Note: This entry is meant to follow my first Renato Corino entry: Renato Corino Part 1.0, Mauro Veglio Part 3. You should read it before reading this one.
From: domenica, 3 ottobre e mercoledì, 6 ottobre.
The thing that keeps all of us wine dorks going is that one characteristic in wine that makes it both tremendously marvelous and devastatingly frustrating. This dichotomous character creates the mystery, which possesses us to go in endless circles, searching for those amazingly magnificent experiences where the company is great, the food is perfect, the scene is warm, and the wine: fabulous. The problem is that these experiences rarely come about when we’ve done everything we can to make them so. More often they come exactly when we’re not expecting them to.
October 3, and the rest of that week, unfolded for me unexpectedly.
In Piemonte there are visits to wineries and there is the making of new friends. While the former on its own is lovely, a combined experience cannot be beat. October 3 marked (my) visit number two to Renato Corino. But it wasn’t just a visit. It was a day in which I made new friends and met again those whom I’d met before, but hadn’t yet gotten to know. It marked a space in time where good things and fabulous people converged – a day that stands out ever so vividly in my mind.
If you’ve read my previous Corino entry, you know that those present for this Corino visit were Marco, Frank, and James (the German Barolo Boys), and me. But I’ve not yet had the chance to introduce another important character. Sarah, from Switzerland, was also staying at Le Viole. She had met the German Barolo Boys about three years back while dining in an overbooked restaurant in Piemonte. The story is a little like mine, where the meeting is pure random chance. They kept in touch a little over the years and incidentally, Sarah had decided to take a two week vacation in Italy at about the same time as them that fall. She’d start the trip with her birthday, which happens to be the same as Lili’s: October 3.
Renato and Lili had been expecting only three guys for that afternoon visit. So when the five of us showed up, we found them trying to hide their puzzled looks, greeting us with gracious Piemontese hospitality.
Before being the cause of any extra confusion, I said to them, “We’ve met before! I visited you a couple of weeks ago by myself. I know these guys from years ago and they invited me to come along today.” After explaining the stories of Sarah’s and my respective meetings with the guys, the tasting began.
Fortunately the day was warm enough that we could sit out on the terrace, which I have to say, is certainly one of the best places to drink Barolo while in Barolo, if not the best. We tasted through all the current releases – me for the second time. My opinions of the wines hadn’t changed. If anything, they improved, but that tends to happen in the company of good friends and food. (I reviewed these in my first Renato Corino entry.) Alongside the wines, Renato and Lili served up an endless supply of Tome (my favorite Piemontese cheese), salumi, and grissini and Lili brought out homemade pies at the end.
That day I also met Fabrizio and Irena, long-time friends of Renato and Lili’s, who run a wine tourism business in the area. Here again, is another case of fortuitous meetings. A few years prior, Fabrizio met Marco, Frank, and James at a wine event in Germany. None of them had any idea about the others’ connection to the Barolo area. But once they got to talking, they soon discovered a common friend: Renato Corino. Now they always find an opportunity to meet while the guys are visiting Barolo.
Later in the afternoon we moved the party inside the tasting room where Renato then started a favorite game of his: blind tasting. He’ll disappear down to his cellar and return with a bottle, covered, so no one knows what it is. Animated and gregarious, Renato pours wine into all the glasses and asks everyone for their impressions and opinions. On this day, when it became my turn, I came forward with my descriptions and only one opinion: that I thought it to be a very elegant wine. But I was not going to guess what it was. No way. Normally I’m very good at blind tastings but I had no idea what he might unveil. So I remained a humble observer. Besides, I didn’t have any history with his wines, unlike everyone else at the table.
It turned out to be his Corino Vigneto Rocche Barolo 1994. “Wow,” I thought, “this guy is serious.”
I imagined Renato, with his brother and father, harvesting these very Nebbiolo grapes from Vigneto Rocche during the same months in which I was a little eighteen year old freshman in college, trying to figure out my way around UC Berkeley. That was a long time ago! Honored is the best word I can come up with to describe how I felt to be present with these friends, at that point in time, when that bottle was meant to be presented, directly from its source.
… and that wasn’t even the grand finale. The game continued with another wine from the cellar. Guesses were flying about while I concentrated on what was in my glass. I know by this point in my trip I could describe, in Italiano, at least some of my opinions about the wines I tasted. But I honestly don’t remember what I said about this one when Renato turned his attention to my response.
He finally unveiled the bottle. Corino Barolo 1990 – the “base” Barolo, a blend from the family’s cru holdings and yet another amazing achievement from the Corino brothers.
I know the wine impressed me, so whatever I said mustn’t have been insufficient because Renato proceeded to throw me wine challenges throughout the rest of the evening. (I touch on a little of this in my previous entry, Yes Wines where I speak about Lili and Sarah’s birthday dinner at La Salita.)
In the coming days, while I accompanied Marco, Frank, and James, along with Sarah too, to many more wine appointments and dinners, they told me about the German dinner they’d be cooking that Wednesday night for the owners of Le Viole, and other good friends. Would I like to come? “Oh, yikes, I was planning to go to France mid-week but maybe I could put it off a couple days…” So yes, I was coming and I also said yes to their next question. I’d be their sommelier for the evening.
Elated to see Renato and Lili arrive that evening at Le Viole, I tried to greet them with some nuance of the Piemontese hospitality with which they had welcomed me earlier that week. Since I was (partial) host this time, I’d do my best to see to it that they were taken care of.
Not only did the night’s wine line-up include Vega Sicilia Tinto Valbuena 5˚ 1990, Ornellaia 1988, and Cos D’Estournel Saint-Estéphe 1988 (all from Frank) but Renato brought three fine bottles of red Burgundy from one of his favorite producers, Domaine Ponsot. They were Clos de la Roche Cuvée Vieilles Vignes 2000, 2001, and 2006.
I figured a few of these bottles were going to need to be decanted so I ran around like a chicken with my head cut off, trying to figure out where the decanters were, which bottles to decant, and in which order. My greatest challenge came when one of the Burgundy corks cracked in half. “Wholly mother of Jesus, I cannot ruin Renato’s bottle!” So I ran to my room to get another wine key, in hopes it might do something magical. On my way back, James said, “Come sit down, we have to start. The soup is getting cold.” “No, you guys start without me. I have to get this cork out,” I quipped. Once he realized convincing me to sit down was not going to work, he tried to take the bottle away from me so he could try getting the demolished cork out of the bottle. I know I reacted like a five year old, “No leave me alone; I’ll do it myself!” But it worked. I got the cork out cleanly and sat down before causing a scene. And no one was the wiser (‘til now!). Yes, I am a professional.
And as one of my most delicious and memorable meals in Piemonte unfolded…
We devoured extraordinary food (alla the German Barolo Boys), emptied fine bottles of wine, and sang That’s Amore over and over again …
At some point during the night Renato said something to Lili in his hopelessly fast Italiano–Piemontese speak, which I cannot (yet) understand. Lili turned to me and said, “Renato says to tell you that we will harvest Nebbiolo in Arborina Friday and if you want, you can come and help.”
I looked across the table at James with a smile that probably reached past both ears. From the look on his face I think he must have seen my soul jump up through my seven chakras, out of my body, and dive back down again.
All I wanted to do this whole time was pick some dang Nebbiolo grapes! And now Renato was offering – in Arborina nonetheless. La mia favorita Arborina.
“Vendemmia nell’Arborina? Si certamente! Chi ha bisogno di Francia!?”
Luckily Sarah let me bunk in her room that Friday night … and my little hotel room in Avignon went empty.
Other library wines tasted (blindly) that didn’t make it into the lines of this story:
Corino Vigna Giachini 2004. Barolo DOCG. Actually this is the only one that wasn’t tasted blind. We ordered it off the list at Osteria Vignaiolo. I’m not sure if this one was made solely by Giovanni or both Renato and his brother. (Oct 4)
Corino Vigna Pozzo Barbera 1990. Barbera d’Alba DOC. A personal favorite. This wine’s youthful character amazed me. It was fresh and bright and retained a vibrant magenta color. (Oct 6)
Corino Vigneto Rocche 2000. Barolo DOCG. (Nov 7)
Corino Vigneto Roncaglie 2001. Barolo DOCG. (Nov 7)
Corino Vigna Pozzo Barbera 1993. Barbera d’Alba DOC. (Nov 7)
Corino Vigna Pozzo Barbera 1989. Barbera d’Alba DOC. I remain an idiota for not guessing this one! (Nov 7)
All of these wines showed beautifully.