Alba, Bra and Barolo

Cattedrale di San Lorenzo in Alba
Photo by Debbie Henning

For our last full day in Italia, we chose to return to the Barolo region, beginning our day in Alba. Alba is a relatively small community with a population of a little more than 30,000, but it acts and feels much larger. While it is considered the political capital of the Langhe, it is certainly the culinary capital of the region.

Via Vittorio Emanuele in the center of Alba
Photo by Debbie Henning

Alba serves as the gateway to the Barolo DOCG and is justly famous for its white truffles. The annual truffle harvest and celebration in the fall draws connoisseurs from around the world. Alba is also home to the confectioner Ferraro as well as Nutella. The massive Cinzano vermouth, etc., operation is in the town of Cinzano, between Alba and Bra.

We enjoyed our morning walking from piazza to piazza in Alba. The streets are remarkably clean. Just as in Asti, Alba’s mortal rival in nearly everything, there were more patissieries than I could imagine. We stopped in a lovely coffee shop that was just as you might imagine, filled with some old timers, a family here, a businessman over there.

Patron in a coffee shop in Alba
Photo by Debbie Henning

We planned to have lunch in Bra, so we hopped back in the car made the 15 km drive from Alba to Bra. Bra is similar in size to Alba, but has a very different feel. Bra was at the heart of the Baroque movement in Italy, and the architecture shows it. Everything in the heart of the city, especially the cathedrals, looks more ornate.

We made our way to the center of Bra, parked and strolled around town. We eventually found our way to Via Mendicità and our destination, Osteria Boccondivino. Right next door, and sharing the same building, is the international headquarters of the Slow Food Movement.

Randy in front of Osteria Boccondivino and Slow Food International’s headquarters
Photo by Debbie Henning

While Osteria Boccondivino has new owners now, this is where the Slow Food movement began. The restaurant today still adheres to Slow Food principles of preserving local foods and traditions and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from and how our food choices affect the world around us.

The courtyard dining area at Osteria Boccandivino
Photo by Debbie Henning
Our lunch wines
Photo by Debbie Henning
Antipasti of mixed salad and roasted beets
Photo by Debbie Henning
Primi piatti – Randy’s agnolotti with lima beans and Debbie’s gnocchi with asparagus
Photo by Debbie Henning

Following our heavenly lunch, we moved on to the village of Barolo where we had a great opportunity to taste a range of Barolos at the Enoteca Regionale del Barolo. The tiny, charming village of Barolo sits on a hilltop, centered around its castle. The castle houses the Enoteca Regionale del Barolo.

Enoteca Regionale del Barolo sign
Photo by Debbie Henning

Based on my admittedly limited experience with Barolos, I was somewhat concerned when we learned that the 2015 vintage had just been released, and that was what would be available for most tastings. I was afraid the wines would have too much tannin to taste good. To meet the requirements to be called Barolo, the wine must be aged for 38 months, of which 18 months must be in wood. Many Barolos require another 10 years of aging in the bottle to begin to be enjoyable.

Map of the Barolo DOCG area
from the Enoteca Regionale del Barolo website

It turns out that the soils of Barolo dramatically affect the wine. The Barolo area is very small, about 5 miles across from east to west, and perhaps 8 miles from north to south. Within that small area there are two distinctly different soils. The soils of Serralunga d’Alba and Monforte d’Alba are compact, sandstone derived soils, while the soils of La Morra and Barolo have more clay. There are mineral differences in the soils as well.

The wines produced from the two soil types turn out to be distinctly different as well. Those from the eastern side of the area, Serralunga d’Alba and Monforte d’Alba, are big, bold, austere tannic wines that require significant aging. The wines from La Morra and Barolo show more finesse and are more aromatic and softer. They require less aging.

The lineup of Barolos at the Enoteca Regionale del Barolo
Photo by Debbie Henning

At the Enoteca del Barolo, we had the opportunity to experience the difference soil type makes for ourselves. The wines were arranged by region, so it was easy to compare wines produced from the different soils. The difference was striking. The wines from La Morra and Barolo were very drinkable and enjoyable right now, with all the characteristic attributes of Barolo.

The wines from Serralunga d’Alba and Monforte d’Alba were much more tannic and harsh. It would take some pretty substantial food to tone them down. However, you could taste all the components and see that the wine will come together in a few years. It will be a treat then.

The takeaway I learned is that if you want to have a younger Barolo, meaning you don’t want to pay the premium for a well aged Barolo, look to wines from La Morra and Barolo.

On the drive back to our place in Montegrosso d’Asti, we stopped at a small chapel at the top of the hill above where we were staying. We had walked up to the chapel many times and found it intriguing. On the back side of the chapel is a small niche with a statue of the Virgin Mary. The road passes about a foot to the right side of the chapel, and along the side, there is a board with fliers announcing upcoming weddings and recent deaths in the community.

We had never been able to see the inside of the chapel, but this time, the woman who volunteers to clean the chapel every week was there with the doors open. She graciously let us enter and showed us around, even taking Debbie behind the altar to see the crucifix more closely.

What a treat to end our trip. Arrivederci, Italia.

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