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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Escape the Crisis
Charles W. Borden
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Its already August, more than a month since the new alcohol control regime took effect in Russia, and the wine shelves are still empty. Wine boutiques are closed, and the few that are open have just a dozen or so wines. But who cares, Moscow has wound down for summer vacation, and its time to flee the city. Why not take a quick trip to one of Europes great wine regions. After all, it takes little more time to get to the Rhone, Tuscany, or Rhine than I spend in Moscow traffic every day. I set off for the Piedmont, in northeastern Italy, via Geneva.

Alba is at the heart of the Piedmont region, with the Barbaresco DOC appellation region to the northeast and Barolo DOC, the king of Italian wines, on the opposite side. Both Barbaresco and Barolo are produced from the Nebbiolo grape, but the region also produces excellent reds from Barbara and Dolcetto grapes. These are identified with the area of production appended (e.g. Barbara dAlba or Dolcetto dAlba). A Barolo must be produced from Nebbiolo grapes from that district and aged at least four years before release and a Barbaresco is aged at least three years. The principal white grape in Piedmont is Roero Arneis, an ancient, local that produces a fragrant, light wine. Chardonnay, though now widely grown due to its international popularity, is not distinctive in the Piedmont. Piedmont wineries usually collect grapes from several surrounding regions to produce a full palette of white and red wines.

Alba is an hour and a half drive from Milan, and south of Turin and north of Genoa. I lucked out on an Internet search; I found Cascina Barac, an Agritourism residence east of Alba at the edge of the Barbaresco DOC. Agritourism is in throughout Europe; visit a farm or in this case winery and enjoy the quiet life of the country. What Agritourism means in northern Italy is a small pension type residence co-located with a winery. We had a beautiful, spacious two-room apartment, overlooking Barbaresco vineyards at 180 euros per night. The service was personal and first class, with a nice Italian farm breakfast (included) laid out each morning. As I learned, there are numerous such quality Agritourism locations in the area.

Cascina Barac

We checked in and set off to our first winery appointment, at Tenuta Carretta owned by Edoardo Miroglio, Albas clothing and textile magnate. Edoardo has worked in Moscow since the Soviet era, and has made large investments in the textile industry in Bulgaria. He has also built a modern winery near Sliven in central Bulgaria. He invited us to dinner at Le Clivie, which, with a Michelin star, is located within the gates of the magnificently designed Tenuta Carretta. Moscows restauranteurs can spend their millions, but they could never match this. As sunset approached, we sat on a terrace overlooking the vineyards and valley below. Piedmont is also famous for truffles, and we were served 24-month aged Parmasan dressed with 5-year Balsamic Vinegar, Culatelo salami from Zibello, and an unforgettable Spanish lobster salad, generously laid with slivers of white truffles, all accompanied by a nice white wine from Edoardos Bulgarian winery and a white Roero Arneis from Carretta.

The truffles and lobster were followed by a large, luscious baked trout from Alta Aldige Creek cooked in wine, and, forget food matching traditions, Tenuta Carrettas Barolo Vigneti in Cannubi, which have consistently achieved 91+ Wine Spectator scores in recent years. As the sun set in front of us, we munched on Le Clivies small, delicate pastries, which clearly demonstrated that size can really be inversely related to enjoyment. Though Edoardo is not a fan of sweet wines, he presented Carrettas Moscato dAsti, a frizzante white that titillated the Russian women present.

Alba City Hall

Tenuta Carretta Barolo Vigneti in Cannubi 2000 - Intense aromas of blackberries and cherries with hints of spice. Full-bodied, with silky tannins and a medium finish. A bit tight and monolithic but very good indeed. Best after 2007. 1,100 cases made. Wine Spectator - score 91

The nest day, after a relaxing morning at Cascina Barac, I visited to winemaker Franco Allario at their winery, Piazzo Azienda Agricola. Piazzo, like Carretta, produces wines from its own vineyards, but also from surrounding areas such as Barolo. Piazzos vineyards are located on the edge of the Barbaresco area so its own vineyard wines are Barbaresco.

I discussed truffles with Franco. The season runs from September to November, and in the Piedmont, it is dogs that do the sniffing, in late evening for this white gold. The prospectors are mostly elderly, and each has his claim, jealously guarded. The dogs are out late at night until early morning, snooting out treasure near oak, linden and hazelnut roots. The price of the precious Piedmont white truffle, at up to $5,000 per kilogram, is only exceeded by the best black caviar.

Later in the afternoon, Hans Borrmann, head of Miroglios Bulgarian textile operation, escorted us to Cantina Vignaioli Elvio Pertinace, a cooperative of fifteen vineyards. They work together and produce a full range of regional wines that define the region including Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera dAlba, and Dolcetto dAlba.

The next stop was the boutique Barolo winery of Azienda Agricoli Eraldo Viberti. Viberti produces only about 10,000 bottles per year. Here we received a complete lesson in the recent vintages. As an appetizer we tried his Barbara dAlba, an excellent example of this fruity grape. He brought out his recent favorite, Barolo 2000, a smooth, hospitable wine. We tried the 2001, which Eraldo deemed weaker, or lets say softer than the 2000. Vintage 2002 was rough, wet with hail damage, and many winemakers, like Eraldo, did not even produce a Barolo. We backed up to the 1999, a more stately wine than the 2000. The tasting of the three consecutive years allowed us to understand the subtle differences brought by growing conditions.

Eraldo Viberti Barolo 2000 - Fantastic aromas of Indian spice, blackberries and raspberries with hints of mushrooms. Fullbodied, with an excellent amount of fruit, ripe tannins and a long finish. Lots of tannins at the end. Best after 2008. 700 cases made. Wine Spectator 92

Admittedly, this was a meager, short visit to the premier league, one of the top competitors in the world wine market. But it was nice to get away for a few days and enjoy wines at 20 euros a bottle that would command a 150+ in Moscow, if they could be found.

Back in Moscow, a tour of the wine shops revealed that a few Piedmont wines are again available, topped out by the fabulously expensive Gaja Barolo and Barbaresco wines. The price of one Gaja Barolo would purchase a ticket to Milan. And for the second bottle, you have a three-day visit to Cascina Barac.

Eraldo Viberti

Franco Allario


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