Now that I am based in Hong Kong one of the major downsides of life in the Far East is that I miss many of the tasting trips, seeing our many and diverse selection of growers in France and Italy. Therefore I decided to take the Mrs to Piedmont for a few days as part of our Summer holiday.
On the advice of our wine buyer Robin, who had marked my card, I stayed at the fabulous and highly recommended Villa Beccaris in Monforte d’Alba in amongst the rolling hills of Barolo (“right in the middle of the action”). We came from Nice along the A8 which isn’t quite the breathtaking drive I had envisaged as the many tunnels make life with prescription sunglasses part skill part guess work. It’s a very chilled hotel at the top of the village, doesn’t have a restaurant as such but with the amount of choice on offer around it doesn’t need one but they do an excellent breakfast and have snacks available so you wont starve if you don’t feel like leaving the compound. But getting out and about is what we came to do.
On arrival at 12 noon having checked in and had a quick swim we immediately went to lunch. We went to the Osteria dei Catari where the chef decided, after some discussion, that at 1.15pm he would cook us something. I ordered a bottle of Barolo Gran Bussio Aldo Conterno 2000 and from then on we had a lovely time. The starters out performed the secondi and the wine was terrific, if more alcoholic than I anticipated. Not a shabby start and the wife was happy.
We had dinner that night at the famous Trattoria della Posta on the edge of town. For my sins I ordered a bottle of Solaia 2000 which I think may be a hangable offence in this part of Italy but I knew the Mrs would enjoy it. And we both did. Starters great (we both had pasta), secondi again a little disappointing, but my goat outshone her veal shin.
Day two and we were really pleased to have secured tickets for the final night of the Monforte Jazz festival where the great Stefano Bollani was playing at the stunning outdoor auditorium bang next door to the hotel. After a long walk we lunched rather ordinarily in the centre of town with a really disappointing bottle of Barolo Le Vigne Sandrone 1999 which was browning, losing its fruit and the Mrs turned her nose up at, “too porty for me”. I took one for the team and then had to have an afternoon snooze. Dinner at La Salita in Monforte was very good but very busy, full of jazz afficionados, accompanied by a quite stunning bottle of Barolo Rocche dell’Annunziata Torriglione Roberto Voerzio 2004, the Mrs was again happy. Signore Bollani was terrific and I much enjoyed a glass of Barolo Bricco Boschis Cavallotto Fratelli 2001 listening to him under the stars.
For lunch on Sunday and I had booked a table at Osteria del Vignaiolo just outside La Morra in Santa Maria. This is now one of my favourite restaurants on the planet. I had an amazing butter and sage ravioli followed by stinco d’agnello, the Mrs had a porcini tart and one of the best veal Milanese I have ever tried, all washed down by the wine of the trip so far, Barolo Brunate Roberto Voerzio 1999. For dinner we decided to return to La Salita and hang out with the owner Stefano who we had met the night before. Something light was the plan. I decided to give Sandrone another chance and we went for a really terrific, refreshing and pure Barolo Cannubi Boschis 2004 with a bowl of lightish pasta. The Sandrone reputation was restored.
Monday morning our first tasting of the trip was with Carlo Revello where we looked at his 04s and 05s and finished with a really pinot-esque Barolo Conca 1998. A lovely set of wines. Then it was off to Alba for lunch at the much recommended Osteria dell’Arco. The food was very good without being great as was the bottle of Barolo Per Cristina Domenico Clerico 2001 that accompanied it.
For dinner we decided to track down the nearest Michelin star which was only a 5 minute drive from the hotel, Locanda nel Borgo Antico. It is located in a very modern building in amongst the vines in between Monforte and Barolo. Tonight’s victim was a pinot-esque Barolo Cannubi Paulo Scavino 2001 which was excellent although dinner itself didn’t match the star billing it was given by one of the ladies at the hotel. Or maybe we were beginning to run out of steam.
Final day and I went in the morning to see Guiseppe and Alfio Cavallotto as the sun shone gloriously and the wife played her get out of jail free card and went poolside. (NB: The pool at the Villa Beccaris is not huge by any means, it is more of a plunge and cool down than a cardio workout.) Fascinating visit and tasting with this kind and generous family which included all recent releases and their Riservas back to the 1997 vintage. The star was a Barolo Riserva Vignolo 1997 and they gave me a bottle to take to lunch back at the hotel with the Mrs who was by now on the wagon, so I took one for the team.
The final dinner of the trip we popped down to the Saracca Wine Bar, a stone’s throw from the hotel. It’s a very cool new wine bar/restaurant/hotel. We both went for Agnolotti di plin al burro e salvia and a bottle of 1997 Barolo Cerequio from Roberto Voerzio which was every bit as good, if not better than the 1999 Brunate we had on Sunday. Unsurprisingly the Mrs fell off the wagon and helped me through it and announced it the wine of the trip.
As we left we bumped into Carlo Revello wearing, of all the things I least expexted to see, an England rugby shirt! Good people these Barolesi.