a flan infused with basil accompanied by perfectly seasoned local vegetables Sformato con basilico.
It is traditional in Piedmont to drink Barbera with the pasta course, so Nicola’s award winning Barbera d’Alba ‘Bric de Maschi’ 2007 with rich full black fruit on the nose combined with gentle spices, and a palate that’s smooth and elegant balancing rich dark fruit and acidity – superb (!) was the perfect accompaniment to the first delicious pasta course of our weekend Tajarin al Pomadoro, (home made by Alessio’s wife that morning) this simple pasta dish with tomatoes (Tajarin is a Piemontese variation on Tagiatelle, with finer ribbons of pasta).
Then the secondi, a rich local dish of Coniglio (rabbit) simply cooked with potatoes and vegetables and to accompany it Nicola’s Acclivio Pinot Noir 2008 - a lovely intense ruby red colour and on the nose there is the classic scent of rhubarb and red berries as well as hints of cinnamon and rosemary (an almost Burgundian Pinot Noir from Piemonte!) the palate was rounded and structured – simply sumptuous with an elegant and full rich red fruit finish!
And then first of our Barolo for the weekend, to go with the rabbit, and also to accompany the cheese course as is traditional in Piemonte.
Piemonte has a rich selection to choose from when it comes to cheese (Slow Food alternates with Cheese, every other year) with each town making its own – we had local cheeses – including a Toma and Castelmagno – from the region. Both Barolos were from Giacomo Brezza, a traditional producer with vineyards in Monforte d’Alba, made in the traditional style, so matured in old oak botti grandi for 3 years, then a year in bottle before release onto the market.
The first was a young Barolo from 2007 Brezza Barolo ‘Bricco Sarmassa’ from their cru Sarmassa vineyard, which although young had an elegance and soft tannins, with full rich red fruits – beautiful – then we moved on to the 2001 Brezza Barolo Castellero all red fruits, roses and hints of aniseed with a full rounded finish – drinking beautifully…
To finish off our feast a dolci – a rich creamy, yet light panacotta followed by a local digestif, or a grappa for the boys, and it was time for us to bid farewell to our generous hosts for the journey back to Brezza for a well earned rest – a perfect end to our first evening in the Langhe!
Saturday – Day Two in the Langhe:
Another stunning day greeted us in the Langhe and after a relaxing breakfast at Hotel Brezza we hit the bus again and back to Serralunga d’Alba to visit Schiavenza’s Cantina and Trattoria.
Walter (the winemaker) is making beautiful Barbera and Baroli in the traditional way, so no temperature control, traditional concrete vats and only using large oak botti from Slavonian oak to age their wines. They are a small family producer and make just 35,000 bottles per annum. We learnt first hand how they make and age their wines and the passion that lies behind every bottle, on our cantina tour and tasting, followed by a superb lunch in their trattoria.
Walter then led us through a tasting of six of his wines from his Barbera d’Alba 2008, to Barolo from his two-cru vineyards, Broglio and Prapo (2007 and 2006) from Serralunga d’Alba, this commune is known for its powerful structured Barolo. Our tasting culminated with his most recently released Barolo Broglio Riserva 2004 (only made in the best years).
Barolo Broglio Riserva 2004 – aged for 5 years in Slavonian oak and up to 2 in bottle. This classic vintage for Barolo with its “bloody lovely nose” (thank you, Miss O’Reilly!). Had a beautiful nose of red currants and hedgerow fruits mixed with cinnamon, which leads to an elegant and smooth rich palate of dried figs, cherries and subtle Indian spices – a structured and rounded Barolo with a long and elegant finish – stunning!
For lunch just a quick four courses…
Two beautiful antipasti – a fresh salad with chicken (a rare thing in the Langhe!) followed by risotto in deep-fried Zuccini flowers, accompanied by a 2010 Roero Arneis, a fresh fruity traditional varietal from Piemonte.
Schiavenza’s Barbera d’Alba 2008, with just a little oak ageing, an elegant Barbera with black cherries and spice on the nose the combination of fruit, spice and acidity complemented the primi perfectly – agnolotti with butter and sage, made that morning by our host Enrica.
Then, of course, a little dolci… this was gelato served with a chocolate torte, on the side, and Barolo Chinato from Schiavenza over the ice cream, (Chinato is a speciality local digestif made with the bark from the South American chincona tree, steeped in Barolo and each producer has their own secret recipe of herbs (passed down from generation to generation) that are used and guarded closely) – washed down with a glass of Chinato – just perfect!
A brief stop to admire the view over Serralunga d’Alba from the terrace, then a quick hop back on the bus to Brezza, for some relaxation before the evening’s activities.
Saturday evening – dinner and perhaps another glass of wine, or two!
In the evening we were back on our bus for a longer trip out to Serravalle, in the Alta Langhe, a long steep drive up through Roddino, but worth the wait – we went to simply the best restaurant in the region, Trattoria La Coccinella where we were in for a culinary treat. We were greeted by the three brothers who run the restaurant, Massimo, Alessandro and Tiziano and we were joined by Alfio Cavallotto from the famous Cavallotto estate in the commune of Castiglione Falletto.
For our aperitivo upon arrival we tasted the Rocche dei Manzoni, Brut Zero Rose 2005, a crisp dry vintage sparkling made in the traditional method. 85% Pinot Noir and 15% Chardonnay. A wonderful salmon pink colour and on the nose it has wild strawberries, citrus and orange zest with hints of toasted almonds on the palate and a wonderful creamy finish – also paired with the first of our antipasti which worked very well – Antipasti Crema di Pane e Pomodoro con Pescatrice e capesante – a soup with tomatoes, scallops and fish with a cheese amaretto – beautiful.
Our second antipasti was a roasted and stuffed cipolla, or onion, – unexpected and quite delicious!
Primi “Plin”di Coniglio al suo sugo d’Arrosto for the pasta we were served agnolotti, plin, meaning ‘a pinch’ a smaller version of ravioli stuffed with rabbit. To accompany this we were treated to Cavallotto’s Barbera d’Alba ‘Bricco Boschis Cuculo 2005 & 2006. Both superb expressions of this wine – rich dark fruit, floral notes and spice – smooth elegant and beautifully balanced wines – exhibiting the harmony between fruit, tannin acidity, rounded and elegant with a long full elegant finish. Stunning. The 2005 was drinking to perfection (I believe the cry from Mr O was “nice” – high praise indeed!) the 2006 superb, but another year needed as it was still a little closed.
Then time for our fourth course of the evening (and a little surreptitious belt loosening) for the Rolata di Capretto dell’ Alta Langa con Patate e Cipollotto goat sourced locally, cooked to perfection, served with potatoes and roasted onions and to accompany it a sublime Barolo:
Cavallotto’s 2004 Barolo Bricco Boschis Vigna San Giuseppe Riserva, en magnum. As Alfio explained this Barolo spends five years in wood and a minimum of a year in bottle before release – on the nose rich red fruit, dried flowers and more ethereal notes of tobacco and liquorice, as layers of ripe dark fruit blossom on the palate in this powerful expression of Barolo. Simply stunning!
I Nostri Dolci – a trio of desserts – ice cream, berries, chocolate to die for – enough to tempt even those (like me) without a sweet tooth…
Trattoria La Coccinella once again stunned us with food that would not have gone amiss in a Michelin starred restaurant and the evening was rounded off with local digestif – before a quiet trip home contemplating the gourmet extravaganza of the last 24 hours…
Sunday – less than 48 hours in and just time for one last lunch and tasting!
Time to relax and, for some, a chance to experience the historic town of Barolo and the museum… for others a gentle stroll and a caffé or two in the old town, enjoying the local scenery.
For our final lunch and tasting, not far to go this time, as it was with the Brezzas who own the excellent Hotel and Restaurant Brezza and Giacomo Brezza the winery where we stayed. We had a lovely relaxed lunch sat outside on the terrace overlooking Barolo, with Enzo and Charlotte Brezza – Charlotte told us about the history of the estate – established 1885 with the first bottling in 1910. Enzo’s father and Mama Brezza still both work every day in the winery and restaurant, respectively. Enzo Brezza is another producer who likes to make wine in the traditional way, so that it reveals the true flavour of the grape, the climate and the soil, or terroir, not of the cellar.
It wouldn’t be a trip to the Langhe without a few last courses and a quick tasting to round off the weekend…
Enzo let us taste Barolo from his two cru vineyards, Sarmassa and Cannubi. The 2005 Sarmassa was a rich silky terracotta in colour – full of rich fresh berry fruit, aniseed and balsam on the nose, leading to a rich, structured savoury palate with hints of tobacco and spice – 2005 was a more forward vintage so drinking beautifully already.
2004 Brezza Barolo Cannubi – 2004 was a classic vintage and this is also a classic Barolo. I was surprised just how much this wine had opened up since I last tasted it some months ago - this is a beast of a Barolo – with rich black fruits on the nose and a strong sweet scent of violets and sweet hay. The palate is very full with gentle unaggressive tannins, which give a perfect balance to the fruit and spice with a long and full finish – a perfect wine to end our trip to the Langhe!
Then after some sad farewells to our hosts, Enzo and Charlotte, and we were off once again through the breathtakingly beautiful Langhe hills, to Torino airport, and then home to London and the UK.
Having been lucky enough to visited the Langhe quite a few times now, each time I visit I’m filled anew with wonderment at the warmth of the people, the richness and contrasts of the heritage, food and the wines, which like the vines run deep into the heart of this beautiful region. All the producers, like their wines, have very different personalities and philosophies, but their passion for winemaking binds them together. As ever, it was very hard to leave and I look forward to seeing you all back in the Langhe again soon – “Bloody marvelous weekend” – to steal Miss O’s phrase!
About Monforte Wines:
Monforte Wines specialise solely in wines from the Langhe region of Piedmont. Their passion is for these wines and the region and they like nothing more than to be able to bring back these gems, exclusively, for their clients to enjoy. It is a small family business set up by Andrew Gillespie and run together with his niece, Rebecca Nightingale.
If reading this has whetted your appetite to find out more about the Langhe and taste the wines, sign up to the Monforte Wines Club newsletter to find out about producer visits, tastings and dinners.
Or if you would like to experience this for yourself and meet the producers on one of their gastronomic long weekends in the Langhe, a few upcoming trips include: