Bras Suck

So after waking up at 8:45, we finally squeak out of the hotel at 10:00 to head to the Alba Market, approximately 600 meters (that’s about 6 football fields for the metrically disinclined) of open-stall shopping along two of the major streets in Alba. That’s in addition to the existing shops along the two streets. Everything is going great as we pull into town by simply following the signs that say “Alba ->”. Going great, until we make a wrong turn in the city. We end up on the other end of Alba (the end that we don’t have a map for) and park. We walk for a while until we realize that we’re going to be walking for a great while (this realization comes by asking a local where the market is).

After getting back in the car and letting the GPS do it’s job and get us to the right area, we ask an old Italian lady where the “mercado” is. She points us to what ends up being a mall. I dread that “mercado” can mean “mall” as well as “market” for a brief moment, but another 20 meters proves the dread to be in-apropos. The market is just ahead…

…and it’s packed! Clothing, shoes, more clothing, more shoes, and shops all along the sides of it. Truffle shops among them. We see some jars of tartuffi bianchi that are going for €260 for some jars that would just fit inside my hand. I briefly consider grabbing a jar in each hand and making a dash for it, but my superego usurps my id and I simply browse the rest of the shop and dream of what I might do with them instead. *sigh*

We get some fresh focaccia, pizza and focaccia rustica (along with a few other savory pastries) and munch on our bounty while crouched down on the side of the street in front of a shop. We wash it all down with an orange Fanta, something that seems to be invading our diet more frequently than I would expect. The food along with the long slender can of soda disappears in a few minutes and we’re back in the fray, fondling and disheveling merchandise and not buying the great majority of it.

Two hours later, we head to Bra for the Cheese Festival. The journey is pretty short (maybe 20 minutes to get from town to town) and we spend another 10-15 minutes looking for the festival itself. There are a surprising lack of signs pointing us in the right direction, but our GPS is guiding us and we will not fail. Hmmm… no signs. We expect signs. We expect crowds. We expect little to no parking. Cheese. We expect CHEESE! But after driving through the streets where there should be booths and throngs of people, there is a surprising lack of both.

At this point, we pull over and revisit the brochure that I printed out before leaving the USA and we see “2007” printed on the front. There is no festival. There isn’t even a fucking cheese shop that we can find to buy a bunch of cheese and make our own festival!! Nancy describes me at this point as crestfallen in her blog, but heartbroken may have been more appropriate. Defeated, we head back to La Morra to visit Nicola. He is sure to have a few good ideas up his sleeve (hopefully involving inebriation).

We give Nicola the wine map that we brought with us of the northern Sonoma County (this one). We ask about visiting a few wineries in La Morra. He calls a few places and we’re off!

We meet up with Carlo Revello, a large, “Sinbad the Sailor” type of guy who started the winery (Fratelli Revello) with his brothers, as you might have guessed from the name. We taste through a dolcetto, the barbera the we had a dinner the previous night (Ciabot du Re), a blend, and 5 barolos (4 single-vineyard). We already know that we’re in trouble from the barbera’s being so good the night before. We also know that we only have 4 slots left in our wine shipper (due to having purchased two bottles from Nicola at the enoteca). We spend close to an hour in the tasting room that overlooks the valley and end up getting 3 bottles. Then, we head over to our next winery.

We show up at Renato Corino’s place and are a bit confused. It seems to be under construction or renovation, but there are two cars out front, so we take a look around. The name on the sign out front has the first and last names swapped if the list/map that we have is correct (which it turns out is not). We travel back and forth between the car twice before deciding that this is the right place and venturing into the deserted building. During one of these trips, Nancy has a “trip” of her own as some gravel gives way on one of the steps back down to the car. Shaken, but determined we enter the building.

There’s no one here. The place is clearly under construction. WTF? We hear noise coming from downstairs and Nancy wanders down to investigate calling “hello?” There are people here after all, and they’re giving a demonstration of some of the equipment to some other tourists. We join them and then head back upstairs to taste some wine after the other tourists leave. It’s at this point that Liliana introduces herself.

She and Renato are the proprietors here and are both very friendly. She is quite fluent in English and Renato speaks almost none. But even without Liliana’s help, it’s clear that Renato is a simple and genuine man who would tell you everything if the language was common. A strikingly handsome man and a true Italian wine maker, born here and grown into this life. Not just tied to the land, but part of it. He is Italy… Barolo.

Liliana, Nancy and I sit down outside to taste some wine, while Renato cleans up some of the equipment downstairs. She explains (as we taste through a dolcetto, two barberas and a nebbiolo) that her English is so good from watching US sitcoms and dramas (Friends, The OC, Heart to Heart, Knight Rider, etc). We laugh about how cheesy some of the shows were/are and she tells us about how bad Italian TV is. The sun is setting and the wind is picking up. She insists that we can stay outside but its clear that she’s freezing, so we pick up everything and move inside.

We taste a couple of Barolos and chat on about the barolo region. As Nancy mentions that Serralunga had “tre canni, due gatti e una persona,” we all have a laugh as Renato confirms that our description is accurate (“that’s Serralunga” 🙂 and that the desertion probably has nothing to do with the harvest. Carlo calls from the previous winery to let us know that we’ve left our credit card there. We let him know through Liliana that we’ll come by to pick it up in a little bit. But as a little bit turns into 2 1/2 hours, Carlo ends up bringing the card to us on the way into town.

Near the end of our visit, Liliana has to venture off to pick up their daughter in Alba (or Asti. I can’t remember which), because she doesn’t want to be seen riding the bus. (Kids!) We sit and talk with Renato in Italian for a while. The discussion is sporadic at first, but as we’re forced to speak it, Nancy’s and my Italian begins to surface more readily. We talk about the grapes and the vineyards. We try some of the nebbiolo grapes for one of the bottles that we bought (they’re surprisingly sweet and delicious, considering how tannic barolos can be), and we talk about how the waste of the grapes (skins, stems, etc) is legally required to be sold to a distillery to make grappa. We have an easier time understanding Italian than speaking it, but for having studied only about a month before traveling, I feel we’re doing pretty good.

We collect our wines (we bought two despite having only one slot left at this point) and head back to the castle before heading off to dinner. We thank Renato for their kindness and say goodbye. He and Liliana are by far the most kind and genuine people we’ve met so far. A very cute couple (cute individually, but more so together), they opened their hearts to us and welcomed us to Italy in their own way. Language seemed like it would be an issue at times, but it reality communication ultimately has very little to do with that. We stepped into their lives for a moment and they welcomed us in whole-heartedly. Thi
s is why I came to Italy.

That… and the food. ^_^

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Barolo

So, Sinio is right in the middle of the Barolo, Barbaresco and Dolcetto regions. With only 7 major communes in Barolo, we decide to hit that one first (and, as it turns out, last).

The first stop is La Morra. Not because it has an Enoteca Comunale (like a tasting room for that commune’s wines), but because it has sweeping vistas of the entire Barolo region. On the way there, we’re shocked at the vast number of vines on the hills. The density of the vineyards themselves is as common in Sonoma or Napa, but it seems that every square foot of space in the region is planted (unlike Sonoma and Napa). Combine that with the fact that the vines are trellised to resemble 6 foot high walls, and the “maze” of vineyards is incredible.

We get to La Morra and the entirely friendly (and fluent in English) lady gets us to the right spot. We enter the enoteca and make a friend. Nicola (that’s nee-COH-lah; a guy) is friendly, loves wine, loves food and lives 20 meters away. He helps us with some Barolo selections and several tastings, as well as dinner suggestions and reservations. After probably an hour in there, we step outside and notice that the sun has broken free! Picture-snapping ensues, and we head out to the commune of Barolo.

Barolo is pretty dead, by the time we get there. We mistakenly step into a producer’s cantina instead of the commune’s and end up paying €10 to taste 4 wines (only 2 barolos). The wines weren’t that great, but the situation could have been worse. We could have been tourists in Napa Valley and paid as much to taste Beringer’s wines or something. We eventually find the right spot, but it’s closed by the time we get there. After walking around a bit, we elect to head on to the other four communes. In Serralunga, we snap some castle pics and when lured into a small wine bar by Sinatra’s crooning, we find out why everywhere is so dead: harvest. We have a glass of wine each in the company of the 3 dogs, 2 cats and 1 person that seem to inhabit the town, then move on.

We manage to hit all but one of the communes before dinner, and with 30 minutes left to spare, we head back to La Morra for our dinner reservations. We arrive on time and see a couple we met earlier in the day (Bill and Jen from New York, who were staying at an agritourismo in La Morra. Sounded wonderful and cheap… Perfect).

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