By Valerie Quintanilla
Tuesday morning started low key. I had no Piedmont wine tours planned so I thought I’d just hike it out a bit, write, read, and have a leisurely day in Neive. Returning from my morning walk I found Leslie getting ready to head to Ornella’s vineyard, Pasquale Pelissero, to help her prepare lunch for the harvest workers. Ornella was bringing in the moscato. As it happens, it turned into a Barbaresco wine tasting day!
I asked if I could help, so the next thing I knew I was hauling in chicken, potatoes, and all that jazz. The menu for the day was a roast chicken, roast potatoes, antipasti of salad, salumi, fried bread (oh how I hate to love that fried bread), and vino. Lots of vino.
Leslie put me right to work peeling the taters. Next, I set the table – a big long table in the garage. We peppered the table with plastic dishware, napkins, plastic cups, fresh tomatoes, apples, and bread. A pretty sight. Being the chefs we got to drink out of real wine glasses since we imbibed during prep (I generally have a very strict, “I don’t drink out of plastic” policy, which made the real glasses work out well, but I certainly woulda made an exception for this occasion.) Leslie, ever the gracious hostess, insisted I taste most of Ornella’s bottles. It was so nice. Of the five I tried, I developed a very special bond with the 2008 Bricco San Giuliana Barbaresco. To the tune of nearly a whole bottle; being a harvest helper has it’s privileges.
Once we had all the food oven’d up, Leslie sent me out to the vineyards with Ornella. As my favorite cousin would say, “oh, man!” You know those life moments when you know you are pretty much the luckiest person on earth right then? Yah, let’s do this. Ornella speaks some English – more than my italian. But, we got by. And, I probably even learned a little! She walked me through her eight hectares, stopping to show me the various varietals. We first hit mascato to check on the harvesters. Next, she took me through chardonnay (most lost to botrytis this year due to heavy rains the week prior), dolcetto, and nebbiolo. She insisted I try a grape from every variety – well, she didn’t exactly have to twist my arm.
After the vineyard jaunt we finished up lunch prep by dropping dough into a heated pan of olive oil. My mouth is still watering over those damn things. Just so horrible for me. Horrible!!
We piled up plates of salumi, spread ’em throughout the table, opened the dolcetto, and it was off to the races. The harvest workers are all from outside of Italy; that day’s eight workers hailed from Slovenia. Other areas include Macedonia and Romania. It was interesting, little Americana Val (well, after that fried bread, oh and everything else I’m not feeling quite so lil) was surrounded by not only italians, but I couldn’t even communicate with the Slovenians. I was helping to feed them, though, so that’s communication enough. Amazing how food and wine tend to permeate all boundaries.
What an amazing experience. We cleaned up, then after I mostly polished off that beautiful bottle of Barbaresco (bringing three bottles home with me, P.S.) on my own, we called it a successful day. Being so close to Neive, I told Leslie I wanted to walk back. She tried to join me, but Ornella would have none of that since we had so many dishes and cooking supplies. So, I offered to take Leslie’s baby, little weiner dog Cotta (named after the lovely Barbaresco cru) back on the hike. The little lady spends so much time wine touring in the car (I want to come back as Cotta in my next life; no really), I figured she’d totally want to stretch her legs. Leslie did the motherly thing, reminded me wee Cotta is her baby, so be careful. And with that, we were off!
We got up the first climb. Yeah, purty steep. Well, somehow little Miss Cotta escaped her leash, turned around and flew back to Ornella’s. Awesome. I just kept hearing Leslie, “She’s my baby.” so I ran, too. Cotta didn’t slow down till we got down, then back up a hill right before the house. Suh-weet. I scooped her up and we hiked those vineyards home. I was dying when I got back. Everyone kept commenting about how exhausted Cotta seemed. Ha, I carried her (wasn’t having Houdini make another break for it) that entire climb! Huffing and puffing, I got my work out in for the day. I like to believe my CrossFit coaches would be proud (shout out to CrossFit Stapleton – sorry, no paleo allowed in Italy!)
That afternoon Drew and Jamie from DC were doing a cooking class with
Leslie. I was invited to stay for the fun. Who am I to say no? Girl’s gotta drink – I mean eat. After the prep work was done we headed about 10 meters up the street to the oldest cellar in Neive where owner Adrina gave us a tour and tasting of her wines. I know, I know, in the States EVERYTHING is the “oldest”, “fastest”, “biggest”…but, in Italy they don’t get marketing and certainly not messaging, so this shit was legit (pardon my language, but it just felt so appropriate). There was moss and snails in the cellar with 30 to 40 year old casks!
Yeah, so I bought (another!) couple bottles there. Again. My wine to-ship pile at Travel Langhe global headquarters is getting bigger and bigger. But, not as big as Drew and Jamie’s (hoping to have dinner with them some night in DC!)
Another amazing day. Honestly, I couldn’t have such amazing experiences, sans Robert and Leslie. I’m a lucky gal. Tomorrow: more wine. Duh.
Oh, um, that Barbaresco I devoured is outta this world. Even the critics are speaking the good word on this Barbesco. Tweet me @valeriekq for contact info or hit up Travel Langhe to add to your wine cellar. It’s for real a steal deal (dang, that was bad – but, you gotta taste this vino!)