14 November 2011

n.d.p. in piemonte: case della saracca, monforte d'alba

Midway through our stay in Piedmont I was delighted to add Monforte d'Alba to my list of towns home to better wine bars than Paris. On the recommendation of Roberto Conterno we ascended the steep narrow paths into the old town to visit Case della Saracca, a multivalent establishment whose many other functions - restaurant, wine shop, boutique hotel - do not prevent it's ground-floor wine bar from being a social hub of the town's winemakers.

We found ourselves returning night after night, partly because it was just uphill from our rented rooms (providing an easy slide home), and partly because we befriended the delightful bartender, Emanuela, who was full of inspired recommendations.

On more than one occasion we were impressed by something we tried by the glass, only to encounter the winemaker passing through that same evening - the sort of charming coincidences that can only occur in a very small community.

Another key factor in the social success of the place is assuredly the vast and tasty aperitivo spread that appears around 6pm on most nights.

To refrain from abusing such largesse requires great restraint, and a keen awareness of local social mores. My traveling companions and I had neither. We tucked in.

It is impossible for outsiders like us not to marvel at the persistence of the free aperitivo tradition here and in other parts of Italy, when the same custom transported to, say, Paris would immediately attract unsustainable swarms of homeless grifters and useless free-loaders. I assume restaurateurs encounter these elements in Italy, but apparently not in such force. What is it that stops them? The nation is not otherwise known for rigorous moral compunction. (C.f. Berlusconi, 17 year tolerance of.)

Case della Saracca also serves a full dinner menu, although, on the basis of a disappointing, spackle-like ricotta dessert we had one night, my friends and I decided not to make a reservation.

The décor probably played a role in our decision as well. Case della Saracca is outfitted like a medieval-themed nightclub. There is an iron and fiberglass spiral staircase threading between the restaurant's many floors, and the experience of visiting the toilet involves dungeon walls and whooshing motion-activated doors.

Whenever I drink Barolo now I must actively suppress the idea that much of the wealth of the region is ultimately spent in service of hellish interior design.

The wines we drank at Case della Saracca during our many visits were too numerous to enumerate. Additionally, in several instances a wine we drank there became a jumping-off-point for a visit to the winemaker, to be covered separately. For now I'll just mention my friend J's auspicious first glass from the Case's (totally excessive and pointless) Enomatic wine dispensing system, a 2008 Podere Ruggeri Corsini Langhe Rosso with the catchy name of "Argamakow."

It was, though this praise may sound faint, the best red* Piemontese Pinot Noir I've ever tasted, supple and spiced with wholesome red fruit. Despite the famous similarities between the preferred growing conditions of Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo, the former grape has in my experience never showed very well in Piedmont. Those versions I've tasted, from G.D. Vajra and others, seem to share a very opaque, graceless profile. I'm sure this is partly due to site selection; the best plots are for good reason reserved for Nebbiolo. Slenderer, prettier Pinot Noir can be found in the Alto Adige, while in neighboring Lombardy Ca' del Bosco produce a highly-rated, New Worldy Pinot called "Pinero." (I find this latter wine undrinkable.)

I would rank Podere Ruggeri Corsini's "Argamakow" up there with the best PN from Alto-Adige. It's fleshy, but not blowsy or Californian in style. Ruggeri Corsini is a new estate, by Barolo standards. It was founded in 1995 by a husband and wife duo, Nicola Argamante and Loredana Addari, both agronomists. The estate was named for Nicola's mother's family, who provided the initial investment, which, given the estate is 7ha and Ruggeri Corsini also produce two Barolo cuvées, can't have been small.

We met Nicola later that same evening at Case della Saracca, when he arrived with some Californian friends who had bought a house in Monforte. The hour was late and we had all been drinking a fairly long time by then, so I don't remember anything substantial being said, although we complemented his wine and he invited us to visit the winery, an opportunity we had to decline due to prior appointments. The Californians agreed with us that Monforte was the most charming of the towns of Barolo, but asked us to be sure not to let anyone else know.

* My favorite Piemontese Pinot remains white - Alfio Cavalotto's brilliant Pinot Nero in Bianco, a still blanc de noirs, produced in tiny quantities, had been a marquee feature on the glass-list and favorite choice for shift drinks at the restaurant where I was a sommelier in LA. 

Case della Saracca
Via Cavour, 5
A short profile of Podere Ruggeri Corsini @ VinduPiemonte

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