A day's excursion in the Langa Barolo, old wineries and a gem of an osterie
After a busy 2009 season we are taking advantage of autumn mid-week days without houseguests to explore new aspects of Piedmont.
The mission this week was part of our ongoing hunt for organic and traditional Barolo wineries, followed by lunch at some nice little trattorie off the Internet trail. Accordingly we started in Barolo town at Cantina Giacomo Borgogno, a venerable winery who has been there since 1761. Borgogno has just this year built a new tasting facility and over-the-ground premises, the cellars date back to early 1900’s, although renovated several times of course. Modern equipment is used for the fermentation process, but the aging is all done for at least 3 years in traditional big barrels from four to eight thousand litres in size, not one barrique in the cellar! The winery puts aside a large reserve of older vintages (their Barolo Riserva is only sold after 10 years of aging) and it was fascinating for me to stand see a bin full of 1961 bottles, selling for over 500 euro each (my first Barolo I ever had was a 1961, for which I paid less then $10 a bottle in 1980). Wonderful Barolo wines, we tasted the 1998 and 2004 vintages, not quite as intense as the Barolo’s of yore, but still worthy of the name.
After the tasting we decided to skip the more famous restaurants and chose the Osterie “da Gemma” listed in Slow Food’s book in the little town of Rodino, between Monforte and Serralunga – the price looked good after spending the winter’s entire budget in Barolo!
The outside of the restaurant was very low key, and not terribly inviting, but going up the stairs we found a new dining room with picture window views over the Alte Langhe (or would have been if it hadn’t been a foggy day). Very nice and crisp linen on the tables, but still a rustic touch. At one o’clock on a weekday the place was quite full, mostly locals, even some painters in their overalls, definitely not a foreigner in site. The menu was fixed, and as we sat down a couple of chunks of salami (one crudo, one cotto) on a cutting board with a knife appeared with the bread for us to slice ourselves (is this what they call an amuse-bouche?). No wine list, everyone was drinking the house Dolcetto in an unlabelled bottle (5 euro), but after those Barolo’s we needed something a bit more substantial and selected a 2005 Nebbiolo d’Alba by Teo Cappellano (another venerable Barolo name) from the wine shelf.
The first anti-pasti course consisted of two generous portions, an insalata russa, a bit like egg mayonnaise sandwich spread with peas (in November?), the other an insalata di carne cruda for meat lovers like Rina who pronounced it great.
Tim told them that he didn’t eat red-meat and so they brought a plate of fresh-made agnolloti al plin, stuffed with spinach. It was nothing new, but absolutely fresh and delicious, obviously made in their kitchen (how fresh we were to discover a bit later). Rina’s next anti-pasto was vitello tonnato. Living in Piedmont, what can we say about vitello tonnato? Delicate thin slices of veal with tuna sauce, for serious foodies it’s always a question about the combination, but somehow they work very well together.
The next dishes up were the tajarin (tagliatelle), plain for Tim (no problem, it was fresh and delicious with a touch of parmigiano (not really needed), and tajarin al ragu for Rina. Everyone has their own way of cooking ragu, which is basically mincemeat and tomato sauce, most common, however Gemma definitely had her own style and Rina ate the whole dish! This was followed by a ravioli al ragu for Rina, the same sauce from the pasta.
As a second the server asked us if we would like Rabbit or Chicken and proposed a cheese plate for Tim, however we did plump for the chicken – which was definitely not the plump-buttery variety, a touch of toughness in the meat indicated free-range, confirmed by our waitress as pollo della compagna, however quite delicious and accompanied with finocchio cotto (stewed fennel) which Tim thought was quite nice as an accompaniment.
We had seen an incredible range of deserts circulating our neighbor’s tables, including the biggest Bunet we had ever seen; a whole dinner plate’s worth, which instantly explained the English translation of “bonnet”, and which you cut yourself as much as you wanted. Rina is not a glutton for sweets, but Tim insisted in the name of science that we try them all. Besides the Bunet, which was delicious, firm and mouth-melting, there was dolce all'ananas – more like a tiramisù with pineapple - OK but not mind-blowing, a meringata, a sort of pudding with crisp meringue – Tim had two helpings and a strudel, which we were just too full to eat. Sadly they did not have any passito wine by the glass.
After chatting to our neighbouring table, 2 men from Torino having a “business lunch” which included grappa to fortify them for the hours drive back; we collected the bill, a numbing 40-euro for the food including table charge and coffee, plus 15 euro for the wine. They did give us a discount for Tim’s “vegetarian plate”, normally its 25 euro each for the set, but for the amount and quality of the food, you could not beat it.
On the way out we asked to thank Gemma in person and were directed to a room on the ground floor, where we found the equivalent of the Rodino ladies pasta-bee all busy making up the fresh pasta. Gemma was chopping the taglioni by hand, and the others were preparing the agnolotti. Rina got an impromptu hands on lesson in making the Agnolotti al plin (literally pinched), mini-ravioli’s made by holding a spoonful of the filling in the left hand, and a table knife in the right, using the tip to transfer the fillings onto the edge of a flat sheet of pasta, rolling over the edge, pinching the individual packets and then cutting. No wonder it all tasted so fresh.
After this we stopped to say hello to our friends the Rivetto family at “Rivetto dal 1902” winery near Serralunga, some more wine tastings, and they told us that actually the menu at “da Gemma” is always the same, so it’s a one-off restaurant to visit, but we highly recommend it as a real local osterie for visitors touring Barolo valley.
Osteria da Gemma
Via Marconi 6, Roddino, Piemonte 12050, IT