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Michele Chiarlo

In a Northern Italian Wine Region, Raising a Glass with Less Fuss

May 31, 2018
Like other wine-drinking venues in Piemonte, Palas Cerequio, a nine-room hotel, has taken a more casual air to raising a glass. Credit: Andrea Wyner for The New York Times

In what feels like a generational shift, the wine-drinking scene in Piemonte has taken a significant turn. Formal restaurants are no longer the only place to find a wide selection of notable local wines. Wine shops with a handful of tables — informal places that locals frequent for lunch or a bite before a late dinner — now have shelves that are packed with the region’s best wines at retail prices, not the pronounced markup found in many restaurants.

These informal hybrid shops felt fresh and exciting on a recent visit to the region in comparison to some of the well-known restaurants. The hybrids tend to have a youthful vibe in their atmosphere, music and knowledgeable staff, which can assist in narrowing down the vast options. There are often bottles uncorked for sampling before purchase, perhaps alongside a board piled high with local cheese and prosciutto.

The octogenarian winemaker Michele Chiarlo and his family are behind Palas Cerequio, a nine-room hotel surrounded by vineyards outside the hilltop village of La Morra, about 20 minutes from Alba. It’s also home to a wine cellar with a shop focused on single vineyard wines from several producers in Barolo.

“When stocking the shelves, we looked at it from the perspective of the customer: You come to taste different things,” Mr. Chiarlo said. The brick-lined cave is like a library of single-vineyard wines from Barolo, complete with back vintages and a range of producers from Gaja to Paolo Scavino to Damilano. To sample the range of flavors possible in a single vineyard, visitors might want to ask about a horizontal tasting.

The shop doesn’t have a traditional wine bar area for opening a bottle, but guests can raise a glass on the terrace overlooking the vineyards, poolside under the shade of an umbrella or even over a picnic in the very vineyard where the grapes were picked.

“In the past, it wasn’t traditional to order wine by the glass or to take an open bottle home from a restaurant,” Mr. Chiarlo said. “But here in Piemonte, the culture around drinking wine is changing.”

Excerpt taken from: The New York Times

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