Thursday, 21 October 2010

Torino: chocolate and wine

Sitting in the very epicentre of Italy's greatest wine area, Torino appears more interested in chocolate than their famous local wines.

Indeed we even saw an invitation to a chocolate-tasting

at a certain venerable establishment in this city of Pasticcerias and sweet shops;

birthplace of the chocolate bar.

As for their Barolos, Barbarescos, Barberas, Dolcettos and Nebbiolos of Alba and the Langhe it would seem that producing such marvels just happens effortlessly. How wrong can one be?

We entered Torino determined to find good cheap Barolo or at least one under €20. Why should it always be so expensive? Firmly believing that the price of wine has more to do with the lifestyle and aspirations of the vigneron than intrinsic worth or cost of production we were sure of finding Barolo at half the price for local consumption.

Wrong. There was the same explanation wherever we went. Barolo is difficult to produce. It requires certain sites. It only ripens properly if the conditions are right. It must be aged for 2 or 3 years in cask and then further in bottle. You may find Barolo for under €20 but it will not give the experience of proper Barolo. This information came from establishments such as the great Gastronomia Paissa

and the Casa del Barolo,

an appropriately plutocratic establishment with entry only in response to a buzzer.

Research had thrown up two Vino Sfuso outlets in Torino so why not go from the pillar of expensive Barolo to the post of wine on draft? First we visited Scaringella Vini e Bevande which was quite different from any of the other Vino Sfuso shops we had seen in Venezia.

It was more like something we had once found in Napoli with large tanks of wine in bulk where customers could fill a demijohn (minimum 5 litres) with a small selection of wines; Dolcetto, Barbera and one or two others.

The shop also sold other wines and spirits in bottle. Over the yard they had yet more tanks and a bottling plant.

So as well as filling your demijohn, you could buy the wine in bottle. What Scaringella wouldn't do was to fill your empty mineral water bottle or other container (unles it had 5 litres or more capacity presumably). We bought a bottle of Dolcetto and one of Barbera at around €3 each. The Barbera was better but neither was better than ordinaire.

From there we went to 'L'angolo del vino' in another part of town.

This was rather extraordinary - a Venetian establishment transposed to Torino complete with Veneto varieties 'delle Marche Trevigiane' (Treviso), selected from a company called 'l'Azienda vitivinicola La Costa di Vò coming from barrels with taps.

We found the following varieties (there are 21 on offer);

Ancelotta (YES Ancelotta, despite dire warnings we had heard from Venezia to Edinburgh that the Ancelotta crop had failed)
Barbera (OK there had to be one or two local varieties - provided by Rolfo Pietro, producers in Govone and San Bartolomeo)
Blends of various reds
Cabernets S. and F.
Pinot Grigio
Raboso (rose and red)

These were just as good as could be found in Venezia which seems to be a model for Vino Sfuso shops outside Venezia itself. We bought a litre of Ancelotta which was every bit as good as the first Ancelotta in purezza we ever tried and which convinced us of the high merit of this grape.

Like all the best Vino Sfuso shops, l'angolo del vino is something of a meeting place. We had to wait our turn while several others were served. We had to be patient to get these shots without embarassing anyone by including them in them

In ordinary restaurants we concentrated on the 'lesser' Barberas, Dolcettos etc. Pleasant and attractive though these were we still didn't fall head over heals for them. The only consolation was a continuing pleasure in drinking Grignolino.

Torino is a delight, preferable to Milano in our opinion. The Teatro Regio is well run and they produce better opera than most Italian houses. There is a convenient Ryanair flight from London, so no excuse for Brits not to visit. It was also the site of the 2006 Winter olympics so is in a way a Ski resort as well as everything else. We hope to return one day and crack the Barolo problem once and for all.

At Torino/Caselle airport there is a good selection of Subalpino (Piemonte) wines. The girls in the Duty Free shop answered our questions by saying 'look, all the wines here are from the best producers in Piemonte so anything you buy we can promise you will be OK.' Hmmmmmmm.

In fact we came away with a couple of rarities; a sparkling Bonarda and a still, dry Freisa which boasted quite the most bizarre label we have ever seen.

No doubt a marketing department's bright idea of how to sell such an interesting wine.

Taking up position near our gate there was a welcoming wine bar where various wines were on tasting. Asking the guy with the apron if he had a Grignolino on tasting, rather than open a bottle he said 'Grignolino e un vino da ragazza' or words to that effect.

We would have been pleased to have been ragazzi in this case.

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