Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Right Place @ The Right Time

How does one follow up a lunch like the last one? With an appointment to visit an important cellar in the historical center of Alba. Our visit with Ceretto came to an end and we pressed one last espresso into the remaining space we had. Then a few thanks you's and buon lavoro's and a brief walk back to the parked car, to ply the meter with more time. I gave a call to Cesare Benvenuto over at Pio Cesare and begged for directions. “No problem, walk 100 or so meters down the street from where you are, turn left and it is on the right. Ring the bell and I’ll meet you at the gate.” Huh? No madcap driving through the cobbled streets of Alba to a countryside vineyard? No mud? No stoplights? No getting lost? On time, this time? Was I finally getting the hang of the Langhe?

Young Cesare greeted us warmly at the portal of the Pio Cesare winery. This was a winery that the town of Alba grew up around. How many times had I walked around the town and never knew the winery that slaked around underneath the ancient bricks. All very interesting to realize an historical operation was so cleverly concealed. As if the act of making wine was the most important aspect. Note to Napa: Hide a winery in the middle of St. Helena and make it a seminal one. No tee shirts, no restaurant, no Godfather’s desk. Hmm…

Once inside, we were led past two statues of Italian greyhounds while a little yippy-type dog protected Nona’s garden. Yes there is a matriarch, and her presence gracefully looms over the compound. Cesare remarks that it is only recently that he has moved into his own living space outside the walls. He is starting a family and needs a backyard and room to grow his brood.

Time out: During this recent trip everyone we have met and spent time with has been in their early 30’s. Where are their parents, my contemporaries? Not that I cannot communicate with the younger ones, in fact I often prefer it. But where are they? Have they retired? Are they all on vacation? Do they not feel the urge to stay in the game? Or is that so very American of me, to persevere like an eno-centric Satchel Paige while my colleagues have long gone to the showers? I’m not that old, am I?

In the tasting room, little details of a long life of the winery surface. This is a quaint stop; I would have never thought the Pio Cesare winery to embrace such tradition and to enshrine it along the walls and in the cellars. It’s like finding an old battleship in the depths and then exploring the galleys looking for things left behind.

A tour of the winery. When one goes to places like Rome and sees the excavations of the floor of the ancient city 20-30 feet below the modern city, does anyone else wonder how in that time it was buried below centuries of dust? So it was at this winery, though only a few feet separated the original winery from modern times. Still, two feet is a lot. But Alba has been growing up lately.

Then we run into Rome. About eight feet below we encounter a wall the Romans built over 2,000 years ago.

Turn a corner and here we find a vine planted by Cesare’s great-great-grandfather, in the cellar. Modern day building has formed a roof over what was once an open area, but the vine is established and grows up the dark wall towards the light. These are things one doesn’t often see in a winery, anywhere.

We are walking in a working museum.

In the area where the wine is boxed and prepared to ship, Cesare's uncle Augusto runs by, recognizes me slightly, says hello and proceeds to conquer Russia and Singapore with his wine. So I’m not the only silverback working today. Business is good, the world is flat, seize the opportunity, Augusto.

My young colleague and Cesare hit it off; they have similar trajectories in the wine business and are also in the process of assembling their families. By the time this is written, Cesare should be a proud papa.

After hitting the lowest level of the cellar, where the old wines still rest, we headed back up to taste through the range of wines that are in release. I did my due diligence for the work related business; after all we represent the winery in several states. Those notes are not for these pages, though I will say that the 2004 vintage in Piedmont for Barolo and Barbaresco is stunning. I am breathless when tasting these wines. These are classic wines, in general, and I recommend collectors (young ones) to snag some.

“What are you doing for dinner?” Cesare asks. It is our last night in Italy on this trip, and we have had many, too many, wonderful meals. I am beginning my downward spiral to a state of puny, which persists to this time.
“Please let me take you to a little place in the country that my friends run.” Italians are so graceful. “No, it is no problem, this is the life we have chosen, please let’s make your last night better by spending some time together.”

We meet at the bottom of the road from where we are staying in Castiglione Falletto and it is a short ride to the restaurant. Il Vigneto is located in Roddi, between La Morra and Alba.

It is a restaurant and a country home, with 6 guest rooms starting at €75.00 for a double. This is a find. And the restaurant and cellar are outstanding. The
menu changes with the seasons, but is extremely reasonable. The wine list is just a sampler of what rests in the cellar. Go here, stay here, eat here, make love here.

So after a huge day and a great finish, we headed down to the cellar for a little Barolo Chinato and a farewell to Alba. Cesare and chef Manola along with his partner Rossano led us down through the kitchen into the cellar, where treasures after treasure of red wines from the Langhe, and beyond, slept in peace. A gravel floor and another private cellar (reserved for special wines and foods) were situated beyond where we settled. A little Chinato, a little grappa, a shot of espresso to make the road down passable and that was our night.

As we headed back to Bricco Rocche and our rooms, Cesare led the way so we wouldn’t get lost. We stopped at a road he indicated would get us up to Castiglione Falletto. We then said goodbye and headed up the road a few feet and stopped, waiting for Cesare’s car to disappear. It seemed he had led us to the wrong road (we had gotten lost a few times so we knew when we weren’t on the right road). Then we proceeded to the correct road and raced to tuck ourselves into the comfortable little beds on top of the hill. We were in the right place at the right time.


Anonymous said...

May Baby Boy Riccardo was born last week, April 22, and is in good health

- Cesare

Anonymous said...

A new Cesare! Maybe you helped the birth as an old eno-midwife

Anonymous said...

A beautiful reflection of the old world. It has been so long since I have been to Italy. You bring it back like it was yesterday. Your details are phenomenal.

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