Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Italian Tryst Day Four - Wednesday 31st October 2018

The Italian Tryst - October and November 2018

Write up of a seven day bus trip across Northern Italy by me and some of my Malaysian Foodie and Winey friends, taking in Lake Como, Bolgheri, Alba and Milan. Dear Leader said we were a Tryst of pilgrims on another wine and restaurant and food adventure, so we became Trystians. Photos mostly by me, though some filched from the Facebook pages of Chan May Peng, Wong Yin-How and David Teh.  

Day Four - Wednesday 31st October 2018 - Bolgheri - Serravale Designer Outlet - Fontanafredda Estate in Alba - Guido Restaurant


We woke up to a somewhat patchy and overcast sky and decided to pack everything ahead of our off to enjoy a leisurely breakfast with those Trystians of similar mind. This we did, following a brisk and somewhat cramped shower and were ready to roll with a good forty minutes before take off. As the day was starting quite cool, we boiled up some water (the room had a kettle - very civilised) and broke open some Cafe 21 instant coffee to kickstart the day. 

The Relais Sant' Elena
We made our way to breakfast and my second kickstart morning espresso and latte coffee. Decided to go with the fruits which were top end and some scrambled eggs and potato for a bit of carbo in the system. Looked like it could be a cold one today. Bit of chatting with the Trystians, comparing notes on the rooms and the trip to date. All seemed very happy and chipper and looking forward to the truffles in Alba. Trystian David was again trying to palm off his Chili sauce on all fellow Trystians and extolling the virtues of having chili sauce with the excellent eggs. I stole half a spoonful and it did go extremely well. He seemed happy - he had found a convert. On half a spoon? Naaaaaaahhhh….

Up against the wall...
Our room was quite close to where the bus would park for loading so we went back to ablute and laze ahead of the upload. The sky had brightened somewhat and the Trystians were all standing on time as Marco the Bus rolled up (somewhat late as I recall; vague memory of Dear Leader sharing a story about Marco whingeing at our unearthly morning call of 9.30am and he would come at 9.45 - he arrived at 10am) and we lugged or rolled our cases up for him to huff and puff and jigsaw them into the bus hold. Once done, we were off and on our way - though not before another Marco ooops as he somewhere figured he had taken a wrong turn. Of course.

Lenglui selecting breakfast at Relais Sant' Elena
It had been earlier decided that Portofino and Ligure were no longer possible as destinations on this trip - some inclement and unnatural weather had been brutal and the word from Marco was that the ferries had stopped running due to the damage done by the storms. We actually passed the turnoff to the area and it all looked pretty grey and grim in the distance. So it was determined that time would instead be spent at the Serravalle Designer Outlet which conveniently was on the main road to Alba. Well, and okay, it seemed a fair way to spend the time, which totally delighted half the bus and produced some loud and enthusiastic chatter.  Unfortunately, the skies did not agree and it was again pelting down with rain when Marco parked up in a car park near one of the entrances. 

"You first..."  "No, You first..."  "No, YOU first..."  "Okay..."
View from Breakfast
Serravale Designer Outlet

It was decided to do lunch first and we had each been given some special lunch vouchers for use at a particular outlet whose name escapes me at this time. We were all pretty sodden by the time we reached it and dripped our way as directed by some bearded waiter who basically told us what to order. In retrospect it was a mistake to eat so early after breakfast but the Lenglui seemed determined and so we ordered a salad to share and a pizza each. Not an enjoyable experience - it was all plastic and noise and the food was terrifically average. Half of it was left uneaten by both of us and the Euro38 for the entire experience seemed not good value - though it seemed immensely popular with the young people who all seemed to have sufficient disposable income to afford a place like this. I must be getting old. Next time I will put my foot down; I will eat when my belly says so. 

Lunch at Serravalle. Pretty. Ordinary. Never. Again.
Lenglui and I parted company for our own shopping experiences. My tatty portable umbrella came through to good rescue from the incessant rain as I wandered around the avenues lined with all these big name brands. It is definitely NOT a pleasant experience to do this place in the rain; there is little in the way of overhead cover from the elements. I just kept on wandering around window shopping and looking for some respite from the windswept wet. I walked pretty much around the whole complex in the two hours time that we had. My feet got very cold toward the end - it refused to stop raining until we had all boarded the bus and headed on to Alba. Although boarding the bus took some time - Marco seemed to have disappeared and a few of us were standing around in the rain. Then as if by magic, the bus door opened as a yawning Marco hauled himself awake and falumphed into the driver's seat. Well, at least one mystery had been cleared up - he did sleep on the bus. Slowly all the others arrived and clambered aboard, and all who had made purchases were excited to show them off and compare. I had bought a pair of black slip on shoes at less 60% as an alternative to wearing my boots for going to lunch and dinner. Euro40 was a very fair price for the Geox (my favourite shoe brand next to Clarks) and they would quickly become total replacements for my soon to be doomed boots. Lenglui was most impressed. 

Fontanafredda Estate in Alba

Don't remember much about the drive into Alba, save that Marco seemed to be in the process of doing another oops just as we were arriving. But it turned out not to be so on this occasion because suddenly we saw the logo of the winery on the wall to our left and in we turned. The Fontanafredda Winery doubles as a hotel resort with forest walks and a wine and food store and two restaurants. Accommodation is split across two separate wings each with its own breakfast bar. Marco parked near where most of us would be staying and we unloaded and scrambled to the small reception area to fight for our keys. Our room was at the end of the corridor on the ground level so we trundled the route and tumbled into the reasonably sized room. Again, a lovely bed, all large and bouncing, and those pipes in the bathroom to dry our soon to be washed clothes. This would be our home for three nights so we figured wash everything and pack it away for our extended stay in Milan. 

The Fontanafredda website is quite a useful source of information, For example, it shares that the Langhe is an "historic region of Piedmont, positioned between 450 and 800 meters above sea level, in an area that lies between the Tanaro and Bormida rivers, between the provinces of Cuneo and Asti. This land is famous all around the world, not only for its wealth of traditions and typical local products, but also for its rolling landscapes which have been immortalized and celebrated by the words of writers such as Pavese and Fenoglio. Moreover, this is the homeland of Barolo, of the White Truffle of Alba and of the Tonda Gentile hazelnut, just to name a few of the many delicacies of this land. In 2014 the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato areas became the 50th Italian site to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The very first for viticulture-designate agricultural landscapes." 

The website also shares that in 1858 the Fontanafredda estate was bought by Vittorio Emanuele II as a gift to his mistress Rosa Vercellana, also known as "La bela Rosin". As a result it is able to say that "Like all things that are beautiful, even Fontanafredda was born from a love story: the one between King Vittorio Emanuele II and the “Bela Rosin.” Very lyrical , no? Si.

Later, it was handed down to their children, Maria Vittoria and Emanuele Alberto, Count of Mirafiori and Fontanafredda. In 1866 the king bought the first vineyard of Barolo, which became the reason for the name “Tenimenti di Barolo e Fontanafredda” being used. 

Wine-making in the cellars of Fontanafredda began in 1870 and in 1878 Count Emanuele Alberto of Mirafiori begins his wine adventure, with over 300 hectares (741 acres) cultivated directly by salaried, specialized workers (a unique thing at the time). He turned Fontanafredda into an actual village with a church and a school and was succeeded by his second-born Gastone in 1894.

Negatively impacted by Phylloxera in 1928 and the Great Depression of 1929, the estate and the cellar were sold to Monte dei Paschi di Siena Bank for 1,050,500 lire, whereas the brand was sold to the Gancia family for 100,000 lire. However, somehow in 2009, and after 70 years, the website proudly proclaims that "Fontanafredda is once again in the hands of Piedmont natives" without quite explaining who or how. In 2017 Fontanafredda was named “European Winery of the Year” by the Wine Enthusiast magazine.

Guido Restaurant

Dinner for the day was to be at the One Star Michelin Guido Restaurant, one of the winery restaurants conveniently located in the building next to our lodgings. Michelin notes it as using "top quality ingredients, dishes with distinct flavours are carefully prepared to a consistently high standard." 

Trystians Pitt Lee, Wen Dee and Lenglui
Some more Michelin - "In the splendid setting of the 19C Villa Fontanafredda, where the love affair between Victor Emmanuel II and Rosa Vercellana blossomed, Guido continues to offer excellent Piedmontese cuisine, making this restaurant a must for fans of the region's gastronomy. The elegant dining rooms are a harmonious combination of traditional decor and modern style. More traditional cuisine is served in the convivial setting of the new Taverna del Re." Other attractions include a particularly interesting wine list, meals outside, air conditioning, private dining rooms and an enclosed car park. 

Trystian Tony making friends with the refill ladies
Tonight would be a winemaker's dinner with wines being supplied by winemaker Danilo Nada of the family owned and operated Nada Fiorenzo winery. Naturally it was raining so coats and umbrellas over the jackets and frocks were essential. Entering the restaurant, we were hit with a blast of stuffy warm air and a cold glass of fizz. Whether this was intentional was not discovered, but after fifteen minutes in this hothouse I found myself heading outside and desperately sucking in the cool fresh and somewhat damp air to clear the head. I had forgotten stuffy - that dull humid airless muzz clogging up the head and sinuses. Conjured childhood memories of winters and shuttered windows and doors battened with old cloth and newspapers against the cold and rain and snow and sat in front of coal fires heating and sucking the air out of the room. Though no one else seemed to be bothered by the stuffy air - must be a British thing. 

Trystians May and Dr Rajan sandwiching winemaker Danilo Fiorenzo
All the following in quotes come from the Nada Fiorenzo website:

Barbaresco is (since 1980) a DOCG region in the Langa hills in North Italy where the nebbiolo varietal dominates and the vineyards produce wines of "aromatic complexity, tannic potency and great longevity" and "with a personality all of its own, huge elegance and excellent tannic texture".

Delightful table setting
Seems Barbaresco is known as the Queen of wines in contrast to Barolo which is known as "The King". Light ruby red in colour, aeration in the glass reveals "intense and complex nuances" of "Red berry fruits, blossom, tobacco, mint, eucalyptus, liquorice – a succession of scents that eloquently express the grape variety, the vineyard of origin and the ageing techniques adopted." 

"Barbaresco is characterised by notable intensity and length, pronounced tannic weave, good acidity and an alcohol content that adds warmth and softness. In short, a combination of caressing, velvety, lingering flavours."

Nada Fiorenzo is presently fourth generation - great grandfather Carlo bought the grape farm in 1921 and produced wine, grandfather Fiorenzo only sold grapes, father Bruno returned to winemaking and bottling and Danilo is continuing the tradition. The winery's philosophy is "To capture the purity of the scents and flavours of this bountiful land of ours in a glass bottle." This they do through loving both the land and the vines - natural soil nutrition, no herbicides, manual harvesting and soft pressing being among the activities employed in the processes. The Barbaresco enjoys two years in barrel and then a few months in bottle. 

Chef Ugo serving up the Agnolotti (pic by May Peng)
We were having our fizz with some tasty eatables in a kind of drawing room with high tables for the tidbits and parking glasses expectantly waiting for the nice young lady with the bottle to come to our rescues. There were some pictures on the walls containing historical bits about the estate. Winemaker Danilo was affably doing the room and schmoozing with everyone, who were all looking quite spiffy in their jackets and ensembles (though I recall some Trystians removing a layer or two to combat the warmth). After some genial chitchat over flutes of lovely fizz we settled in to our chairs in the dining room. We sat ourselves with the Trystians Jaya, and Doctors Rajan and Bachan and their respective squeezes and got down to some serious Michelin star business. 

The egg, cream and truffles - sublime
The food was very tasty indeed - though the aperitif snacks were a bit full and firm on the finish which necessited some care so as not to bloat out ahead of the dinner. The first course was delightful - perfectly poached egg on cold Parmeggiano cream and generous shavings of the white truffle. Eating this probably day fresh and in its native habitat opens up a whole new experience and I can now understand the slavish mouthwaterings and salivations by the enlightened over eating the things. Got earth, gooey egg yolk and the contrast of warm egg and cold cream to fuse the whole into something sublime. Absolute Magnifico. The Agnolotti visually reminded of the Ravioli we got in Heinz tins when I was a kid but these puppies were packed with seasoned veal and pork. Perhaps a shade dry on the tongue, the pasta was superb and was a great match for the first red of the evening. Similarly, I found the veal somewhat on the dry and fibrous side and a bit difficult to process; equally the polenta didn't help to liquify things - not that it was bad, just not to my taste. Though May says hers was tender and sweet. There you go - maybe I had the end piece. 

The very tasty Agnolotti
The Barbaresco wines were all quite similar in texture and, for me, taste. With the passage of time, I cannot recall differences in the wines across the dinner. All were very good, all were matching well with the food, and all went into the blissful oblivion that we know as getting nicely squiffed. I recall the starting fizz as being crisp and biting and nicely searing and scratching the back of the throat with its bubbling tickle, and the ending Barolo grappa as fire in the throat and belly. There was also a bottle of something dark and sherry brandy like called "La Chimera" which fired things up nicely with the dessert. But the Barbaresco - not really. Vague memories of subtle textural differences and nuances across the altitudes, but none that mark the things as wholly unforgettable. Sorry…  maybe have to have another bottle or four in less stuffy conditions. Perhaps a visit to the vineyard next time? Bolehkah? 

My underwhelming fibrous veal
May Peng in her FB post says "We had the pleasure of having the company of 4th generation winemaker, Danillo Nada of Nada Fiorenzo, for dinner tonight at 1* Guido, located in the Fontana Fredda Estate. Simple delicious Italian fayre, based on seasonal ingredients and steeped in the tradition of the Langhe region, was what Chef Ugo and his brother offered. Food was paired with Barbaresco wines made from Nebbiolo, and each of the 4 vintages, (2013, 2012, 2008, 2007) was quite different, expressing the different climate conditions of the vintage. Excellent wines overall!"

The moment when Trystian Yasu's head fuses to his glass - total illumination
Trystian David had been keen for the group to let rip with a "Yam Seng" pretty much since the start of the trip, figuring that the only possible place for it would be here. Reason being, we had the place to ourselves and no one else would be irritated by the immense breach of civilised decorum generated by the loud cheer. I felt it necessary to explain to our host the cultural context of the Yam Seng and proceeded to create a less virulent version - a soft spoken Yam Seng. This was followed by the more traditional full throated gut piercing raise the rooftop style, and then we all sat back down to Mossie the booze. 

We finished the evening with some wicked aged Parmiggiano and desserts and then it was back to the room and crash down for the night. Switch on the TV and numb down to sleep. Never fails. 

Danilo and Trystian May
Ristorante Guido
Fontanafredda Estate
Via Alba 15
12050 Serralunga D'Alba
Phone : +390173626162
Email : info@guidoristorante.it
Website: : http://www.guidoristorante.it

Meal prices : Menu 75/100 € - Carte 60/90 €
Dinner only
Closing: monday, sunday dinner

A selection of aperitif for pre dinner
Baked saffron risotto
Poached egg on Parmiggiano cream with shaved white truffle.
Agnolotti di Lidia
Braised veal on polenta
24 month aged Parmiggiano
Dessert made from Toronne (Italian Nougat)
Italian Meringue

Fontanafredda Mirafiore fizz and Nada Fiorenzo wines for the night
Mirafiore Alta Langa Blanc de Noir Brut 2014
Nada Fiorenzo Seifile
Nada Fiorenzo Barbaresco Montaribaldi 2013
Nada Fiorenzo Barbaresco Manzola 2012
Nada Fiorenzo Barbaresco Rombone 2008
Nada Fiorenzo Barbaresco Rombone 2007
Castillo Monsanto La Chimera Vinsanto
Fontanafredda Grappa di Barolo Riserva

Nada Fiorenzo Wine Notes (from the Nada Fiorenzo website)

The wonderful "La Chimera"
A limited number of bottles that embody the richness and harmony of barbera grapes from very old timeworn vines and the austerity of the nebbiolo grapes from the Rombone vineyard. An inexhaustible source of aromas and flavours that come from afar, waiting to be rediscovered with rich foods, pasta, red meat and cheese. Or, more simply, to be sipped during conversation.

Made with the nebbiolo grapes picked in the Manzola vineyard, one of the most historic Barbaresco microzones. Its bright red garnet colour heralds an expansive floral bouquet and a sapid, austere palate. Already elegant when young, it acquires total harmony with age. Following suitable oxygenation, it gives of its best with roast and braised beef and veal, rabbit, lamb, hard cheeses and, aged at least ten years, biscuits and pastries. Local match: “Ravioli del plin al sugo d’arrosto” Filled pasta with roast meat sauce. Altitude 230m

Firewater - Barolo Grappa
Made with nebbiolo grapes from the old vines that cling to the highly eroded soil of a steep vineyard in Cascina Quinto, heart of Montaribaldi. A very rich bright garnet red Barbaresco with a vinous nose and a soft, complex palate. Already harmonious when young, it is capable of long aging in the cellar. Like the other Barbarescos, it should be suitably oxygenated before being drunk, ideally with pasta with meat sauce, roast and braised beef and veal, and hard and mature cheeses. Local match: “Coniglio al civet” Rabbit marinated in wine with herbs. Altitude 240m


Made with nebbiolo grapes from the oldest vines in the Rombone vineyard. Bright garnet red in colour, our flagship Barbaresco is complex on the nose, full-flavoured and warm on the palate, where the tannins, already elegant when the wine is young, will grow gradually more refined to ensure long, happy ageing. Barbaresco Rombone should also be suitable oxygenated before drinking and goes well with braised and roast beef and veal, stews, game, truffle dishes and mature cheeses. Local match: “Brasato al Barbaresco” Veal braised in Barbaresco. Altitude 260m.

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