Monday, 2 September 2013

A hike around Barolo villages

We had been waiting for this trip for 15 years, after that first bottle of Barolo at our anniversary when we were wine dunces and had no idea what to expect. I won’t say that bottle of Barolo changed my life but it certainly opened my eyes to the world of wine.

Our recent holiday in Barolo was an indulgent five days of wine, food and all things good about Italy. The best thing was that this was not a business trip. It was a holiday with my husband only, so no visiting wineries every hour. For me, it was the ideal way to appreciate Barolo and its wine, much better than being shown from winery to winery. We stayed in a small B&B, La Giolitta, in the village of Barolo which only has an 800+ population. The hostess was knowledgeable and arranged for us to visit three great wineries—without anyone knowing that I am from the trade. They were Mascarello Bartolo (fantastic wine, available from BBR in Hong Kong; I had met the owner, Maria Teresa, before, so it was like meeting an old friend), Giuseppe Rinaldi (family owned traditional Barolo, not easy to get hold of), and Gianni Gagliardo (decent wine with a good restaurant, but I would have loved a chat with the winemaker himself). We also dropped by to see Chiara Boschis (Azienda Agricola E. Pira e Figli), a modern Barolo winemaker with vision (wine available from Heritage Wines).

And we made a last minute visit to Marchesi di Gresy in Barbaresco, thanks to arrangements kindly made by its distributor, Roddy from Wellspring Wines. The chief winemaker is Kiwi Jeffrey Chilcott. We had an intensive tasting and lively discussion for over two hours—and it could easily have been a lot longer if not for the football match that he had to watch!

On our first day, we hiked a loop from Barolo to Novello then Monchiero, Monforte and back to Barolo—18km in total, walking through both cru and lesser vineyard areas, as well as the hazelnut plantations and small remaining patches of indigenous woodland. The soil is so different from plot to plot, and by observing the conditions of the vines I could see why one was a cru vineyard and another not (or at least not suitable for Nebbiolo). The sophisticated thing about this hike was that we didn’t need any packed lunch or energy bars. We could take a break at every village for a snack, gelati and ... of course... vino, and we even saw a parade of old motor bikes on their Sunday outing at Montforte. Better still, we felt guilt-free after the long walk and tucked into an absolutely delicious dinner of brasato al Barolo (beef braised in Barolo) with a bottle of ... uuh ... Barolo and more... for dinner that night.

We were there at the end of June, just before the summer crowds, so it was remarkably quiet and everyone was very relaxed. The light at that time of the year is fantastic. We drove around the hilltop villages in the late afternoon from 4:30 to 7pm, capturing the best lighting for photography.

Now, back in Hong Kong with all those fond memories of Barolo and two dozen of its wines not available in Hong Kong. It may be a selfish thought but I do hope these Piemonte villages will not become swamped by ‘wine tourists’. We would love to go back to its tranquility.

More photos here.

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