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Looking across the valley from Treiso toward the village of Barbaresco....

Our recent trip to Italy began in Piemonte. We arrived in mid-September...the weather was cool and cloudy when we arrived, but soon cleared and was lovely throughout our visit. For simplicity's sake, I'll condense several days into one.

Day one: Barbaresco. The first winery we visited was Ca' del Baio, the Grasso family estate which lies about half way between the villages of Treiso and Barbaresco (the Barbaresco region has three main villages, one of which shared its name with the region). Three years ago, Giulio Grasso was named Italy's Viticulturist of the Year by the prestigious Gamberro Rosso wine guide. His daughter, Valentina, was a charming host and guide, We tasted the full range of their wines and they were excellent--from the lively Barberas to the single-cru Barbarescos (especially liked the Asili). Top of their pyramid is the Asili Riserva--outstanding!

Next was Marchesi di Grésy. The property has been in the family's hands since about 1650 and they have been growing and selling grapes for much of that time. But it wasn't until 1973 that a young Alberto di Grésy began bottling and selling their own wines. Alberto has succeeded well. He has experimented with a variety of grapes--but it was the Barbaresco crus from the estate that held my attention. And it was fun to chat with Alberto, who is very gracious. While harvest was beginning all over the region, it was at Grésy that we actually saw the first grapes arrive.

The final winery we visited in Barbaresco was Bruno Rocca. Their story was similar--they have grown grapes since the mid-1800s but it wasn't until 1978 that Bruno began making wine. Today, he continues to lead the estate, but son Francesco and daughter Luisa have taken over the day to day operations. Luisa hosted us, and superbly,. Their wines had energy and life...what I sometimes call soul. Their Barberas and Barbarescos are wines I'll be looking for. Each of the Bruno Rocca labels bears a drawing. It's a feather--a quill like those used in classic writing instruments. It was a result of Bruno asking an artist for a design that was simple, yet evocative. The logic was "Light as a feather, as important as the written word." It's a good symbol.

We ate well in Barbaresco. Lunches at the Trattoria Risorgimento and at the Ristorante Rabaya were delicious and filling--we feasted both days on one of the signature pasta dishes of the region: tajarin. It's a pasta made rich with extra egg yolks and served with a sausage bolognese. But the highlight was dinner at the renowned La Ciau del Tornavento. It had been recommended to us by a sophisticated world traveler who called it one of the best restaurants he had been to anywhere in the world (and that included a multitude of Michelin three-star restaurants).

It did not disappoint. First of all, the setting is absolutely dazzling. The photo above gives a bit of an idea--that was essentially the view from our table. The service was equally dazzling. We have all been to places where it becomes obvious people are happy working there. This was such a place. There was a sense of joy--and it began with chef/owner Maurilio Garola who was very visible in the dining room...and his smile lit up the room. The food? Superb! The wine? Superb! This may be Italy's greatest wine cellar--it is one of the two or three biggest and it's depth in the wines of Barolo and Barbaresco is unmatched. As a side note, the Pio Cesare family--one of the region's best known--was at a nearby table celebrating a family milestone. They were fun to watch...they drank and ate very well (beginning with a jeroboam of champagne). Then again, we all ate and drank well!

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