Northern Italy 2022, (September 3-14)
Good first morning waking up in charming Guarene! When my eyes opened I could see through the shutters that it was just getting light outside, maybe 0630. Eased out of bed and opened the balcony door, what a show! The FOG, aka Nebbia, rolled in! Surprisingly not in my head from the night before, but like a soft blanket over the valley.
The warm morning glow in Luisa's Smile only added to its allure. At 0800 the first chimes from Chiesa dei Santi e Petro e Bartolemeo invited us out to the garden for coffee, this loooong day has begun.
Fog, I had heard about this Piemonte phenomenon. Just to be "transparent", I am a novice when it comes to wine, but I'm trying hard to retain a little that I learn along the way....just for small talk! With limited knowledge I've been known to say such nonsense as "oh have you tried a Pommard Premier Cru? once while biking through Beaune blah blah blah ha! If you don't mind..during this thread I may include some new (to me!) talking points to get me in trouble at a neighborhood cookout.
Now the fog, dense fog, happens all the time in these valleys. It won't ruin your vacation, it burns off in a couple hours. Being positioned perfectly between the cold peaks of the Alps and the warm coastal air of the Mediterranean creates this. I'm told the fog allows the grapes to ripen at a slower pace, slower pace means more flavor, who knew?! This morning I whispered to the ladies "that is the famous Piemonte fog...I got a look of "here he goes!"
On today's agenda was breakfast at Mira Langhe and then a hike. Mira Langhe has 7 hotel rooms and provides the guests with a bed and breakfast style buffet. Everything, including omelet, was wonderful and so fresh and perfect! Once finished we talked with Ana, Maurizio and Chiara about hiking, we said we were thinking about Neive to Barbaresco , Ana said "you know Barbaresco is very high up? we said yes and she smiled saying the vineyards are beautiful. We thanked them for breakfast and said we would be eating at the villa this evening because it has a wonderful kitchen to cook in, but did want a reservation for the next evening. Maurizio told Ana to ask us to stop by for drinks after the hike if we had time, how much nicer can they be?
We put a few things, including water, in my small backpack and hit the road. Neive was about a 15 minute drive. Our daughter had the Alltrails app on her phone and would guide us. This is a good app and I actually have used their online website for other hikes www.alltrails.com
, very good. First up the hill to the quaint beautiful town to find the trail head. The trail was fairly easy to find and well marked. Down, down, down!
Under clear blue skies temps would climb near 90 degrees this day. We felt so fortunate to have beautiful weather throughout our trip. Once we walked out of a small wooded area the views of the rolling landscape dotted with hill towns and organized vineyards surrounded us. The smell of the countryside and fresh air was more intoxicating than the Nebbiolo, perhaps origin derived from Nebbia?. Slowly Neive would fade into the distance.
After our first winding descent we crossed a strada and found our trail marker missing, no biggie we found a foot bridge hidden from view in a grove of trees. We crossed over into a beautiful valley of hundreds if not thousands of hazelnut trees. We would see many other varieties of trees including peach, plum, pear, pomegranate and apples, all full of ripe fruit. Everything is planted with such care, so uniformed, if I had a tape measure I bet I couldn't find a tree an inch out of line! The large poplar tree groves stood out like soldiers on parade, I'm told the truffles like to hide under these shhhhh!
We would walk through many vineyards, even I recognized the names such as Montestefano, Gallina and Gaja. Interesting that Gaja had the only no trespassing signs, but at that price I assume it's for good reasons. It was impossible for me to know what grapes we were looking at, is it Nebbiolo? Barbera? Dolcetto? Arneis? Chardonnay? etc. I'd say we saw 98% red and 2% white and they were plump and ready to be harvested. I was told that the effects of the drought made the grapes slightly smaller, but they are still packed full of flavor, I can attest to the flavor because I tried one from a bunch that had recently fallen to the ground...not from Gaja though!
Up, up, up, down, over, down, up, up, up! Finally we see a sign informing us that we are almost to Barbaresco, I was drenched! Yes it was hot, but what a beautiful, peaceful place to walk without seeing a single person. Barbaresco was surprisingly tiny too me, population just over 600? I certainly wasn't disappointed, just had a different picture in my brain.
They do offer nice modern and formal tasting locations, but we were looking for smallish. We saw Boffa with its gates closed but people were on their patio?, we rang the gates doorbell and I think I heard the angels sing when the large gates electronically opened. A gentleman greeted us and said welcome. Great views from the covered patio, thank you for the shade. I excused myself and changed into a dry shirt so not to offend! I had heard of the name Boffa somehwere? Upon return I found that Pio Boffa owner of Pio Cesare had passed from covid 2 years ago, interesting but sad. Side note, I watched a good youtube on Piemonte wines from V is for Vino and he visits with the daughter who runs Pio Cesare now, good show. Back to Boffa, we each tried their Barbaresco d'Alba, Dolcetto d'Alba, and Roero Arneis, all very good. After some water, wine and meat and cheeses we bid farewell.
We walked around the small town for a while, looked inside the beautiful church of course and then found a cool little enoteca, I sure wish the wine prices at home were like here! I figured the weight of one bottle wouldn't kill me during our walk back. We looked and looked then remembered that TomB told me to look out for a Ruch'e. Ruch'e is not a grape I would walk by today, but it's a super close neighbor in Castagnole Monferrato, found one, why not!
It took about 2 hours ( maybe 4 miles) to walk to Barbaresco and the ladies picked up the pace heading back to Neive. Instead of taking the slightly longer loop trail we simply walked the same route back, they wanted cocktails at Mira Langhe! The walk back was interesting because it felt like a different trail with opposite views. We actually saw 2 other hikers chilling in the shade, I tried to tell them they were almost there, no English, so I said "ciao, bye bye" to the amusement of my daughter.
The walk back took about 1-1/2 hours, not bad. We ran out of water nearing the end, so time to hydrate before touring the town. Neive is also small, very charming and would certainly make a great home base, population around 3000.
We stopped at a grocery store down the hill from Guarene, bought stuff for dinner, and some BEER! On the way to the villa we swung by the local micro brewery that looked interesting, unfortunately they were on holiday all week. Oh well, we cleaned up and marched down to Mira Langhe at 5pm. Received a warm welcome from everyone including their local friends, one is an expat from Canada, been living the dream for 20 years in Guarene, said it had been a while since he spoke so much English! The ladies enjoyed chilled Marco Porello Rosato and I had a Nebbiolo from Azienda Agricoloa Vielmin, both very good and the wineries just a short distance away. I told Maurizio that I bought a Ruch'e today, he said not from this area but nodded his approval.
After a fun 2 hour visit we said our goodbyes. Then Maurizio says "Barolo tomorrow!" They had to prepare for the 7:30 seating and I had dinner to cook. They asked if we knew about the concert in the church at 8pm? hmmm, no, but I had to cook. As we walked home the ladies decided to attend the concert while I prepared dinner. I had just finished chopping vegetables while drinking a BEER, then my phone chirped, text read "Stop what you're doing and get down here" Ok, off I went. I quietly walked into the Baroque style Church of the Santissma Annunziata and found 50+ people watching the most amazing duet of piano and trumpet, great musicians. Fun seeing people I recognized, including our villa hosts. I joke, but felt like half the town was in attendance! I stayed entertained for an hour then excused myself to finish dinner, it was 9:30! The ladies returned half hour later after having a great night. Surprisingly we were not completely exhausted while eating a simple ravioli with pesto and cheese. Great day, more tomorrow including Barolo!