Italy 2018 - Piedmont
CASE DELLA SERRACCA
If you are ever visiting the Barolo area you owe it yourself to stay with Giulio. If I had a few Euros for every time I’ve told someone that, I could buy myself another stay at Case Serracca. And I would. I absolutely love the place. Giulio has created a “hotel” like nothing I had seen before, or since. It’s like staying in a movie set. With the world’s coolest wine bar in the basement.
Serracca is an amazing, hand crafted 'remodel' of three, 500, 750, and 1000 year old buildings at the peak of the steep village of Monforte d’Alba. Giulio was formerly a pharmacist, but apparently he got a wild hair one day and decided he’d build this crazy hotel. So he and his brother bought what was at the time somewhat of a ruin, and remodeled it themselves. With no real background in the craft. What they managed to create, somehow free of the usual limitations of what a builder would tell you is or isn't possible, and endowed with the imagination of a child, is spectacular. I’ve stayed there five times and I think I’m just now actually figuring out my way around; up and down and over through passageways and across glass bridges suspended on metal i-beams.
And then deep below the hotel rooms, opening out onto the steeply sloping alley outside, is the wine bar, where in the evening they turn on the music, put out a Spanish style spread of snacks, and host a properly cool party until, well, it all depends on who you are, and how nice you’ve been. On this particular trip we managed 2:30am one night before Sarah, Serracca's iconic bartender, finally kicked us out so she could go home.
If you have a chance to eat at Serracca, and it’s worth it whether you’re staying there or not, the table right off the bar, suspended on a glass floor jutting into the wine cellar, is a must book. Elsewhere the multi level restaurant space is full of intimate spots to tuck away with someone if you're not part of a big group.
CAMARADERIE OF NEBBIOLO
Every time I visit Barolo and Barbaresco, I’m struck by how there seems to be an incredible sense of camaraderie among the families who make wine there. In a world as huge and competitive as wine, the locals here seem to maintain a true sense of community and cooperative spirit.
At meals we tend to drink wines from many producers, and often times we’ll be sharing a table with people from 2 or 3 different wineries. Winemakers will regularly ask us to say hi to their buddy at the next visit we have scheduled, or ask how so-and-so’s wines were at our last tasting. It’s refreshing to see competitors treat each other almost like family, and it infuses visits to the area with a deep sense of hospitality and belonging.
Georgio Rivetti is a true rock star of the wine world. He travels like a rockstar, (before meeting us he had flown in from China via a stopover in Sweden) he dresses like a rockstar, (always looking handsome and deeply Italian, despite allegedly traveling with only one comically small carry on bag) he drives like a rockstar, (hauling ass around Italy in his Range Rover Sport) and of course, he drinks like a rockstar; seeing as he makes some of the finest wines in Italy.
So, befitting his rockstar life, in 2011 he bought the Contratto winery, Italy’s oldest producer of sparkling wine using the Metodo Classico. They also make a selection of bitters, but the bubbly is produced exclusively at a UNESCO World Heritage site in the town of Canelli, which we visited on our last day in Piedmont.
Contratto is a spectacular place to visit. The entrance courtyard and dining rooms of the restaurant are elegantly finished in the style of a great old European chateau. But it is the cellars that really take your breath away. Over 150 years old and bored into the hillside behind the winery; racks upon racks upon racks of champagne. Aging. Waiting. Contratto, despite the scale of the facility, doesn’t make that much wine. A tiny drop in an ocean of Veuve Clicquot. But when you age all those bubbles, upwards of 10 vintages at a time, all waiting, settling, sharing that huge underground cavern; it makes for a truly epic space, and a tour that easily ranks near the top of anything I’ve done in the wine universe.
Our encounter with Mauro was easily the highlight of our visit to Contratto. Riddling, or ‘remuage’ is a crucial step in the Methodo Classico of making champagne. It involves rotating each bottle of champagne a few degrees at a time, at set intervals, so that the sediment in the bottle slowly settles into the neck, to later be frozen and removed. It’s a delicate and precise process, and Conttratto employs a master. Mauro started working at Contratto over 40 years ago and is most famous for his ability to perfectly “riddle" 300 bottles of Contratto per minute. Watching Mauro calmly and quickly work his way through a rack of bottles was like watching a talented musician intimately connected to the movement of his hands on his instrument.