Updated: Jul 23, 2020
Destination Piedmonte, Italy. A colleague and I were taking a very important customer for an overnight visit to our Barolo producer, Silvano Bolmida, a small but wonderfully charismatic and talented producer based in Montforte d’Alba.
We arrived in the beautiful town of Alba after a behind the scenes, rather heated game of ‘rock paper scissors’ with my colleague to ascertain who should be the designated driver. In hind sight probably something we should have agreed on before we left! He drove, and I prepared to make the most of the wine at lunch. Silvano had recommended we stop off at his favourite restaurant before heading up to the winery to visit him. We finally found the restaurant, a very down to earth, no frills little place with a fantastic wine list and wild bore ragu to die for!
Having over indulged in every sense we endeavoured to get the bill – standard story, none of us spoke Italian and the proprietor either didn’t understand us or didn’t want to! We kept trying to push the credit card at him to no avail. Finally it transpired (thanks to a helpful bilingual diner at another table) that it is cash only. Ahhhh, uno problemo. I looked hopefully at my colleague who told me in no uncertain terms that as he was driving, it was going to be my bank balance that took the spanking.
Praying under my breath that there was indeed enough cash in my bank to cover the lunch, I went in search of a cash point. Having finally found one I discovered that I could only withdraw Euro100 at a time. 2 cards and 4 withdrawals later (drinking Barolo is not cheap!) I made my way back to the restaurant hoping to goodness Silvano was going to be hosting us for dinner.
Up some perilously winding roads, and sending up silent thanks that my colleague had not been drinking at lunch, we arrived at Silvano’s winery in the mid-afternoon. This man is absolutely fascinating to talk to, with a passion for sustainable and organic farming, combined with an incredibly detail driven approach to winemaking. Years of research and experimentation into maceration times (how long the red wine and the red grape skins stay in contact) have enabled him to craft the most wonderfully seductive Barolo’s, silken and perfumed even in their youth.
When the time came to taste the wines, we were instructed to grab a bench, the glasses and a box of wines and jump into the back of the tractor. Somewhat perplexed we did as we were bid, and Silvano drove us up to the top of his steep Bussia vineyard where we unloaded the bench and sat, taking in various vintages of his beautiful wines, grown on this patch of dirt, watching as the famous evening mists worked their way up the valley. You could not help but feel inextricably connected to the land via the beautiful wines we were tasting. It was a truly magical moment.
Thankfully dinner was indeed hosted by Silvano so my bank balance was spared another hammering. We were treated to an delicious array of wines from bottle and magnum which resulted in some fairly sore heads the following morning. But there was another surprise in store, we were met after breakfast by a truffle hunter. He must have been using a 1970’s Sly Stallone as his inspiration as he sported a pretty impressive mullet, full camo and had an aged truffle dog at his heel. We followed him into the woods full of expectation. The dog, highly trained in the art of sniffing out the prized fungus, had a little sniff, looked a little bored, peed on a tree and did very little else. After about 30 minutes of aimless wandering, the truffle hunter pointed off into the distance, and as he did so I caught him shaking a truffle down his trouser leg onto the ground. The dog looked as surprised as I did while the artful hunter exclaimed in pride at this extraordinary find. It was incredibly hard to keep a straight face at this point so I had to turn away. Well, god loves a trier right?!
And so, still full of Barolo and clutching an expensive slice of truffle of questionable origin we headed home. Piedmonte is a magical vinous kingdom of dramatically steep vineyards carved into the hillsides, of hearty food and ethereally beautiful wines. It is a must visit on any wine lovers bucket list, but maybe give the truffle hunting a miss.