By Valerie Quintanilla

Saturday morning started bright and early with a quick breakfast at my B&B (they just kept bringing food – such is the theme here!) Then, I was off with Robert for a wine tour in Barolo at Giovanni Rosso. We picked up Drew and Jamie from DC, then headed for the hills (well, let’s be honest, we were already all over the hills.)

Giovanni Rosso Vineyard in Barolo

We arrived at the winery and Evan the Brit (from lunch on Friday) greeted us with a quick trip to a vineyard not far away. We headed down into pretty much all the winery’s vineyards that morning – I’d guess about two hours or so. It was my first time in the grape trenches of Piedmont. So cool. We hiked around, scouted out the old vines, young vines, and medium vines. Then, headed back to the winery to taste (not drink, Evan set me straight on that. Stupid Americana!)

Evan showing us the vineyards of Giovanni Rosso

But, let me be clear, we didn’t just TASTE wines. We hung out in the barrel room for about two hours tasting right from the barrel. Barolo requires three years in the barrel prior to bottling after harvest. So, we were swirling, sniffing, and slurping the 2011s, 2010s, 2009s. Can’t wait to go back and get the Vigna Rionda Barolo wine when it’s bottled.

Me, type A and all, had to speak up ’round 1 p.m. (ya know, about an hour or so in) to ask what time we were expected back to Leslie and Robert’s house since it was Leslie’s birthday…and, I just didn’t want to let her down. Um, the two residents laughed at me. Full on, big, hearty gut laughs. Oops, clearly I said the wrong thing. Oh right, but I’m not s’posed to stress because we’re in Italy.

Rioanda Barolo – can’t wait till it’s bottled!

Well, about 30 minutes later we hit the road, arriving to find Melissa and Tayna from Chicago busy at work in the kitchen and a TON of antipasti on the table. After a morning in the vineyards and barrel tasting, Drew, Jamie and I dug in (I know, tough life, right?)

Holy crap. Can you say FEAST? We had cheese, foccacia, some zuchinni/sundried tomato thing, proscuitto, caprese (not necessarily in that order.) Maybe I mentioned, Leslie’s cooking (and cooking classes) don’t suck. At least not when you get to enjoy the deliverables.

Feast for Leslie’s Birthday!

We chowed down. I mean, gorged. And, there was plenty of wine a flowin’. Our Scavino pals, Carol and Barry from Baltimore, arrived just in time for the festivities (= eating + drinking.) The whole lot of us stuffed our faces, drank, laughed, and just had a darn good time all afternoon. A whole lotta gigglin’ going on. All the while, Tanya, and Melissa, under Leslie’s direction cooked away. We were all so busy gobbling, we didn’t even realize that there was more to come. Pretty soon some eggplant dish and fried bread were set before us. Fried bread = so good it’s just wrong. Recipe: dough + olive oil = heart attack. Again, SOOO GOOD.

And so we ate.

Then, we started our Piedmont blind tasting with nine regional wines selected by the birthday gal herself. Bottles all bagged, we poured. Swirl. Sniff. Slurp. Taste. Note writing, commence! Well, about two wrote notes. The rest (me included) had no clue what was what. It was a mix of Barbarescos, Barolos, nebbiolos, and a barbera or two. It was like a trick test. I mean, it’s damn good stuff, but like any of us from outta town know anything. So, we just drank.

Leslie & Val – Salute!

Then, we found out there was more food. Like a real meal. WHHHAAATTT? Right, cause I needed more food like I needed a hole in my head. Oh, but I ate it.

Leslie’s gal pal (BFF is probably the better word), Ornella arrived a little late in the game. Watching her taste was a hoot. She made no bones about being clear when she didn’t like something (or hate it – I may have heard the word “crap” spat out at some point…) Ahh, entertainment. I seriously shoulda been an italiana. I’m always the most animated in my world (well, anyone’s world, except in the land of Dolce Vita.)

Festival of Neive

When out on the lawn arose such a clatter (no, no, it wasn’t St. Nick, nope, nope that wasn’t the matter.) It was a parade. So, being drunk, full, and ready to PARTY the six or so of us left took to the streets. We ventured through Neive, following the crowd. Men were stirring big old vats of polenta right on the road!

It’s was pretty cool. We snaped shots, drank wine, then called it a day. My new pal Evan took me back to the vineyards for a bottle for wine!


Not too shabby to start and end the day in the vineyards of Piedmont!

Okay, next up: hiking tour with Aussie transplant Kerrie. You may remember her from my trip last year. Fun stuff.

Ciao Ciao! And, Happy Birthday, Leslie!