Inside the Winery and Gallery of Michele Chiarlo

Victor Rallo and Anthony “The Professor” Verdoni visit the art gallery and new cellars of Michele Chiarlo. The blend of the old soul and tradition of Chiarlo wine and the new, state of the art modern facilities make Chiarlo winery distinctly unique.

A Tasting with Michele Chiarlo

Report from the Piemonte – 2010

by Glenn Marcin

I’ve put together this little synopsis of my most recent trip to the Piemonte at the request of friends and acquaintances whose hope it is to someday travel to this magical land of wine and food. I hope that it also serves to help one better understand the “magic” and “heartbreak” of Barolo, the King of Wines and the Wine of Kings!

I set out on my third trip to the Piemonte region of Italy in mid October 2010. Accompanying me was my good friend Dave. Dave keeps a well stocked temperature controlled wine cellar that possesses some of the best wines in the world. Dave’s generosity with his wines has enabled me to not only enjoy some of the world’s best but to broadly expand my knowledge of wine across many areas. He’s helped to move me away from what others call “the Parkerization of wines.” The term refers to the highly extracted, high alcohol, terroir lacking, homogenization of the wine industry for which Robert Parker gets a good share of the blame. Dave’s broad knowledge of wine and food would greatly add to our trip.

On two prior trips to the Langhe (which literally means “tongues”), I drank many wines but most were in the sub $50 price range. Many of these wines left me disappointed. On this trip, I would arrange private visits to a number of family cantinas, including those of some of the legends of Barolo such as Elio Grasso, Elio Altare, and Aldo Conterno. Our goal was to taste some of the best wines that the region had to offer and of course to indulge in the wonderful cuisine of this timeless and often neglected land. But more on that later. Exploring the Langhe in mid-October also afforded us the opportunity to be there during grape harvest time and to attend the Fiera Internazionale del Tartufo Bianco d’Alba, or the international white truffle festival as it is more widely known. It takes place each year in the town of Alba from mid October to the 2nd week in November. It is a foodie’s dream as there is a truffle market and endless booths containing the indigenous cheeses, meats and foods of the region. For 2 Euros, you can enter the market and enjoy samples of most of the food products for free and buy wine by the glass for reasonable prices. You can also purchase a plate of the tajarin (the local pasta) with white truffles or you can buy the truffle yourself from the market and shave it over your own plate of buttered tajarin. Either way, it’s “All Good”.

The Langhe (pronounced with a hard “g”) is a hilly area that sits just south and east of the Tanaro river in the Piemonte region. It’s about and hour and half’s drive from Milan. It includes both the Barolo and Barbaresco DOCG’s (a DOCG is an Italian govt. assurance that the quality and origin are guaranteed). These areas lie next to each other with the town of Alba conveniently sandwiched in between. Both areas are quite small in total square miles which partly accounts for the high prices of these wines. The average vineyard in the region in quite small clocking in at 5 acres. The implications of this are not unimportant. The Barbaresco zone is less than half the size of the Barolo zone and includes the three villages of Barbaresco, Neive, and Treiso. The most important villages in the Barolo zone are La Morra, Barolo, Monforte d’Alba, Castiglione Falletto, and Serralunga. But for Barolo, all of these villages sit atop small hills within the area.

A visit to the Langhe requires that you rent a car as you will be driving from place to place. When I am in the Langhe, I can’t help but feel that I am in the “land that time forgot” as the austere beauty of the land coupled with the traditional family values of the region render it quite different from the commercial, corporate driven atmospheres of say Napa or Tuscany. The tourist goes to Tuscany and drinks wines that come predominantly from the sangiovese grape and eats over-hyped cuisine. The gastronome heads to the Piemonte to drink Barolo, the “king of wines and the wine of kings” and to indulge in the white truffle, period. The Langhe is a land devoid of tour buses. To enjoy this region, it takes some effort and careful planning hence it is not for everyone. Ok, that sounds a little snobby, but I believe it to be true………In the Langhe, you will not find the winemakers driving around in Ferrari’s. They would be embarrassed as “old school modesty and family values” are still the rule of thumb.

The Barolo Wars:

I won’t recount the entire history of the “Barolo Wars” that took place between the late 70’s and mid 1990’s other than to say that it was a time when traditional “old school” winemaking styles came up against modern techniques and processes. The traditionalists tended to use room size Slovenian oak barrels called bottes. They relied more or less on nature to make their wine which is to say that they used natural yeasts to start fermentation and did not believe in controlling the temperature of the must during fermentation. Traditionalists also believed in achieving maximum yields from the vineyard, something that would prove problematic down the line.

Elio Altare, Angelo Gaja and others brought modern wine making techniques to bear on the region. The modernists use the traditional French barrique which typically holds 1/50 the volume of a botte. The French barrique imparts sweet tannins and vanillin’s to the wine and the typical barrel has a life expectancy of three years with year one being by far the most important. The large bottes are sometimes used for up to 30 years and must be scraped of tartrates from time to time. Each barrique costs about $1000 which drastically increases the cost of the winemaking process thereby changing the operating model of the vineyard. The switch from botte to barrique is therefore a big decision and not one without consequences.

Modernists believe in selecting their yeasts and in using temperature controlled stainless steel fermentation tanks. Modernists believe that lower fermentation temperatures lead to a better nose on the wine and a more sophisticated flavor structure. Just as not all wild yeasts make good bread, not all wild yeasts make good wine…..makes sense, right? The point here is that the type of yeast used, will have a bearing on the taste of the wine. Traditionalists believe in letting fermentation start naturally based on the wild yeasts in the air and the yeasts that reside on the outside of the grape skins themselves. There are other differences between modernists and traditionalists including how the cap is handled. Today modernists often employ horizontal rotating fermenters to ensure that the cap is gently but controllably mixed into the must.

Another distinction between traditionalists and modernists is that modernists tend to make fruit forward, aromatic wines that are more readily approachable than those of the traditionalists, whose wines may take 10 to 20 years to age properly. Having just turned 50, I have to seriously consider any wine that’s going to take 10 to 20 years to age or be very optimistic…….

Finally, the modernists brought one more excruciating change to the table, the utilization of green harvesting. Green harvesting is when winemakers prune fruit from their vines typically during veraison, a time when the grapes start to change from green to purple. Producers such as Gaja, Conterno, and others may reduce their crops by as much as 60% (cutting the grape bunches and just letting them drop to the ground) which means they reduce the quantity of wine they can produce by the same amount. This is one more reason why the wines of these producers are so expensive. It is also the singular reason that their wines are so good. In fact, Giacomo Conterno told us that for a recent crop of Barolo grapes, their yield from the vineyard was at 40% of an already tight DOCG standard. It’s almost hard to fathom. I have often heard that great wines are made in the vineyard and I am now convinced that this is indeed the case provided that you start with a reasonably good vineyard location. Barolo is a microcosm that proves this out as typically 3 to 6 vintners may have small plots within the same vineyard and amazingly the disparity amongst the wines is huge…… the end of the day, it’s how they tend the vines. Once the grapes make it to the cantina, the rest is more or less easy…….

So imagine that you are a traditional winemaker in La Morra and you wake up one morning to find your son back from a trip to Burgundy and he says, “Dad, we have to replace the 30 year old room size bottes with French oak barriques that we will have to replace every 3 years and that we need to send the workers out into the vineyard to cut 60% of a perfectly good crop and let the grapes fall to the ground and rot.” Well, if you were that father, you might just consider disinheriting your son and that’s just what happened to Elio Alare (the son) who is considered the father of the modernists. One day while his father was away, Elio went out and bought a chain saw and cut the Bottes in half rendering them useless. His father disinherited him leaving the vineyard to his sister. It took him until 1997 to completely buy it back from her. Today, Elio makes some of the best and most interesting wines in the region. We were able to meet him in his cellar while making wine. He had me climb to the top of one of the fermentation tanks and stick my fingers in to taste the must. When I got to the top and looked into the tank, it was bubbling like a little volcano as fermentation is a rigorous chemical reaction. It was all pretty cool and meeting him was one of the highlights of the trip.

The traditionalists make one more point about modern techniques that is worth mentioning. Namely, they contend that the use of French oak, selected yeasts, and temperature controlled fermentation, takes away from the wine the characteristic of “terroir” or the “sense of place.” Indeed they make a strong argument that modernist techniques result in the worldwide homogenization of wine. In essence, it takes away the uniqueness that a geographical area brings to the table. Needless to say, each will have his own opinion on this subject, but open a bottle of say a Domenico Clerico Pajan Barolo and you will instantly understand what I mean. It is a beautiful, easily approachable, new world style wine that is readily enjoyable but somehow lacks a sense of terroir. Was it made in Mondforte d’Alba or was it made in California?

Today, the Barolo Wars are long over and most winemakers utilize modern techniques to some degree. The result; higher quality wines across the entire region.

The Varietals:

Nebbiolo – from the piedmontese word nebbia which means fog. It is the grape varietal used to make Barolo and Barbaresco. It is a high acid, high tannin grape. It is usually the last varietal to ripen and thus the last to be harvested. It is very difficult to make great wine from this grape. Because of the high tannins, most of these wines need significant aging. Typically the Barbaresco’s are somewhat softer and more approachable then the Barolo’s but I think this is a poor rule of thumb. For instance, the Moccagatta Barbaresco’s were amongst the most tannic wines to ever fill my mouth. Their tannins were literally mouth numbing. Declassified nebbiolo grapes are also used to make Langhe Nebbiolo. I came to the conclusion that the Langhe Nebbiolos are just that; inferior wines made from inferior grapes and are best avoided. In fact, many Langhe Nebbiolos are not even oaked……need I say more?

Barbera – red, high acid, and low tannins. It is usually aged in oak after fermentation and drunk young but some winemakers’ efforts are capable of 4 to 8 years of aging. I’ve never been a big fan of the wines made from this grape, but I have found that they pair particularly well with many foods, particularly rich foods.

Dolcetto – red, low acid, higher tannins. Red wine that is usually consumed within several years of release. I found these wines to be fruity, light, and not particularly interesting. That said, there are exceptions. Some of the best come from the nearby commune of Dogliani. We enjoyed a bottle of the Chionetti 2008 with our lunch at Trattoria Antica Torre in Barbaresco. And while some of these wines can be overly simple and light, the Chionetti had a beautiful nose and underpinning of fruit. I think we were both surprised.

Moscato – used to produce the low alcohol dessert wine Moscato d’Asti. This is a delicious grape. If you ever have the chance to eat some, don’t pass it up. Grown mainly in the Asti District and to the southeast.

To sum it up, you are in the Langhe to drink great Barbarescos and Barolos. The vineyard workers are served the Dolcetto and Barberas when they come in from the fields for lunch………..but to each his own! Prego!

Drinking wines in the region:

There are basically two great ways to drink the wines of the Langhe. First, indulge in a bottle at lunch and dinner. Second, set up private tastings at the various cantinas (wineries). You can also go to a number of regional enotecas where you can sample local wines and purchase them. Unfortunately, these enotecas typically sample cheap, inferior wines and that is not why you spend a small fortune to come to the Langhe. Therefore, pick up the phone and set up visits with the cantinas of your choice at least two weeks before you go. You will most likely be able to make appointments with all but the very high end producers. For instance, forget about seeing Angelo Gaja and Bruno Giacosa, as they will not be sampling their $500 wines. The good news is that there are about 700 other producers that you can potentially call, many of whom make great wines and will be happy to meet with you. And remember, this is not Napa. You will most likely be walking up to their home and banging on the door where a family member will most likely greet you.

I was very surprised with the ease with which I was able to set up the private tastings. I was even more surprised, even bowled over by the generosity of the many cantinas that we visited. We never paid for a tasting nor were we pressured to buy wine at the end of the tasting (although we did so on several occasions). Make sure you do your homework before you go and bring printouts of the various producers’ wines. If you go into a tasting with a little knowledge or better, you will be treated differently than the average person just looking for a tasting. Bring a notebook and take copious tasting notes. This will indicate to your host that you are serious. Finally, make sure that you spit out most of the wines you taste in the buckets provided (especially the Barbera’s and Dolcetto’s). If you insist on swallowing everything you drink, your taste buds will quickly become numb and you will be inebriated. This will essentially defeat the purpose of the tasting and make you a hazard on roads that are at best, difficult to drive sober. And needless to say, be on time.

What we found:

First the good news; we found and drank many wonderful wines and gained a new appreciation for Barolo’s and Barbaresco’s. The bad news is that there is a huge dichotomy between low end wines and high end wines. To purchase a very good Barolo, you will be paying in the neighborhood of $100. Contrast this with the purchase of a good California cabernet which might cost you $40. At the low end, The Barolo’s and Barbaresco’s that we tasted were uninteresting and simple. At the high end, we began to understand why Barolo is the “king of wines and the wine of kings.” The higher end wines had sophisticated beautiful noses, and layers of complicated flavors. Interestingly, at the high end, it did not matter whether we were drinking wines of a modernist or traditionalist and as I have already articulated, most producers do employ some modern techniques in their winemaking.

The Ghost in the Bottle:

One more subject needs to be broached while on the subject of Barolo, namely its proclivity to fade away or disappear at any time once the bottle is opened. It’s not widely discussed in the literature but it has happened to me a number of times and I have found others who have experienced this on various wine blogs. Somewhat unique to this wine, the taste can quickly fade or disappear at any time. This makes it particularly hard to determine how long to decant. You might expect this from an older wine but it happened to us with the 2006 Domenico Clerico Pejun about 20 minutes into drinking it. It does not matter if the bottle is cheap or expensive, old or new……….. it happens! I really haven’t figured out how to handicap this unique trait of Barolo……..drinking quickly is perhaps one solution. Ok, enough said.

The Tastings:

First, a disclaimer; I am not what one would consider a “good taster.” Even after years of tasting wines, I still can’t describe them as well as I’d like to. I can tell you what I like and why but the little nuances often escape me. Such is life!

Giuseppe Cortese – Barbaresco

This was our first tasting and it would foreshadow the ones to come in terms of having a private intimate tasting with the vintner or a family member whose generosity knew no bounds. Cortese is known for making beautiful, elegant Barbarescos and we would not be disappointed. Tizianna was our knowledgeable host and she pulled out all the stops, opening bottle after bottle of wine.

2009 Chardonnay – good minerality, peaches, nectarines, nice acid. Should age well
2009 Dolcetto D’Alba Trifolera – ripe, no oak, big tannins, fruity
2008 Barbera D’Alba – made with 30% new oak, drinkable but uninteresting
2008 Barbera D’Alba Morassina- a step up in the Barbera category. Comes from 30 year
old vines. Very spicy, black cherry, firm tannins, robust acid. A nice
effort all around
2006 Barbaresco Rabaja – strong solid tannins, beautiful fruit, well balanced, raisins,
chocolate, tobacco, smooth from mid-palette to finish. In short, delicious.
2005 Barbaresco Rabaja – huge firm tannins, great fruit, but preferred the 2006 over the
2005 effort
2003 Barbaresco Rabaja – nice round fruit, softer tannins, cherry, tobacco, tar, drinking
well now but could still age for years
2000 Barbaresco Rabaja – fabulous nose, soft tannins, aged well in botte, will age for up
to 15 years. Spicy, almond, leather, earthy, GREAT!
2001 Reserve Barbaresco Rabaja – very soft/smooth tannins, lovely fruit. A great wine
but not as good as the 2006 is going to be………
2004 Barbaresco Rabaja – good but a little on the sour side (too much acid), very strong
tannins. 2004 was a great year but I was a bit disappointed overall
with this wine
Barolo Chinato – made apparently just for the family and by few producers in the
Region. I asked her about it and out popped a bottle. It’s a digestive with a unique taste made from Barolo and the bark from the cinchona tree along with a variety of other spices and herbs. It has a medicinal taste but locals swear by it.

Moccagatta – Barbaresco producer known for making powerful age worthy

2009 Dolcetto – very firm tannins, poor fruit, not very interesting. Probably would not
buy this
2009 Barbera – 6 months in 100% old oak, very nice fruit, dark berries, one of the most
tannic barbera’s I have had to date. Age worthy
2001 Barbaresco Basirin – from the vines around Neive, this wine had a great nose and
is made from 50% new oak barriques. It was somewhat light on
fruit and possessed huge mouth numbing tannins. Spicy
2001 Barbaresco Bric Balin – very spicy with excellent fruit and firm tannins that had
begun to soften. Almonds, cherries, chocolate/tobacco. They use selected yeasts with this one (BRL 97 if
I’m not mistaken)
Grappa well made but I just could not fully appreciate it at this point after
Tasting so many wines.

Marchesi di Gresy -Barbaresco producer who employs both modernist and traditional methods.

2009 Dolcetto – very tannic and not particularly interesting
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo – made from declassified grapes and unoaked. Remember what
I said about Langhe Nebbiolos …..namely avoid them at all cost.
2008 Barbera D’Asti –very little oak, hence very light on the tannins. Overall I thought
this was a poor effort
2006 Barbera D’Asti Monte Columbo – spent 30 months in oak. Firm but smooth
tannins and a nice fruit structure. Very drinkable
2007 Barbaresco Martinenga – French barriques for 6 months with 30% new oak, 5000
liter bottes for fourteen months, very nice wine, balanced, good fruit, high alcohol
2004 Barbaresco Gaiun – again, a very nice wine, very floral, drinking very well, 20
months in French oak
2004 Barbaresco Camp Gros – 24 months in French Oak. Nice nose, very floral, softer
1998 Barbaresco Gaiun – aged to perfection, soft tannins giving way to beautiful fruit

Aldo Conterno – Monforte D’Alba. We pulled up to the huge iron gates of the Conterno compound which sits on a beautiful ridgeline known as the “Bussia” and nervously rang the bell. Little did we know, that behind these gates sat the treasures of the Langhe that we had come to seek. This would be a fabulous tasting hosted by Aldo’s son. Known as the Lion of the Langhe, Aldo is a legend (see the November 2010 issue of Wine Spectator). Today he leaves the winemaking to his three sons while he plays cards in nearby Monforte d’Alba. His son Giacomo, handled the tasting and you could tell that he had done this before as he was animated and passionate with regards to every small detail. We sat down in a beautiful tasting room, and all of the reasons that we came to the Langhe began to unfold on our palettes. It was a special tasting. As I write this, I want to go back and drink this family’s wines. They were all unique and wonderful. As I left the tasting and looked up at the small plot of chardonnay on Romirasco hill, I had to wonder how they had done it.

2007 Bussiador Langhe – a chardonnay that comes from 30 year old vines situated on top of the Romirasco vineyard. The wine spends about 14 months in new oak. Great minerality and a good acidity that will certainly make this wine age worthy. 14% alcohol. It drank great right out of the bottle and we knew it was special as soon as it hit our noses. It proceeded to open up over the next hour (as it warmed up and had time to breath a little) developing complex flavors that overlayed the softness of the malo. Honey, pear, nectarines but no citrus. It was just a great wine. Not too buttery. Not too anything in fact. I thought that this was the sleeper wine of our trip and go figure, it was a chardonnay. They don’t make much of this and even less makes it to the United States, but we’ve already found our supplier……..I can’t wait to drink this again.

2007 Conca Tre Pile Barbera – 12 months in new oak barriques, great mouth feel and not as tannic as I expected. A great food wine. Clocks in at 15.5% alcohol. My favorite Barbera up to this point. Had I tasted it blind, I doubt I would have recognized it as a Barbera. It could almost change my mind about this grape.

2007 Barolo Bussia Colonnello – I had always read reviews of high end Barolos that described the smell and taste of truffles. I always thought that was total nonsense. But here it was on the nose and it brought a big smile to my face. There was clearly a great underlying structure and body to this wine. This wine had a great nose (rose, truffle) but was built on very firm tannins. It was mouth numbing and would need at least another 10 years to soften. But I did not have 10 years to sit there and wait so on to the next wine………..

2006 Barolo Bussia Cicala – a less pronounced bouquet than the Colonnello but filled with the scent of truffles and other earthy scents. The fruit was beautiful, rounded, and forward. Tar, cherry, tobacco, truffle, red berries…….a fabulous Barolo!

2006 Barolo Bussia Romirasco – only 4800 bottles. “Takes all the space in your mouth whether you like it or not.” A huge effort! Great nose, truffles again (I started to wonder if they were throwing them in the fermenter). The fruit was forward with pronounced spice and cherries. Very firm tannins but I still could have drunk this all day. Yes, it was that good!

By the way, all of the barolos were aged in big slovonian oak barrels (28 to 30 months) which by now you know as “bottes.”

Paolo Scavino – Located in Castiglione Falletto (is this a great name or what?), this estate is basically managed by Enrico’s (just saw his 60th harvest) two daughters, Enrica and Elisa. Our tasting was conducted by Weston Hoard, and American who is “close friends” with one of the daughters. Is that a good way to put it Weston? Lol!

2006 Barolo Bricco Ambrogio – this wine comes from Roddi. Great nose of rose and red fruit but when we tasted it, the fruit was really just so-so, especially on the finish. A very tannic wine even for a Barolo.

2005 Barolo Bric Del Fiasc – This wine was much more approachable with a nice nose to start. It was smooth from start to finish with great fruit, I was thinking cherries, red berries, a nice mouth feel maybe from the glycerins

1999 Barolo Carobric – from a classic vintage, the nose was earthy with truffles and more truffles…….it’s a blend from 3 vineyards including one of my favorites, Cannubi. This is a really nice wine and had softened nicely over the years leaving one to enjoy the great fruit and aromatics. Cherry, chocolate, truffles, earthy

2000 Barolo Carobric – Similar to the 1999 that we had just tasted. Again, truffles on the nose with a backbone of great fruit. Cherry, tobacco, chocolate…..and soft tannins

Elio Grasso – This was a fabulous tasting hosted by Elio’s wife Marina. It’s a beautiful estate on the side of a hill in Monforte d’Alba and quite a drive to get to……We tasted upstairs with Marina before going downstairs to spend time with Elio and Gianluca (son) who were busy bringing in the grapes. What a nice family. We were treated really special here and won’t forget it for a long time. Go to their website and take a look at the residence. The bottom level is where the cantina is located and gives way to a monstrous u-shaped cavern that runs far back into the hill. We were pretty impressed.

2009 Chardonnay Educato – from a small vineyard of only 1.3 hectares. This wine had good acidity and a complex minerality. I thought it was well balanced but a little less complex and lighter than the Conterno Bussiador. The vines here are still young (10 years), so I look forward to drinking this again somewhere down the road.

2000 Barbera d’Alba Vigna Martina – 15 months in French oak, 50% of which is new, it had a light nose, great legs, and was relatively pleasant to drink.

2006 Barolo Vigna Gavarini Chiniera – from a 3 hectare vineyard, aged in 25 hectolitre oak bottes. This wine had a nice earthy nose and delicious fruit. Very smooth wine from start to finish. A really nice Barolo

2006 Barolo Ginestra Vigna Casa Mate – Again from a small 3 hectare vineyard. This wine had a smaller bouguet than the chiniera and was a little more closed and tannic. Still, a really nice Barolo that would soften up with time. Slovenian oak bottes.

2004 Barolo Runcot reserve – from a 1.8 hectare vineyard, 28 months in French oak barriques. Great nose, perfumey, floral, rose. Tasted great too, licorice, spice, very soft on the palette. Beautiful complexity of fruit. A great Barolo. What a treat.

1999 Barolo Runcot – Soft tannins but still firm. Great mouth feel. Truffles on the nose, earthy, tasted great with tar, tobacco, and spices. Well balanced. Great finish what a great Barolo should be. What a treat!

Elio Altare – The father of the modernists and a Barolo legend. We arrived at 10:00 a.m. and started our visit with his daughter Sylvia. She was just delightful and terrific in every way. She took us out into the cantina where we met with Elio who was in the process of making Barolo. I thought that it was just great to meet this legend. Sylvia suggested we try some other producers such as Revello, Mario Marengo, Veglio, Conterno Fantino, Allesandria from Monforte, and Giavanni Corino. Unfortunately, we did not taste the better wines of Elio Altare. I was a bit disappointed with this tasting.

2008 Barbera – very light, good acid, did not move me

2009 Langhe – this was not oaked and was easy to drink but relatively uninteresting

2007 Langhe Arborina – 18 months in French oak barrels. The quality here was pretty high. This drank more like a Barolo and was pretty good. Nice fruit, good balance but not too complex. Very drinkable.

2006 Barolo – a pretty good Barolo. Aged in French barriques. It was good but did not blow us away.

Bartolo Moscarello – The father of the traditionalists. His daughter still makes the wine in a small cantina and even smaller cellar right in the downtown of Barolo using traditional methods. I think Dave and I were both starting to get “burned out” by the time we did this tasting. We actually enjoyed these Barolos quite a bit. They do not do single vineyard cru’s. All of the Barolos are a blend from their 4 plots totaling only 3 hectares of nebbiolo. We were guided around by Allan Manley ( an American working for the Mascarello’s who only collected Barolos from 6 producers. He was a colorful character. He mentioned that he was selling his Giacosa collection due to some personnel changes at the cantina………I will sell mine too…..well, since there’s only two bottles, maybe I’ll just drink mine.

2008 Freisa – another rare red varietal of the region and the first time that we came across it. Very simple, no oak…….best if used to braise beef! Lol!

2008 Dolcetto – nice but then again it’s a Dolcetto

2008 Barbera – not compelling. Fruity but lacking any complexity

2009 Langhe Nebbiolo – light fruit and high tannins a bad combination

2005 Barolo –aged in large bottes. Licorice nose, dark fruit, very good mouth feel. A really nice Barolo. I was surprised. I thought it would be more tannic.

2006 Barolo – similar to 2005 but I thought that the 2005 was a little bit better, nice nose, cherries, tar, nice complexity, rounded and drank well right through the finish.

The Cuisine and restaurants of the Langhe:

I won’t go into the details of every restaurant that we visited but instead will give a general overview and talk about a few of my favorites. When I think of going out to eat, I look for three things: 1) good food, 2) good ambiance, and 3) good service. In the Langhe, you get all three wherever you go whether it’s a small family run trattoria or a more expensive ristorante. The Piemontese are a proud people, family oriented, and they adhere to time honored traditions. At the end of the day, this makes for a great culinary experience.

While Alba is the largest town in the area and has many ristorantes, I suggest that one spends his time exploring the many trattorias and ristorantes of the outlying hilltop towns. This is where you will truly experience the cuisine of the region. I also suggest that you spend most of your time going to trattorias as opposed to high end ristorantes. The traditional cuisine of the region will be found in the trattorias while the ristorantes more or less are prone to being creative and more diverse. After three trips to the region, I basically avoid the ristorantes altogether.

Meat, Cheese, Truffles, and Pasta…………………Lions and Tigers and Bears…Oh Boy!

The food of this region can be thoroughly enjoyed over a five day period more or less.

There are two main pastas in the Langhe, tajarin and agnolotti del plin. Tajarin is a fresh thin spaghetti like pasta made from double zero caputo flour and many egg yolks. The eggs in this region are special (because of what they feed the chickens) and as a result, the pasta here is amongst the best in all of italy. Tajarin can be sauced in number of ways but give it a try with butter and sage or with ground up veal sausage from the nearby town of Bra. Both are fabulous. Tajarin with butter is also, of course, the pasta of choice for “il tartufo bianco d’Alba.” But more on truffles later…………The other major pasta of the area is agnolotti del plin or “little pinches of pasta.” It can have many fillings but the traditional filling is a combination of braised veal, pork, guinea hen, and vegetables. Dime sized, it can be sauced with butter and sage or a roasted beef broth (gravy) and is typically finished off with some grated parmesan.

The piemontese are meat eaters or as Sylvia Altare said, “we are meatavores”…….. true to form, we did not see a lot of vegetables while we were there. They are known for their prized veal which comes from the town of Bra. Their veal is not milk fed and truly free range. We had it a number of ways and it was always spectacular. Think of their veal as eating young cattle. It’s like young lamb vs. old mutton………

Other meats include lamb, pork, wild boar, chicken, rabbit, and local snails from the town of Cherasco…….I tried the snails one night at Rossa Rosa in Cherasco but was not exactly won over. Braised rabbit in Arneis wine is wonderful and no, it does not taste like chicken. They are big on braised meats in the Langhe and they are typically quite wonderful.