Our Summer Trip to Piedmont - 2016

My wife Amanda and I, along with our two sons, Dylan (6) and Cody (2) just returned from a remarkable trip to Piedmont this past Sunday and I will try to update this post over the next week or so with some of the highlights. I’ll be the first one to admit that travelling to wine regions with little kids definitely has its challenges. It took a lot of upfront planning to get this trip right, but we managed! We wanted to stay in a villa as opposed to a hotel, because we wanted an opportunity to have a real home base, where we could entertain, and have enough space that everyone would be comfortable. In this respect, and many others, Piedmont is certainly not Tuscany, a fact which I’m extremely happy about by the way. In Tuscany, villas for rent are a dime a dozen. In Piedmont, it’s nearly impossible to find. After much research, several people recommended a villa in Bonvicino, about 20 minutes from Monforte, called Villa San Lorenzo. It was a great recommendation. The owner lives in San Francisco, and made great accommodations for us, and is well known and well liked all throughout the region. This was our second trip to the region. Last time we stayed at the Relais San Maurizio, which was really a beautiful place, but was too far from the Barolo zone for my liking. The accommodations this time were perfect for us.

A couple general notes – we’ve travelled to many wine regions – all through California, Bordeaux, up and down the Rhone Valley, Tuscany, and others – nothing captures my heart, my mind and my soul like Piedmont. Its magic, and if you’ve been there you understand. The vistas as you drive through the Langhe are just stunning. The food is so genuinely delicious. The wine, well…you know how good it is. But most of all the people are just so great. The hospitality we were shown was off the charts. This trip for us was a “deep dive.” Eight nights, staying at the same home base, with a super leisurely pace. You will see, we drank some remarkable wines, and despite some truly great wines, these were not “baller events,” just an opportunity to drink amongst friends some truly magical wines. Note, I brought 3 non-local wines with me in my suitcase, and had 7 bottles dropped off at the villa from a local source. Everything else was shared courtesy of the generosity of friends.

We took the red-eye flight from NY to Milan on Friday evening, arriving in Italy Saturday afternoon on 8/20, totally weary but full of excitement. Saturday was a low key afternoon, getting accustomed to the location and the local time.

Here is a view of the surrounding area from the villa:
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We had dinner at the villa this night. The owner of the villa had arranged for a few local chefs to cook, which was a real treat. This was the only day we drank exclusively non Italian wine, since I like my nebbiolo older, and I don’t like to travel with older wine. So with dinner, we opened, drank some and saved the rest for the next day – 2012 Domaine Jamet Cote Rotie – if it wasn’t for nebbiolo, northern rhone would be my favorite wine in the world, and Jamet at the top of the list. Smoky, olive tapenade, delicious. Great, and a buy in any vintage in my opinion. And 2013 Vine Hill Ranch Napa Valley Cabernet – one of my favorite “newer” Napa cabs. Super balanced, great fruit. One of my favorite 13s so far.
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The next day, Sunday 8/21, was again a low key day. Our winery visits were mainly focused from Mon-Fri, but we wanted to get our feet wet, so we had a morning appointment at Borgogno in Barolo, one of the few spots available on a Sunday morning. Quick note – on this trip, I did not take detailed notes on every wine we tried, but just jotted down general impressions. They have a really nice facility for tasting in the middle of the village of Barolo, and a beautiful view from the rooftop terrace. Here’s a photo of the view:
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We tasted a number of Baroli, starting at 2011 and going back to 1982, 9 in total. Overall impression – I enjoyed the house style, I would be glad to have any of these wines by the glass, but not wines I’m planning to buy long term. An enjoyable first visit of the trip though.
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We then returned to the villa for a late lunch/early dinner that would carry us into the evening. Many of us, myself included, miss Bill Klapp’s long, detailed, and often amazingly informative musings on all things Piedmont. So I reached out to Bill to join us for lunch. Additionally another friend, his wife and his son joined us as well, so we had a big crew. I’ll say, if you could believe it, Bill is way more fun in person than you would think! We had a great time, lots of stories, plenty of discussion of proper decanting methods for old nebbiolo, and some good old fashioned drinking and eating. I was not allowed to open any of my own wine, so all the wine tonight was courtesy of friends. Here’s a pic, though we didn’t drink the Gaja or Granbussia this evening.
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The wine of the night was the 1985 Giacosa Barolo Falletto Riserva. Out of the gates, this was beautiful and remained consistently great over hours. Great sweet fruit, floral aromas, and gorgeous finish. In a perfect place. Will it get better, not sure, but nice place to drink right now. The 1978 Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano was a bummer. Appeared oxidized at first. Some of the fruit showed up after a few hours, but the bottle never really arrived, which was too bad. The 1974 Monfortino was a winner, though it took a long time to get there. This really started opening up at like hour 5, and was still structured, powerful and a joy to drink. The surprise of the night was the 1967 Francesco Rinaldi Barolo. This can generally be bought pretty well, and was really good right after opening. Bottle was totally sound, great structure, aromatics and really round on the palate. Really enjoyable. If Bill was still around, I’m sure he’d have a writeup 10 times as long as mine (at least), but the sum of it was, great times, great wine.

Next installment will be our first serious day of wine tasting, Giuesppe Rinaldi and Bartolo Mascarello. Ciao!

Great post, Daniel,

I canit wait to hear more; bring on the next installment. (I miss, most of, Bill’s contributions too.)

Working on it!

Pins and needles

I couldn’t agree more. I really miss Klapp’s input on all things Barolo and Barbaresco here on WB. His knowledge of the region is superb and his willingness to share that knowledge with others without compensation is quite unique. I’ve actually been going back and reading some of his comments in threads that were posted last year as I find I regularly learn something new by doing so. There are plenty of opinions about Piedmontese wines on the Internet these days but many of them just don’t have the historical experience and therefore authority that Klapp’s perspective provides. I know there are people who don’t appreciate the candor Klapp is known for in some posts but I can’t help but think that we’ve lost much more than gained with him gone.

Thanks for posting your trip notes Daniel! I love that view from Borgogno photo, it brings back so many memories of my visit last year. And HOLY COW, that’s one heck of a lineup you had over lunch! I’m sure the food was superb as well. It’s a pity the '78 Giacosa didn’t show well but it sounds like the red label and Monfortino made up for it. Finally, I’m not surprised by how well the F. Rinaldi showed, I’ve probably had more of those from the 50s-70s than any other aged Baroli (thanks Cos!). They’ve always shown exceptionally well, especially when you take the price point into consideration.

Monday morning, excitement abounds! Our first of five days of morning and afternoon winery visits. Our guide joins us at the villa for breakfast in the morning. We have a little issue, he says. Augusto Cappellano called me this morning, he is sick and has to reschedule. My heart hits the floor! He says, not to worry, I moved things around and we will be visiting Giuseppe Rinaldi this morning! Phew…my internal nerd meter went from excitement, to sorrow, to excitement again! After a lovely breakfast we are off to the village of Barolo for our visit at Rinaldi.

What can I say about Giuseppe Rinaldi that folks here don’t already know? If you like traditional producers, Rinaldi is tops. The wines age beautifully, and are made with finesse and class. This was our first visit to Rinaldi, and we had the pleasure to be welcomed by Beppe’s daughter, Carlotta Rinaldi. Carlotta is a gem. Great personality, super friendly, knowledgeable, and generally cool. We spent some time walking through the cellar. Here’s a few photos of the cellar.
Rinaldi Cellar - 2.jpg
Rinaldi Cellar.jpg
Also, I now understand the meaning of Tre Tine. The photo below will show the “tre tine” which are used to hold the wine that was formerly Cannubi San Lorenzo-Ravera.
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Carlotta then walked us down to the family cellar. This is where my mind was blown. There are likely many people here who have more old Rinaldi than the Rinaldi family. But the reality is that they needed the funds from selling the wine to keep the business running, and as a result never built up a library for themselves. It is hard to believe that such a historic house has so limited a collection of their own wine.

Then it was time to taste some wine. Again, just brief impressions here, not detailed notes, as I tried to keep it light throughout the trip. Let me start by saying that the enthusiasm for 2015 amongst the winemakers is palpable. They are really excited across the board. Even more so with the Barbera and Dolcetto because the hail of 2014 wiped out most of the crop that year, though Nebbiolo was mainly spared (with lower yields and depending on the site). We started with the barrel samples of the 2015 Barolo. These are some stunning wines. The Brunate sample had great structure, the Le Coste sample more floral and feminine feeling, as a balance to the Brunate. The Tre Tine sample was incredibly aromatic, beautiful red fruit. All of the above are wines I will gladly own when released. We then moved to the tasting area and tried the 2015 Langhe Nebbiolo and Barbera. This was the trip where I finally “got” Barbera. I made it a point to focus on it, and found that the best producers of Nebbiolo made some really tasty Barbera. I love how it’s light in tannin but has great acidity, providing such a nice freshness yet with a great core of fruit. The 2015s that we tried on this trip were dynamite and the Rinaldi really hit the mark. We then finished with the final blends of the 2013 Barolo Brunate and Tre Tine. Super classical wines with strong tannins, great fruit, built to age. Fantastic.

I actually can’t remember if we did lunch first or went to the Barolo museum in town first, but I’ll type of the museum first. We took the kids here and it was a pretty neat spot. If you have an hour to kill in Barolo, its worth checking out. Lots of great visuals, great history, and some beautiful views from the rooftops. Here’s a few pictures from the roof.
Museum View 1.jpg
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Lunch that day was at Barolo and Friends and later that afternoon a visit with Alan at Bartolo Mascarello, which I’ll try to finish up today as well.

Lunch on Monday was at Barolo and Friends in “downtown” Barolo. First a caveat on dining. We only went out for dinner twice, the notes of which I’ll get to down the road. Every other night was at the villa. Lunch – we went out every day, but generally went where it was convenient, as we had to balance timing between the schedules of our appointments, and the kids. Also a few spots we wanted to try were closed for holiday when we called, Veglio and Coccinella. Back to Monday. I had mixed feelings about this place. I liked the setting. Modern looking, fun vibe. The food varied by course. I tried to take photos of food where possible, and have some below. Raw tuna appetizer – this was quite delicious, they said it was Bluefin. Good raw preparation and nice flavors. Carne Cruda with black truffles – didn’t care for. I had much better on the trip, this was a bit too chewy. Pasta – we tried to go for Plin and Tajarin everywhere we went so that we could compare and contrast. This was middle of the road for both. Sliced veal was excellent. The veal in the Langhe is to die for when cooked appropriately. Sliced duck breast was a nice preparation but a bit overcooked. Service was good, no issues, nothing over the top. Overall mixed feelings. Solid spot if in the neighborhood but wouldn’t make a trip for it.
BF Tuna.jpg
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BF Duck.jpg

Okay last one of the day…

After lunch, our final stop of the day was at Bartolo Mascarello, with Alan Manley. This was our second visit here, both times with Alan. First off – Check out Ken V’s insanely detailed notes of his visit here in July. Ken did a bang up job with it, and it’s a great resource. I highly recommend the visit here. Alan is a great host. He sits everyone down at the table in the tasting parlor and does a very thorough job walking through the history of the estate, the winemaking philosophies, the concept that it’s just “one Barolo.” Following, we walk through the cellars, through both buildings, past the old concrete fermenting tanks, the large wood botti, then through the family’s wine library. Unlike Rinaldi, they have a more substantial library here. My favorite tidbit from Alan, when asking about all the different labels for some of the older wines – “they used whatever they had…even if it was a friend’s label.” Then back towards the tasting room where we tried some wine. Alan “apologized” that they had nothing to sell, and very little to open, but he shared two wines with us. First the 2015 Dolcetto d’Alba. I have to say, I was surprised how good this was for the price. I’ll reiterate that the 15 Dolcettos and Barberas that I tasted on this trip were really top notch. Then the 2012 Barolo. This was one of my top 2012s that I tried. I jotted down that it had a very feminine feeling to me, floral, some sweetness to the fruit, but pretty firm tannins here. Good finish, elegant wine. Afterwards, Maria Teresa popped in to say hi. We chatted some time about my love and appreciation for her family’s older wines, going back to the 1950s. She loved the fact that I had pictures of the empty bottles on my phone that I could share with her. We made up with Alan and his girlfriend to join us for dinner at the villa on Wednesday evening and then we bid farewell!
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It was a great day. A perfect Piedmont day. We headed back to the villa then and hung out and played with the kids. This was our only night for the rest of the trip without any company for dinner, so Amanda and I enjoyed a quiet dinner after the kids went to bed! The two of us shared a 1999 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino, one of the bottles that I had arranged for us for the trip. It was an exquisite wine. Monumental in its power yet refinement. The tannins have smoothed out a bit, making it quite pleasurable to drink. Some licorice and menthol notes mixed with great fruit, and a wow finish. A perfect and dreamy way to end the day.

The next installment will be our journey on Tuesday, an action packed day, featuring Marcarini, lunch at Bovio, a marathon visit with Elena at Vietti, then dinner at Cesare with Luca and Elena.
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That about sums it up. When we were there in 2014, I sort of expected Barolo to be a big town. How could I not think that based on its wine reputation. Barolo is a small, off the beaten path town. It’s not what was expected, and that was a very pleasant surprise. If anyone expects to find a Starbucks and Burger King here, forget it. This is rural Italy. flirtysmile

Waiting for the next installments. Thanks.

I agree Dan, on the one hand you hear people complain that Barolo is “getting too big and touristy” and yet on the other hand it’s a village of 700 people. Sure, there may be more people on the streets visiting than before but I find it still has that small village Northern Italy charm.

Daniel, I’m with you 100% with the carne cruda at Barolo and Friends. It was the worst I had on the trip. I didn’t like the rough / chunky cut of the meat. Every other carne cruda I had in Piedmonte was made with a much finer minced meat. As for the restaurant in general as you said it’s a nice meal but as you said you wouldn’t go out of your way to go there, it’s more of a convenience pick.

I can’t wait to hear about your meal at Cesare!

If anyone even looks for Starbucks or Burger King in Italy, then they don’t deserve to go there.

When you can better food and coffee at a highway rest stop in Italy than in 95% of the restaurants in America, no one should go to an American chain there.

Funny you say that Ken. On the drive from Milan airport to the villa, my kids were starving, so we stopped at a highway rest stop to grab them something. I had a sandwich and the kids had some pasta, and you are totally correct…

This may be all I get to before the holiday weekend here, though if we get rained in by the storm, maybe I’ll do some more typing. Hope everyone stays safe and drinks well.

So Tuesday morning, once again Augusto Cappellano too sick to visit, so we shifted our morning to a visit with Marcarini, located in La Morra. Alas, Cappellano will have to wait until my next visit. I don’t drink much newer Marcarini, but I’ve very much enjoyed some of the older Marcarini –Cogno wines from the 60s and early 70s, and we had a visit at Elvio Cogno on Wednesday, so I thought the history behind the original winery would be nice to see. We were shown around by a very sweet young lady who was part of the extended family. A very traditional cellar, the large botti were quite astonishing and very old. Then they were in the middle of bottling, so we walked by the bottling machine. Let me tell you, there isn’t much more intriguing to a 6 year old boy than watching a bottling machine in action. He was absolutely enthralled! We then walked through a little courtyard into their tasting room, which actually also fronted onto a cute little street in La Morra. We tasted through the lineup, including the 2 2012 Barolo releases – Brunate and La Serra. On this day, Brunate showed a bit more complexity, but I wasn’t all that fond of either, very tight and didn’t feel like the fruit compensated for it. I preferred this producer’s Barolo that I’ve had from 2011 and 2010 over these. They did make a nice Dolcetto and Barbera that were very reasonable. And I really enjoyed their Barolo Chinato. Overall it was a lovely visit, though perhaps not quite as exciting as Monday’s visits. However my afternoon visit at Vietti would make up for it!

OK Daniel…Holiday is over…back to posting more about your visit! [wink.gif]

After our morning visit at Marcarini, we headed a few minutes down the road for lunch at Bovio. I know I’ve read mixed reviews here especially about the service, but we had a very nice meal. The weather was perfect, crystal clear, no humidity, just a joy to sit outside. The service was quite friendly, even with our kids! Excellent wine list, we ordered a 1989 Cavallotto Barolo Riserva Vignolo, which at 160 EUR, was quite reasonable. The wine was outstanding, mature notes of sweet flowers, earth, mushroom, red fruits. Beautiful place for this wine and paired well with the food. On the food – was quite good, some better than others. The carne cruda was a highlight on the apps, as well as the raw shrimp. Everyone liked the pasta, with my 6 year old, especially enjoying the Tajarin! The best main was the rabbit. We also tried the goat, but the goat we had that evening at Cesare beat it! Overall, pleasant lunch, enjoyable food and nice service. Nice and full and happy and on our way to Vietti.

Also, here’s a view from the patio where we ate. You can see how incredibly clear it was.

We had a 3pm appointment with Elena and Luca Currado at Vietti. Many have known them far longer than us, Amanda and I only just met them for the first time at the Vietti vertical tasting that was hosted by Vinous. It was like we were family returning. They are truly wonderful people and really know how to extend hospitality. I’d first like to note that the topic of the sale never came up. I was willing to discuss it if they brought it up, but I certainly did not feel like it was my place to do so. Only time will tell on the outcome there. The way both Luca and Elena speak, you feel like they are still vested here. Luca was out with us that night until 12:30, and emailed me at 6am from the vineyard the next morning wishing we went to bed earlier! So whatever implications the sale had in Piedmont, and speaking to many other people, it definitely did, the impact it will have on the Currado’s is yet to be seen. I hope they stay just like they are now, which is really great.

As to the visit, Luca sent me an email in the morning, saying that he had to run down to Tuscany to check on the harvest for a project he is consulting for, but that Elena would take good care of us, and not to worry, he would be back for dinner! Elena spent almost three hours with us at the winery that afternoon. The property is located right in Castiglione Falletto, and is downright amazing. The vistas from outside are stunning, and the winery itself is fantastic. Rooms upon rooms on three levels (if I recall). And all the way in the back are some old tunnels that date back several hundred years. Elena showed us some bottles from the 1800s that they unearthed, though she said they were unfortunately undrinkable! After walking around, we went across the courtyard to the tasting room, where Elena poured us everything under the sun. Just a few highlights – 2015 Roero Arneis – honestly don’t drink much of any whites from Piedmont, and opened my eyes this trip, here and a few others. Great acidity, nice fruit, enjoyable. We tried several Barberas, but my favorite was the 2012 Barbera d’Asti La Crena, which had lots of richness, great lushness in the mouth and super acidity to balance it. We tried the full lineup of 2012 Barolo and Barbaresco (or as Elena called it “Barbarolo”). If not the top, this group of 2012 Nebbiolo was certainly right there, for the best 2012s we tried on the trip. They all had lots of structure, with strong grippy tannins, but lots of fruit to balance. I’m a buyer, with Rocche and Ravera tops by a smidge. We had a great time. By 6pm, we picked our palates up off the floor (we do spit at tastings and drink at meals fyi), went home to refresh, and then headed back out to da Cesare for dinner.

Also a look at the ancient tunnels and the bottles that were unearthed.

Next chapter please [cheers.gif]

Daniel this report is so well written and interesting. Photos are so great too. Looking forward to read more.
Piemonte is a favourite region for visiting here also. Last time we visited our sons were along, so I only visited Cavalotto, but that was worth the journey (from Castagnole M)