Tom Hyland is deeply enthusiastic for and passionate about the unequaled fine wine and cuisine of Piemonte, and he wants others to experience it. He tells us about the research he is doing for his upcoming book, The Wines and Foods of Piemonte, and what it is that pulls him to Piemonte.
Sometimes it feels as though Piemonte can reach out its tendrils of autumn mist, wrap around an unsuspecting, select few and decide, You will fall in love with me and return to my lands, my food, and my wine for as long as you live.
In the wine business for over 30 years, Tom Hyland was attracted to the astounding variety and high quality of Italy's wines long ago. He began his travels in Italy 14 years ago, seeking out winemakers and learning about their stories and how they produce wine in all different regions of Italy. The limited view of Italian wines in overseas markets, out of the hundreds upon hundreds that Italy produces, inspired him to write his first book, Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy's Most Distinctive Wines. But the siren call of Italy, and of Piemonte in particular, has pulled in Tom once again, and he is currently at work on The Wines and Foods of Piemonte.
You’ve made over 60 trips to Italy in the past 14 years. What draws you to Italy and its wines?
The wines are wonderful, and the people are incredibly nice. I always say that people are nice everywhere, even the French (as a joke! Because they tend to be guarded), but here, people are very open. Others may think, well, you’re writing about their wines, so of course they are. But it goes beyond that. Everyone makes sure I know where I'm going, where I'm staying, where I want to eat...
Their generosity pulls me to Italy, plus the fact that I’ve always wanted to do something different. Being a wine writer is already different; but even beyond that, I didn’t want to rehash what’s already been said about the famous wineries of the world. There is quite a lot not being said about the other wineries.
What inspired you to write your first book, Beyond Barolo and Brunello?
In America, all you hear about is Barolo, Brunello, and Amarone. But traveling from Campania to Piemonte in Italy, I realized there are many great wines. You hear so much about the winemakers in Brunello and Barolo, but in a way it’s like an accident of birth. What I mean is, if these same people were making wine in the Marche, you wouldn’t hear about it much, even though they work just as hard. A person is not a great winemaker because of where he is born, but because of the work and the business he does.
There is a certain responsibility that comes with great wines to match them with great meals.
What are some of your favorite restaurants in the area?
In Alba my favorite is LaLibera. In Serralunga, Centro Storico is fabulous. The owner Alessio is just the nicest guy, and everybody in the wine business seems to know him. His food is traditional, simple, and delicious, and he has a great selection of wines ad Champagne. Bovio and the Osteria dei Vignaioli in La Morra have classic service. Monforte also has one of the top, called Il Giardino da Felicin. They have first-rate cuisine, beautiful rooms, and the chef and his wife are so nice.
Those are my top five favorite restaurants, though I’d like to add that in Alba, Piazza Duomo is also wonderful, and a 3-star Michelin restaurant.
What is your favorite pairing of Piemontese food and wine?
I love the two classic pasta dishes, tajarin and agnolotti del plin. Usually the agnolotti is served with a buttery sauce, so an Arneis is good with that. The tajarin often has a meat ragù, so a sparkling wine, Barbera, or Dolcetto would be nice. My favorite main course is something I didn’t eat for the first few years, but now I love it: coniglio. Rabbit. I love that with Barolo.
Will Wines and Foods from Piemonte be the first in a series?
Hopefully – be careful what you wish for! As far as Italy is concerned, next I thought I’d do Alto Adige. Tuscany has been done to death and it would take forever. Alto Adige has such a special cuisine and wonderful wines. It is hardly what you’d call Italian cuisine, as it’s more Austrian, which is why it’s so interesting. Then Campania and Friuli might be next; Veneto is also a possibility, but I’m getting way ahead of myself. One book at a time.
Where’s the push for excellence? You see it here in Piemonte. Even in the simplest trattoria, you eat like a king.
Will there be recipes in your book?
I will include recipes if the chefs share them. Sometimes they don’t, which I can understand. If I am able to get a handful, I know my readers will enjoy that.
Barolo in the morning. Photo by Tom Hyland
Why did you choose Piemonte for this book?
I just love it here. I come as much for the food as I do for the wine. Particularly in the Langhe, where I’ve eaten at a couple dozen of restaurants, they are all amazing. It comes from knowing the ingredients. There is a certain responsibility that comes with great wines to match them with great meals.
I’ve always enjoyed Piemonte, but it needs a little push, especially for the Americans. The Germans and the Swiss can easily drive down here, and they already love it. But everyone from America wants to go to Tuscany, Rome, Venice, Napoli, the Amalfi Coast.
Also, Barolo is not the easiest wine to understand. People who really know wine love Barolo, but the casual drinker thinks it is too expensive, and are put off because it’s not like the big, purple, inky wines from Napa. Barolo is a much more complex wine that demands food, and that is a combination that fascinates me.
What are your goals for the outcome of this book?
I want to communicate Piemonte, and to get this region into the limelight. Also, I have a personal goal of writing this second book – some of this is self-survival, as magazine writing is drying up. There are always people who will do this for nothing. People are looking at the trees, not the forest, and don’t want to pay for quality anymore.
In fact, I’m always thrilled to come here because you see people just doing their best. I’m disappointed that I keep seeing more and more mediocrity being accepted elsewhere – not always and not everywhere, as there are always people doing great work; but this is a trend I’ve noticed. And I ask, where’s the push for excellence? You see it here in Piemonte. Even in the simplest trattoria, you eat like a king.
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Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy's Most Distinctive Wines, by Tom Hyland
Information can be found here
The Wines and Foods of Piemonte, by Tom Hyland
Information on indiegogo can be found here