Hiking to the Barolo Village of La Morra
By Valerie Quintanilla
I wanted to hike in Lake Como, but Mother Nature had other plans. Luckily I had a day of hiking and wine tasting in Barolo planned with Kerrie from Australia.
We started the near the bottom of La Morra at a small, colorful chapel. The day’s itinerary included a trip up to the village, then a wine tasting, lunch, then back down for another tasting stop.
The climb felt great. It was pretty humid in Piedmont, which I’m not used to the way I was as a child in dreary Vancouver, Wash. It didn’t slow me down, though. I felt so good powering up that incline.
Hiking and Wine Tasting in Barolo
We arrived at our first winery, Marcarini, where we got the full on tour: cellar, tank room, bottling, and finally the tasting. The wines were fantastic. The producer has a substantial amount of business in export with 45 percent of their 120k bottles leaving Italy. The United States leads the import charge, next are Australia, Canada, and Japan respectively. China is also creeping up the list as an emerging market (but, the rumors I’ve heard about what is done to wines there makes my heart hurt – soda mixed with a Barolo or Bordeaux??) The top varietals leaving the homeland, in order of popularity include 1) Barolo 2) Moscato d’Asti 3) Barbera 4) Dolcetto.
Dolcetto and the Western Palate
The most interesting find for me here was a dolcetto. When I first started getting into Italian wine I would often order a dolcetto because they tend to be lower in price. I’ve been told that dolcetto is known in Piedmont as the “pizza wine.” It’s inexpensive and the every day house wine. Well, I seldom found one I liked. I didn’t get it. Then I began my self-guided Italian wine education, courtesy of my travels and various books (big shout out to what I consider the Italian wine bible: Vino Italiano), I learned that dolcetto is almost exclusively done in steel. Well that must be it then! Clearly I don’t like reds that don’t see oak. I recall talking to Robert of Travel Langhe about that the year before while in Piedomont. His response was a bit of surprise. He didn’t understand why I wouldn’t appreciate it in it’s true form.
Last year when I got back from my Italy trip I had a wine night with some good friends who had recently returned from Napa. I brought a couple bottles of Italian wine and they opened some big California cabs. Holy oak bomb, Batman! I was amazed at the shock to my palate. For the first time I totally understood the term, “oak bomb.” I was a little scared because my wine collection has a bunch of big Napa cabs. Well, rest assured, it just took some time for my palate to re-acclimate to drinking wines other than Italian.
I swear, I’m going somewhere with this story. Please stay with me. On this day the first dolcetto threw the traditional red fruits. Oh, I liked it a lot, which really surprised me. Then, we moved on to an amazing dolcetto d’alba called, Boschi di Berri, which comes from a small pre-phylloxera vineyard. Now, that’s rare – not only did the dreaded insects not take this out, but it’s century old vines (click for some deets on phylloxera - in the 19th century nearly all European vineyards were destroyed by it, the only fix was grafting to American root stock.) Marcarini only produces abut 2,500 of it a year. I
instantly loved it. It threw dates and raspberries. It was a big dolcetto with earth scents and tastes. I was fascinated. As we talked through the dolcetto and the different wine making techniques (Marcarini being a traditional producer), Kerrie explained that some of the modern wineries were producing wines with less old oak (the large casks) and are doing them in the smaller barriques to get more of the oaky flavor, which appeals to the western palate (not dolcetto, but nebbiolo, barbera, etc.) That’s when it hit me, it wasn’t ever that I didn’t like dolcetto, I was used to these big oaky reds. Clearly not the sitch with a dolcetto given it nearly exclusively sees steel. The even more interesting thing to me was that on this trip for the first time I actually found myself really taking to a number of juicy, ripe dolcettos. But, the one here was by far the most interesting to me. She suggested aging up to six years, so I plan to open my first in four years, then another at age five.
We finished the day hiking back down, enjoying another wine tasting at a gorgeous five star hotel, Palas Cerequio. Given my penchant for all things travel, Kerrie arranged for a viewing of the rooms. The two options: modern and traditional.
The rooms were gorgeous. The modern room had a showerhead that was some 30 feet overhead. It also had a Jacuzzi tub with a color therapy lightening system (you can’t make this stuff up.) Both rooms had a Turkish bath and unreal views since it was essentially situated smack in the middle of Barolo vineyards.
We next tasted in the cellar at the five-star that had a white-lighted floor. It was a really fascinating way to inspect the color of the wine in the glass.
The day finished with us cutting through vineyards, then home sweet B&B home for me.