Our Piemonte Wine Dinner
Barbaresco, Barolo and Much More
Just back from a wine touring week in the Piemonte (Piedmont) region of Italy, Julie and I were eager to share a glimpse of that area with our wine dinner group. We prepared a Piemonte menu we hoped would be both authentic and tasty. How did we do?
The White Wines
We always start a wine dinner with sparkling wine. I had hoped to bring back an Alta Langhe sparkling wine, but realized on our last day in Italy that I had purchased 10 (!) more bottles than I had thought. Oops! No room for 1 more.
We don’t get Alta Langhe sparkling wines in Minnesota, so I had to settle for this one, our one outsider. Not so bad, it was from Lombardia, the next region to the east.
Next we had Roero Arneis and Langhe Bianco. These were perfect aperitif wines with our Apertivo course. The Arneis was lean and crisp, the Langhe Bianco was more full bodied and fruit forward. The Asti sparkling wine was quite sweet, and had to wait until dessert.
Apertivo was one of our favorite discoveries, and one we would love to keep in our Minnesota lives. Every day after work, you meet up with friends at a local wine bar. Whether you are a factory worker or an executive, you make time for this tradition. You buy a glass of wine, and the establishment provides light appetizers (and sometimes much more). This can be as simple as potato chips, but often includes breadsticks, prosciutto, and other finger foods.
We made homemade breadsticks the afternoon of our wine dinner, they need to be fresh and crisp. Success!
One of our wine dinner group members brought two kinds of Prosciutto, one from Italy and one from our local favorite, La Quercia. If you don’t get yours from Italy, then definitely go local. It’s what the Piemontese would do!
The last of the garden tomatoes and basil went into this tasty bruschetta. Very garlicy, so we made sure everyone had some.
Dolcetto, Barbera, Barbaresco, Barolo
We brought all these wines back from Italy, and we spent time with the winegrower of each wine. What a treat to share these with friends! We opened the Dolcetto with Apertivo. As a simple daily table wine, you wouldn’t expect it to compare to the more elegant reds to follow at dinner.
Truffles, Secret Weapon of the Langhe
On our visit to Italy, we found out just how much they love their truffles. Alba, one of the cities in the Langhe, is the world center for the white truffle. Every weekend in October and November, people fly in from around the world for the famous white truffle auction and to sample this rare treat.
We participated in a truffle hunt during our trip, what fun! September is a bit early for white truffles, but we did find several of the black summer truffles. They are so rich and stinky fresh out of the ground. I think US Customs might have had a different idea if I decided to try to bring one back.
I was able to procure a black summer truffle like the one above with some help from an Italian restaurant in town. It was fresh, but it did lack a bit of the punch of the ones we dug out of the ground with the help of our truffle dog, Rocky.
After apertivo, you go home. You would relax and perhaps go for a short stroll with your family before going to dinner. Of course, since our guests were already at our house, we simply moved on to the next course.
Primo, or 1st course, is usually pasta or risotto. Julie’s favorite was tajarin con sugo de carne (meat sauce), so that’s what we made. Tajarin pasta is a Piemonte specialty, and it’s a bit of a competition to see how many egg yolks a chef can fit into her pasta. We used 4 yolks per cup of flour and the pasta was very rich and delicious. We dressed the pasta lightly with sauce, just like we had experienced in Italy. All the better to enjoy the flavor and texture of the noodles, and not just the sauce.
We offered our guests paper-thin slices of truffle on their pasta. I can still clearly recall the heady aroma!
Note: the salad you see in the background would never appear on the menu, and it wouldn’t be served with the pasta. We found out you can ask for insalata mista and the restaurant would make one for you. It’s just not something Italians order.
With the primo course, we opened the more serious reds: Barbera d’Alba, Barbaresco, and Barolo. Barbera comes from the Barbera grape, a larger red grape with a thin skin. Barbera is usually full bodied, high in acidity but low in tannins. Barbaresco and Barolo are both made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes. The Nebbiolo grape is smaller (higher skin to juice ratio). Barbaresco and Barolo are both known to be powerful but not super rich, a wonderful combination. They have both high acidity and high tannins, so you really need to have them with food. Some are so tannic you need to wait 10+ years before you drink them; I’m just not that patient. These are not your fireplace cocktail sipper!
The second course is usually meat. We chose “costine di manzo brasato al vino Nebbiolo” (beef short ribs braised in Nebbiolo). We served mashed carrots and rutabagas on the side. Paired with the rich meat, the Barbaresco and Barolo shone, red fruit emerged and the tannins disappeared. The Barbaresco and Barolo were so popular with our group, we needed to open another (different one) of each.
As in most of Europe, cheeses are served after the meal in Italy. One of our favorites was Gorgonzola Dolce: fresh, creamy, and mild it was super nice slathered on a piece of bread and drizzled with truffle honey.
One of our group made a beautiful chocolate cake for dessert, and even supplied the pistachio gelato. The sparkling Asti was nice alongside, sweet but not cloying and of course, bubbles.
We had a great evening, sharing a bit of our Piemonte experience with friends.
Do you have any special travel experiences you’ve tried to share with friends back at home?