For a wine lover a trip to any wine region is the ideal way to spend leisure time. You can read all the books, magazines, and periodicals you like but nothing can compare to actually submerging yourself in the towns and history that make the wines we love so great. This year (thanks to some amazing friends I have been fortunate enough to make and have come into my life) I took one of the wine trips of a lifetime, spending seven days in northern Italy with an all excess pass to some of the best producers and vineyards the region has to offer. Below follows what can only be described as a mediocre attempt to convey and describe the life changing experience northern Italy has to offer not just to someone who works with wine day in and day out but to any wine lover big or small.
Ill skip the boring part of describing my inflight meals and inability to sleep while making the trip from the east coast to Italy. Let’s just say after two planes, a layover in Amsterdam, and not sleeping for 26 hours I found myself packed into a box van with nine other lucky souls as we made our journey from Milan to the rolling hills of the Piedmont. Eventually we all lost our fight with staying awake and passed out as our fearless leader drove us onward and upward with nothing to keep him awake but some house music and an occasional fist pump. As we entered the town of Barolo the van came back to life as we all quietly began to take in the truly awesome sight of a town almost preserved in time. With every inch of plant-able soil covered in vines and houses packed so quaintly together it felt as if they were holding each other up.
Our first stop was at the vineyards and winery of one of my favorite Dolcetto producers in the area Gillardi. Greeted at the front of the winery by the entire family including the family dog (who apparently hunts for truffles) there was no mistaking we had arrived in Italy. Giacolino is the second generation of wine maker in the Gillardi family and his daughter Elena I’m sure is being closely taught to pick up where ever he might leave off. Giacolino took us around his estate showing us his vines, this year’s harvest, and some unfortunate damage to some of his oldest vines caused by summer hail. We then toured the production, bottling, and barreling rooms which are all breathtakingly beautiful. We sat down to taste through his newest vintages including his not yet released new venture into Barolo and Langhe Nebbiolo.
Gicaolino lives up to his title as Mayor of Dogliani with his gracious and unwavering hospitality. As we began to pack up he insisted we fallow him back into Barolo to check out his newest project his Cantina in Barolo, once there he again pulled out all the stops as we tasted through barrel samplings of the first four vintages of his newly created Barolo. I’m sure in the years to come Gillardi will find his Barolo competing with the classic Barolo houses we’ve come to love.
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Isabella Oddero before making a trip to her front door step here in Piedmont and am a huge fan/supporter of her family’s amazing wines, so when I learned we would be visiting her on the trip I couldn’t have been happier. Oddero is one of the oldest family’s making Barolo today, now on their seventh generation. They first started buying land in Barolo in the late 1800’s and they have not let anything stop them since. Things haven’t always been easy over the years for the Oddero’s and getting the winery through two world wars and some hard economic times in Italy is a true testament to the family’s dedication and passion for what they do.
Isabella, her brother, and the current reigning patriarch of the estate her mother Maria Cristina took us through Oddero’s vineyards as they discussed everything from current practices to keep their Nebbiolo vines organic, this year’s current harvest, and plans for the future of the estate. After touring the grounds they took us into the cellars at Oddero, which does nothing short of take your breath away. They family has always used large oak barrels to make their wines and the sheer size of them all in one room is a real eye opener. After the tour had concluded they sat us down in their tasting room for three hours which can only be described as life changing. They opened up a plethora of all the winery had to offer for us holding nothing back. At the end wine just kept coming as the family graciously grabbed bottle after bottle (some of which were magnums) of older vintages they had set aside over the years. We were even lucky enough to catch a few words with Isabella’s grandfather Giacomo. With the Oddero’s their friends are treated like their family in every sense and the few hours we spent with them truly made it feel that way.
All day I had been told I was going to have the best dinner I have ever had and I brushed it of as being a bit of an exaggeration, boy was I wrong. Franco Martinetti was our amazing host even going out of his way to meet us at our hotel and escort us to our restaurant. He took us to Bovio an amazing restaurant perched on the side of a hill nestled in between the vines and houses of Barolo. We sat down in the private room and you could tell already that we were in for an amazing experience. Franco announced we would be tasting all the wines paired with each course blind. Now I’m a huge fan of blind tasting but it was nothing short of nerve racking to be blind tasting on this level. We opened with two bubbles one of which ended up being a 2002 bottle of Cristal and that really set the tone for the meal we were about to have. Each wine course was a side by side comparison of some of Franco’s oldest vintages from his private cellar and top crus from some of the best houses in France. Franco’s goal you might ask?, to show hands down that his wines age and drink just as well (if not better in some cases) as anything the great wineries of France produce.
The meal and wines were nothing short of breath taking, Franco was a man of few words but was ever diligent to not let a course go by without all of use telling him what we thought he had poured for us and why. We ended the meal with a bottle of 1943 Bas Armagnac that Franco used in small amounts when making his Quarantatre method classico which we started the meal with tasting against the Cristal. Being in the company of Franco is like sitting down for a meal with the president himself. He carries himself with an heir of royalty and the humbleness of a saint. We thanked him as we left the restaurant not realizing he had planned to once again escort our van of American miscreants back home to our hotel. If chivalry is still alive I can assure you it lives tucked away in the majestic hills of the Piedmont inside a man known as none other than Franco Martinetti.