Langhe

Travel is always an adventure. Sometimes it is about the destination, sometimes carefully planned in advance, but often the most interesting travel is about the journey itself, and it is the tour itself that takes a life of its own and decides where to take us next. This is the way we decided to take this year’s trip to Alba. Yes, we went at the best time of the year to eat amazing white truffle with tajarin (the local egg pasta); and yes, we booked moths before a hotel perched on the hills of Castiglione Falletto, just a few steps from the castle and the wine production of Vietti. But other than that, we left it open and followed the Italian saying ‘go where your heart takes you’.

So after a homemade breakfast at our hotel, overlooking the fog lifting over the hills of the Langhe region, we started by visiting the University of Gastronomic science, the heart of the Slow Food movement. Pollenzo, the small Piedmontese town that hosts the university, is a Unesco World Heritage site: it is not only a wonderful example of medieval and gothic architecture, with its red brick castle, piazza and church, but also something of a gastronomic pilgrimage site as the place the Slow Food Movement first took root in 1986. It is wonderful to see that there are no supermarkets in the historic centre, where small, family-run shops are replete with fresh local farm produce and tasty delicacies. In the basement of the university, we discover La Banca del Vino (The Bank of Wine): it makes me think of a wine library that allows us to immerse ourselves in the wonderful diversity of Italian wines. We take the time to visit the vaulted ceiling rooms where all the wines from each region are stored and displayed, together with glass containers holding the different soils they come from. We read through books and maps of the wine regions to discover the different territories, and the grape varieties they are known for.

Time passes by quickly, so we decide to head to the CastellodiGrinzane, where CamilloBenso, Count of Cavour, was the mayor of the city a long time before becoming the minister of the kingdom behind the reunification of Italy under the Savoy family. The castle hides not only a great enoteca (wine shop), but also the amazing restaurant of Marc Lanteri and his wife Amy Bellotti, who prepare and serve exquisite piedmontese food in a friendly and refine ambiance – totally worthy of their Michelin star and of the attention to details that Marc has taken from his experience with Alain Ducasse. After lunch, Amy and Marc take time to talk to us as if we were old friends, excited by the anticipation for a family trip back to Colorado, where Amy comes from. We definitely share their passions for food and wine, and for the amazing wonders of snow-capped mountains: we also can’t wait for the snow to start falling as it is expected this weekend in the Alps too.

But it is time to visit some wineries, and we decide to follow our memories of the last wine we had last year in this region, a Barolo GigiRosso. So we show up with no appointment at GigiRosso winery and the original founder Gigi himself comes to open the door: here is a living legend, one of the first to develop Barolo to a world-renowned wine made from Nebbiolo grapes, and yet welcoming us into his cantina as he was expecting us for months. And we also find another couple combining an Italian man and an American woman – Maurizio Rosso, the son of Gigi, and Mia, his Californian wife from Carmel: it is a truly special blend and, as we are also American and Italian, we feel this cannot be just a coincidence…We go through a full tasting from white Arneis all the way to the sublime Barolo, and as we are enjoying the conversation with the person serving us wine, a Swiss couple joins and we continue talking about our experiences, going back and forth on food and wines as if we were friends: it is almost unimportant what we discuss, but we enjoy the old art of conversation, finding each other in similar places and experiences throughout the stories we recount. And once we recognize as being lovers of the same food and wines, they absolutely recommend we visit PaolaMassa, a producer we have never heard of, but that they assure is the best host we will ever find. And indeed, we call her and she is happy to invite us to her house just an hour later, where she welcomes us at her table, serving amazing aperitivi she prepares in front of us together with her daughter, while we taste a selection of her truly unique wines. She tells us of her passion for wine, and how she left her career to go back to the family estate after her father’s death, starting to produce firsta lightly sparkling white Arneis, one of the best we have ever tried. We then taste a wonderfully different Dolcettod’Alba, with notes of chocolate and caramel; and finally a Nebbiolo and a Barolo, elegant full-bodied wines, which she started producing in small quantities from another piece of land she inherited from her grandmother.

As we sit at Paola’s table, my mind wonders… we were definitely not expecting to eat homemade food and drink wine at the house of this Piedmontese woman when we left this morning from our hotel, and yet here we are… Here in the Langhe every wine has its story, every moment has its discovery, and every person enjoys taking time to make us feel part of their family and tradition, sharing stories and genuine tastes in an epicurean moment of enjoyment. Salute!


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