Monday, May 21: Last night’s dinner of barbecued lamb chops was accompanied by a bottle of Trinity Hill The Trinity 2011 – a Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc blend from Hawkes Bay (light claret-style with well extracted fruit and ripe tannins. Worked well with the lamb. 88+). This was preceded by a bottle of Lucien Albrecht Pinot Gris Reserve 2010 from Alsace which had a touch of old barrel mustiness, so we opened a bottle of Remy Pannier Anjou Chenin Blanc 2009 (off-dry, apple and citrus flavours, 86). With the cheese, Mission Hill Reserve Shiraz 2009 (rich blackberry and smoked bacon flavours, savoury dark chocolate finish – 89).
Started clearing my desk to leave on Wednesday for my annual wine tour with a group of wine lovers I’ve been travelling with every May for seven years now. This year we’re going to Piemonte, Liguria and Emilia Romagna for twelve days, 32 of us in all.
This afternoon Sandy Ward came by and we tasted a slew of rosés:
- Remy Pannier Rosé d’Anjou 2011 (Loire): pale pink with blue tint; minerally, cherry pit; light-bodied, a touch of sweetness in mid palate, watermelon flavour. (86)
- Union Merlot, Gamay Noir, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Rosé 2011 (Niagara Peninsula): pink with a violet note; dry, firmly structured, medium-bodied, cherry flavour, dry with lively acidity. (87)
- Campo Viejo Tempranillo Rosé 2011 (Rioja): deep salmon pink; minerally, wild strawberry nose; soft mouth feel, viscous, full-bodied and hefty on the palate; not a lot of flavour. (86)
- Haywire Gamay Noir Rosé 2010 (Okanagan): orange pink; cranberry, minerally nose; tart, cranberry and pomegranate flavour with lively acidity, refreshing. (87)
- Inniskillin Pinot Noir Rosé 2011 (Niagara Peninsula): deep salmon colour; cherry and citrus nose; light-bodied with a floral-fruity note. Dry, fresh and firm. (87)
- Joie Farm Rethink Pink 2011 (Pinot Noir and Gamay – Okanagan): deep pink colour; strawberry nose; lovely mouth feel, strawberry, raspberry and orange flavours. Full on the palate. (88)
- Sisterhood Winery Happy Bitch Rosé (New York): lightly sparkling, orange pink; foxy nose; labrusca flavours of strawberry with earthy notes. (83)
Tuesday, May 22: Went for a physio appointment for my ankle, which hasn’t been right since the incident with Pinot on December 22nd when she led me across a wet patch of grass. I went one way and she went the other. The therapist gave me a set of exercises, which are quite painful to do.
Wrote several thank you letters to the sponsors of Grapes for Humanity’s “California Uncorked” event. We raised $58,000 to build a dormitory for orphans who want to attend university in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. For dinner, grilled salmon with Seaglass Sauvignon 2010 from Santa Barbara (straw colour; fresh kiwi and grapefruit nose replicated in flavours on the palate; soft mouth feel with good finishing acidity – 87).
Wednesday, May 23, and Thursday, May 24: Today we leave for Italy. The car is coming at 3 pm. Final rush to finish work.
The Air Canada flight from Toronto to Frankfurt left 90 minutes late which makes the connection to Turin questionable. We arrived at exactly the time the Turin flight was leaving (8:50 am). Even if we were on time I doubt we could have made the flight because the amount of time it took walking to the gate after having to go through a security check again. Rebooked on the 12:50 pm flight. Twenty-five of our group are on this flight and five are wait-listed on the Turin leg. Turns out the flight is delayed to 2:15, which means the flight is full. After hours of haggling with Lufthansa and Air Canada, five members of the group have to fly to Milan.
We have to cancel our 6 pm visit to Paolo Conterno because there is a 90-minute drive from Turin to our hotel in Monforte d’Alba. When we get to Turin we find that 14 people on our flight are missing their bags – all of which were marked “Priority.” It takes us an hour and a half to compete the paperwork. The very patient lady behind the Lost and Found desk gives us all emergency washing kits. To add insult to injury she runs out of male kits and I get a “Female Overnight Kit.”
We finally get to our hotel in Monforte, a delightful mountain-top village surrounded by undulating vineyards. Our bus driver, whose name is Valter, can’t find the way to the hotel, which takes another 20 minutes. The hotel, Villa Beccaris, welcomes us with bottles of Valentino Brut Riserva Elena 2007 in the cobbled courtyard. The female staff all wear straw cloche hats that look like something out of the 1930s.
We are booked for dinner at 8:30 pm at Albergo Ristorante Giardino “da Felicin” (Steven and Cathy Pauwels, Deborah and I are staying at this Albergo tonight and will be joining the group in Villa Beccaris tomorrow night). The set menu: amuse-bouche of pancetta on a piece of bread with Le Strette Nas-Cëtta del Commune di Novello 2011. Followed by flaked black cod on mashed potato with tomato salsa, sunflower seeds and caramelised onions, asparagus with a mustard, horseradish and ginger mayonnaise, then chicken in gorgonzola sauce and artichokes with Podere Ruggeri Corsini Langhe Nebbiolo 2010, followed by hand-cut angel hair pasta with veal ragu with Renata Corino Barolo 2007 (absolutely delicious). Then a main course of beef in Barolo and tomato reduction with wedges of herbed potato, zucchini and pepperonata. Dessert: a frosted cake with strawberries, vanilla ice cream and chocolate hazelnut sauce. The disastrous day is forgotten. To bed after midnight after walking up a torturously steep hill to our hotel.
Friday, May 25: Awoken at 3 am by a clock tower striking the hour. Three minutes later a neighbouring clock chimes the hour. Breakfast in the sun room of Villa Beccaris with a stunning view over the vineyards. The bus takes us to Barbaresco for our group tour of Gaja. We are welcomed by Gaia Gaja, who shows us around the winery and tells us about the family history. She informs us that 600 people live in Barbaresco and there are 100 wineries. And that in the 1700s the wine of Barbaresco was sweet and sparkling. Then into the tasting room:
- Gaia & Rey Chardonnay 2009: straw colour; spicy, apple with earthy-truffle and citrus notes; full on the palate, caramel, citrus, toasted nut with lovely acidity (92).
- Gaja Barbaresco 2008: ruby colour; cherry, raspberry nose with cherry, raspberry and rose petal notes; elegant, beautifully balanced, firmly structured and youthful (90).
- Gaja Sperss 1999: ruby colour with a tawny hue; smoky, tarry, blackcurrant and tobacco nose; flavours of dried cherries and licorice; dry, majestic, beautifully balanced with great length (94).
Lunch at the Michelin-starred restaurant, La Ciau del Tornavento in Treiso, a spectacular setting above the vineyards. After a glass of Contratto Millesimato Brut 2007 we are treated to a series of hors d’oeuvres: veal tartare, vegetable and egg salad, red pepper stuffed with tuna, deep fried zucchini flower, liver paste on polenta, blackened cod balls, deep fried pasta and pizza. We sat down to Pelissero Favorita Le Nature 2010 with red snapper, puréed white beans with slivers of foie gras. Ravioli stuffed with ricotta set in a nest of hay (which had been boiled in the water used to soften the hay) served with Batasiolo Barbera d’Alba Sovrana 2009. Next, pork with crackling, scalloped potatoes and wild leek. Dessert: fruit and vegetable salad with chocolate ice and apple ganache with Sarocco Moscato d’Antunno 2011 and a plate of petits fours – meringue, custard-filled cannoli and custard cup with strawberry.
Marchesi di Gresy Sauvignon Blanc 2011: very pale colour; elegant, crisp, floral nose; fresh, sweet green pepper and green melon flavours with a mineral note and lively acidity (90).Next stop: Marchesi di Gresy. I had not seen Alberto di Gresy for many years and remember he drove like a racing car driver. After a tour of the winery by a New Zealander named Jeff, who has worked at the winery for 22 years, we sat down to a tasting:
- Marchesi di Gresy Chardonnay 2011: spicy, oaky, apple and citrus nose; oak sitting on top; minerally, tangerine and green apple flavours, fresh and lively. Carries its 14% alcohol well (89).
- Marchesi di Gresy Dolcetto d’Alba 2010: ruby colour; floral, cherry, fruit; light-bodied, with a firm finish. Easy drinking (87).
- Marchesi di Gresy Merlot da Solo 2006: ruby colour; spicy blueberry nose with a mineral note; medium-bodied, well integrated oak, firmly structured with lively acidity (89).
- Marchesi di Gresy Barbaresco Martinega 2007: ruby with a tawny note; floral, spicy cherry and rhubarb with a licorice note; the colour belies the concentrated taste; very elegant, great balance; lovely mouth feel, ripe tannins (92+).
- Marchesi di Gresy Barbaresco Campo Gros Martinenga 2005: ruby colour; light tar nose with floral and cherry notes; elegant, dry, regal, spicy; lovely mouth feel with a firm finish (93).
- Marchesi di Gresy Barbaresco Gaiun 1997 (magnum): elegant, dry and savoury cherry flavour, velvety mouth feel, tar and cherry flavours. Still youthful (94).
Back at the hotel we sat in the courtyard. The hotel staff brought out a series of cold hors d’oeuvres and I ordered a bottle of Bruno Giacosa Arneis 2010.
Saturday, May 26: This morning we drove into Alba to visit the market, which takes over the whole area of the old town. Before lunch we sat in a café in the Piazza Savona and ordered a bottle of Tenuta Carretta Cayega Rorero Arneis 2010. Then we moved next door to Caffé Umberto Ristorante Enoteca for lunch. The restaurant has a magnificent wine list. For my spaghetti vongole I ordered a bottle of Vietti Arneis 2011.
After lunch we drove to Ceretto in Monsordo, a winery that used to be owned by Victor Emanuel, first King of Italy. After a tour of the winery (which had a plastic dome at the end of a catwalk extending out over the vineyard) we sat down to a tasting in the cellar.
- Ceretto Tenuta Monsordo Bernadina Arneis Blange 2011 (apparently they sell 600,000 bottles of this wine): pale straw; floral, mineral nose with a touch of CO2; peachy flavour, fresh and easy drinking (88).
- Ceretto Barbaresco Bernadot 2007: deep tawny ruby colour; spicy, savoury nose of cedar and black fruits; dry, with a sweet core and creamy mouth feel finishing firmly (91).
- Ceretto Barolo Brunate 2004: tawny ruby; licorice, cedar nose (a touch dirty – old barrels or maybe slightly corked but drinkable nonetheless); sweet plum flavour with an undergrowth note ) (89).
On to dinner at Trattoria della Posta just outside Monforte d’Alba. We start with am amuse-gueule of a slice of salami on a piece of bread, served with Bruna Giacosa Rorero Arneis 2011. This is followed by veal tartare, with Prunotto Nebbiolo d Alba Occhetti 2009. Next came chicken salad, then pasta with ragu (these best I’ve tasted in Italy!) and then ricotta ravioli with Produttori del Barbaresco 2006. Next lamb shank and potatoes fried in duck fat. Dessert – Apple and apricot turnover with ice cream, served with Romano Dogliotti Moscato d ‘Asti 2011. In bed after midnight, having spent four hours at the table.
Sunday, May 27: This morning, a guided tour of Torino (Turin) with a professional guide named Pier Franco. Fiat City turned out to be a fascinating place with beautiful arcaded streets and handsome buildings. At Caffe St. Carlo on the main square Deborah, Cathy and Stephen Pauwels and I ate outside on the cobbled square. I had a caprese salad and tortellini in brodo – huge portions, and a bottle of Cantina Josef Weber Laghrein Rosato Kretzer 2011. Deborah had the famous Bicerin, layers of coffee, chocolate topped with whipped cream.
After lunch we visited Eataly, a huge food emporium dedicated to the best produce of Italy. The entire basement is given over to wine. I bought a bottle of Ceretto Barolo Grignone 1999 for €29.90.
Back at the hotel, Giorgio Conterno led us through a selection of Paolo Conterno wines in the breakfast room:
- Paolo Conterno Dolcetto 2010: deep ruby; cherry nose; dry and fruity with a sour cherry flavour; firm, savoury finish (87).
- Paolo Conterno Barbera d’Alba Bricco 2010: ruby colour; fruit, peppery nose with a floral note; elegant and firm with a raspberry flavour; fresh and lively with a lovely mouth feel (89).
- Paolo Conterno Nebbiolo Langhe 2009: mature ruby; cedar, dried cherry nos; dry, elegant and austere; firm finish (88).
- Paolo Conterno Barolo Riva del Bric 2007: ruby with a tawny hue; floral, earthy, red berry nose; elegant, cherry flavour, lively acidity; young vine flavours but augurs well for the future (89+).
- Paolo Conterno Barolo Ginestra 2007: ruby colour; cedar, tea leaf nose with a light floral note; elegant, dry, red berry flavour, firm with a tannic lift on the finish (91).
- Paolo Conterno Barolo Ginestra Riserva 2005 (aged 5 years in barrel): ruby colour; floral, cherry nose; rich and full on the palate with grainy tannin (91).
Walked down the hill from the hotel in the pouring rain to a wine bar restaurant called Le Case della Saracca on Via Cavour, in a medieval building beautifully retro-fitted with a warren of tiny spaces on three levels. An amazingly large selection of wines, including a couple of dozen champagnes. Our party of six had to wait almost an hour for a table but there was an array of hors d’oeuvres set out on the bar. Ordered a bottle of Sandrone Barbera d’Alba 2009 and then a bottle of Sandrone Nebbiolo d’Alba Valmaggiore 2009. Finally got a table in an anteroom, where we ordered a bottle of Elio Grasso Barbera d’Alba Vigna Martina 2009. I had a plate of kidneys that went beautifully with the wine. Harald Thiel and Martin Malivoire dropped off the quarter of a bottle of Sandrone Barolo La Vigne 2004 at our table, which we polished off as well. Then back out in the teeming rain to climb the hill.
Monday, May 28: This morning we drove to Liguria and had lunch in Recco at Manuelina’s, which is famous for its focaccia col formaggio. We were greeted with a glass of Ca’ di Pietra Prosecco Brut before sitting down to a series of appetizers – deep-fried aubergine on sticks, French fries and deep-fried baby squid served in paper cones, deep-fried bread balls with herbs, and La Colombiera Colli di Luni Vermentino 2011. Then the famous focaccia col formaggio, followed by three different pastas – pesto, hazelnut and mushroom. The main dish was morone del golfo alla Genovese with tomatoes and olives. Dessert – semifreddo with blood orange salsa and a plate of cookies.
Tuesday, May 29: Today we take a ferry from Santa Margherita to Portofino, a charming fishing village whose harbour is dominated by a huge grey boat that looks like cruiser. It flies an Isle of Man flag, its name is Idol and there is speculation that it belongs to Simon Cowell. In gardens above the promenade is an art park full of off-beat sculptures.Checked into the Grand Hotel Miramare, a stately hotel overlooking the water on the seafront of Santa Margherita Ligure. On the terrace this evening, a glass of Bortolomiol Prosecco Bandarosa Extra Dry 2011. Dined at Il Faro, a short walk from the hotel. Ordered a bottle of Claudio Vio Piato dell’Albenganesa 2010 with a plate of grilled calamari and salad.
At an enoteca named Winterice, Gordon Pape and I stop for a half bottle of La Scolca Gavi di Gavi 2011 (at the extortionate cost of 38 euros) before getting back on the ferry to go to an even smaller coastal village called S. Fruttuoso di Camogli, where we have lunch at “Da Giovanni.” With lashings of Lunae Vermentino Colli di Luni 2010, we tuck into plates of melon and prosciutto, tuna carpaccio, anchovies marinated in lemon juice, steamed mussels, pasta with pesto, deep fried prawns, calamari and anchovies. There is also a carafe of red on the table which I took to be Rossese.
Over lunch we hear that that has been another earthquake in Emilia Romagna, which is where we’re heading tomorrow. We head back to the hotel and prepare for dinner. We chose a pizza place in Santa Margherita called Da Gennaro where Gordon, Deborah and I order pizzas with a bottle of Val delle Rose Morellino di Scansano 2009. It arrives warm, so we ask for an ice bucket. Everyone around us is smoking which makes the meal difficult.
Wednesday, May 30: Today we leave Santa Margherita and head inland for Emilia Romagna. We stop at an estate that raises black Parmesan pigs for culatello di zibello, prosciutto di Parma and salumi. There are rooms and corridors in the 13th-century cellars hung with the curing hams (marinated in wine, salt, pepper and garlic) that give off an ammonia smell. They’re aged for a minimum of three years.
We have lunch in the cellars, sampling the different prosciuttos, black pig lard, focaccia with Antica Corte Pallavincina Fortano del Taro 2011 (a blend of Fortano, Lambrusco and Ancellotta made by the Chamat method). Then we have plates of culatello aged 22 months, black pig aged 38 months (tastes like blue cheese!), pasta stuffed with ricotta cheese and spinach, with Antica Corte Pallacino Tamburen Rosato Frizzante. Dessert: Semifreddo with Amaretto, strawberry sauce with sponge fingers.
In the late afternoon we check into the Grand Hotel Majestic Baglioni, a short walk from the Piazza Maggiore and the main shopping streets. In the hotel bar we have a glass of Bedin Treviso Prosecco and then to dinner at a traditional restaurant, Ristorante Diana a short walk from the hotel. I order Tagliatelle con Tartufo Nero which is only okay. Not much flavour in the truffles. The wines: Mastrobaradino Sannio Falanghina 2010 and Prunotto Grignolino di Asti 2010.
Thursday, May 31: A walking tour of Bologna, a city of terra cotta with its 14 kilometers of arcades. While the women shop we stop for a glass of Da Vinci Chianti 2010 at an outdoor café on Piazza Maggiore and then to lunch at a gourmet cafeteria called Tamburini where I have a plate of roast pork and macaroni and asparagus (delicious and inexpensive) with a half bottle of Poderi Nespoli Sangiovese di Romagna 2010. Dropped into a wine store with a magnificent selection of Italian wines – Enoteca Italiana on Via Marsala 2/B.
Before dinner Cristina Geminiani, the winemaker-proprietor of Zerbina, comes to the hotel to conduct a tasting of her wines in the enoteca.
- Zerbina Albana di Romagna 2010: minerally, white peach flavour with citrus acidity; very fresh with great energy and lemony finish (89).
- Zerbina Torre di Caparano 2008 (Sangiovese with 7% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Ancellotta): richly concentrated, black cherry flavour, full-bodied and firm on the palate with a savoury finish and powdery tannins (89).
- Zerbina Marzieno 2007 (75% Sangiovese, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah): tobacco and black cherry nose with an earthy note; full in the mouth with concentrated black fruit flavours. Perfumed and porty with a lovely mouth feel (91).
- Zerbia Arrocco Albana di Romagna Passito 2008: honeyed, botrytis nose with notes of tropical fruits; candied orange peel flavour balanced by lively acidity (91).
The sommelier opened a bottle of Zernia Pietramora Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva 2006: dry, austere and majestic; still tight with a chocolate finish (90).
Cristina Geminiani joins us for dinner at Caminetto d’Oro. We start with Corletto Lambrusco 2011 with prosciutto, coppa, mortadella and salami, then salad. San Patrignano Noi Colli di Rimini 2007 (a Sangiovese and Merlot blend) with lasagna bolognese with peas, macaroni with red and green peppers, zucchini and shredded pig’s cheek, followed by roast pork shank, sea beans and warm Russian salad. Cristina told us that Noi is a commune for drug addicts to help them off the habit. They operate a winery, restaurant, leather works and other training facilities for jobs when they are drug free.
The owner of the restaurant opens a magnum of Zerbina Pietramora Sangiovese di Romagna Riserva 2004. He tells us he bought a broken wheel of Parmesan that fell during the earthquake. The owner’s mother, apparently, is 74 and is still working in the kitchen making pasta. She comes out to greet us and she looks 45. John Kaloyonides serenades the group with a rendition “With a Song in My Heart” while we eat our ice cream. Grappa to follow – Azienda Agricola Sola Grappa di Cabernet.
Friday, June 1: We drive to Modena and tour a balsamic vinegar museum, watch a film on how the vinegar is made and aged and then cross the road to buy a couple of flasks of 12-year-old vinegar.
Then to the 3-star restaurant Osteria Francescana, recently named the fourth best restaurant in the world by San Pellagrino. A very creative menu beginning with what chef Massimo Bottura (who worked with Alain Ducasse and Ferran Adria) calls “Memory of mortadella sandwich” – a foam of mortadella with a square of toasted bread (reminding him of the mortadella sandwiches his mother put in his backpack on his way to school). With this, Marcosara FRII Tocai 2010. Next course, “Think Green” – mushroom, asparagus tips, herbs and cream sprinkled with the powdered extract of green vegetables. “Five ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in different textures and temperatures” – from cream to foam with a decorated with a cheese tuille, with Calabretta Nerello 2010. “Compression of pasta and beans” – a layered cassoulet with foie gras, with Barbera della Stoppa 2005. Traditional Modenese tortellini served with cream of Bianca Modenese Parmigiano Reggiano, followed by Mora Romagnola short ribs lacquered with Traditional Vinegar of Modena. Dessert: “Oops! Broken fruit pie,” served with Marcosara Verduzzo 2010. At the end of lunch who walk in but Bonnie Stern and Lucy Waverman, who have been touring Italy researching food.
I didn’t think I could eat again but Deborah, Cathy and Steve and I go out to dinner at P122@S in the arcade behind Piazza Maggiore. Deborah and I shared Caprese salad and pizza with a bottle of Antinori Peppoli Chianti Classico 2010.
Saturday, June 2: A trip to Parma this morning to visit a farm where they produce Parmigiano-Reggiano. They make 12 wheels a day from day and night cow’s milk. The wheels weigh 100 lbs and lose 20% of their weight over a year in the drying process. We tasted 18-month old and 24-month-old parmigiano. Our guide insisted that the cheese produced in the region must never be called parmesan.
Lunched at Gallo d’Oro on Parma ham with melon and three-coloured ravioli (ricotta and pumpkin) with bottles of Terlan Lagrein Rosé 2011. While the ladies went shopping the guys toured a street wine festival featuring 25 wineries from six Italian provinces.
Back at the hotel in the evening we all gathered on a first-floor terrace to consume bottles of wine we had accumulated on the trip but didn’t want to carry home. Bonnie and Lucy joined us. Didn’t feel like dinner since we have to be up at 3:45 am to finish packing, have breakfast, check out and get to the airport for out flight to Munich.
Sunday, June 3: Flew home with added poundage in our luggage and on our persons.