One of the best ways to learn about Italian wines is to try them with local foods. You might be lucky enough to dine at a friend’s home when you’re in Italy, but for most of us, a trattoria, osteria or ristorante will be our dining experience.
There are so many wonderful eateries in all of Italy, but for me the greatest number of these are concentrated in a small area of the province of Cuneo in Piemonte. This is the area that is home to the charming Dolcetto, a red wine with delicious black raspberry and cranberry fruit; the tangy Barbera with plenty of spice, high acidity and very light tannins and the regal red pairing of Barolo and Barbaresco, both made exclusively from the Nebbiolo grape.
Here are notes on three restaurants in the area; I’ll include more in the next post.
RISTORANTE LE TORRI – Castiglione Falletto
This is a beautifully appointed restaurant operated by Chef Maria Cristina Rinaudi and her husband Angelo. Located in the center of the small town of Castiglione Falletto, this is in the midst of the Barolo zone and if you’re lucky enough, you can dine on the outdoor patio that offers a spectacular vista of much of this famed wine district.
Cristina is as friendly and as outgoing as she is talented; she obviously impressed the right people a few years ago when NBC television commissioned her to be their executive chef at the Winter Olympics of 2006 in Torino. Her cooking is simple and quite elegant, as she specializes in local meats and vegetables. Her pastas are also excellent – try the simple tajarin, which is one of the best preparations of this humble dish I’ve ever had.
Angelo has done a wonderful job with the wine list; prices are fair and there is an excellent selection of Barolos and other local reds from producers such as Vietti and Cavallotto. But other Piemontese wines – such as Arneis and Favorita – give spice to the list, while one of my favorite wines on the list is the Moscato d’Asti from Forteto della Luja, which is as complex and as flavorful a Moscato as you can find.
I’ve dined here on at least six different occasions and have loved every meal – as well as the company of Cristina and Angelo!
Ristorante Le Torri, Piazza V. Veneto 10, Castiglione Falletto
TRATTORIA LA LIBERA – Alba
This mid-sized trattoria is a gem; located in the central part of Alba on Via Elvio Pertinace (just off Via Vittorio Emmanuele, one of the main thoroughfares), this is quite easy to walk to and from your hotel.
The chef is Marco Forneris, who takes traditional Piemontese cuisine and breates new life into it. Everything here is excellent, from the simple vitello tonnato the wonderful torcione di fegato grasso d’anatra, duck liver served with brioche and honey mustard (this is a great antipasti for 18 Euro – try this with a Dolcetto.)
Other not-to-be-missed dishes include raviolini di coniglio e boraggine, a small ravioli of rabbit served with a broccoli cream sauce (primi piatti -12 Euro) and piccione arrostito all’aglio e rosmarino (roasted pigeon with oil and rosemary served with a potato pureé – secondi piatti for 18 Euro – try this with a Barolo, Barbaresco or Nebbiolo d’Alba). For those who treasure traditional Piemontese specialties, you can also enjoy finanziera as a secondo for only 14 Euro).
The wine list here has been well thought out and offers some incredible values. I recently enjoyed the 1998 Cavallotto Bricco Boschis Barolo San Giuseppe for only 60 Euro a bottle. Imagine what this wine would cost in New York City or Chicago – if you could even find it! Here was a mature Barolo from a vastly underrated vintage that I tried with a local river fish. Yes, Barolo with fish – it works when Chef Forneris is in charge!
Trattoria La Libera – Via Elvio Pertinace, 24A, Alba
PIAZZA DUOMO – Alba
Piazza Duomo is the fine dining restaurant owned by the famed Barolo/Barbaresco producing family Ceretto; it is located naturally in the Piazza Duomo of Alba.
Downstairs is a casual trattoria setting where lunch and dinner are served. The menu, written on a blackboard, features several different antipasti and pastas; the classic agnolotti del plin – one of my all-time favorite pastas – is great and reasonably priced. There are several choices of local PIemontese white and red wines and they represent a nice range of producers.
Upstairs in a small room with lovely pink walls, Chef Enrico Crippa presents a cuisine not found in many local ristoranti. A naitve of Piemonte, Crippa worked as a chef for three years in Japan before opening this restaurant. That infuence of simplicity and elegance comes across in his cooking and presentation; one of my favorite touches is the rice cakes that are part of the antipasti. Of course, local ingredients shine here – don’t miss the risotto! And be prepared for impeccable service – as fine as I’ve enjoyed in Italy.
The wine list is lengthy and while you might expect a good number of Ceretto wines here, you’ll also find many more famous producers represented, from Roberto Voerzio to Gaja and even Planeta from Sicily.
Ristorante Piazza Duomo – Piazza Risorgimento 4, Alba
See my website for other recommendations of great restaurants in wine country throughout Italy:
See other photos of Italian wine and food at my website: