Italy Day 2 (dinner): felicitiously da Felicin

Above: Da Felicin in Monforte d’Alba is one of Langa’s classic old-school trattorie and it boasts one of the best cellars in the area. The current proprietor and chef, Nino Rocca (pictured below), grandson of Felice (hence the name), makes traditional Piedmontese fare. His colorful wit and spirited one-liners reminded me of the classic tavern-keepers you read about in nineteenth-century Italian novels.

After my meeting with Maria Teresa Mascarello in Barolo, I made a pilgrimage of sorts as I headed to Serralunga d’Alba to visit Fontanafredda, the oldest producer of Barolo: before her grandfather Giulio bought the now historic rows in the vineyards Cannubi, Rocche, San Lorenzo, and Ruè and began to make and bottle his own wine, he worked as a mediatore, a mediator or négociant of grapes for what was and remains the largest producer of Barolo, Fontanafredda.

Together with Ricasoli (Chianti Classico) and Cavour (Piedmont), Fontanafredda was one of the three Risorgimento-era winemakers who shaped the birth of a wine nation: Ricasoli established the primacy of Sangiovese in Tuscany, Cavour obtained nuanced bouquet and created world-class expressions of Nebbiolo in Grinzane, and King Vittorio Emanuele II produced Barolo on a large scale and converted his granaries into wine cellars, gathering together the first great Barolo “library” at his Fontanafredda estate.

The king essentially lost control of Fontanafredda during the Fascist era and the royal family was exiled from Italy after the second world war. But before the war began, Giulio Mascarello negotiated the purchase of fruit for Fontanafredda. According to Maria Teresa, this was one of the reasons he knew the growing sites so well and why he was able to chose so wisely when he decided to purchase select rows in some of Langa’s most coveted vineyards.

More on the “birth of a wine nation” in another post…

Felicin is a favorite gathering place for local and extra-communitarian Barolisti alike. Its cellar is replete with old bottlings of Nebbiolo (as well as a few unfortunate bottles of La Spinetta that Nino thankfully hides away in a corner of his cellar lest brazen thieves attempt to ferry them away in the middle of foggy night).

The asparagus with zabaglione were decadent, worthy of Louis XIV.

Tagliatelle generously dusted with grated black truffles and drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil.

In Langa, the cheese course is traditionally served with cognà (center), a jelly made from the must of Dolcetto grapes after pressing.

Saving my energy for the first day of Vinitaly (which began the next day in Verona), I treaded lightly with a bottle of 1996 Lazzarito by Fontanafredda to accompany the cheese course. The nearly twelve-year old wine showed nicely.

The wise-cracking and ever-gracious Nino reminded me of an “oste” that you might come across in a Manzoni novel. He speaks multiple languages. One cannot help but have a felicitous experience Da Felicin.