Bravura! (part 1)

‘Hallo Meester! did you av goot day?’ was the nightly reception greeting at the hosterlerie I was hauled up in for a week in lovely Monforte d’Alba, during the Langhe harvest-time 2022. It has taken me over 30 years to finally put my paws down on terra firma Barolo & Barbaresco. The latter needs a lot more of my attention in the very near future, as I am itching to get back to both ASAP, and continue discovering a lot more in this region. There is a small sign above the cellar door in the B&B Felicin that says ‘Life is too short to drink bad wine’. Yes, I know we all know where that came from, thanks Benny Diz.PM, but I suggested to the fellow behind the desk to change it to ‘Bad wine will only shorten your life’.

Now, I have read, I have sold, I have drunk and I have tasted many styles of Barolo & Barbaresco all my wine-life, and I have even purchased and studied that colourful MGA (Menzioni Geographice Aggiuntive) map and book from Alessandro Masnaghetti. Tar & Roses by Garner/Merrit and then Nick Belfrage MW RIP, Life Beyond Lambrusco were all staple reads back in the day. Between you and me, until I actually visited the place this September, to have a look-see and to do a little helpful harvesting, it was also an opportunity to wipe the Piedmont blackboard clean from my small vinous-brain, get my hands dirty and start all over again. Thank goodness I went. Piedmont, in vinous terms, makes Burgundy look like Bognor Regis on steroids. Complicated is not the word for the place, both geographically (Alba to Dogliani, Tortona to Gattinara) and with the attention to detail, soil and micro-climates, still very much the buzz word and of course have been for a while now. Like around 900 years. I just naively & rudely put Barolo & Barbaresco and all their great redness pretty much into the good and bad pool of simply North Italian Nebbiolo & Barbera. Probably with no thanks to the pitiful WSET tests we where all put through back in the early 1980s. No more than 9 or 10 pages of study on this huge and complex area. I am now enlightened, well just a little that is, at last. And it could even become a new healthy obsession of mine. I do hope so. These wines really all demand a certain amount of concentration to truly comprehend. There are 37 DOCGs with some growers having no more than 1 hectare under vine.

Rinaldi, Vietti, Clerico where just the openers. Then came Grasso, Conterno (awkward fellow) and Prunotto. Ratti, Pira and Brovia, followed by Einaudi. Voerzio and my two new discoveries Fogliati and finally Cascina Sot. A bit further north I saw Rizzi, Ratti and also tasted at Ceretto. Gaja welcomed me with open arms, as he only would, but it seemed silly to stay and taste, as on my return journey via London the following day, the Gaja team where on show at The Tower of London, thanks to Hatch & Co. where I got to taste the whole Gaja selection including magnums of 2004 & 2014 vintages, with only the view of a Beefeater and the river Thames as a distraction. Indeed a short respite before the long haul back to Sin City.

Not to forget or mention the local pours and tastings at Pasquale’s excellent vintoeca in Monforte, Vinoland! It is the only serious one in the town square, should you go and looksie and you will find it there. If Italian GPS and my Hertz upgraded spaceship had not been included in the week, none of this would have happened or ended well at all. Once I had gotten to grips with a car that starts with no key, has no handbrake and flies round sharp corners (there are many in Piedmont, thank goodness nobody was sitting in the back seat) and all whilst looking at both the GPS screen for the next turn-off and trying to keep an eye out on the massively beautiful landscape at the same time as actually trying to stay on the road. A little nerve racking to say the least and not to mention the hoards of German cyclists coming in the other direction and hogging the road like swarms of bees. I have to say that sometimes, Italian GPS does play up. On arriving at Turin airport on the first day, a little just before midnight & exhausted, and well after the Hertz lady explaining the various rituals needed to get this mowtarr going. I punched in the address of my B&B in Monforte d’Alba only to be delivered to a Q8 service station somewhere in downtown Turin. Thank god it was in the southern part of the city, but really if there was ever a case for fraudulent WiFi misgivings this could be one of them. Viva Meloni!

Gattinara was the last port of call, via Bra, to check in on a pre-SLOW festival at the end of a tremendous week. And of course a visit the Cucine Nervi, would not have gone down well with me if I had not made the effort. One of the best lunches I have had in decades. Now, you may think why head off in the Milano direction, at least and one hour and a half plus, off my path. Well, I do not need to to tell you that if I do go back next spring, this will be my first port of call. Nervi!

‘You must go by a way in which you know not. To come to the possession you have not you must go by a way in which you possess not. To come to be what & where you are.’ Hertz Van Hire GPS

There were too many unforgettable wines both tasted & drunk during the week. Here is just a handful of them for anyone interested in the theme:

2009 Prunotto Bussia
2016 Conterno Cascia Francia
2019 Vietti Lazzarito
2019 Vietti Brunate
2019 Dom Clerico Ciabot Mentin (aka Mentin’s vineyard tool-shed)
2018 Folgliatti Treturne
2018 Cascia Soti

2021 Vietti Roero Arneis
2021 Armirin Nascetta
2008 Oddone Daniele Timorasso*
2018 Vietti Timorasso*

At the Gaja (London) tasting, the 2019 Barbaresco was young and stunning. Sperss 2017 & 2014 in magnum stood out of course. Costa Russi 2017 was firm and fruitful, and my all time Gaja favourate, Damargi! and in this case the ‘what a pity’ 2015 vintage was quite outstanding.

Noted down on one of my pad, as I was in town, was to track down some of Conterno’s special wine glasses. ‘Sensory‘ was conceived in July 2017, after a discussion between the Conterno Giacomo winery and Zwiesel Kristallglas.

G.Conterno wanted to create a wine glass that fully enhances, he says, the characteristics of great wines. In the designing stage he focused on a shape that involves all the senses; thus the name Sensory was born. The glass expresses sensuality to the eye; it is perfectly balanced in the hand as well as producing a clear and lasting sound. The large base of the bowl together with the curve in the mid-section and the opening of the rim amplify the aromas generating a full and smooth effect on the palate.
I knocked on Conterno’s door to ask, and there was not a beaker in sight. They sold the lot back in 2018 and will not make anymore until end of Autumn 2022, if they get round to it that is. I managed to find some, however, closer to home and now have 36 glasses In stock! should you have interest. Lucky me eh!

If you are still with me dear reader, then you may have noticed a small mention of Timorasso*.

This is a totally new white wine/grape for me, and one that has been championed recently by Vietti and others to bring it back from extinction. It’s DOCG is Colli Tortonesi in the south east corner of Langhe. Styles range from young, full and complex with a touch of tropicality about it. To a darker, more oxidated, dry-honied and natural wine feel about it. I like both a lot, maybe the latter is more of a sipper, thoughtful, wine. If you see Derthona on the label of a Timorasso, it is the traditional name of the grape. A lovely suprise! and something else to look forward to going back to Langhe to drink again.