Bella Italia

Just before we got ourselves out from under the dark gray mantle of England, we had some good Italian cheer. Paolo de Marchi came to town with new vintages of Proprieta Sperino, his revival of the family’s original estate in the northern Piedmont. Though Paolo made his name in Tuscany with Isole e Olena, he’s always missed the high country around Lessona, where vineyards once abounded in the Alpine foothills and plateaus, and in 1999 he and his son Luca replanted
vineyards in the area. The soil is deep, acidic, and well-drained, he told me, and the vines benefit from a combination of cool air and plenty of sunshine. The 2005 “Lessona” is 100 percent Nebbiolo, a moderately buoyant, notably fresh and aromatic wine, while his 2006 Costa della Sesia “Uvaggio” is a bit more serious; it’s about two-thirds Nebbiolo, the remainder Croatina and Vespolina, local varieties—a lovely wine, fresh and lively, with a long, persistent aftertaste that keeps reminding you there’s some power beneath the velvet. Paolo is never happier than when he’s in the vineyard, and now that he has a true home vineyard to play in, he’s delighted; that’s in the flavor too.

Later in the same week, I went to Le CafĂ© Anglais, which has become very much a winemakers’ hangout, for a dinner labeled “A Night in Panzano.” The featured attraction was the legendary Dario Cecchino, the slightly mad butcher featured in Bill Buford’s “Heat,” and the wines were from Tenuta Fontodi, presented by the genial Giovanni Manetti, who is collaborating with Dario on a project to raise free-range Chianina beef. Dario has now also opened a restaurant, run his way (no menu, “il convivo”—family-style seating--and you can bring your own wine ). We had a variety of his dishes, including extraordinary steak tartare and slabs of what he calls “Her Majesty the Bistecca alla Fiorentina." Fontodi’s “Vigna del Sorbo” Chianti Classico Riserva 2006 and the elegant all-Sangiovese Flaccianello della Pieve 2006 were thoroughly agreeable co-stars. By the time we got through the Vin Santo, I had agreed to apprentice myself to Dario in the shop, restaurant, or both. He says it will be the experience of a lifetime, and I believe him.

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