Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Monforte d'Alba

I'm very happy that over the course of a few trips to the Piemonte now, I've home based in a different town during each stay. Sure you can learn a lot if you always stay in Alba, but I've found it helpful for my own understanding of the greater area to move around.

Waking up in Monforte d'Alba, it's easy to see how the fog rolls in in the morning, even while it stays warmer there than it would in Verduno, further to the north. A morning walker in Verduno finds a distinct chill in the air. Of course the vines there feel that same chill as well.

For this time in the Piemonte I stayed in Monforte d'Alba, and being there helped me get a much better grasp of the layout of the place.

Monforte is full of little one lane road twists and blind turns that might make for a bit of a nightmare to any novice driver. There is a steep incline to many of streets, and the single lanes switchback again and again across the facing of the hill.

Monforte drapes across the landscape like a long necklace of stones, and each deserves your attention.

Little surprises are sunk in everywhere.

In the morning the locals crowd in to the Osteria Berta, the least swank of the cafe options, and always the most crowded. The proprietor there seems to know everyone, or at least treat them all as fond acquaintances. One gets the sense at Berta that both the humble harvest workers and the lofty cantina owners are equally welcome. 

There are a few chairs arranged simply outside, to take in the day or to smoke at, and a key for this outsider, there is wi-fi.

In the evening one might eat at the pleasantly airy La Salita, or perhaps head to Felicin to drink down the cellar. Many hardy souls find their way to Saracca, a collection of medieval buildings that have been refurbished and joined together, including in their midst a wine bar.

There is a broad selection of grower bubbles on offer at Saracca. And the wine list there contains two kinds of Barolo: those from Monforte, and those from the Rest of the World.

The ham is the thing to have at Saracca, and the place serves as a bit of a shrine to curation. Overseeing it all is Giulio Perin, who runs the bar with a jovial manner and a hand that is quick to pull new corks. On one evening Giulio shared with us several wines from his father's cellar, Nebbiolos from the 1960s and 1970s that the old man had made himself by buying in grapes from different small parcels in Barolo and fermenting them at home.

We also drank plenty of the Chinato that Giulio, whose family owns the pharmacy at the center of Monforte, helped create with Conterno-Fantino. If you haven't had a chance to try it yet, I would say that it reminded me of the style of Marcarini's Chinato, if a little deeper. Giulio also has a bottle of Zabaldano behind the bar, and he'll tell you about it if you ask him. There's no rush, last call at Saracca might push on close to dawn.

I suppose that drinking all that Chinato at Saracca didn't make it any easier to wake up in the morning, but I don't suppose I would have done it any differently, either.

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