La Contea is a beautiful restaurant in Neive, an area comprising two settlements: the old town on the hill and the new village at the base of it.
The old town, a historic centre of medieval origin, has its entrance guarded by a sixteenth century chapel – San Rocco & San Sebastiano.
Neive is part of ‘Le Langhe’, or rather, the ‘Langa’ which simply means “strip of land” – a name which refers to the narrow ridge between the hills that follow one another in the Piedmont area, between Monferrato and the Ligurian Alps.
It is said by those that live and work there, that the territory reflects the close link between nature and the work of man: hillsides once covered in forest are now refined into vineyards.
The territory is odd. It is so varied, in composition and specificity – but this gives the air a distinctive perfume of ripeness.
The Langhe is one of the richest wine districts of Piedmont; it is home to Barolo, Barbaresco, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Barbera d’Alba, the Chardonnay Langhe, Roero Arneis and Moscato d’Asti.
The wine is made from the Nebbiolo varietal, the grapes are grown in a fairly young vineyard, the vines boast a slowly maturing age at 35 years old. The vineyard stands at an altitude of 320 metres above sea-level, and is south-east facing.
The grapes are harvested manually, 20kgs at a time, in the second week of October every year. The winemaking is done in stainless steel tanks, heat-conditioned at a controlled temperature of 30 degrees C.
The fermentation and macedation process lasts twenty days, with automatic and regular pumping delestages.
The wine is then aged in barrels for around 30 months, before being aged in bottles for a minimum of twelve months.
One of the reasons this wine is so fabulous is because of the scale of its production: they make little more than 3000 bottles a year, and often, less.
The Nebbiolo grape variety is the secret to the top quality red wines of Piedmont, so before even tasting this wine you know you’re in good company. Nebbiolo wines are customarily distinguished by their strong tannins, high acidity and a very distinctive scent – often described as “tar and roses” (but I think it’s a little more like Bovril and molasses). A less obvious characteristic is the tendency of Nebbiolo wines to lose colour as they age, but more in that later.
Nebbiolo is the quintessential Piedmontese wine grape; it’s the dominant variety in five of the region’s DOCGs and many more DOCs.
Even it’s name is redolent of the hilly region, on crisp and cool autumn morning, when the ghostly Nebbia (fog) has descended to the soil and wrapped itself tightly around the valleys and vineyards.
The grapes are late in their ripening, and more hardy – they are harvested in foggy, winters conditions much later in the year than other Piedmontese key varieties, such as Barbera, and Dolcetto.
This particular wine, the 2007 Barbaresco San Cristoforo Reserve (DOCG), is divine.
The colour is a rich, robust brick red, and as expected, it is just beginning to thin in colour at the edges, bearing the orange signs of an ageing Nebbiolo.
On the nose, the scent of the famous ‘tar and roses’ adage is certainly there. However, it is much more complex than that. There’s an unctuous, heavy and viscous element to the nose that Is intensely aromatic. If you can imagine scents of roses, damp undergrowth, decaying Autumn leaves, woodsmoke, petunia, violets and oddly, lavender, all at once, then you’ll begin to understand the complexity of this wine.
The wine is extremely acidic on the palate. The heavy tannins grip at the corners of the mouth and sharp, sweet aromas of the nose are transformed into a smooth, light mouth feel.
In fact, at 14.5%, the wine is a very punchy number. Couple with this the total acidity st 5.7g/litre, and a pH of 3.42 upon bottling and you suddenly realise what you’re dealing with.
This is one of the finer Barbaresco’s I’ve ever had, lacking only slightly in the fact that I don’t think I could drink it on its own. I enjoyed it with some very pink lamb, with a fresh garden mint sauce and assorted vegetables. However, it would no doubt pair very well with a rich pasta, and almost certainly with various game varieties.
Total: 9.4 of a possible 10
Finally, the Enigmatic side of me has been stirred by a note that’ll be visible to you all on the website of La Contea!
Tonino, Claudia and the team have announced:
“Dear Friends, Customers, Foodies After 38 years of delecacies, the restaurant has closed its doors, and will not be renewing the lease. With heart in hand, we remember all, we thank you for your friendship and we send you a cordial greeting. Continue to eat, to drink and to explore the beauty of our land: maybe we’ll meet again soon for new culinary adventures!”
So I’d set about buying some of their wine, if I were you…