The Langhe is all about food and wine. Sure, you can go for nice walks and bike rides, admire the incredible scenery, check out the hilltop villages, the churches and the castles, but let’s be honest, all these things are just there to fill the increasingly small gaps between meals and wine tastings.
We had some friends from the UK to stay a couple of weeks ago and in the space of 24 hours we were able to demonstrate this point pretty much perfectly.
It all started with an evening meal in La Morra. Not just any evening meal though, a really bad evening meal. Bad restaurants around here are hard to find, so I’m almost claiming this one as an achievement. Strangely, the restaurant had come highly recommended, both online and by some friends whose judgement in these things I really trust, so I guess we just caught it on a bad night. But it was really, really bad. The whole restaurant stank of damp (that should perhaps have been a clue that what was to come wouldn’t be great, but we didn’t pick up on it…), the service was glacially slow and the food (when it eventually arrived) was dry and tasteless. The wine list was pretty impressive, so that’s something, but it wasn’t enough to rescue the meal and save it from garnering the accolade of worst meal we’ve had since moving to Italy.
The following morning, safe in the knowledge that things could only get better and still chuckling about how bad the previous evening had been, we headed to Monforte d’Alba, a small town (though with a population of 2,000 it counts as pretty big in these parts) just to the south of Barolo.
We went mid-morning so we could have a nice appetite-building walk through the vineyards to work off our breakfast and make room for lunch. As soon as we set off though, we were lost. Well, actually we weren’t technically lost, we just weren’t able to find the path we should have been on. We walked for what felt like hours, along lanes, up hills, down driveways, even across gardens, but the path never materialised.
Embarrassed by my second failure in the space of just 12 hours and scolding the map for being out-of-date (it must have been the map’s fault), we gave up on our walk and headed down the steep, cobbled streets into the centre of town. Our destination was La Salita, a little restaurant tucked away down an alleyway with a peaceful, shady courtyard.
It smelt good (already an improvement on the previous evening) and we were greeted by a smiley, friendly waitress who brought us a lovely, chilled bottle of Arneis (a local, fruity white wine) while we got down to studying the menu.
Suffice to say, all the food was amazing. The carne cruda (raw Piemontese beef) was the best I’ve had, and I’ve tried a few, my wife had a wonderful pasta dish with pesto, potato and fagiolini, and one of our friends had ravioli del plin, a local staple, which was also among the best I’ve tried. We sat in the courtyard for a couple of hours, eating, drinking, laughing and catching up on everything we’ve missed while we’ve been in Italy. It couldn’t have been more different to the previous evening.
A quick time-check revealed our next appointment of the day – a wine tasting, naturally – was fast approaching, so we heaved ourselves into the car and headed for Stra, a small, family-run Azienda Agricola just outside the village of Novello.
Stra is our closest wine maker, they’re pretty much our neighbours in fact, and we’d been meaning to go there for a while. It’s a lovely place, with views across the vineyards towards our house (surely the best type of views) and the mountains beyond. We were greeted with open arms, warm smiles and a large table laden with dozens of wine glasses and yet more food. Maresa, the owner, took us on a quick tour of the cantina while we waited for a few other guests to arrive and then we made ourselves comfortable at the table and steeled ourselves for what was to come.
They treated us to rather generous tastings of five of their wines: Dolcetto, Barbera, Barolo, Brajas (a blend of Nebbiolo and Barbera) and a Nas-cetta (a white wine that can only be grown in the small comune of Novello). For a couple of hours we sat there nibbling cheese, grissini and hazelnut cakes, drinking great wine and chatting with the other guests. We even got to try some Grappa at the end. I’ve a feeling wine tastings may become a fairly regular occurrence in our household…
As the tasting came to an end, we bought a few bottles (not as many as the Swiss people who were in there with us though; they filled their VW Transporter with the stuff. Talk about showing us up in front of our new neighbours), said our goodbyes and headed off. We had one more destination… the Cedar of Lebanon.
The Cedar of Lebanon is my favourite tree. That’s right, I said favourite tree. That’s a thing. It sits on top of its own hill just below La Morra. Surrounded by vineyards, it can be seen from miles around. It was planted in 1856 at the request of a couple of local newlyweds – Costanzo Falleti and Eulalia Della Chiesa – who wanted it to be a sign of their enduring love. Nearly 160 years later, I’d say it’s enduring quite well.
We parked up and walked towards it, taking photos and watching the sun dip down behind the hills as we went. Dinner time was fast approaching, but we were happy just to stare at the tree for a while, contemplating whether we would ever need to eat or drink again.
And with that, 24 hours was up. We’d had a good meal, a bad meal, a great wine tasting, a terribly unsuccesful walk and a far better walk. And that is how you spend 24 hours in the Langhe (apart from the bad meal and the terrible walk, but you can’t have it all…).