“Wine makes every meal an occasion, every table more elegant, every day more civilized.” Andre Simon
At the train station in Santa Margarita Maggiore, on our way to Alba, a young woman tried to steal my husband's wallet from his back pocket. Two days later, I lost a crown while eating the truffle fondue in an Alba restaurant. Little did I know as I secured the crown in my purse, that yet another surprise awaited me in this same establishment. Entering the ladies' room, I did a double-take. I asked myself, "Did I enter the wrong restroom"? A little embarrassed, I exited and looked again at the sign on the door, and looked again at the sign on the other restroom door. No, I am sure this little figure is wearing a dress and that signora means woman. But is this door a time portal to the past or have I entered some parallel universe where they don't really get the concept of toilet? There before me was merely a hole in the floor with marks on either side to place your feet. I panicked. How am I supposed to use this facility? Okay, honestly, if I hadn't been desperate, I would never have tried.
It was in the town of Alba also that we first encountered what has now become routine for us - out of work immigrants playing parking lot attendants in public parking lots in order to make a living. However, after receiving a small payment for directing us to an open parking space, this particular guy kept haranguing Jim about buying some socks. Jim, of course, refused the socks, but the guy kept following us through the parking lot, socks in hand, insisting that Jim buy them. Finally, frustrated and a bit irritated due to the persistence of this person, Jim emphatically said, "NO, GRAZIE," and we continued walking. We still wonder whether the elderly Italian gentleman who was yelling at us as we crossed the parking lot was chastising us or supporting our stance. But, having lived in Italy for 5 years now, we know that this is just the way things work. But we still say no to the socks.
My final striking memory of Alba was the cold reception we received in the bed and breakfast. The owner just plain refused to try to talk with us. When asked a question, she just shook her head no and said, "Wait until my daughter is here", and walked away. We finally concluded that the daughter was imaginary as we never did see her. Well, it is true that there was a language barrier, but everywhere else we had been in Italy, people at least tried to communicate with us even if our Italian was elementary.
As I write about my memories of that trip, part of me is not surprised that we have not returned to Piedmont even though it is now only a five hour drive from our Le Marche home and, more importantly, Giorgio Rivetti personally invited us to his winery, La Spinetta. But along with these memories, the smell of truffles still fills my senses and the taste of Gavi lingers on my lips. And these memories overpower all others calling to me as the leaves turn, the grape harvest commences, and the truffle hunters arrive. And in my memory I return to a cool, sunny day in Alba, with a glass of Gavi and a dish of pasta with white truffles.
Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful, princess named Gavia. She was the daughter of Clodimir, King of the Franks. And it came to pass that Gavia fell in love with a lowly soldier in the King's guard. But, of course, a King cannot permit his daughter to marry a lowly soldier, so one night Gavia and her beloved fled the kingdom taking up residence in a small town on the other side of the Alps in Italy. For a while, they lived happily eluding the King's troops. And as time went by, Gavia and her husband, became more secure in their safety and even a little careless. One night, while enjoying a bit too much vino in the local bar, Gavia's husband told the inn keeper their story. You got it. The inn keeper was a stool pigeon and spilled the beans to the King in exchange for a reward. A few days later, the King's men showed up to escort Gavia and her recalcitrant husband back to King Clodimir.
Well, the King had been grieving over the loss of his daughter, for years now. So when she was finally returned to him, he had a change of heart. Overcome with happiness and the wonderful wine that she brought with her to soften him up (smart girl), he forgave her and blessed her marriage. As a wedding gift, he gave Gavia and her husband the small town in Italy to which they had fled, naming it and it's magic wine Gavi. To this day, locals will tell you that the romance of Gavia and her soldier lives on in every glass of Gavi di Gavi. Well, I cannot attest to whether it is due to the romance, but I do believe it is a magic wine especially when it has bubbles.
Here are two of my favorite Gavi producers making sparkling wines.
The first Gavi that I ever drank was a Principessa Gavi di Gavi from Banfi. Banfi, an American company started in 1919 by John Mariani, Sr., is best known for their Castello di Banfi estate in Tuscany. But they have also owned a historic estate near Novi Ligure in Piedmont since the late 1970s. It is here that they produce a variety of white, red and sparkling wines bearing the prestigious appellations of the Piedmont region. My favorites from this portfolio are their Principessa Gavia di Gavi and the sparkling wine Principessa Gavia Perlante.
Principessa Gavia Perlante is a single vineyard wine made from 100% Cortese grapes. It's distinctive clear bottle showcases the beautiful pale straw color of the wine. As the name implies, this is a sparkling wine in the perlante style meaning slightly effervescent or what in Italy is generally called frizzante. On the nose it has ample notes of apple, melon, pineapple. And in the mouth it is crisp and gentle with a balanced acidity. Wine Spectator has awarded it 88 points. This wine pairs particularly well with antipasti especially cheeses like brie or havarti, but it also can be served with fish or poultry dishes.