We arrived late at Michele Chiarlo. Gen and I had touched down at Milan airport at dusk and picked up the hire car. “No need for the satnav, Gen,” I stated. “I know a shortcut.”
So obviously we got lost.
By the time we arrived in Piemonte it was pitch black. Picture this. The small village of Barolo is in the middle of nowhere. It is surrounded by very steep hills. It is freezing cold in the winter, and tonight it has snowed heavily. The hapless Geordie driver peers through the windscreen, his demure brand manager in the passenger seat (wondering what she has done to deserve this.)
“I think it’s down here,” I say.
“Are you sure, Jeem? That road doesn’t look safe.”
“Trust me, Gen. I’m an old hand at this. I’m sure these are Chiarlo vineyards and those lights at the top of the hill – that’s the Chiarlo guest house.”
I edge the car forward down a steep hill – and then the fun starts.
After 50 yards we hit black ice. Car skids. Dirt road. Pitch black. Can’t control the car. Heart in my mouth. “Brace yourself!”
I career down the ice. There’s a solid brick wall on one side. A vineyard on the other. I try to steer the car into the vineyard: softer landing.
It is at this point that Gen shows her class.
“Oh no, Jeem! Not there – that’s Cerequio!”
Five yards later we hit a dry patch and the car skids to a halt. And we breathe again.
Thankfully, the rest of the trip is much less eventful and a lot more fun. After somehow managing to get the car out of the vineyard, we eventually find the Chiarlo guest house and meet up with Stefano and Erica for a bite to eat and a catch-up.
Cipressi 2015 (the second vintage to be made under the new Nizza DOCG) – looks spectacular. On the nose you get hugely perfumed blackberries, massive and profound. On the palate: lovely, grippy, sappy tannins. Mouth filling, a touch of savoury now begins to assert. Huge finish which goes on forever.
Cerequio 2013 – refined and elegant nose, loganberries, cranberries, exotic fruit. A touch of boot polish. Tannins are firm but not harsh, coating rather than dominating. A touch of bacon sandwich on the finish, but very soft and smooth and classy. Needs at least another two years.
The following morning we drive to the winery, gorgeous snowy vistas every side of us. At the winery a sprightly Michele welcomes us, proudly showing us through the fermentation and barrel rooms, before making Gen’s day by posing with her for photographs. The 82 year-old, who still works at the winery every day, tells us the ’17 vintage will be short on volume but good in terms of quality – especially for Barolo. I cross my fingers and hope Gen doesn’t volunteer that I almost wiped out a row of those precious Cerequio vines!