I wake with wicked drymouth. Too much good wine and great food last night!
This is an off day in every sense: we drive from Cannetto to Monforte d'Alba, in the heart of Barolo country. We have lunch at La Cantinella in Barolo, an oddly indifferent meal. I haven't been here in a few years, but this meal confirms my previous opinion that it is a decent, correct, traditional and unexciting place to eat. After lunch (2008 Elio Grasso Nebbiolo d'Alba ... decent, but nothing spectacular) Edward and Mark get checked into their rooms, and I head to my apartment. Time for a little laundry and cleanup before a lovely supper at La Saracca in Monforte.
This place is brilliant. The brainchild of the town's pharmacist, Giulio, it was constructed out of a series of houses built into the steep hillside. You enter low, and the space, though shallow, opens up with cantilevered dining spaces on glass platforms for three stories above you. We take a place in the room with the salami and cheese displays. On the wall behind Edward and Marc are glass cases holding salamis and hams, in the magical process of transforming themselves through curing; the cases set back into the walls, the hanging meat looking like art on display. Really puts painting and sculpture in their place, don't you think?
What makes La Saracca brilliant? It's what it is not: a traditional restaurant. Most places, big and small, segregate the drinking/snacking from the dining spaces. If you want to eat, you are expected to sit, have three courses, the whole bit, wine, etc. There's a certain ritual, prescribed by custom and expectation. If you just want a glass of wine and a snack, you stand or sit in the bar, a separate and distinct place from the dining room. To drop into a restaurant, sit in the dining room and just have a glass of wine and a single course is often interpreted as a mild insult, especially if you are having something easily prepared at home, like a salad.
Giulio wanted something different: where a guest could have what they wanted, where they wanted, when they wanted. So it's much looser and less structured, and though the kitchen is not yet stellar (Giulio is working on this; it has improved from last year), the selection of cured meat and cheese is spectacular. We order a bunch of salads (my body is craving greens tonight), some culatello, salami and cheeses, and set to work with a bottle of 1997 Clerico Barolo Pajana ... really delicious to drink right now. (Contrary to what you've read in the Wine Spectator, 1997 was not a stellar year and the wines will not all age well. I've been drinking mine up and some are already turning; past their prime. 1998 is my favorite recent vintage for drinking now: the wines are just hitting their plateau of maturity.)
1997 Domenico Clerico, Barolo "Pajana"
Lovely nose of fruit and wood, with slight hints of orange peel from age. Well-extracted fruit aromas of berries and black cherries framed by chocolate, coffee and vanilla oak. It's definitely a modern wine, soft and fruit-forward, but still nice to drink. This definitely shows the character of the vintage: easy to drink, less tannic and approachable, but there are still lots of sweet wood tannins to give this some structure. In the mouth, it has lovely fruit, but seems a bit underacidified - the wine is delicious but a bit flabby. That's the vintage, definitely. The finish is quite nice, though I suspect that it is beginning to reach the end of its drinking life - the wine changes very quickly after half an hour open. Fun but one-dimensional. Drink now-2013. 3.5