Thursday, 18 October 2012

Trip to Silvano Bolmida, Barolo, Piedmont, by Alex Harper

No exciting trip begins mid afternoon... and sure enough the alarm rang out at 4.30am. Fumbling in the dark, the inevitable odd socks are matched with strange clothing combinations sure to elicit a wry smile from travelling companions and airport security alike.

But who cares, we are heading off to Piedmont to spend 24 hours with one of Barolo’s most exciting new producers. No stranger to making top end Barolo for others, he set up his own tiny operation (producing 30,000 bottles) in 1999 and released his first wine onto the market in 2003. Nearly 10 years later he has been elected Barolo’s winemaker of the year 2012 by ENOGEA. Not bad from his modest 300m2 cellar!

The team congregate at the airport on time, if slightly bleary eyed: Johnny and I from the Bancroft contingent, Ed Martin, Paulo Brammer and James Lyon-Shaw (owner, ops director and head chef) from award winning restaurant chain ETM and James Ramsden, on-line journalist for the Guardian. A small hop, skip and a jump over the Alps and we are in Turin. The drizzle does nothing to dampen our spirits when we see Johnny ‘the chauffeur’ Paterson is going to be taking on the notorious Italian roads in a 9 seater bus. To his credit, he managed the beast with aplomb.

A much needed lunch was consumed in a lovely local Osteria in Alba and it was to my fervent relief to discover that our resident journo spoke Italian – but not before he let me suffer through the humiliation of not being able to get the waitress to understand my Italian for beer. Re-fuelled and ready to get stuck in to some of Italy’s most sought after wines we headed up into the beautiful hills of Bussia in Barolo to meet Silvano.

We explored the cellar, learning about his experimentation with yeast, maceration times and cap management to tame the famously hard tannins of Barolo. All of this has been painstakingly trialled year on year to ensure that his wines have all the perfume, acidity and structure of the great Barolo combined with an enviably accessible yet defined tannin structure. As we learnt the experimentation never stop in the quest for great wine. We tasted from the barrel wine that had macerated for different lengths of time to see for ourselves how such a seemingly small detail can have such a vast affect on colour, perfume, structure and flavour.

Deciding it was time to taste the results of the careful winemaking and barrel aging Silvano scooped up some glasses and a handful of bottles and we found ourselves bouncing along in the back of the tractor up to the Barolo vineyards to enjoy these ethereal wines in the mist shrouded vineyards in which they were born.

Silvano is a firm believer that the wine is created in the vineyard and great wines can only come from great grapes. Biodiversity in the vineyards is of paramount importance for healthy strong grapes, and always respecting nature through green practices can produce the ripe tannins and intense perfume for which he is becoming famed. We stood among a newly planted vineyard that he explained would take 10 years, many thousands of hours of work (including hand hewing the hefty end stakes for the training system) and some eye watering cash before it would be producing quality Barolo.

From the cover crops protecting both vine and soil to the bamboo erosion breaks, everything has been thought through to maximise the benefits to the vine. The backbreaking work he and his family do each season in the vineyards was obvious for all to see as we perched on the steep hillside raising our glass of mouth watering wine to his passion and skill.

As dusk crept in we were forced to retreat to where Barolo is more frequently consumed... a very fine restaurant. Battling through a, by now very dense fog that had settled over the hills (the Nebbiolo grape which makes Barolo derives its name from the Italian ‘nebbia’ meaning fog – they weren’t kidding) we arrived for an absolute treat of local riches as, course after beautiful course appeared paired with, among others, Silvano’s Barolo Bussia Riserva 2001. A fitting finish to a wonderful day.

The adventures were far from over however, for as the next day dawned a little more brightly than us, we ventured into the famous truffle forests of Alba. Led by an intrepid local truffle hunter and his wonderfully talented dog we managed to sniff out two prime white truffles before a sudden bee attack on the nose of the unfortunate dog signalled the end of a highly successful morning.

It was a truly magical trip to one of the most authentic, likable and exciting producers I have had the good fortune to spend time with. I look forward to reliving some happy memories over a glass or two of Barolo with the fine folk from ETM soon...

Written by Alex Harper, London Trade Sales

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