Sunday, July 25, 2010

On the Road (Europe 2010): Barbaresco and Barolo

I wanted to see the area around Barbaresco and Barolo, to get a feel for the place. I had expected just to drive through on the way back to France, nothing more, but we ended up staying a night in the town of Barolo, right in the middle of the small but rather prosperous-looking town.

On the way in, passed through the towns of Barbaresco and Nieve, both perched on hills. The latter has some picturesque older buildings. Nieve is the home of Bruno Giacosa, maker of excellent Roero Arneis, among other things. In Barbaresco, I saw the Gaja headquarters, but everything was shut up. Back in the days when I was writing and publishing Tokyo Wine News, I once found myself standing next to Angelo Gaja in the wine section of one of Tokyo's major department stores. We chatted a bit. He gave me his card and said to look him up if I'm ever in his part of Italy. He didn't seem to be home....

I was completely unprepared for the beauty of the area. The low hills and triangular valleys are covered almost entirely in grapes. Here and there a patch of bare land being readied for replanting, a small olive orchard, or a clump of trees creates some contrast, but grapes cover virtually every bit of usable land.  Imagine a series of contiguous amphitheaters with rows of vines for seats.... This may be the prettiest wine country I've ever seen--and I've seen just about every major wine-producing area there is to see--in North America and Western Europe, at least.

Had a simple but good dinner at Locanda della Posta di Barolo, one of the small restaurants in the center of town. Washed down the food with a good Langhe Arneis, but then began to feel silly not drinking Barolo in Barolo, so ordered a glass after dinner, the 2004 Fratelli Barale Borolo, which was surprisingly approachable at only six years old. I wish I had a month or two to explore the wines here.

The Museo dei Cavatappi (The Corkscrew Museum) at the base of the castle in Barolo looks touristy with its large gift shop (the museum is in the back), but it's actually very good. There is a substantial collection of corkscrews (several hundred) and Champagne taps from the late 1700s to the present. The layout is clear and attractive. The signage--in Italian, English, and German--is informative. Well worth the €4 entrance fee.

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