Piemonte 7: Langhe 1 : 24 – 30 October 2021

Sunday 24 October 21 

We woke at 09.00 and edged our way to a slow breakfast; saying farewell to our very attentive hostess and the very distinctive Villa Sironi and its fine location just off Corso Montebello in Tortona, to drive to Alba via the motorway towards Allessandria, then just south of Asti to turn south towards the Langhe. 

Alba was heaving with crowds of ordinary people enjoying the many markets and far fewer truffle stalls (the very dry summer has resulted in a poor late season). We left the luggage and wandered in the quieter streets until we found the offices of both WelCom (the agency dealing with press trips) and David’s wine lawyer; and shown below an ancient Templar church (1292) at the old point of entry to Alba from the north, dedicated to St Margaret of Antioch.

Below is interior of the grand central church of San Lorenzo, in the centre of Alba, now deconsecrated and in use as a gallery

Lunch was at the Osteria del Vicoletto, sitting in a small enclosed courtyard; simple but well done. We have to be economical now – we have been spoiled by the consorzii’s generosity.

Back to the hotel to unpack, and in my case to shower at leisure, and rest. David had serious WiFi frustration until he headed to the lounge where reception is excellent; followed by a poor supper at Il Vecchio Gallo – my bad choice – even the football screen kept hanging up! 

Monday 25 October 21

Slow busy breakfast – a coach load of Swiss or perhaps Dutch clogged up the system (no longer self-service) but we prevailed. All of us had appeared at 08.00…

The underground carpark does function well – despite the clanging, and steep exit. We headed south driving first on the potholey road until we turned right into the hills, into Bussia territory and Monforte D’Alba.  The landscape is stunning – all the leaves on both trees and vines in autumn colours with the sun and the large handsome house of Aldo Conterno emerging through the faint morning mist. 

Giacomo met us, the youngest of three brothers all of whom are part of the business. All are eneologists : Stefano – wine making, Franco bottling and marketing, Giocomo more in the vineyards and hospitality.

Giacomo is an articulate exponent of the Conterno philosophy. They aim to offer their best wines, not produce Barolo’s best wines: all organic, with 25 hectares of which 15 are Nebbiolo. Apparently biodynamic growing follows mother nature; and nature is competitive. So the struggle involves taking care of the winners – and can create big dichotomies…and so on. He finally sprung into action when I mentioned our next appointment and served four fine Barolos and a Super Barolo…

Colonnello 2017 grown at 260 m; Cicala 2017 – near a wood, poorer soils, 400m; roots go deeper to find water and greater microbio diversity. Earthy, tougher 3.2 H. 

Romirasco – spicey and long long long…. 3 H cherry fruit; Granbussia – spice, balsamic, 2012. 30 months in oak and 6 years in bottle; 9 years in all just released; autonno in a bottle.  Also grown are Chardonnay (2.4 h) –  Bussiador;  and Barbera (3.5 h), while the Quartetto is a four way blend: Syrah, Pinot, Merlot (the bridge) and Nebbiolo (40%) (Making notes helps me concentrate…)

At 11.30 the younger of the two sons at Monchiero in Castiglione Falletto greeted us in their wine shop, explaining the family history from Mezzadria days (share-cropping was punitive for the workers) until today. Land and opportunities  were gained through marriage and extended family, with vineyards in Alba (Roero side of the river) and a far-sighted grandfather (below) buying the Langhe sites in 1970 – now impossible – some of which are now described as the best sites in the Langhe. The photos were moving

and the tractor (whose driver in all three photos is the grandfather) still functions! 

The two brothers have grown up alot since these were taken:

One at work here, the other studying… and there’s a very fine view from the shop

At 15.00 We arrived at  Elvio Cogno in Novello in glorious sunshine after a quick lunch in Grapolo D’Oro in Monforte D’Alba (which is a sizeable town with good car parking) and were greeted by Walter Fissore and Nadia Cogno : new grand parents of little Michele.. 

The views from every angle are astonishing – and here is the balcony on which the small group we brought in 2014 all stood to gaze at the fabulous view to the south. The Alps are just peeping above the distant haze.

The Nascetta 2020 was pretty fabulous but 2017 is amazing! The grape may have been born in Novello and perhaps Monforte; a sweet wine in the 1800s. In 1950s seven consecutive vintages were ruined by hail. So many people left – it was either work in Fiat, or starve. In 1994 only 1000 bottles were made from all the Nascetta grapes they could find in the vicinity. Now 20,000 bottles are produced here. 

Montegrilli  was their Lockdown wine!! It is fantastic – no oak – only SS ; pale, 14%! Not much contact with skins. We went on to taste all his serious Nebbiolos – and we met them again later in the week at a restaurant in Novello. Friendly, kind and warm.  

Supper at Al Dente, on via Pertinace (where we ate with Marin Hudson in Jan 2020)

Tuesday 26 October 21 

Barbara met us at Sandrone in Barolo. Luciano, her father, still active at 75, started early by leaving the family’s carpentry tradition to work in the cellars of Bologno in Barolo. In 1977 he bought some vineyards including part of Cannubi Boschis and in 1990 bought four more parcels; in 1998 he bought a vineyard in Valmaggiore (Roero) from 28 other owners. The cascina and cantina were built in 1999 in traditional style.

They produce between 110-120k bottles from land in both Barolo: 27H and Roero: 3H. Now with the University of Turin they are exploring a possible new clone whose viral infection caught Luciano’s eye in a neighbour’s vineyard 20 years ago)

Beautifully executed (and no doubt hugely expensive) only 20 year old cellar, using traditional materials and style; restrained and consistent with subtle finishes and some genuinely artistic flourishes.

Wines are completely textbook – near perfect examples of what you’d expect. I preferred Alesti from Cannubi (after Alessia and Stefano – and without reference to the famous vineyard on the label!)  Valmaggiore from Roero is again all that I would want in a Nebbiolo D’Alba – though David would like them to adopt Roero DOCG! Le Vigne is comprised of wines from four different vineyards diagonally across the region. There is also a brooding big number in development.

Here we met Mark Savage (for whom Barbara when she was 15 used to be the au pair in Gloucestershire in the 1980s) and enjoyed the outdoor decor and colours – especially the signature blues

Scuttled on – arriving in a few minutes at the car park just outside Barolo proper near Brezza, and walked quickly to Bartolo Mascarello just up from the bar in the little top square, to meet Maria Teresa at 11.00, inside their compact traditional cantina. She is dedicated to maintaining the traditional use of grapes from parcels in different rather than single vineyards; resolutely not following the market. 

Though 2015 did see some expansion – the offer (by a neighbour keen for that tradition to persist) to rent 2000 sqm of a neighbouring parcel (San Lorenzo) of Bussia di Barolo for 10 years. 

They co-ferment grapes old-style from parcels close together in one area, ripening at the same time. Look carefully at the base of the label below; the vineyards from which the gapes were picked are listed; none of this ’cru’ nonsense….

No temperature control here except water-cooling tubes as wine is pumped over. Great reliance on – and confidence in their cementi – just post-war – 67 years old and very much in use if regularly re-lined with resin and fibre glass. 

Huge botti 30Hl and 50 Hl – Slavonian oak bought from the Veneto. Previously used local chestnut, and now uses the tall tini for fermentation. We listened to the history of the cellar, and the renewal in 2002 of some of the botti when the barrel maker stayed with them to build in situ – little issue of doors v. size!

We tasted the Dolcetto ‘20 – a grape about whose fate she feels strongly; she views it as a simple every day wine (unlike those in Dogliani who mistakenly attempt to create a different wine – in her view) and their Barbera ‘19, both newly bottled in August 21; Freisa ‘19 – reduction is high, with  ‘’petillon’ and high tannins; Barolo ‘17: the alcohol continues to rise ! Made of grapes from a range of parcels in the old tradition – no crus here!

We heard some new expressions:  ‘Barologno’,  ‘Nebbiolata’  ie ‘Barolo’ effect enhances all – ‘nobilise’; and – finally, the ‘indomibile’, the ‘crazy’ son who does what he wants (undomesticated? or fond of crus?) 

Brezza’s ristorante was closed, so we had a civilised simple lunch Rossobarolo in the centre of Barolo, and then headed well north across the Tanaro, through Roero and into Asti territory to follow up at 15.00 an owner of wines that David had already tasted at home

Pescaja is in Cisterna D’Asti just north of Canale, and part of Alfieri, very close to Cantina Povero which we visited with Valentina on 8 October.  

Beppe took us to see the vineyards. Quite an experience! The long-admired, small four-wheel drive Terios came into its own in the steep amphitheatre in front of Cisterna. An extraordinary drive round the sandy vineyards along the narrowest of tractor routes with dramatic drops on each side. Beppe took us past the deserted and abandoned house of his grandmother – and his birthplace – and we encountered a ‘friendly’ grey fox.

A philosophical eccentric; formerly an economist in Milan, though of very modest origins – with a vision of coherence, continuity, confidence and something else beginning with c… His equipment was state of the art – and of science (if strangely reminiscent of an elephant) and like Luca Spinola in Colli Tortonesi, he was also producing kosher wine under the supervision of a Rabbi. Look closely for the Hebrew.

Beppe is very particular about his wine making – grapes kept at low temperatures, and certainly not a spontaneous fermentation ! He is also fastidious about excluding insects and cats with automatically closing glass doors. And we learned that the newish stark brick and cement winery is already too small!

I drove home in the deepening dusk, struggling with glare despite the dozen or so roundabouts on the road south, which slowed down the continuous stream of cars leaving Alba. Straight on to supper in Ape

Disappointing glasses of Timorasso and Grinoglino were accompanied by quite expensive food (shared gamberetti and for me a zuppetta of cauliflower and brocoli) and not very simpatico staff. We went to De Gustibus for a consolatory glass where the young man remembered us from January 2020: overly oaked Barolo for David and finally a decent Arneis for me. 

Wednesday 27 Oct 21

A prompt start to reach Massolino in Piazza Capellana in Serralunga d’Alba, where Franco greeted us warmly and showed us around his impressive cantina and on to the terrace with a view stretching across from Castiglione Falletto and beyond to La Morra. Fabulous. We could see the roads leading to last January’s memorable visit to the ridge on which Mauro Manzoni sits. Beautiful day, glorious views.

Franco gave us a helpful explanation of 2018 vintage and their decision only to make Nebbiolo classico and not wines from individual vineyards. There was hardly any rain in 2017; and then too much in spring/ early summer of 2018 which they think altered the balance within the grapes. Similar story at Oddero… 

We enjoyed looking round the cellar, and the fabulous tasting. Thank you Franco

We met David Berry Green at 11.30 at the Antico cafe next to Barolo’s main car park. He has lived and worked here since 2004, setting up his own business – DBGItalia – in 2011. Full of insight about the trajectory of Barolo, and not optimistic – nor very interested – in the fortunes of Dogliani or Diana d’Alba.

Lunch at the hotel Brezza; Cauda Bagno as in January 2020. Absolutely delicious. Beautiful sun warmed our backs after feeling cold in the sunless cafe with DBG. The view from the terrace never fails!

At 15.00 Isabella Oddero greeted us warmly, the day before her 38th birthday, though she hardly looked a day older than in 2014. Alessandro is now five! This is the view – as we drove from Barolo to Santa Maria andp Annunciata – of the church Isabella was married in, in 2013. The blue sky was crystal clear.

Her aunt, the winemaker, and her cousin Giacomo were both busy at work. She shared more of the family story of painful fallout between her grandfather Giacomo and his brother Luigi which led to the split of the company. Luigi’s children (born late in his life) have moved that business on since his death, and the younger generation are all on good terms now. It was lovely to see her again, and to taste with her.

This was another long day! We drove to meet Fabio at 17.30 at Comm G. Burlotto – a very traditional cantina in the middle of Verduno, concentrating on indigenous grapes: Dolcetto, Barbera, Freisa. In the cantina his men were manually pumping over and pushing the cap down – while balancing perilously on the top edges of the fermenting botti

We tasted in what had been the commune’s original church, an ancient building decorated in naive Baroque style now deconsecrated adjacent to the Cantina

The barolos however, are extraordinary. A terrific range – some ‘sweet’, others butch, but all pale and elegant. Difficult for me to grasp their distinctiveness, and our host had a very reflective and ‘piano’ style; long but not uncomfortable pauses. Sebastian Payne and Sarah Knowles MW of the Wine Society had tasted here this morning. The Langhe is teeming with english wine specialists! These cellars, and the house itself, belonged to another world. (The medallions record former triumphs and awards)

We drove home in the dark once more, and ate in the hotel. Not a great experience; large numbers in the tour groups meant service was slow though the food was OK. 

Thursday 28 October 21 

A slightly later start to reach Riveretto in Sinio, beyond Serralunga, a cascina just outside the denomination but with a fine view of their vineyards on the slopes beneath the dominating town.

Met by Rita Barbero who explained the holistic approach of Riveretto and showed us round the covered allotment, the fruit tree avenue and the compost rows; the donkeys, the bees and the hazelnuts, as well as explaining the boundary of the denomination of Serralunga which dominated the valley from the ridge to the west.

She also took us into a cave-like cellar which the family would have used historically for a pantry – the droplets of water on the stone ceiling demonstrated just how porous this stone is and why the roots of vines can penetrate it

Enrico arrived later and showed us the view from the top of the building, and shared his biodynamic vision as he conducted the tasting. They were the first to receive certification in the Langhe. 

Lunch in Sinio, at the Marian Rose ristorante in a tiny square, watching the school children first, who trooped in and out of the tiny primary school, and then little Sophie, who at 13 months loves using the plastic chairs as walkers and trying to catch the cat.

Her Australian mother gave us her view of contemporary italian life under covid. A wonderful quiet place to bask in the autumn sunshine. 

Unusually with time to spare, we spoke to an elderly man in his garden preparing his chrysanthemums for All Saints’ day, standing at the top of what we judged to be the Rionda vineyard. He was helpful, and knowledgeable, also pointing out where the ‘brava’ Ester lived, three doors down. Her winery, he said, was just down the road..

This is Giovanni Rosso on via Roddino 10, Serralunga d’Alba

We spent a long afternoon in the company of Mathilde, a young Alba Wine School product describing herself as a eneotechnician. She was taken on for two weeks in lockdown and has been retained to help host, not surprisingly.

She drove us in the big Mercedes 4 x 4 into the Rionda vineyard, and gave her version of the family’s complicated history which involved transportation to German camps in 1944; the death of Tommaso in 1945 and his two sons, Aldo and Amelio, on their return after the war taking over the vineyards in 1946; the untimely death in the early 1960s of Amelio, and leaving his wife Christina and her young daughter – the afore-mentioned Ester, born soon after the war, to struggle on. At some point Esther married Giovanni Rosso.

In 1970 their Rionda parcels were sold in bond by Cristina and Esther to the remaining brother, Aldo, whose son Tommasino took it over in 1998 and managed it until 2001 when Davide Rosso, Esther and Giovanni’s son, took over. Tommasino died in 2010 without heirs, and the Rionda parcel was restored to Ester, who now at 73 still operates around the winery and the vineyards, and lives in the third house along from our friendly local. 

A tour of the cellar involved several tastings from casks, and a glimpse of a very strange appropriation of a famous representation of the Madonna with family faces superimposed to represent Mary and baby Jesus, with an aunt – Marguerite – alongside and two putti – one being also a family face. Very badly judged, in my view, and best kept out of the way down below. 

Finally Davide joined us. A restless man with a very low, gravelly, smoker’s voice; obsessed with BBR’s wealth. Now in partnership with another Davide ….a venture capitalist, making wine in Sicilia on Mt Etna… 

Back to Alba for an another good supper, at the Osteria Moderna. I am developing a new style: one course, often an antipasto, followed by vegetables. Between us, we eat one large meal ! After a day tasting, a glass of white wine or a spumante is a relief.  

Friday 29 Oct 21

We found the Mailbox operation on Corso Europa and began a conversation about transporting home the 20 or so bottles of wine we have accrued, and tackled the automatic petrol pumps with some misgivings. A patient operative came to our aid.

An even later start – 11.30 – for Vite Colte, one of the cooperatives in Barolo. David has had several Zoom meetings with them, and we were greeted warmly and fed well as we tasted with the export manager and Bruno Cordero and Cristina Torrengo. Stunning innovative newish build: Staggering!! 

And a very expansive interior tour, tasting and lunch! (There were several cartoons on the theme of Lievito – italian for yeast… levitating.. It reads: ’Hi, I’m Sac. The true eneologist is me!) Tap on the photos for a better view

We left at 15.30 to explore the Monprivate vineyards just between Vite Colte and Casteglione Falletto, driving up the via Del Grosso and then walking through the parcels just below the building in which our next hostess’ family (Mascerello) used to make their wine

This was in preparation for a 17.00 meeting with Elena of Giuseppe Mascerello in the building below.

Their winery is based in Monchiero; a small, unprepossessing town in the valley to the south of the Langhe proper where her great great grandfather had bought the old ice-making cellars between the river and the railway line. This surpassed both Bartolo Mascherello (Maria Teresa)’s and Comm G. Burlotto’s dark brooding cellars – in size and gloom. Elena looked exhausted and wary, but brightened up as she realised David’s interest is academic not commercial.  This giant at 1315 hl towered over us as we peered into a gloomy corner. It is vast – but no longer used. Wow!

They produce 55,000 bottles – we tasted those already opened for Sarah Knowles of the Wine Society with whom they have done business for years. Four people work in the winery – Elena, her brother, Giuseppe, and her parents Mauro and Maria Theresa.  

We tasted Scudetto 2018 – an exceptional Barbera; Perno in Monforte D’Alba is fermented in concrete – no wood. Clay soil with some sand; very well balanced. In Elena’s view, Freisa loses fruit flavours after years; doesn’t develop tertiary characters; 10 years is enough! 

Filaro 2017 – she described as a ‘feminine’ Barolo, elegant and silky; Monprivato 2017 – fine and silky, then Perno 2017 from Brunato vineyard, tougher more masculine tannins. Fabulous wines.

We headed back to Novello, to the Langotto, the first of a series of pre-booked tables, where we met Walter Fissori and Nadia Cogno once more. The weekend of Ogni Santi (All Saints is a public holiday) was about to start, just as the weather clouds over and turns chillier. One evening in busy Alba we bumped into Evan (who we first met at Malvira in 2010; Valerie’s ex-husband) whose tour-guiding business had folded with covid, and who, we learned later via facebook, has had treatment for cancer recently. 

Saturday 30 October 21

To avoid weekend crowds, we headed south to check out Dogliani, about which had heard mainly negative views. It was quite busy – but not like Alba; a busy little market, some local shops and odd cafes tucked up alleys. two hideously big and overly baroqued brick churches at either end of the town. it was a short climb to the tower above town and another big bench.

Google maps sent us by a very bizarre route, but we eventually found another of David’s reluctant interlocutors at work in her cellar. She was in the throes of finishing fermentation and meeting an export deadline. After a surprised but then friendly set of apologies and explanations we arranged to meet tomorrow at 11ish. 

Lunch was pre-booked at a recommendation of Rita’s: La Chochinella at Serra Valle. A gorgeous raw fish antipasto and some tempura porchini and zucca – and an excellent fresh Dolchetto from Mondovi for €15 (cf Mascherello’s Monprivato at €190)

I drove back to Alba while David snoozed. Some writing up, then out once more, for dinner. A hard life !

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s