A languid Italian lunch
November 16, 2013
Editor's note: This is the fourth and final article in a four-part series. Visit http://www.vaildaily.com to read the first three installments.
There may be three meals in a day, but lunch in Piemonte — the "slow food movement's" birthplace — can't be beat. It's a time when you can — and should — enjoy a languid three-hour (or more) repas that includes at least four courses. And wine, of course, must be imbibed.
Piemonte possesses abundant choices of osterias, trattorias and restaurants to enjoy such a meal, but since we're next door at Matteo Correggia, let's drive up the narrow vineyard road on neighboring Malvira estate to their country farmhouse hotel and restaurant, Villa Tiboldi.
Malvira dates to the 1950s when Giuseppe Damonte founded the family-owned winery his sons Massimo and Roberto now operate. Roberto oversees the cellar while Massimo manages the estates' 79 acres under vine in seven different vineyards. Similar to all the wineries we visited on our harvest tour, it's a family owned and operated estate. Today, Roberto's wife, Patrizia, runs the hotel and restaurant and Massimo's wife, Federica, works in the winery. Roberto and Patrizia's son, Giacomo, is studying at the enology school in Alba, preparing to eventually join the family business.
The Damontes renovated the old farmhouse on the property, with its much-anticipated grand opening on Oct. 27, 2003. Their creation, a luxury — but in no way pretentious — 13 room hotel and restaurant. They preserved the warmth and personality of the original property cocooned in the Trinita vineyard of Nebbiolo and Arneis vines. In summer, the hotel grounds provide views nothing short of breathtaking, with cheerful geraniums and petunias greeting guests in the jasmine-perfumed country air.
Autumn at Villa Tiboldi is equally enchanting. Instead of bright flowers, the vineyards' changing leaves offer a palette of autumn colors — red, yellow and orange. Warm, inviting buildings house the restaurant and hotel rooms, each decorated differently, but all beautifully appointed with stunning vineyard views.
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Although it's too cold to dine on the villa's expansive terrace with a panoramic view of vineyard-covered rolling hills as a feast for our eyes, the dining room is warm and pleasant. Today, we'll slip into the restaurant for our much-deserved lunch.
Changing seasons, changing menus
Chef Andrea Ferrucci has an enviable job of frequently changing his menu. With such agricultural bounty available to them, chefs are never at a loss for fresh, seasonal produce, dairy products and meats. Since it's autumn, that means game is plentiful, particularly cinghiale (wild boar), cervo (venison) and cognilio (rabbit) that frequently appear on menus in traditional and innovative preparations. It's also time to harvest apples, pears and Piemonte's famous hazelnuts in the southern Alta Langa. There just seems to be no limit to the fresh flavors and textures available.
Since we're not in a rush and ready to relax, we'll go for the fab four: antipasto, primo piatto (pasta or soup), secondo piatto (what we call entree) and dolci (sweets, of course). Ferrucci's compact, but diverse, Piemontese "with a modern suggestion" menu contains four a la carte courses and two prix fixe menus, each with wine pairings. Certainly, there is no lack of tantalizing choices.
Vinous journey through lunch
While we're settling in and examining the menu for our a la carte selections, let's order a bottle of Deltetto Extra Brut Spumante 2008. For my American readers, get the Asti Spumante once advertised at Christmas out of your mind. This is truly champagne, but don't tell the French! The fresh, dry bubbles are a perfect beginning of our vinous journey through lunch.
Although Ferrucci's menu seasonally changes, many dishes such as regional favorites vitello tonnato, agnolotti and carne cruda remain. The presentations may differ — such as the addition of paper-thin slices of tartufi bianchi in autumn and winter — but these are menu mainstays.
You can't avoid vitello tonnato in Piemonte. Similar to New Orleans gumbo, each Piemontese cook has his or her own version of the much-loved traditional dish. Tiboldi's version is poached, thin, rose slices of the region's famous Fassone veal beautifully plated and topped with a luscious dollop of creamy tuna sauce. Stop it! "Tuna sauce," you say as you turn up your nose? Yes! But this is not just any tuna. The Piemontese make good use of delicious rose Mediterranean tuna, blending it with anchovies, capers and maionese fatta du casa (homemade mayonnaise). Nothing fishy or oily about Ferrucci's sublime tuna sauce.
Maybe you prefer your veal raw. If so, this is just the place to indulge in the pure, fresh flavors of raw Fassone veal that's used in carne cruda. This lean, clean tasting meat from the famous Piemontese breed of cattle needs no other embellishments other than extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and maybe a little lemon juice. Let the meat speak for itself. Of course, it's autumn and a great year for "diamonds of the dirt" — tartufi bianchi. A few slices shaved onto your carne cruda tableside will show you how simple, raw veal can transcend most any meat dish you've tasted.
For our antipasti, we'll choose from Patrizia's extensive 48-page wine list. Since Malvira's Trinita vineyard surrounds us, let's order a bottle of their Arneis Trinita 2011. No trip to Roero is complete without this beautiful iconic Roero white wine. Yes, I know Dolcetto or Barbera d'Alba would be better pairings with the meat, but let's live dangerously and order the white.
For your primo, you might want to consider the tortelloni stuffed with sausage or the chestnut ravioli, but I'm a creature of habit, so that means egg rich tajarin with rabbit and artichoke ragout. Artichoke is a challenging pairing, but I believe the 2011 G. D. Vajra Riesling Renano will stand up to the challenge and pair well with any of the other primi choices.
Now, to the seconde. I'm going to do this a little backward and choose wine first. Since we went on a "Nebbiolo harvest tour" before lunch (never mind it took us four weeks), I'll choose a Nebbiolo wine from one of the producers we visited. So many choices from this beautiful list, but I'm ordering Paolo Scavino 2004 Barolo Cannubi. It's a beautiful wine made with passion and love — such as all those we've sampled — and Ferrucci's roasted venison with apple cream and black salsify provides a perfect gustatory partner for this distinctive wine.
So many dolci choices, but nothing says Piemonte more than "Tortino al cioccolato dal cuore morbido con salsa alla vaniglia." Translation — molten chocolate cake with vanilla sauce. Simple, yet powerful flavors to pair with Deltetto's late harvest Arneis Passito Bric du Liun. This lovely "nectar" goes beautifully at either end of the meal; however, in Antonio Deltetto's words, "is perfect on its own for contemplation or in good company." With chocolate, it's divine.
If you'd like some grappa, be my guest. For now, I'm content to sip my espresso and relive the 2013 Nebbiolo harvest. Villa Tiboldi's warm welcome, delicious cuisine and special regional wines punctuated what has been a delightful adventure in the Langhe and Roero vineyards. Now, we must wait while the vintners work their oenological magic on this noble grape. When 2013 Nebbiolo — in all its incarnations — emerges from the cellars, we will raise a glass and toast the dedicated Piemontese who keep the Nebbiolo flowing for us.
Suzanne Hoffman is a freelance writer specializing in food, wine and travel. Her blogs are http://www.suziknowsbest.com and http://www.winefamilies.com. Email comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.