A Nebbiolo wine tasting at Cantina Torino shows what it means to be a wine person.
I always thought I was more of a "beer person" than a wine person. Perhaps coming of age in the U.S. at a time when artisan beer was (and is) sky-rocketing combined with prohibitive prices of a good bottle of wine to a college student nurtured that tendency. Plus, not many college parties served wine.
But that was before I took wine tasting classes, moved to one of Italy's most diverse and upcoming, yet historically-important wine regions, and started writing about wine every day. With last week's tasting at Cantina Torino, my transformation was complete. I have become a "wine person."
I was already naturally interested in the producers' stories: the year's harvest and what the onslaught of rain meant; the valley of millennia-old volcanic soil that, still today, gives the wine special minerality; the work that goes into hand-harvesting; the generations of wine makers in the family, or the entrepreneurs that itched to get out of the office and work the land.
What I didn't know was that I am actually interested in talking about wine. Granted, I'm no sommelier. But I enjoy picking out certain characteristics -- acidity, tannins, a certain aroma or taste of fruits, whether one falls flat or lasts long in the mouth. What surprised me even more was that talking with other wine lovers turned out to be not snobby at all, but quite fun.
(I feel doubt on both sides, either telling me I don't know enough to talk about wine, or that it is, in fact, super-snobby. Don't take my word for it -- go to a tasting yourself, and then tell me what you think.)
Cantina Torino is a new locale in Turin, a small shop with wines that represent all ten regions of Piemonte, with tables and seating enough for 20-25 people. Wine by the glass is sold at honest prices, and while there is no formal kitchen, there is space to prepare food like a tagliere of cold cuts and cheeses. Its atmosphere is low-key and casually intimate, perfect for attracting a younger crowd. With the monthly events like tastings, concerts, and other activities, that is exactly what the owners Carlo and Cecilia would like to see.
The tasting was held as a comparison between four Nebbiolo wines: Gattinara, Barbaresco, Boca, and Barolo. With each wine came a small tasting of a traditional Piemontese food, and while I especially savored the veal tongue with green parsley sauce and tortelli with cheese and mushrooms, I still haven't gotten used to carne cruda.
With each wine, the producers spoke about the specific bottle we were to taste. I particularly liked that there were two men and two women producers. Girl power! One thing that the producers' stories had in common was that the best wines come from the most difficult soils. This is especially true for Nebbiolo. Not only is it a demanding grape to grow, but its ideal soils are often hard to cultivate. Another interesting point was that, in order to make a great wine, the vineyards must be at least 20-30 years old. When the producers spoke of their "best vineyards," they were always the oldest vineyards. For example, the Barolo that we tasted came from vines that were 50 years old.
Finally, after voting our favorite and hearing the winner (Boca DOC 2008 from Antico Borgo dei Cavalli), we were offered a special treat: Barolo Chinato with a chocolate dessert. Chocolate and wine, as romantic as the idea sounds, is an unforgivably difficult pairing. Barolo Chinato, a spiced Barolo wine, is chocolate's perfect match.
In the end, I confirmed that I'm a wine person. I don't know enough yet to be a wine geek or wine snob, so that puts me in the hazy category of wine person. Whatever my label, it's clear that they all fall under the same one: wine lover!
Wines tasted and winemakers:
- Stefano Delsignore: Gattinara Reserva DOCG 2004, Borgofranco Cascina Delsignore
- Marco Piacentino: Barbaresco DOCG Roncaglie 2008, Azienda Agricola Socrè
- Silvia Barbagli: Boca DOC 2008, Antico Borgo dei Cavalli
- Eleonora Barale: Barolo DOCG 2009, Fratelli Barale
I love Piemonte’s food and wine, the city of Turin, and my proximity to the Alps! My goal and challenge is to see as much of the region as possible using public transportation, but if you have a car I’d appreciate the ride. My intro to wine was at the Univ. of Gastronomic Sciences, and I love visiting family wineries, plus discovering Piemonte's craft beer scene. I’m hard-pressed to choose a favorite wine, but Nebbiolo never disappoints (from Barbaresco to Ghemme). As for beer, the Birrificio San Michele makes an incredible beechwood smoked brew.