What wine would you drink before you die? I ask the wine experts in Le Langhe and it’s not always expensive Barolo

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Oliver Christie
Me with Oliver Christie and Fabrizio Cavalli at their Enoteca del Ponte in Grinzane Cavour, Italy. Photo by Marina Pascucci

BAROLO, Italy – The question is daunting at first – then I explain. I ask wine experts at every wine tasting I attend. It’s a simple question with an array of answers that cover the global wine spectrum.

Pretend you’re going to be executed tomorrow morning. What wine in the world do you drink tonight? 

I have never received the same answer twice. What’s most surprising is these wine experts – sommeliers, winemakers, tasting room managers – often pick affordable wines. They don’t try to impress me or anyone else.

It just shows that wine is extremely personal. Whatever you like is what you like. It’s not what you should like, by the price or winemaker. For example, I’m crazy about Cesanese, Lazio’s increasingly popular red wine that can be bought for about €10 in many places. 

Last week I spent four days in Le Langhe, Barolo country, and visited four wineries and a wine shop. My first stop was a little wine shop down the hill from our B&B in the village of Grinzane Cavour. Enoteca del Ponte is floor to ceiling wines where Fabrizio Cavalli and Oliver Christie held court about the wine industry.

Oliver had an interesting take on wine’s appeal. It’s really not about price. It’s purely about taste.

“You’ve seen ‘Ratatouille’?” he said. “To me, it’s exactly that. The culinary director on that film is named Thomas Keller. To me, he hit the nail exactly on the head because there’s this stiff, stuck up critic who comes to the restaurant and they serve him ratatouille, a peasant’s dish. He’s transported back to his grandmother’s house. And he loves it.

“Wine and food are about sharing experiences.”

So Oliver is a good person to lead off my informal survey.

A shelf at Enoteca del Ponte. Photo by Marina Pascucci

What wine do you drink before you die?

Oliver Christie, Enoteca del Ponte, Via Garibaldi 153, Grinzane Cavour, 39-01-731-950-370, www.enotecadelponte.it, info@enotecadelponte.it.

“The last bottle before I get my head lopped off would be a 2001 Giovanni Almondo Bric Valdiana Roero. It’s just north of this (Tanaro) river. The reason behind it is I was a very young sommelier in London working in a restaurant. I took this bottle off the shelf. It had a little bit of age on it and I knew nothing about it. I asked the head sommelier, ‘Is this good?’ He said, ‘Take it home. Drink it. Do your research on it. If you like it, you buy it. If you don’t, I’ll buy it for you.’

“Well, fair enough. I went home and to me that was the wine that ignited my passion in this zone which was then the reason I met my wife and the reason I moved here.”

A 2001 Giovanni Almondo Bric Valdiana Roero: €26.

Fabrizio Cavalli at his La Terrazza wine bar in Castiglione Falletto, Italy.

Fabrizio Cavalli, Enoteca del Ponte.

“Barolo from Lorenzo Accomasso. Because of what the wine represents for me. It is a friendship and more importantly, (Lorenzo) is my mentor. I can not quantify what I have learned from him but he looks at everything through the eyes of somebody with an incredible wisdom.”

Lorenzo Accomasso Barolos average price: $273.

From left, Laura Cagnazzo, Davide Boasso and Tiziana Boasso at Aurelio Settimo in La Morra. Photo by Marina Pascucci

Tiziana Boasso, Aurelio Settimo, Frazione Annunziata 30, La Morra, 39-01-735-0803, Home | Wine Producers is La Morra (CN) | Aurelio Settimo, aureliosettimo@aureliosettimo.com.

“I was born in 1963. This was a vintage that Barolo was not produced. In the history of Barolo only in 1963 and 1972 Barolo doesn’t exist. The weather conditions were so bad the grapes arrived to the harvest green and it was not possible to produce wine. I’d like to think 1961 that for the ‘60s was the best vintage. If I had the choice, I would drink this that night because I still have a couple of bottles and my husband was born in 1961 and the bottles were presents from my father.”

1961 Barolo average price: $127.

Laura Cagnazzo, Aurelio Settimo.

“I would like to drink a very special wine that’s produced in a very limited area here in Piemonte. It’s Verduno Pelaverga. Verduno is the town. It’s very, very spicy. I like very much the spicy. Verduno Pelaverga’s biggest taste is the pepper.”

Verduno Perlaverga average price: $15.

Marcella Borgogno of Damilano in Barolo. Photo by Marina Pascucci

Marcella Borgogno, Damilano Barolo, Via Roma 31, Barolo, 39-01-735-6105, www.cantinedamilano.it

“Our Chardonnay 2019. Because it ages in tonneaux (French oak). It’s not so easy. It’s something particular.”

Damilano Chardonnay price: €39.

Davide Rosso at Produttori del Barbaresco. Photo by Marina Pascucci

Davide Rosso, Produttori del Barbaresco, Via Torino 54, Barbaresco, 39-01-73-635-139, www.produttoridelbarbaresco.com, produttori@produttoridelbarbaresco.com.

“Barbera from Nizza, Italy. It’s near to us. It’s considered the premium Barbera. The cost is not too much.”

Barbera from Nizza prices start at €25.

1979 Montrachet Romanee-Conti. Sotheby’s photo

Aldo Vacca, Produttori del Barbaresco.

“A Montrachet. It’s one of the most famous white wines from Burgundy. Since drinking Barolo and Barbaresco all my life, I drank that wine only once so if I had to choose a last bottle it would be that one. It’s very rare, very famous, very expensive so you feel very good when you drink it. The year I tasted it was 1989 and it was the Domaine Romanee-Conti 1979 vintage and I still remember the taste. It’s a very good wine and impossible to buy. It’s possible if you’re a Donald Trump.”

1979 Montrachet Romanee-Conti average price: $9,994.

Federica Boffa of Fratelli Serio & Battista Borgogno in Barolo. Photo by Marina Pascucci

Federica Boffa, Fratelli Serio & Battista Borgogno, Via Crosia 12, Barolo, 39-01-73-56107, www.borgognoseriobattista.it, info@borgognoseriobattista.it.

“This could be difficult, because in truth, a single wine would not be enough for me. It is inevitable that I choose the Cannubi as my family believe in this MGA (vineyard) even in unsuspecting times. They built their lives on this hill and they passed on the love for it. So the choice is certainly the Barolo Cannubi, vintage 2013. The vintage as being a lover of vintages with a certain structure, this is one of them. It has a certain roughness, a still nice tannin present and this spicy, peppery flavor with a very intense and persistent aftertaste. In short, fantastic! This wine and vintage is definitely something that I love and that reminds me of good times, dinner and lunch with my husband with my whole family.”

2013 Barolo Cannubi price: €70.

If you’re thinking of going …

How to get there: Drive. Public transportation in Le Langhe is nearly non-existent and only cars can reach the individual wineries. Alba, Lange’s main town, is 35 miles (60 kilometers) from Turin and 90 (150) from Milan. Car rentals in Turin start at about €26 a day. From Milan they start at €23.

Where to stay: Poggio del Farinetti, Via Farinetti 24/25, Diano d’Alba, 39-338-465-8012, 39-360-103-8686, www.poggiodelfarinetti.com, info@poggiodelfarinetti.com. Located just north of Alba in a quiet hilly village, this B&B has rooms with spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding vineyards and the town castle. It also has a swimming pool and good buffet breakfast. It may be the nicest place I’ve stayed in Italy. I paid €385 for three nights.

Where to eat: Trattoria del Centro, Via Alba Cortemilia, Ricca, 39-01-736-12707, www.trattoriadelcentro.com, 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., 7-11 p.m. Wednesday-Monday, 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Tuesday. A Piedmont specialty is risotto, Italy’s creamy rice dish. This simple eatery on the outskirts of Diano d’Alba had a Risotto del Dolcetto made from wine from its own cantina three miles away. It was one of the best risottos I’ve ever had. Mains start at €9.

Il Ritrovo dei Golosi, Via Bartu 3, Diano d’Alba, 39-01-316-2896, Il Ritrovo Dei Golosi – Ristorante, 5 p.m.-midnight Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-midnight Saturday-Sunday. Down a short dirt road, the airy restaurant specializes in rich Piedmont cuisine. I had agnolotti ripieni di gorgonzola e ricotta saltate al pesto di noci (small ravioli filled with gorgonzola and ricotta cheeses and sprinkled with pesto and walnuts). The Langhe Dragon, a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, was worth the trip alone.

Bricco delle Viole, Via San Pietro 4, Barolo, 392-468-2169, noon-2 p.m., 7-10 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. Sporting a giant wine barrel and corner walls made of old wine boxes, this artsy, 3-year-old restaurant adds an elegant twist to Piedmont cuisine. I had the ravioli del plin, agnoletti filled with meat and vegetables for €17. Marco, the friendly waiter, emptied a bottle of Barolo in my €10 glass and gave me a tour of the wine storage room in back.

Where to drink: La Terrazza, Via Vittorio Emanuele 9, Castiglione Falletto, 39-01-736-2909, www.laterrazzadirenza.it, renza@lattarrzadirenza.it, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Besides drinking at wineries, one of the best views in Le Langhe is this wine bar high atop a hill. Choose local wine by the glass or bottle and eat traditional appetizers from the Piedmont region.

When to go: September and October. August is too hot and crowded. Global warming has moved the harvest season from mid-October to September and sometimes August. In September you’ll see vines full of grapes. Temperatures during our week in mid-October were perfect: sunny with lows in the 50s and highs in the high 60s. Also, go during the week. Weekends at high season can be crowded. Call ahead to confirm the tasting rooms have space.

For more information: Langhe Tourist Office, Piazza Risorgimento 2, Alba, 39-01-733-62562, Langhe Experience – Your Official Local Travel Advisor (langhe-experience.it), 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.