24 hours in the Langhe

Put it nice and simple the Langhe is the wine region of Piedmont.

Piedmont (Piemonte) is one of the 20 Regions of of Italy, it lays on the west side of the country and it borders with France and Switzerland. In my humble opinion the best grape varieties grow in this wonderful area, the King being the Nebbiolo of course, but definitely worth of mention are the Dolcetto, the Barbera, the Arneis and the Langhe itself has gotten its own denomination. Neither I nor Meg can be called wine experts, we just know what we like.

Oh don’t forget, the lucky terroir of the Langhe was blessed by the Gods even more and from September through December it delivers truffles to its lucky inhabitants -and to the people coming from all over the world to enjoy this pretty expensive treat- the one and only “Tartufo Bianco di Alba”. Possibly the most exclusive culinary delicacy of all.

It’s not hard to understand emigration is not a big thing among these genuine locals: the food is extraordinary, the wine has no equals, they have fresh white truffles three months a year and the landscape is absolutely breathtaking. Why would anybody even think of leaving?

Back to our 24 hours…we left Emilia-Romagna (my home Region) pretty early in the morning and arrived in the Langhe after little more than two hours drive. When, from the highway, we started to witness the gradual taking shape of the natural frame painted in the sky by the Alps, starting from low brown hills ending into white high peaks, we truly entered a dimension of endless awe and beauty.

The first little town we visited was Neive: absolutely stunning. We just scrolled up and down the little cobblestone streets of this wonderful little village and our hearts got filled by an enjoyable sense of peace, silence and harmony. The village was basically deserted, the most crowded part of the truffle season was over: we had it all for us.

Back to our car, we left Neive and we drove 15/20 minutes to Grinzane Cavour another spectacular location. At this point, of course, we are feeling hungry and we decide to go meet our hosts and see the place where we were going spend our (unfortunately) only one night.

The bed and breakfast is located in the hills of La Morra, secluded and magical. We have been put in touch with the wonderful owners of this gem by our wine supplier here in New York: we buy a delicious Barolo from them: the “Cavalier Bartolomeo” (we already contacted and made plans to visit the vineyards in the afternoon). The wine maker’s sister runs (together with her husband) Braide – Ospitalita’ Rurale, the bed and breakfast where we stayed. http://www.braidelamorra.it/en/index.html#contacts

Now we must spend a couple of introductory words on Mary and Giuseppe. These couple fully renovated their cascina and made it become a wonderful, simple and very -VERY- clean B&B… just four rooms, one cuter the the other. I’ll get back on these two incredible creatures at the end of this post.

So we drop off our luggages and ask Mary for a restaurant recommendation…she suggest L’Osteria del Vignaiolo, literally 5 minutes drive down the hill of La Morra.

Now we’re talking about a pretty isolated/hard to reach location here, on a random Tuesday lunch at the end of November the restaurant was packed, luckily we showed up pretty late, after 2pm so they’ve been able to find us a table. After a short strategic briefing we decided to indulge and allow ourself a little truffle at dinner, although L’Osteria del Vignaiolo offered it and mostly every table had it one their plates…the smell…. We picked two of the Langhe real classics to start: carne cruda (beef tartare) and vitello tonnato (thin slices of veal dressed in a tuna cream). Of course two generous pours of Barolo reached our glasses.

After this truly delicious antipasti we just split (because of truffle dinner) one portion of Tajulin dressed in the most decadent sausage ragu’, both I and Meg agreed that was one of the best pasta dishes we’ve ever had. Here:

Little refreshing clementines and the cutest tray of complimentary mignon patisserie was served at the end of the meal, we left this family owned wonderful establishment promising ourselves we would return as soon as possible.

We got back to our car and drove to Barolo, yes the name of the wine comes after the name of this beautiful magic little borgo in the middle of the hills of the Langhe. We visited the castle the little street the many wine boutiques…Well, we didn’t buy anything because we found the wine to be sensibly overpriced (these central stores mainly cater to wealthy tourists) and we proceeded to our next stop: the Cavalier Bartolomeo vineyards.

What was intended to be a half hour courtesy visit became an almost three hours hang out full of wines, salami, laughs and countryside stories. We loved it so so much. The cantina is owned and run by Dario, his son Alex (who visited our restaurant in Brooklyn a couple of years ago) is a wonderful helper and is in the process of learning all the secrets, one day he will run the business.

Dario (and a little bit of Alex):

Having fun with the best salami and wines:

Their hospitality was truly touching our hearts we weren’t feeling to leave, we actually felt for a second we truly belonged to their family and there was no reason for us to go anywhere anymore (plans for dinner, back to Brooklyn….everything disappeared for a couple of hours). We got back to our senses and started to tell them we had to leave because of a reservation for dinner in Alba (the main city of the area). “Ok ok but first try our Barolo Chinato” (Chinato is a particular vinification of Barolo that makes it almost sweet and perfect as an after dinner sherry like drink)…after the Chinato we really needed to go “ok ok but you have to try our grappa”… after the grappa we really REALLY needed to go “ok ok but you have to take a look at our private cellar”…we couldn’t say no to a private cellar.

Coming from New York where everything is pretty business oriented and, let’s be honest, nobody gives you nothing for free, we got pretty surprised when Dario put a 1992 and a 1975 (nineteen-seventy-five) Barolo from their private collection in our hands. I tried to reach my wallet to make the gesture, they looked at me like I had three heads and we all ended up saying good-bye and hugging with our eyes full of tears and gratitude.

Ok it’s almost 7, dinner is at 8 half a hour away. We can go back to our room and rest for 15/20 minutes and then go to dinner. We were coming from a very intense week of friends and family, we touched that bed and got into a profound coma. At 8:30 I open one eye and in full panic mod I tell Meg what time is it. We were completely disoriented and really living one of those moments when you don’t know who you are, where you are, we’ve got very quickly into the deepest sleep, we weren’t expecting it.

We had a moment of “should we call the restaurant and tell them we can’t make it?”. Meg got so mad we were looking forward to our truffle and just staying in the room and keep sleeping wasn’t bringing justice to our get away. So we call the restaurant to tell them we were going to be late and we go. Driving at night after that power nap was very challenging, the hills are dark and the street are as narrow as a small car.

The restaurant is located in the center of Alba, a wonderful historic town. The same owners divided their big operation in two floors: upstairs the DUOMO is their upscale Michelin starred, on the ground level their osteria (still pretty fancy, bringing a sort of Williamsburg feel in) La Piola.

Thank God we decided to go, we truly enjoyed our dinner which was a basic order of two tajulin drenched in butter and topped with truffle and two bicchieri di Barolo. Pure PERFECTION.

Ok back “home” and sleep like two babies, next day wake up is at 6 we are heading to Milano airport and we’re planning to leave by 7:30.

Mary mentioned us she was going to prepare some breakfast for us so we are like “ok it’s going to be a couple of packaged croissants and a box of jam”…again we were forgetting where we were and who these people are. Mary woke up a 4 to bake us fresh bread, an incredible crostata, to make make us her famous onion frittata, slice the salami that her brother in law produces, give us the best marmalades and cheeses from the neighboring farms… this stays and will remain the BEST breakfast we’ve ever ever had (Meg decided to have a picture of our breakfast table on the homepage of this blog, she’s still obsessed with this whole thing).

Ok now it’s time to go, it’s time to pay and go.

I ask Mary if I could give her my credit card, and I got the same look I got from her brother the day before at the vineyards…”there’s no check for you guys, you’ve been our special guests, have a safe trip home”.

I see Meghan eyes full of tears again, I had to put an effort to not cry like a little boy myself. The only thing we could do is to hug them.

Good bye Langhe, we will come back soon to enjoy your wonderful wines and truffles, but we have to say, the best thing you offered us was your people. They’ll be for ever in our hearts.

Thanks for reading.

francesco

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