The weather in Piedmont has been sublime since our arrival. Evidently it was a poor Summer with lots of rain and little sun, but nevertheless the winemakers in Barolo think 2014 will be a very good vintage with ripe grapes with optimal weather during harvest, which is almost completed.
The Barbaresco producers were not as optimistic although the best vineyard sites had grapes in very good condition. Our first visit was to my friends at Produttori di Barbaresco in the center of the village. This is a cooperative that is arguably the best in the world. They have 51 producers with 30% of the top sites in the DOCG of Barbaresco.They owe their success to the village priest who charismatically unified the grape growers and kept their momentum during challenging times. They are credited with establishing the best vineyard sites in Barbaresco, creating the term ‘cru’ which is still used today.
Our host was Luca Cravanzola, who is also one of the cooperative winery members. He gave us a wonderful tour, and tasting. The Produttori consistently win 3 Bicchieri awards and they have undoubedtly the best value/quality ratio of all Barbaresco producers. Luca treated us to the following wines: Langhe Nebbiolo 2013 which spent 6 months in barrel and bottle. This wine is made from young vines in top vineyard sites and will one day be bottled as a top Barbaresco; Barbaresco 2010 (there were no single vineyard bottlings this vintage because of the quality); Barbaresco 2009, an outstanding vintage; and the Barbaresco 2009 Ovello, a cru wine which spent 3 years in barrel and 1 year in bottle. This wine showed very well, redolent of roses and violets but will benefit from 8/9 years of aging. Good news for us:Produttori wines are widely available in the States.
Our lunch was at the delightful Rabaya, in the heart of Barbaesco down the road from Angelo Gaia’s home.
Our menu: vitello fassone cotto e crudo; sformato di peperoni con crema di bagna cauda; risotto alla toma e noci; tajarin al ragù di salsiccia di Bra; tenera di vitello al Barbaresco con contorni; dolce; accompanied by Arneis, Dolcetto d’Alba and Barbaresco cru Muncagota 2008
We finished the day with a short ride to Tenute Cisa Asinari dei Marchesi di Gresy. Gresy is one of the larger Barbaresco producers and we were surprised to learn that the owner was also having lunch at Rabaya. We were honored to have the winemaker as our guide. Jeff Chilcott is a native of New Zealand who has lived in Piedmont for 25 years. He was very interesting and treated us to a personal tour and tasting: a unique Sauvignon Blanc that they’ve made since 1992 with aging on the lees and batonnage; Dolcetto Monte Aribaldo 2012; Barbera d’Asti 2009 Monte Colombo; Camp Gros cru Martinenga 2008; and the truly outstanding Camp Gros cru Martinenga 2005.
Day 4 Saturday was another beautiful day, although it started with a drizzle. Today was “truffle” day: we started at one of my favorite places, Tartuflanghe, which processes truffles into products such as pasta, or resells them directly to buyers throughout the world. It was started by Beppe who has traveled throughout the world as a chef and for a period of time, had a 1 star Michelin restaurant in Alba which he sold to start Tartuflanghe. We had a tour of the immaculate premises and had to wear these protective smocks which made us all look ridiculous.
Then we all embarked on a truffle hunt with a trifolai with 2 trained truffle dogs. Truffle hunters are very secretive and protective of these sites and it is mostly a black market with some truffle owners earning upwards of $50,000 euros. The current cost-which fluctuates from day to day depending on the harvest- is 3,000 euros a kilo which is about $2000/ pound. We ended our visit with a tasting of their products and many people bought ‘souvenirs.’
Lunch was at La Contea in Neive, our 3rd visit and always special.
Our menu: cardi and topinambour vegetable pie with fonduta and white truffles; tajarin homemade noodles with white truffles; Piedmontese guinea fowl with vegetables; semifreddo with torrone accompanied by Roero Arneis 2013, Barbaresco Serragrilli 2011 and Moscato d’Asti Scricciolo 2013.
Note: each dish with white truffles cost an extra $30/person!
We then drove a short distance to our last visit at Cascina Principe, also in Neive with an idyllic location overlooking the gentle Barbaresco hills. Stefano Vacca was our host at this small 50,000 bottle winery which dates to the 1600’s. After a tour of the facilities, we tackled the main feature of the visit: a blind tasting of 6 wines, served in 3 pairs. The first pair was a nebbiolo and barbera which were relatively easy to identify, as was the 2nd pair: dolcetto and a barrique Barbera. What was really challenging was the 3rd pair: Barbaresco vs Barolo. Only 2 people guessed all 6 correctly- and I wasn’t one. This exercise was a good practice for our grand finale tomorrow night: a blind tasting at our hotel where we will have to identify 4 wines: Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo and either a Barolo or Barbaresco. Stay tuned for the results.
We arrived a bit late