...Sometimes it punches you in the balls,
Sometimes it steals your hotel room,
But it’s still the best kind of wine there is.
Did you ever have one of those friends who always takes the better half of the sandwich, tastes the food off your plate even though they ordered the same thing, drains the last of the bottle without noticing (yeah, right)? Small confession: I can be that friend. I just can’t help it sometimes! have a passion for life! Your lasagna looks better than mine, don’t ask me why. My brother will vouch for this (endearing) habit of mind, which is also evidenced by at least 10 borrowed (stolen) and perfectly worn in sweatshirts living happily in my closet.
Brian, my friend and wine professional at large, was my travel companion on a particular wine trip, and he was the best. We discovered amazing wines and ate so much together that we thought we saw gout creeping over the Duomo on the horizon by the time we hit Florence.
He also carried my bag when I was being lazy, got me coffee in the morning, and swapped hotel rooms with me at the B&B when he got the suite and I got the hole in the basement. He sacrificed last bites and creature comforts and we weren’t even dating. He did boggart shotgun the whole trip, but only because he got very carsick. I never saw a grown man look at a winding road with such fear in his eye.
But besides that, he had my back at all corners. What a guy, right?
I repaid him in everyway imaginable – from eating what he ordered when I decided it looked better than what I had, to accidentally punching him in the junk when making a very animated proclamation (keep reading).
By the time we got to Valfaccenda, we had been on the wine trail for a while – you get to a point after so much cheese, meat, and bread consumption that digestion just comes to a halt. We were constantly vacillating between the buzz of espresso and the buzz of wine just to try and balance things out. Exhausting work.
But when we arrived in Roero, Luca and Carolina’s energy instantly rejuvenated us, and their wines were just as infectious.
If you’ve been following along on this journey with me the past few months, you know this producer already. I’m back at it again with the [white vaaaaans!] Valfaccenda. And what you also know is this stuff is very limited – we sold out of that awesome Arzigh white in half a day. Daaaamn Daniel.
The fruit for Luca’s Rosso is Nebbiolo, and comes from the famous Valmaggiore Cru, a small patch of old vines on a slope that is nearly vertical. Inaccessible by machine or vehicle, the vines can only be reached by a sturdy hike through the woods; this also means grapes can only be tended and harvested by hand.
It is one of the most beautiful vineyards I’ve ever seen, flanked by deep forest all around and a sense that you’re in the home of not just historic vines but also foxes and boars and rabbits. It was so green and quiet, and we could see all the way to the Alps.
We marched over wildflowers and herbs that grew waist high, snacked on grapes while weaving through rows of the old vines and listening to Luca tell us about this special place.
This Rosso is as enchanting and remarkable as its white counterpoint, but maybe even friendlier and easier to understand. It’s like that other half of the buddy equation I mentioned above – the one who is always loaning the sweatshirt, relinquishing the last piece of gum, giving up the last bite of cheesecake; for the record, I can be this type of friend, too (I know, Geminis, right?).
This wine is all about the give, which is unusual because Nebbiolo is typically more guarded, more mysterious. It’s the Italian type who’s unshaven, reserved, and takes a while to come around; a savant who can play three instruments at a time and hold an engaging conversation while doing so, but a guy who still makes you wonder if he’s looking at you or through you even after you’ve known him for 10 years.
And while a Barolo will take decades to soften (and even then remains broad-shouldered and elusive), the sandy soil in Roero is softer and different than in the Langhe (where the more famed kind Nebbiolo grows).
Luca’s wines are forgiving somehow. They retain a wild streak that’s tempered by veiled layers of rose, strawberry, and all those things that grew waist-high in the vineyard. There is something untamed but gentle, perfumed, and kind.
And, while we stood outside at Luca’s cantina, floating away on a delicate, aromatic cloud formed of flowers and licorice, sipping the nuanced beauty of this Nebbiolo at a peach-colored dusk in the hills of Italy, I swung around to exclaim something profound and whacked Brian right in the family jewels. Like, significantly whacked.
Oh the horror. The wine! His balls! So much pain amidst so much beauty! Normally in order convey such a paradoxical shock to the senses, I would insert a very effective analogy here – I would say: “it was like drinking the perfect wine at sunset and then getting punched in the balls without warning” – but that’s literally what happened! I cannot even tie a neat little metaphorical bow around this one.
But see, this is the thing about Nebbiolo: it is rife with contradiction, a tension between seemingly opposite things that come together as one harmonious whole. Brian would be the first to agree – both that Nebbiolo is a contradictory beauty, and that I definitely crossed the line.
And that’s the thing about good friends, and Nebbiolo, too, for that matter. It isn’t only smiles and laughter – there is sharing, stealing, carsickness and even a little pain sometimes. But you still love every bit of it down to the last drop, and laugh about the painful parts later over a good bottle. This is that good bottle.
THE CHEAT SHEET
THE WINE: Valfaccenda Roero Rosso, Piedmont, Italy 2013
THE GRAPE: Nebbiolo
HOMETOWN: Roero, Piedmont Italy
TASTES LIKE: Bright strawberry with a surprising veil of wild herbs; delicate but full of swirling, energetic red flavors and spiced forest-y things – clean but unpredictable.
GOES DOWN EASY WITH: Roasted vegetables like mushrooms, onions and capers, wild rice, and other earthy things; so many meaty things from cold cuts and roasted turkey sandwiches to prime rib and ragu, and of course cheeses and fresh herbs galore.
IF YOU LIKE: Pinot Noir from cooler climates this is a must.
WINE HACK: Serve slightly chilled in the warmer days ahead.