Ridiculous, but expected. I mean how long can the treasures of Piemonte escape our collective attention? I am of course talking about the glorious wines, but also about the food. Even the people and the accommodations they offer are so Piedmontese!
There is so much that one has to come to Piedmont to experience. While many try to imitate what they have, there is no improving on these things. They are part of this place; authentic, original and inimitable. Though many try, you simply can't beat all things Piedmontese directly from the source.
The prevalence of raw meat served through Piedmont is mind boggling when you consider the fear instilled in many Americans about their meat. Heck, they even go through the trouble of making sausages in the city of Bra that are designed to be eaten raw!
Carne Cruda is typically served either thinly sliced or finely chopped, in which case it's also known as Carne Batutta. The Piedmontese have a special breed of cow, tender and lean known as Fassona, and they make these dishes possible. Their delicate flavor and superb texture make Carne Cruda a delicious and refreshing antipasto. While Piedmontese cattle are raised in the US, I have yet to have found a piece that turns out Carne Cruda that matches what is found all over Piedmonte. You can raise the same cattle, but the climate, water, and feed all differ. It's the terroir baby!
Pasta is the road map of Italy. If you're eating Plin, those tiny little tortellini, you must be in Piedmont, and if you’re eating Tajarin, the hand cut local version of tagliolini, you're still in Piedmont but you might as well be at the Trattoria Antica Torre in the village of Barbaresco, famous for their Tajarin and with a website worthy of a restaurant that needs little promotion. It’s just a business card!
Tajarin are not only handcut, but they're also made with a very egg rich pasta dough that produces a particularly toothsome yet silky style of pasta. Typically paired with a light ragu and a dusting of cheese, Tajarin is one of the joys of pasta. Perfect for pairing with a nice mature Barbaresco, it's a pasta dish I dream about.
Speaking of wine, Piedmont is certainly famous for their fair share of Italian wines. The aforementioned Barbaresco, a firm yet elegant style of Nebbiolo, has traditionally played the role of Queen to Nebbiolo's king: Barolo.
There are other wines of course, Barbera and Dolcetto most widely known, but local niche players such as Ruchet, Freisa and Pelaverga simply can not be duplicated anywhere. Yes, people have made some very attractive wines with Nebbiolo and Barbera, though I have yet to see any Ruchet, Freisa or Pelaverga from out of the region. As of yet, no one has matched the wines of Barolo and Barbaresco either.
Speaking of wine, that is of course the main reason I find myself in Piedmont today, to taste the recently released 2009 Barolo vintage and 2010 Barbarescos. It will take some time for me to work through my notes, but I did recently re-taste several 2008 Barolos, and I should say that my initial opinions remain unchanged.
This is a very good vintage that is exciting to taste, and part of that excitement comes from the irregular nature of the vintage. The fruit in 2008 wanted to produce wines that were agile, fresh, perfumed and elegant, so if a producer over-reached, their wines did come across as chunky and inelegant. For those producers who took advantage of everything the vintage offered, they produced some thrilling wines.
While I’ve only visited three wineries over the past two days, with many more to come, it’s not too early to have a general idea regarding the quality of the vintage. Based on the wines I’ve tasted, as well as barrel samples tasted last year and talks with producers, it seem as though the 2009 vintage is shaping up to be another impressive vintage, though one with two stories.
It was a warm if not hot vintage, and those producers with cooler sites, or who were comfortable picking relatively early in the season, managed to capture both freshness and richness of fruit in their wines. The weather during harvest was excellent, with the temptation to keep allowing fruit to ripen, which some producers did resulting in rather explosively fruity wines that may lack some freshness and be decidedly alcoholic. I’ll be writing up a full report on the vintage in the coming weeks so stay tuned for more details. In the meantime, to those of you who love classic Barolo, I would suggest remaining focused on the 2008s.
It's worth mentioning that while I'm here in Piedmont I'm staying at the Tenuta Montanello, a basic but well-appointed agriturismo (a fancy way of saying living on the farm) that offers comfortable beds, clean and well-appointed rooms, and an exceptional location full of fantastic wonders.
Alberto Racca is always welcoming, and produces some attractive wines as well, so if you want to kick back and relax during an afternoon in Piedmont you don't even have to leave the property. Perched on a hilltop just to the south of the village of Castiglione Falletto, it's a little oasis in Italy, and an affordable one at that. I highly recommend it, just don't book my room!
Via Alba-Monforte 40
12060 Castiglione Falletto (CN) ITALIA
Tel/Fax. (0039) 0173 62949