Day 1 in the Langhe

So my approach to trying to beat jet-lag was to not sleep at all on the trip to Italy. I arrived here and actually lasted pretty well until 9pm thanks to Rachel, a bottle of Prosecco, a tour of Bra and beautiful bottle of Fontanabianca Barbera d’Alba. Right around then, the fact that I had been up for 29 hours hit me like a tonne of bricks and I was out like a light.

After a bloody wonderful night’s rest, we hit the road on a beautiful hazy day (~20 degrees Celsius) this morning and headed out towards Pollenzo, where Rachel works at the Universita’ di Scienze Gastronomiche. What a gorgeous place. It’s a former farm complex created by the King of Savoy at the start of the 19th century. Now it houses the university, a wine bank (Rachel wrote about it a while ago) and a luxury hotel/restaurant.

Now seriously… the wine bank rocks. It’s HUGE… it’s under the university in an immense climate and humidty-controlled arched columed space. It went on for well over 100 metres and had Roman ruins intermingled with cases upon cases of Italian wine.

While I was there, I picked up a 1997 Castello Banfi Summus, a 1999 Pio Cesare Barolo and a 1999 Paolo Conterno Ginestra Barolo. I’m thinking those will lead to some great drinking over the next week and a half.

From Pollenzo we headed up to Cherasco, which was a beautiful little town with a bunch of unbelievably good artisanal chocolate makers. We bought chocolate from a cool guy who goes around the world to source the best ingredients and also uses the best local hazelnuts (he roasts them) to make the bits of sin we left with.

We also hit up a great enoteca – Enoteca Patrito (wine shop), where a very nice and knowledgeable Silvano Patrito (he’s also a sommelier) chatted with us (in very good English and Italian) about the wines and food of the region and we left with a 1999 Moccagatta Langhe Buschet Chardonnay.

After that, it was off to Verduno… and the best lunch of my life (up to this point). Ca del Re is basically a large house with a pretty courtyard and nice rooms for rent above a cozy little restaurant. We sat outside – they said, “But… it’s cold.” to which Rachel replied, “But we’re Canadian. This is like summer for us.”

The wines on the list were all made by the man of the house, Franco Bianco. We ordered a bottle of the 1998 Castello di Verduno Massara Barolo. The wine blew me away… when it was poured for a taste, it looked more like a 1978. The edge was very orange and the colour was a brickish red. The nose was all marsala sherry, nuts, leather, cherry and flowers. The flavours were even better. They built on the nose and added and long still-sexy cherry brandy finish. Wow. I loved it and Rachel liked the flavours, but not the Marsala on the nose.

Now seriously, what made the day was the lunch… we started with salami, then a thinly sliced cured pork with olive oil and fresh lettuce. Next up was a gorgeous pan-fried polenta topped with a family heirloom inferno (hot peppers, capers, tomato, garlic, etc.) and then tomino (a soft cheese – very like a goats cheese, but made with cow’s milk). A simple, but bloody tasty meat-filled ravioli with butter and mint led to our “secondi” of stinco de maiale (pork shank) and a braised veal (in wine). Followed up by panna cotta for dessert. Holy crap, what a lunch… we were there for 3 hours and loved every second. I’d completely recommend the place. If you’re in the area and looking for a place to eat, do it.

After an espresso and an amaro (bitter digestivo) in a café, we were off to Alba. By then I was starting to run out of gas… we did a walk of the town and checked out a couple of cool enoteche, but I was done. From there it was back to Bra and a much-needed nap for me. All the food and wine, combined with the jet-lag had caught up to me.

In the next week or so, I’m going to try to keep up with reviews of the wines we’ve had… I’m taking notes as I type this on a gorgeous 2001 Barbaresco from Fontnabianco. 🙂

Peace out.