Thursday, January 17, 2013

Day 6, November 9, 2012

Bartolo Mascarello

This was our last day in Piemonte and lucky for us one of the best visits of the week was awaiting in the morning at Bartolo Mascarello with legend's daughter Maria Teresa.  The entire range of wines was incredible here - probably my favorite tasting of the entire trip in terms of the quality of the juice.  We tasted through the entire current release, including her Dolcetto, Barbera, Freisa and Barolo.  The 2008 Barolo really knocked my socks off.  Dave and I both bought bottles to bring home.  I only bought one - huge mistake.  I should have bought at least three of them plus a magnum.  Maria Teresa was a terrific guide.  Very passionate, very kind and incredibly knowledgeable about her craft.  Returning to Bartolo Mascarelo on my next visit to Piemonte is a must.  Spectacular wines and a fascinating facility with a long and important history right in the town of Barolo.

Our last lunch was at Locanda del Centro in the tiny town of Castiglione Falletto.  This was hands down, my favorite lunch of the trip.  The food was superb.  We started with the antipasti plate, which was off the charts.  The carne cruda was absolute heaven.  I loved the nice homey decor in the upstairs part of the restaurant. Consistent with most places we dined in the area, the wine list was stellar and fairly priced.  I definitely want to come back here for dinner.  This was a top notch dining experience.  Great service too.

The last visit of the trip was with Paolo Scavino.  It was pretty tough to find the place using the GPS.  We got a little lost and showed up a bit late.  This was a very generous tasting as a huge amount of wines were poured including all of the current Baroli and the big gun riserva Annunziata.  The wines showed well (if you like the style) - all polished and well made, showing the influence of oak.  All very open and accessible right now.  I'm just not a fan of modern Baroli so I was less than excited about what I was tasting.  The facility at Scavino is large and they proudly show off their roto fermenters, which have been the source of much controversy in the region over the years.  If you like wines made in the modern style, it is worth a visit.

That wrapped up a great week of wine visits in Piemonte.  The views, wine and food were all spectacular.  I plan to be back here again in the near future.  Next time I won't make the mistake of not visiting Giacomo Conterno!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Day 5, November 8, 2012

Domenico Clerico

Another day, another great Italian buffet breakfast at Corte Gondina.  Soon thereafter we arrived at Domenico Clerico.  His facility looks like a giant spaceship on top of a hill.  The modern architecture sticks out like a sore thumb in the area with all the old, traditional looking structures.  I have been buying and cellaring Clerico wines now for years - largely due to the high scores they receive from Antonio Galloni.  I've had a few of the older Ginestra Barolo that have been delicious at Babbo and Capriccio on Bonaire.  The facility is quite large and completely modern.  No surprise there since it was just built.  The tasting room has a beautiful view and our host was very kind and hospitable.  I found the wines less than interesting though.  Modern and lacking in soul.  This hurt a bit since I have so much of the wines in my cellar.  My favorite wine of the tasting wasn't even a Barolo.  It was the current Barbera d'Alba.  I strongly prefer the traditional wines - I'm sure that is pretty obvious.

After a good lunch at La Salita in Monforte we started our afternoon visit at G.D. Vajra.  I loved this visit.  We were hosted by the young and passionate Francesca Vajra - the daughter of the owner and founder of the winery.  Francesca was a fantastic host.  Her hospitality and passion for the wines was a stark contrast to what we experienced at Elvio Cogno just a few days early.  Francesca poured us through the entire current offering of G.D. Vajra.  The wines showed very, very well.  I have always enjoyed Vajra wines and buy them when I see them.  They can be hard to find - I usually buy them from Astor Wines in NYC.  The tour of the wine making facility was interesting as it was easily the most packed of any wine making facility that we saw.  There is literally no room to move around.  The space constraints certainly aren't hurting the quality of the juice.

Dinner was at Castello Grinzane.  This was the only restaurant of the trip that earned a Michelin star.  The setting is inside a really old castle.  The food and service was really good.  I'd recommend this place for a nice meal.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Day 4, November 7, 2012

Elio Grasso

I had a good feeling about our scheduled tastings at Elio Grasso and Aldo Conterno, both of which were late additions to my schedule.  Fortunately my premonition was correct.  This was one great day of wine visits.

We started on a crisp and clear Piemonte morning at Elio Grasso, just outside the small town of Monforte d'Alba.  Wow, what an impressive property.  Everything from start to finish was fantastic - our host, the wine making facility, the old house, the views of the valley and the young wines poured for us.  The style is purity and balance.  I immediately fell in love with these wines.  This was definitely a memorable visit and I will buy, cellar and enjoy the wines of Elio Grasso for years to come.

The memory of my visit to Elio Grasso was further enhanced by the fact that my top wine of the entire trip was the 2008 Elio Grasso Gavarini Vigna Chiniera from our dinner at Bovio in La Morra.  The wine was not available for sale at Elio Grasso as it was completely sold out.  I bought 6 of these upon my return to the States and look forward to following its development.

Our afternoon appointment was with Aldo Conterno and this was another special, special visit.  The facility looks something like a French chateau - it is huge and artfully designed.  We started with the recent Dolcetto and Barbera and then we were treated to the full range of the 2008 Baroli and they were all very impressive.  I find the style to be a good balance between ultra traditional and modern.  The hospitality at Aldo Conterno was top-notch and the generosity was humbling.  The wine making facility was absolutely spotless - the same was true for Elio Grasso.  

Dinner on this night was at La Libera in Alba. It was easily the most disappointing meal of the entire trip - by a large margin.  I picked this restaurant based upon strong feedback from the wine boards including favorable commentary from Antonio Galloni and several other recent visitors to the area.  The service was terrible, the wine list lacking and the food was unimpressive.  A highly disappointing way to end an otherwise excellent day in Piemonte.  I even heard people at breakfast in our hotel talk about how this was a can't miss place.  Boy were they all wrong.