Piemonte (Piedmont): Visits to G.D. Vajra, Luciano Sandrone, Roberto Voerzio, Elio Grasso, La Spinetta, Contratto, Giuseppe Mascarello, Vietti, Giacomo Conterno, Elio Altare and Sottimano

Charlie and I, plus our friend Terry, visited Piemonte, Lago Orta and Liguria in May 2012. This was a fantastic visit – we ate great food, drink great wines and met wonderful people. This was Charlie’s and my first visit to the area, but it won’t be our last time to Piemonte and Liguria.  While in Piemonte, we stayed at Villa La Meridiana in Alba (http://www.villalameridianaalba.it/agriturismo%20inglese.htm), and it was a great place to stay.

PiemontMaprev4

click/tap map (and any photo) to enlarge

the view

the view from our balcony at Villa La Meridiana

the vineyards and poppies of Piemonte

along the road to Barbaresco

along the road to Barbaresco

vineyards in Piemonte

We enjoyed every meal we had in Piemonte. The restaurants we ate at included the following (all lunches):

Osteria La Liberia in Alba (http://www.lalibera.com/en/) – good food and service; the best dessert we had during the entire trip. Wine with the meal was the Mauro Veglio 1997 Barolo Vigneto Rocche, which was very good.

Bovio outside of La Morra (http://www.ristorantebovio.it/eng/) – good food and service;

view from Bovio

view from Bovio

beautiful views. We enjoyed Bovio so much, we went back for another lunch.  Wine with the first meal was the Giuseppe Mascarello 2004 Monprivato; an excellent wine. Wine with the second lunch was the Aldo Conterno 1996 Riservera Gran Bussia Barolo; another excellent wine.

Antinè in Barbaresco (http://www.antine.it/) – excellent food and service; a wonderful way to spend 3 hours for a Saturday lunch. Wines with the meal were the Bruno Giacosa 2005 Barbaresco (very good) and the Moccagatta 2006 Barbaresco Bric Balin (more oak than the Giacosa, but a nice wine).

Trattoria della Posta in Monforte d’Alba (http://trattoriadellaposta.it/) – very good food and service. Wine with the meal was the Giacomo Conterno 2004 Barolo Cascina Francia, another excellent wine.

La Ciau del Tornavento in Treiso (http://www.laciaudeltornavento.it/ita) – very good food, beautiful restaurant and views. Wine with the meal was Roberto Voerzio 2000 Barolo La Sera; again, another excellent wine.

La Luna nel Pozzo in Neive (http://www.lalunanelpozzo-neive.it/eng/index.html) – very good food and service. Wine with the meal was the Elio Grasso 2001 Barolo Runcot; excellent wine.

tasting in Barbaresco

Charlie and me at the cantina in Barbaresco

The wineries we visited (with my “buy” wines marked) were:

G.D. Vajra (http://www.gdvajra.it/) – this azienda was started by Aldo and Milena Vaira, and Aldo is the winemaker.  Part of the visit was with their son, Giuseppe Vaira. Wines poured were the Dolcetto d’Alba 2010, Barbera d’Alba Superiore 2008 (buy), Barolo Brico Delle Viole 2008, and the Barolo Luigi Baudana Ceretto 2006.

Giuseppe Vaira in the barrel room of G.D. Vajra

Luciano Sandrone (http://www.sandroneluciano.com/)- visit and tasting with Barbara Sandrone, daughter of Luciano.  Barbara is a wonderful ambassador for Sandrone, and we very much enjoyed our visit. Wines poured were the Dolcetto d’Alba 2011, Barbera d’Alba 2010, Nebbiolo d’Alba Valmaggiore 2006, Barolo Le Vigne 2008 (buy) and the Barolo Cannubi Boschis 2008 (buy).

Azienda Luciano Sandrone

Azienda Luciano Sandrone

Barbara Sandrone at Azienda Luciano Sandrone

Barbara Sandrone in front of Azienda Luciano Sandrone

Roberto Voerzio (http://robertovoerzio.com/en/roberto-voerzio-winery/)- all of my

Our gift from Roberto Voerzio

our gift from Roberto Voerzio

correspondence prior to the trip was with Davide Voerzio, son of Roberto.  Davide was fantastic, and he even helped me with a couple other visits. Unfortunately when we visited, Davide was out of town, but Cesare proved to be an excellent replacement. Cesare was extremely knowledgeable and friendly. We also had the pleasure of meeting Roberto Voerzio, who kindly and generously gifted us a bottle of the 2007 Barolo Cerequio (buy).  Wines tasted were the Barolo Cerequio 2008 (buy), the Barolo Brunate 2006, and the DaViva Merlot 2007 (buy).  This was a great visit!

Elio Grasso (http://www.eliograsso.it/en/)- met initially with Marina Grasso (Elio’s wife), but Elio did the tour and tasting. We also had the pleasure of speaking with Gianluca, Elio’s son.  This was another great visit. Wines poured were the Langhe Nebbiolo 2011, Barbera d’Alba 2009 and the Barolo Runcot Riserva 2006 (buy).  Upon leaving, Elio gifted us with a bottle of the 2006 Barolo Runcot Riserva (buy).  Signore Grasso’s hospitality was generous and warm.

Gianluca and Elio Grasso at our tasting

La Spinetta (http://www.la-spinetta.com/) – owned by the Rivetti brothers; visit and tasting with Manuela Rivetti, daughter of Giorgio (Giorgio is the winemaker).  We very much enjoyed our visit. Wines poured were 2008 Chardonnay Lidia, the 2009 Barbera d’Asti Ca’ di Pian, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Bionzo 2009, Monforte Rosso Pin, Barbaresco Vigneto Bordini 2008, Barbaresco Vigneto Valerano Varsu 2007, the 2008 Barolo Vigneto Garetti (buy), and the 2011 Moscato d’Asti Bricco Quaglia (buy).

Manuela Rivetti at La Spinetta

the cellars at La Spinetta

Contratto (http://www.contratto.it/indexenglish.html) – La Spinetta had recently purchased this winery, and Manuela suggested we visit this ‘metodo classico’ sparkling wine maker; visit and tasting was with Luca. Sparkling wines poured were the Brut Mellesimato 2007, the For England Pas Dose 2007 (buy), the For England 2007 Rose, and the Blanc de Blancs 2009. Luca also poured the Moscato Asti Spumate 2009.

the entrance to Contratto

Giuseppe Mascarello (http://www.mascarello1881.com/)- tasting with Maria Teresa, wifemoprivato of Mauro Mascarello.  Wines poured were the Dolcetto d’Alba 2010, Barbera Scudetto Superiore 2007 (buy), Freisa 2006, the 2007 Barolo Villero, the 2007 Barolo Santo Stefano (buy), the 2007 Monprivato (buy), the 2006 Barolo Santo Stefano (buy), the 2004 Ca’ d’ Morissio and the 2003 Ca’ d’ Morissio (buy). This was a very generous tasting, but it was difficult to tell how long the bottles has been opened (as they were sitting opened and partially empty when we arrived), and what impact that had on the wines.  I have read the outside of this winery described as an old auto repair shop.  That is an accurate description!

Luciana Currado in the cellar of Vietti

Luciana Currado in Vietti’s cellars

Vietti (http://www.vietti.com/en/) – owned by the Currado family; Luca Currado is the winemaker; visit and tasting with Luciana Currado (matriarch of the Currado family).  Signora Currado was generous with her time and stories about the history of her family and the wines. Wines poured were the 2011 Roero Arneis, the 2009 Barbera d’Alba Scarrone, the 2008 Barbera d’Asti La Crena (buy), the 2009 Barbera d’Asti Tre Vigne, the 2009 Nebbiolo Perbacco (buy), the 2008 Barolo Castiglione (buy), the Barolo Lazzarito (buy), the 2008 Barolo Brunate (buy) and the 2011 Moscato d’Asti.  A really nice visit.

view from Vietti’s terrace

Giacomo Conterno (http://www.conterno.it/) (Email conterno@conterno.it) – cask tasting with Roberto Conterno. Roberto was very generous with his pours from the casks, but I didn’t have a chance to write down what we tasted. No bottled wines were poured.

Giacomo Conterno

Azienda Giacomo Conterno

Roberto Conterno

Roberto Conterno in the cellars of Giacomo Conterno

Elio Altare (http://www.elioaltare.com/)- visit and tasting with Silvia Altare, Elio’s daughter. Silvia is great. Elio now has a vineyard in Cinque Terre, so Silvia poured his 2009 Campo Grande. The Elio Altare wines Silvia poured were the 2010 Dolcetto d’Alba, the 2010 Langhe Nebbiolo, the 2007 Barbera Larigi (buy), the 2007 L’Insieme, the 2007 Barolo buy), the 2006 Barolo (buy) and the 2005 Barolo (buy). This was yet another really nice visit!

Silvia Altare in the barrel room of Elio Altare

Silvia Altare in the cellars of Elio Altare

Sottimano (http://www.sottimano.it/en/)- visit and tasting with Elena Sottimano. Wines poured were the 2009 Barbera d’Alba Pairolero (buy), the 2009 Barbaresco Cotta, the 2009 Barbaresco Pajore (buy) and the 2008 Barbaresco Cotta (buy).

view from Sottimano

A couple of final notes on some other restaurants we visited during our stay. We stayed and ate at Villa Crespi in Lago Orta. The hotel is really beautiful, and the hotel staff is very efficient and friendly. However, everything about this hotel is pricey, and our dinner was less than stellar. While the food was very good, the wait staff was mediocre at best. We would not return to the hotel or restaurant.

Orta San Giulio, on the way to the island of San Giulio

Orta San Giulio, on the way to the island of San Giulio

Orta San Giulio, view from the island of San Giulio

We also ate dinner at Combal Zero in Torino (http://www.combal.org/).  Our dinner was great, but the wine pairings were mediocre at best.

one of the courses at Combal Zero

one of our courses at Combal Zero

looking towards Imperia

looking towards Imperia

Finally, while staying in Imperia in Ligura (where we also had great pizza on two evenings at La Piazzetta),we drove over to Menton, France and ate lunch at Le Mirazur (http://www.mirazur.fr/en/the-mirazur-restaurant). This was one of the best meals we have ever had in the world!

our table and view at Le Mirazur

our table and view at Le Mirazur

La Mirazur, Menton, France

one of our courses at Le Mirazur

Practicalities:  We flew in and out of the Milano (MXP), and we rented a car at the airport (through Europe Car).  Terry had a TomTom GPS which proved to be invaluable (so much so that Charlie and I purchased one ourselves and have used it on subsequent trips).  We did have an issue from time-to-time with the TomTom telling us to travel a certain route, because our car (a small Renault station wagon) was too wide to pass through a certain road or tunnel that TomTom wanted us to travel.  Charlie thought you should be able to key in the type of auto, so the GPS would factor that in for driving directions!  Also, if you do use a GPS, pay attention to the traffic camera alerts (or you WILL get a ticket in the mail upon your return home), and pay attention to the ZTL (zona traffico limitato) signs (a red circle with white in the center).  A ZTL is mainly a pedestrian area, and again, if you drive into the restricted area (past the sign), you WILL get a ticket in the mail upon your return home. Finally, I made all of our winery appointments and restaurant reservations via email (at least 30 days in advance).

Toscana (Tuscany): Visits to Querciabella, Badia a Passignano, Ornellaia, Valdipiatta, Stella di Campalto and Avignonesi

In May/June 2014, Charlie and I traveled to Toscana.  While the trip did not focus on visiting with winemakers/owners and tasting wine, I did make arrangements beforehand to visit a few wineries.  Our favorite part of the trip was our stay on the coast.  If I could do our trip over again, we would have spent more time on the coast, and less time in the southeastern part of Toscana (near Umbria).  I also wish I would have done more preplanning for Umbria, because our brief forays into Umbria were uneventful, and I know they could have been better.

TuscanyMaprev3

click/tap map (and any photo) to enlarge

We landed in Firenze, and having visited the city before, we headed straight to Chianti from the airport.  We stayed at Villa Vignamaggio in Greve in Chianti (http://www.vignamaggio.it/).   We opted to stay in one of their apartments, and really enjoyed our stay there, including dinner one night and dessert another.  We also enjoyed an al fresco lunch at Ristoro di Lamole (http://ristorodilamole.it/en/) where the food, wine (a Castello de Ama Chianti Classico Riserva) and views were excellent.

Villa Vignamaggio

the main building at Villa Vignamaggio

the grounds at Villa Vignamaggio

the grounds at Villa Vignamaggio

the view from our apartment at Villa Vignamaggio

the view from our apartment at Villa Vignamaggio

the Chianti countryside

the Chianti countryside

along the roadside in Chianti

along the roadside in Chianti (you will see a common thread in all of my posts – I love flowers!)

While in Chianti, the wineries that we visited were:

Querciabella (http://www.querciabella.com/Home.htm)  – visit and tasting with Daniela; wines tasted:

Batar 2011 – a blend of chardonnay and pinot blanco; this is a wine made in the style of “its Burgundy cousins”, but we thought it was very oaky and didn’t really enjoy

Mongrana 2010 – a blend of sangiovese, merlot, cabernet sauvignon; just ok

Camartina 2006 – a blend of cabernet sauvignon and sangiovese; smooth, good tannins and fruit, very nice; buy

Palafreno 2008 – 100% merlot; smooth, nice fruit, very good; buy

Chianti Classico 2009 – 100% sangiovese; a very nice and easy drinking wine; buy

Querciabella

Querciabella

looking out at the vineyards from the Querciabella winery

looking out at the vineyards from the Querciabella winery

Badia a Passignano (http://www.osteriadipassignano.com/en#osteria) – after reading about this option beforehand, we arranged for a tour of Badia a Passignano, and then

Badia a Passignano

Badia a Passignano

lunch at the Osteria a Passignano accompanied by Antinori wines (Chianti Classico Riserva Badia a Passignano 2008, Tignanello 2011, Guado al Tasso 2011, Brunello di Montalcino Pian delle Vigne 2009 and Solaia 2010), preceded by an olive oil tasting and followed by a tasting of two Vin Santos.  The lunch was fantastic!  And, all of the wines were “buy” wines!  If you visit Chianti, this is well worth the money and time!  [A word of caution if you use your GPS to locate Osteria a Passignano.  Our GPS could not figure out how to get to the Osteria, and it kept sending Charlie and me in circles. So, look for the signs to Passignano.]

the cellars at Badia a Passignano

the cellars at Badia a Passignano

entrance to Osteria a Passignano

entrance to Osteria a Passignano

inside Osteria a Passignano

inside Osteria a Passignano

We also had a lunch with wine pairings at Ristorante Badia a Coltibuono (http://en.coltibuono.com/restaurant), where the the lunch was good, but there was nothing special about the wines.  One afternoon, we also dropped in to the tasting room for Il Molino di Grace (http://www.ilmolinodigrace.com/), but nothing stood out for us.

the scuplture in front of Il Molino di Grace that caught out attention

the scuplture in front of Il Molino di Grace that caught out attention

We then headed to the Tuscan coast  via Siena and San Gimignano.  A word of caution when driving from Chianti to San Vincenzo, if your GPS tells you to take the “white road” over the mountain – don’t!!

Siena

Siena

Siena

Siena

on the road to the Tuscan coast

on the road to the Tuscan coast

Charlie and I stayed at Poggio ai Santi (http://www.poggioaisanti.com/) while we visited the coast,and had dinner there one night.  This hotel is fantastic!  We just wished we had stayed here more days.

the view from our room at Poggio ai Santi

the view from our room at Poggio ai Santi

Poggio ai Santi

Poggio ai Santi

Poggio ai Santi

the main building at Poggio ai Santi

While on the coast, we ate lunch at La Pineta in Marina di Bibbona  (http://www.lapinetadizazzeri.it/LaPineta/Home.html).  While you wouldn’t know it from the outside of the building, this was one of the best meals Charlie and I have ever eaten.  If you are ever on the Tuscan coast, go to La Pineta!  We also had an enjoyable lunch at Enoteca Tognoni in Bolgheri (http://www.enotecatognoni.it/page3.htm).

the beach near La Pineta

the beach near La Pineta

The one winery we visited on the coast (Bolgheri) was Ornellaia (http://www.ornellaia.com/).  The tour includes visits to the vineyards, and the wines we tasted were:

Le Volte 2012 – a blend of merlot, sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon; fruity, ripe cherries and prunes

Le Serre Nuove 2011 – blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petit verdot; more complex, spicey, a very nice wine; buy

inside the Ornellaia winery

inside the Ornellaia winery

Ornellaia 2011 – a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot; very smooth, very good; buy

Varia Zioni in Rosso 2011 – primarily cabernet franc, with some merlot, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot; no other notes on this wine

We also tasted the 2013 olive oil (peppery) and Eligo dell’Orneallai Grappa Riserva (which just tasted of alcohol)

one of the vineyards of Ornellaia

one of the vineyards of Ornellaia

they were bottling Masseto while we were there (unfortunately, they didn't pour this wine during our tasting)

they were bottling Masseto while we were there (unfortunately, they didn’t pour this wine during our tasting)

After staying on the coast (for too few days), we headed back inland to the home of Brunello di Montalcino.  Two lodgings interested me, and since both looked appealing, we stayed at two different places while visiting this area.  The first was La Bandita, and the other was Le Traverse (http://www.letraverse.it/); both in Pienza.  While La Bandita gets rave reviews, Charlie and I were not impressed with the lodging and location (although we very much enjoyed our two dinners there).  We were impressed with Le Traverse, and Pinuccia, the owner, is wonderful.  If you travel to this part of Tuscany, stay at Le Traverse!

the countryside around Montalcino

the view from our room at Le Traverse

the view from our room at Le Traverse

Pinuccia and me in Pienza

Pinuccia and me in Pienza

Chef Roberto Rossi

Chef Roberto Rossi

We had some good meals in this area, including lunch at Boccon Divino in Montalcino (http://www.boccondivinomontalcino.it/boccondivino/), but the very best was lunch at Ristorante Silene in Seggiano (https://www.ilsilene.it/silene/).  At Ristorante Silene, we asked owner/chef Roberto Rossi to cook what he wanted for us, and this meal was one of the best we have ever had!  Chef Roberto also selected our wine, a 1988 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, and this wine was excellent.  Charlie and I enjoyed this meal so much that we stayed longer than we expected, and had to move an appointment we had to another day.

We visited a few wineries in this area:

Valdipiatta (http://www.valdipiatta.it/eng/pag/visite.htm)  – the wines we tasted were:

Nibbiano Toscana 2012 – floral, easy drinking, a good wine while sitting by the pool, but not available in the US

Pinot Nero 2006 – fresh, light bodied, nice

at Valdipiatta

Rosso di Montepulciano 2011 – light bodied, very nice, a good everyday house wine; buy

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2010 – smooth, good fruit and tannins, very good; buy

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Vigna Alfiero 2004 – dark ruby, complex and w/ depth, very good; buy

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva 2005 – strong tannins, but still smooth; Charlie liked this wine better than the Vigna Alfiero

Trincerone 2003 – a blend of canaiolo and merlot; smooth, nice; buy

Trefonti 2000 – a blend of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, canaiolo; a nice wine; buy

Vin Santo 2006 – this was the best vin santo we had tasted on the trip, but still not something we would buy

Stella di Campalto (http://stelladicampalto.com/en/) – we had a barrel tasting with a friend of Stella’s.  There were no bottled wines offered for tasting.  We did buy a bottle of her Brunello di Montalcino 2007, which we enjoyed latter on during our trip.

Our last visit was to Avignonesi (https://www.avignonesi.it/enwhere we took a group tour (a group that included Charlie, me and many Belgians), and then had an excellent lunch with wines from the estate.  The wines we had at lunch were:

Il Marzocco Chardonnay 2013 – oaky

Avignonesi barrel room for vin santo

Avignonesi’s barrel room for vin santo

Grifi Toscana IGT 2010 – a blend of sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon; so-so

Desiderio 2010 – mostly merlot with some cabernet sauvignon; so-so

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Grandi Annate 2007 –smooth, good tannins and fruit, very good; buy

50 & 50 Toscana IGT- a blend of merlot and sangiovese; an enjoyable wine; very good; buy

Vin Santo 1999 – thick and sweet

Occhio di Pernice Vin Santo 1999 – very thick and syrupy

We then headed southeast towards San Casciano dei Bagni for a few days.  While in this area, we stayed at Casa Fabbrini.  Casa Fabbrini is an out of the way, but beautiful, place. However, this is not a lodging we would recommend.

Finally, we headed to Rome for our flight home.  We stayed overnight near the airport at the Al Porticciolo Hotel in Fiumicino (this hotel doesn’t have its own website, so you need to book through booking.com, or a similar site).  This is a nice place to stay if you have an early morning flight, because the restaurant at this hotel is wonderful.

Practicalities: We flew into the airport at Firenze (FLR), and rented a car (Hertz through Auto Europe).  We own a TomTom GPS, and that has proven to be invaluable on our drives throughout Europe.  We flew home out of the Rome airport (FCO).  As I said in my Piemonte post, set your GPS to give you speed camera alerts, and pay attention to these alerts.  Also, while driving in a city, look for ZTL signs.  It is not uncommon (in fact, it is very common) to receive a ticket or tickets upon your return home for driving past a ZTL sign and into the restricted zone, or speeding.  I made all of our winery appointments and restaurant reservations via email (at least 30 days in advance).