So: where were we? We had just been mis-navigated into the industrial heart of Asti, and then finally made it to our lunch stop at Del Belbo Da Bardon, half an hour back up the road. This turned out to be a fantastic restaurant, and its wine cellar was as encyclopedic as had been described. Luckily the sommelier was a helpful and enthusiastic fellow, and he suggested that if we wanted to really get to know the local Barbera d’Asti, we should first try an “old school” wine and then a “new school” one. So we did: old school was represented by a 2006 “I Bricchi” by Scarpa (in a hand-numbered bottle), and the more modern style by a 2009 “Tra La Terra il Cielo…” by Tenuta La Meridiana. Both were delicious. Certainly there was something about the I Bricchi that was different from most modern wines that I know of, but I am insufficiently clued-in to the winemaking business to be able to describe or understand what that might be. I’d gladly have it again, if that helps.
The food was wonderful, of course. We all had a pasta course and a main, and I believe that a couple of deserts were shared. We were the last ones out of the lunch setting, and all very happy.
By the time we were on the move again the “nebbio” (fog) had started to come in, and by the time we reached the hills around Coccinato it was dense. I was driving carefully, hairpin-to-hairpin, as that was about as far as we could see. As a consequence, we sailed past the gate and on up the hill. By the time we reached the spot that the Garmin suggested it should be, we started looking for house numbers. It was getting dark. After several false starts we decided to try back down the hill, and that turned out to be the right answer: La Luna Bruna was found about half-way up, and we were greeted warmly. Our host, Bernadetta made us a bowl of pasta for dinner (rather than go out again), which was both kind and delicious.
The next day we drove to Sacra Monte di Crea, a mountain-top monastery with an extensive park and walk. We did the walk first, which afforded great views of the valleys (thanks to the trees along the path being deciduous and bare: wouldn’t be so great in a month’s time.) This resulted in us getting back to the main cathedral about five minutes after it closed, at noon. Oh, well. We went and had a coffee at the cafe and then headed off.
Bernadetta had suggested that we have a look at Vercelli, and try the rice (which is grown in large quantities in the area.) The local rice dish is called Panissa, and has rice, red beans and saussage. In Vercelli we found a popular-looking tratoria that had Panissa on the menu and ordered some for lunch (well, I went with the fettuccini funghi, but the others had panissa, and I got to try some.) Bit underwhelming, frankly. Perhaps we didn’t get a great example: it didn’t seem to have any sausage to speak of, and it could have done with it. Bit bland. Not bad with pepper and cheese added, but I wouldn’t get excited about it on the basis of that experience. Vercelli also had an exhibition of works from the Peggy Guggenheim collection but by the time we found it we were a bit touristed-out, and Cath really wanted to find some of the picturesque mountain villages that were supposed to fill the region. So we picked a direction at random and drove, but it was very frustrating: every attempt seemed to draw us back into the drab industrial valley and the main road that ran through it. We made one more attempt and found our way one village in the hills, but couldn’t find anywhere to look out, panoramically, nor any coffee shops to sit in, so, dejectedly, we headed back to the B&B for a rest and a light (salad) dinner.
The next day was a change: spring appeared to have finally arrived. The sky was blue, the air a little warmer, and we had a booking in the morning to visit a local (Barbaresco) winery for a tasting: Marchesi de Gresy. Even better, the cellar-master, just back from Verona and the “Vin Italy” festival himself, turned out to be an expat Kiwi, so language was not a barrier. Incredibly generously, he gave us two hours of his time and a taste of half a dozen excellent wines, so of course we bought a case for the road, and have been working our way through it ever since… He recommended a local place for lunch “Trattoria Antica Torre” which kept us happily entertained (eating) until around three in the afternoon. Excellent and plentiful rabbit, two different ways, with polenta and potatoes.
From there we drove to and then wandered around Neive and then Cocconato. Hopefully some photos will do them justice. Both beautiful and beautifully situated with great views, but surprisingly little actual street-life. A little, but not much. We found a working cafe (great coffee) in Neive, but no such luck in Cocconato.
Back, then, to Sotto la Luna Bruna and bed. More later…