I’m in Venice. I’m supposed to be in Barolo, but since I’m in Venice, I’m having some razor clams at a tiny osteria just off Piazza San Marco.
I was walking home from dinner Tuesday evening. The next thing I knew, I woke up in the back of a car speeding across Italy on the autostrada. In the car were Bobby Stuckey, Randy Lewis and Richard Betts.
No, it’s not a nightmare. If Bobby had his way, the scenario I just described would have become reality.
I ran into the threesome at Giacomo Conterno. They were leaving as I was arriving for my visit with Roberto Conterno. I was surprised to see them, but it’s not unusual to run into wine colleagues in Europe. A few years ago, I had dinner with Randy Lewis at Bouchard Père & Fils. He was there with a group of sommeliers bicycling around the Côte d’Or.
They were off to Friuli for a few days; I had my program in Barolo. We wished each other well and went on our separate ways. Or so I thought.
That evening, I didn’t feel like straying too far from my hotel for dinner, so I hiked up the hill into La Morra to Ristorante Belvedere.
I had chosen a few dishes and was perusing the wine list when I looked up and there was Richard Betts with a huge grin on his face. “Why don’t you join us?” he suggested. I knew I was going to have a whole lot more fun with them than dining on my own.
Sure enough, we had a lot of good laughs, along with some good wine. Richard immediately ordered Champagne, a bottle of Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé Cuvée Elisabeth Salmon 1991. A mix of maturing biscuit and dried berry aromas were propped up by the bracing acidity of the vintage (not a particularly memorable one for vintage-dated Champagnes). This was a delicious bottle.
By the time the bubbly was poured around, Betts had ordered two reds. The Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia 1990 was tasty, but seemed to be lacking nerve. The flavors were balsamic, bordering on soy sauce and leather, despite sweetness to the fruit. The Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano di Neive Riserva 1988 was a beauty. The bouquet was fragrant and fleeting, with dried rose, dried cherry, sous-bois and licorice notes. All the elements were focused by its bracing acidity.
Betts wanted the Gaja Barbaresco 1971, but the sommelier pulled the bait and switch, announcing that the Barbaresco was out of stock, but he had the 1971 Costa Russi (at 400 euros!). Later the same thing happened to Stuckey. The Paolo Scavino Barolo Bric dël Fiasc 1990 he ordered wasn’t available, but we could have the 1993. We all had a good laugh over it.
We finished with a fresh, still youthful Gaja Barbaresco 1986. It was then that Stuckey suggested they hijack me to Venice.
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