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You might wonder how an American, originally from California, became such a Langhe enthusiast.
I credit my dad, Harvey, with exposing me to the area. My dad loved food and he was convinced he was Italian in his previous life. Luckily for me, this resulted in lots of trips, mainly to Tuscany and Liguria, to eat and visit the Italian friends he collected over the years. Other than his kids, my dad lived for fine-dining and of the three children in our family, I most certainly was the one that embraced his passion for food, so we made a good travel duo.
My food adventure started young. I was 11 years old on my first trip to Europe. Although it was to France and not Italy, we spent a week sight-seeing and eating our way through Paris. I remember getting dressed up in my patent leather shoes and sparkly dress and dining at Michelin starred restaurants. The sommeliers were always a bit taken back when my dad would tell them I would be the one to taste the wine for acceptability.
I was 15 years old on my next foodie adventure. It was 1985 and it was the summer that my dad took the whole family for six weeks to visit his favourite European destinations. I vividly remember my first night in Italy sitting at the hotel restaurant in Alassio, on the Italian Riviera, getting angry that I couldn't read the menu. Of course that didn't dampen my enthusiasm and for my junior year in college I did a semester in Florence. After five months living as a local in Florence, I was a qualified Italian nut!
By 1997, I was living in London and my parents in France. In the winter of 1998, my dad called and suggested we meet in Turin. A sommelier at his favourite 3 starred restaurant in the Alsace had recommend he visit the Langhe valley, and in particular, meet Elio Altare, a winemaker from La Morra.
Our visit was in February and the Langhe hills were dusted with snow. I had seen plenty of vineyards before in Napa and Sonoma, but never before had I seen such a condensed area of terraced hills. Every scrap of land had grapes planted on it and it was breathtaking. What I remember most about that visit was how different the food was from Tuscany and Liguria. The Langhe dishes were lighter and the pasta seemed to melt in my mouth. It was exciting to experience a new Italian regional cooking that was more refined, distinctive yet simpler than what I knew to be Italian cooking. I would come to learn that the exclusive use of locally sourced produce and livestock ensure a consistent menu of regional delicacies at the highest standard ... and that is just the food. For all you wine lovers, you will already knows that during the late 90's, the vintners in the region were producing some outstanding vintages to accompany the earthly flavours of the regional cooking.
My best memory of that trip was sitting in the dining room of Trattoria Della Posta, when it was still in the center of Monforte d'Alba and you had to walk through the kitchen to get to the dining room. My dad and I were invited by Mr. Altare to join him and a few of his wine making buddies for lunch. Of course my dad thought my 5 months of living in Florence 8 years earlier qualified me as a translator. Luckily, Mr. Altare brought along his daughter whose English was thankfully better than my Italian, and between the two of us, we were able to make sure everyone was understood. I remember watching the vintners swirl their over-sized wine glasses of deep garnet colored Barolo and speak about the issues that had affected the year's harvest. It was a very special experience to witness the pride and enthusiasm these men shared in their technique and traditions.
That trip in 1998 was one of four that I shared with my dad before he died in 2000. The summer after his death, as a family we travelled to his favourite places in Europe, including the Langhe, to scatter a portion of his ashes. Since that summer, each year I returned to the Langhe I was overwhelmed by a sense of "being home". In 2005 I bought TorreBarolo, a 17th century tower in the center of Barolo. No matter how many times I stay there, no matter what the season, I am always overwhelmed by the natural beauty on the Langhe. This combined with my love of the regional cooking and wine has turned me into a qualified Langhe nut.
I love inviting friends for weekends, as very few people know this area of Italy. My friends are always surprised how few tourists there are for such a beautiful part of the Italy. Even some of my Italian friends that I met in London don't know the Langhe and were overwhelmed by the natural beauty and quality of food and wine when they came to visit. I also must admit, I get a bit of a kick when the locals I have come to know over the years tell me I know more about the restaurants in a 30 mile radius than they do, and they have lived there their whole lives.
When I bought TorreBarolo, I never thought I would rent it out, but as life has it, I am not able to spend as much time in the area now as I had hoped. The tower provides such a unique setting to experience all that the Langhe has to offer and in renting it out, it is my way now to share my love and passion for the area with as many visitors as possible. Please don't hesitate to contact me for any recommendation and see the Blog for my latest discoveries.