For lunch Monday we dined at La Ciau del Tornavento, a hilltop restaurant with beautiful view looking out over the Langhe and off to the Alps in the distance. The restaurant holds a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence and offers more than 2,000 selections, primarily from Piedmont.
Naturally, there were white truffles. One of the amuse offerings was a layering of polenta, gorgonzola cream and quail egg topped with a slice of truffle. After a course of carne cruda (literally, "raw meat") out came a ramekin full of freshly-poached farm eggs in cream, with truffles. This was followed by delicately-textured ravioli, filled with anchovy and cardoon (a vegetable that's sort of a cross between an artichoke and celery), white truffles shaved over the top. The main course was suckling pig.
With a cellar like Tornavento’s, you can bet that we enyoyed some excellent wines. A perfumed, ethereal Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Bricco Asili Riserva 2000 was followed by Sandrone’s Barolo Cannubi 2001. Spicy and brimming with a cherry flavor, it was fresh and lively, balancing power and elegance. The Domenico Clerico Barolo Percristina Riserva 1996 still had some oak on the nose, yet was full of sweet fruit, along with licorice, leather and autumn woods elements.
Then it was off to Vietti for a visit and tasting. Vietti owns 18 different crus in Barolo; however only Brunate, Lazzarito and Rocche are bottled separately. Other crus are blended in the “super cru” Barolo Castiglione and Nebbiolo Langhe Perbacco. Vietti is also justifiably known for its Barbera d’Alba Scarrone Vigna Vecchia, from vines grafted in the 1920s.
When Currado planted additional Barbera in 1988 in the Scarrone cru, the locals thought he was crazy. “Our philosophy is to be a small boutique winery with top quality in the whole range from the bottom to the top,” he explained. The Scarrone Vigna Vecchia is one of the best Barberas from the region.
Vietti has existed since the 1840s, but the estate really developed between the 1870s and 1933. Due to some unfortunate political issues, everything was sold in 1933. “The goal of my family was to buy the exact same vineyards we were forced to sell,” said Currado. “We finished in 1989.”
This focus is reflected in the wines. The Vietti style is rich and pure, with velvety textures that offset the firm structures that allow them to age, particularly the Barolos. After the malolactic fermentation, the wines are moved from barrique to large Slavonian oak casks. Only one-third new oak is used, with the other two-thirds equal parts one- and two- year barrels. Currado is such a fanatic about the oak he oversees the whole process, even buying his own trees.
We tasted a rich, blackberry- and cassis-flavored Barbera d’Asti La Crena 2004, contrasted by the deep, meaty Barbera d’Alba Scarrone Vigna Vecchia 2003, full of chocolate and plum notes.
The Barolo Rocche 2005 was less forthcoming aromatically, yet showed intensity, tension and mineral character, with flavors of cherry and licorice. The Rocche 2004 offered perfumed floral, blackberry and candied nut elements, with great finesse and well-integrated tannins.
The Barolo Castiglione 2004, a blend of the Bussia, Ravera, Fossati and Bricco del Fiasco vineyards was fresh, with more acidity and cherry and licorice notes. Overall, it was a more forward wine than the Rocche.
“2004 is a monumental vintage,” stared Currado. “It’s not as soft and round as 2000, but not as aggressive and masculine as 2001.”
The Barolo Villero Riserva 2001, made only 6 times in the past 25 years, featured complex aromas of roses, red fruits and licorice. It had great presence on the palate, with wonderful sweetness balanced by its firm structure. The Villero Riserva 1997 was stunning. It had softened and the aromas were a mix of floral, truffle and dried fruit, with a silky sweetness and terrific harmony.