Server shaves Piemonte white truffles for Roberta Ceretto at Ristorante Conti Roero in Montecello. Below, Bricco Asilli "Bernadot" Barbaresco awaits truffle-covered pasta at the family's Piazza Duomo restaurant in Alba.
How can I let fall slip into winter without talking about a marvelous 30-hour weekend I spent in Piemonte - the land of Nebbiolo and truffles - with the Ceretto family, who makes some of the region's best wines? Getting to northern Italy from Bilbao via Brussells and Milan was a bit of a stretch, but the view was worth the flights and the two-hour car ride.
Ceretto as it exists today is primarily the work of two brothers, Marcello and Bruno, who took over the family business and leveraged it at a time when the big Nebbiolos - Barolo and Barbaresco - were beginning to become highly prized and in great demand by the international wine community. Today, the brothers have been joined by a daughter and a son from each of these two branches.
The weekend gets started around noon Saturday on just the right note - lunch in a small restaurant in Serralunga - with Bruno's son, Federico, who is charge of export markets, and his wife, Manuela. "I love Serralunga because it's the one town that still has all the old buildings," he says. The restaurant - Vinoteca Centro Storico - has four tables and lots of wine. We grab one and pop a bottle of Delamotte Rose, which Ceretto distributes. Then we open a bottle of 2004 Bricco Rocche "Prapo" Barolo, a lovely, dark, but quite accessible wine that goes great with my pasta ragu with veal scallops. "Barolo is always a discovery," Federico says, and we discuss whether or not Barolo is a difficult wine to appreciate, especially young. I think not, but then I haven't been a virgin wine drinker in years. The Prapo, Federico says, is one of 15 labels for Ceretto, six of which are single-vineyard brands.
It is a sunny afternoon when I get to my lodging for the night - Bricco Rocche, the small but famous Ceretto hilltop winery with its signature tilted glass-cube observatory overlooking the town of Barolo and some of the region's most famous vineyards. A little haze is obscuring the Alps in the distance, but the sights are nevertheless breathtaking.
That evening, I have dinner with Federico's sister, Roberta, who handles public relations for the firm, and her husband, Giuseppe, an architect who works during the week in Milano. We meander along backroads that remind me of my native Appalachians in the closing darkness to Alba, where we magically find a parking spot near the duomo, a minute's walk from the family's famous Piazza Duomo restaurant on the second floor above a more-casual trattoria.
We are ushered through chef Enrico Crippa's dazzling kitchen to a glass box where's the chef's table is located. Crippa, in a spotless white tocque and a beard-lined face that a Renaissance painter would have loved, stops by to consult on the food and the wine. It is a delightful evening talking with this energetic pair while enjoying Crippa's creative but very accessible dishes. It is truffle festival weekend in Alba, so we know the truffles will be shaved, and Ceretto's magical liquids will flow. We start with their white Blange Arneis, a variety that Ceretto helped popularize while revitalizing white production in the region, go through a 2004 Bricco Asilli "Bernadot" Barbaresco and finish with a family-produced grappa.
Back at the car, Giuseppe hands Roberta the keys, and they drop me off at the quiet winery.
The next morning, I awake to find a "floatilla" of hot-air balloons cruising through the valley with the crystal-clear Alps shining in the morning sun. I try to count them as they duck in and out among the hills, but I lose track at around a dozen.
At mid-morning, Roberta picks me up, and we go dashing through the valley, touring the family's wineries, walking through vineyards, admiring groves of hazelnut trees and stopping at the family's famous David Tremlett chapel with its wild colors. In the small town of Gallo - a name with a haunting familiarity - we pause for a cappucino. In Alba, Giuseppe rejoins us for a drive to the mountain town of Montecello where we have a delightful lunch at the Ristorante Conti Roero. Several folks stop by to say hello, and one lady, a truffle merchant, sends over a large tuber to our table. Served on a salad with freshly cooked eggs, it is delicious.
We drive back to Alba, where Giuseppe says goodbye and melts away into the festival crowd. Roberta and I watch the neighborhood flag-twirling event, wander through the marketplace of truffle and foodstuffs booths and have another coffee before heading to the Monsordo Bernardina winery with its rounded, grape bubble of a tasting room suspended over a hillside vineyard.
While waiting for my car to come, I taste some wines - the 2007 Rossana Dolcetto, 2007 Montsordi Langhe Rosso, 2005 Zonchera Barolo and the 2005 Brunate Barolo. They are all delicious, and my mind floats back to the early 1980s when I first became aware of Ceretto and its Piemonte treasures.
That evening, I arrive at a hotel on the edge of the Milan airport and re-pack for an early-morning flight to Madrid and then home. I sleep the beautiful rest of the totally satiated.
At bottom, the grape bubble tasting room floats over the vineyards at Monsordo Bernardina. Below, David Tremlett's Chapel is now a local landmark.
Update on Articles
Among recently published articles:
> In the just-published Intermezzo, I have multi-page, text-and-photo spread on the wine, food and culture of Cahors.
> Want to know how to get the most out of winemaker tours? Read "Make Wines, Will Travel" in the December issue of Beverage Media.
> The fountains of the Brandywine Valley's Longwood Gardens are legendary, and in the December issue of Signature Brandywine, you can read about the man who keeps things flowing, Colvin Randall - "Keeper of the Fountains."
> The vineyards of the Rhone valley are blanketed with large-sized stones that the French amusing call "pebbles." I write about the most famous one, Chateaufneuf-du-Pape in the November/December issue of Sommelier News (http://www.internationalsommelier.com/). It's called "Pebble Beach." Want more Grenache and Syrah? Try "When in Rhone" in the holiday issue of Pennsylvania Wine & Spirits Quarterly.
> Have you ever wanted to have your portrait painted? Teresa Fort did, and I follow her relationship with the potraitist David Larned in "The Sitter and the Painter" in the winter issue of The Hunt. In the same issue, Chris Curtin of Eclat Chocolates encourages us all gain a few pounds in "Chocoluxurious."
> Finally, I'm now contributing to Chester County Dwell, a beautiful local site at http://www.ccdwell.com/. Read about how the Galer family is restoring the old Folly Hill winery.
> PPS. Buy my book! We only been out a month, but The Brandywine Book of Food has already sold over 700 copies. The ultimate holiday gift.
Until next time....