Zipping along at 140km an hour, we anticipated a timely, two-hour ride from Milan. But, even though the day was mercifully fog-free, we missed the turn-off.
Lost in Gravelona.
Saved by two fantastically handsome consiglieries who set us straight.
Soon, we were on the peaceful (and under construction) road from Asti to Alba where spring had just burst the trees blossoms into popcorn-like fluffs. The air was freshly pollened and the atmosphere seemed scrubbed with lemon juice. Pink hazelnut trees actively bloomed, a colorized backdrop for the still, lifeless vines--a turgid fabric of nature in the making. I hadn’t been in this landscape with its rolling dipping and diving hills in a long time. It was so much more diverse than I remembered.
After a salad with Roberta Ceretto at her family's new restaurant La Piola, in Alba, we retreated to our bunker- like accommodations underneath the Ceretto winery at Bricco Rocche, just outside the town of Castiglione Falletto. I thank the Cerettos very much for their generous hospitality.
That first night Melissa and I moseyed down the road to the town of Castiglione Falletto for dinner at Le Torri. Being how it was the last day in March, and definitely off-season, we were their only customers. Happy to see us, they gave us the best seat in the house, facing the remarkable sight of sloping hills, of course it was too dark to see a thing.
Their moderately priced wine list is filled with good bottles. I’ve become obsessed with the 2002 Nebbiolos. (Because of the rain and hail, many producers lost most of their crop and the best producers seemed to declassify their barolo into nebbiolo, meaning bargains for the drinker.) I asked for the Cavolotto. 18 euro. The chef’s husband left for the wine cellar and came back with the Livia Fontana (Fontanin). Same price he said, “She is just down the road. I propose to you, because she too is a traditional winemaker.”
I was a little suspicious (when am I not?) but then I thought about it. This man knew, by my asking for Cavolotto, that I was interested in something made ‘traditionally.’ That alone was impressive. For once in my life I was really happy to take someone elses's suggestion. I can't tell you how many times I've asked a sommelier in America for a 'traditional wine' only to get poured something that was rotor-fermented, poked prodded and barriqued. This time the guy really knew what he was talking about. Lovely little wine. (And so much better than the Cavolotto. Watch for an upcoming entry on tasting at Vin Italy for more on that producer.) Fontanin’s wine was violetty, sanguine, rusty, dried rose petals, good sandy tannins. Definitely, it was more barolo than nebbiolo.
Back to the meal.
We ordered wrong-- salads, marinated salmon, and a sweetly baked scarmoza and vegetable dish. These were all honest and actually tasted better in memory than in real time. But, at the end of the meal I ask the lovely chef/owner Maria Christina if she knew Alan Tardi (ex- chef/owner of Follonico) who splits his time between Italy (just down the road in CF) and New York. Yes! In fact, she said, almost jumping up and down in her place in her chef whites, he helps her in the kitchen when he is in town, and in fact, the other woman in the kitchen was one of Pino Luongo’s ‘mothers’ in his restaurant Le Madri who also worked with Alan at his restaurant. Damn, we should have ordered pasta! Which we did two nights later (hands down, the best darn gnocchi) when we caught up with importers Joe Dressner, Kevin McKenna and their new west coast sales femme fatale, the lovely Shawn Mead (and those of the trade they had in tow) at winemaker Baldo Cappellano's winery. After tasting his barolos, nebbiolos and quinine-rich chinato, we suggested La Torri for dinner, one of the few places in town open on Sunday night. Remember it.
P.zza Vittorio Veneto, 10