For the first time since 2019, the Court was treated to a trip abroad by the Master – this time, to the Piedmonte region of northern Italy.
We arrived at our sumptuous hotel in the centre of Turin – the NH in Piazza Carlina – on Sunday 7th May and reacquainted in the atrium over an aperitivo, before settling down to a delicious informal supper.
The following day, we were split up into two groups, with each group undertaking a walking tour of Turin (with the aid of an English-speaking guide) and a visit to the famous chocolatier, Domori, respectively. My group – Group A – started with the chocolate experience and, on arrival at Domori’s classy-looking negozio in Turin’s most up-market square, the Piazza San Carlo, we were escorted down to the basement for a chocolate masterclass, which proved both highly educational and delicious. Indeed, it was a revelation to discover that: a cacao pod is roughly the size of a coconut; it can contain up to 100 cacao beans; the most highly prized cacao is Criollo; and Criollo beans are not bitter – indeed, they are naturally creamy in texture. Domori’s chocolates are 70% Criollo and we were treated to various different products, most notably one which had been specifically manufactured to be paired with Gojiro Umeshu – a Japanese plum-flavoured sake – which, for us Distillers, was manna from heaven (even though it was not yet 11am!). Fittingly, the tasting finished with a special chocolate commemorating the recent coronation of King Charles 111, made in the shape of a coronet.
After a much-needed coffee break at Caffè Torino, the two groups switched over and Group A proceeded on its walking tour of Turin. We covered as much ground as it was possible to do in a single hour, and were interested to learn that Turin had been the very first capital of (the unified) Italy – from 1861 to 1865 – and is home to various Royal palazzi, which today are UNESCO World Heritage sites, protected under the name “Residences of the Royal House of Savoy”. The grandeur of the architecture – the colonnaded piazzas, castles, gardens and palazzi – is atypical of other Italian cities and ranges in style from Baroque, Rococo and Neo-classical, to Art Nouveau – and we were all left in a state of wonderment.
Turin is famous for many things – one being the Museo Egizio, the oldest Egyptian archaeological museum in the world. We could not let the morning pass, therefore, without a brief visit and, again, were whizzed round by an English-speaking guide in the space of a single hour. Having been to Cairo in February, I was particularly fascinated to see the plain wooden sarcophagi of the pre-dynastic Egyptians and how these evolved over time into the ornate stone variety with which we are more familiar.
After our busy morning, we met for a “light lunch” – a relative term in northern Italy! – at Focacceria San Francesco in Piazza Carignano, before walking back to our hotel.
That afternoon, we took a coach to Pessione, home to the world-famous Martini distillery. Following a welcome at the grand Casa Martini, we again split up into two groups for the distillery tour and museum visit. The distillery itself proved much bigger than we were anticipating – albeit that it has less than 50 employees in total – and we all learned the definition of Vermouth (but not Martini’s secret recipes!). The museum – which lies behind a huge barrel-shaped door – was fascinating, charting the history of the company from the 1860s right through to the present day. One thing that particularly struck me was how clever the eponymous Signor Martini had been; for his family were only co-owners for a single generation but, because he negotiated all the contracts (both at home and abroad) his surname became completely synonymous with the brand, whereas the name Rossi – being the family which continued to own the business for generations (and was even ennobled in the early 20th century) – is only known to the cognoscenti.
The two groups were reunited in the courtyard after their respective tours and were then treated to a Martini Masterclass in the Discovery Centre, which included everyone making – and indeed bottling – their very own Negronis to take back home to their loved ones.
We then repaired back to the courtyard where we were offered a selection of Martini aperitifs and cocktails, together with 8 different canapes based on seasonality of ingredients (including fish, meat and vegetables). Dinner then followed in the cellars – at which, perhaps fortunately, there was no printed menu. I say this because, if people had known how many courses they were being treated to, they might have balked at the prospect! As it was, however, they needn’t have worried, as this was very much a tasting menu – and, half way through, the Father of the Court gave us a brief history of the region and, indeed, the Minoprio family (even managing to slip in a cheeky reference to Eleanor of Aquitaine in the process, much to the delight of everyone assembled). Perhaps due to the sheer number of courses – or simply because we were having too much fun (!), we arrived back at our hotel nearly 2 hours later than scheduled.
Dinner at Casa Martini – 8th May 2023
Courgette flowers stuffed with Ricotta cheese and mint, roasted pepper and anchovy sauce; Fassone veal with tonnata sauce (Vitello tonnato alla Piemontese); Beef Ravioli with Asparagus; Braised suckling pig cheek with Hasselback potato; Vermouth pear, zabaione and chocolate crumble.
Sharis di Livio Felluga (70% Chardonnay,30% Ribolla Gialla); Langhe Nebbiolo di Ettore Germano.
The following morning – a little bruised and battered perhaps, but certainly not bowed – we boarded a coach bound for Barolo. During the journey, we were given a briefing about the Piedmonte region from an animated tour-guide, before arriving at Marchese di Barolo – Barolo’s premier winery. The story behind this famous vineyard is worth re-telling. After her marriage to the Marchese di Barolo, Juliette Colbert de Maulévrier (a French aristocrat) recognised the potential of the nebbiolo vines on the soils of lime, clay, marl and tufa in the Piedmonte microclimate. She set up the wine cellar and named the wine after its place of origin, according to the French tradition. Later, King Carlo Alberto joked with her and asked if it were true that the wine was produced in Barolo. Within a week, she had sent out several ox-drawn carts to the palace, with 325 barrels for the king – one for each day of the year. When the number was queried, she reminded the king that Jesus had fasted for 40 days!
Lunch at Marchese di Barolo – 9th May 2023
Seasonal vegetable soufflè; “ravioli del plin” with butter and sage; bunet and strawberry.
Barolo comune di Barolo; zagara moscato d’Asti and finally bric Amel (a blend of Arneis – a local grape from the Roero area – Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc).
A tour of the premises followed, and then a wine tasting of two different Barolos from 2018, and a Barbera (which, strangely, is also grown in Barolo – under the “d’Alba” appellation) from 2020. The Barbera was rich in colour and fruit, and was drinking well; both the Barolos were rather too young – but, although indistinguishable in colour, the one that had been grown on clay proved infinitely more complex than the one grown on sand. We then enjoyed another “light lunch”, before visiting the Wine Museum at the top of the village. This is surely the most futuristic wine museum in the world and, all I can say is: it must have been inspired by substances stronger than the mere grape!
After returning to our hotel, we had some down time before a delicious dinner at the Restaurant Circolo dei Lettori.
Dinner at Circolo dei Lettori – 9th May 2023
Broccoli and almond pesto with crunchy anchovy and Martinotti brut from Chardonnay-Bosio; Veal filet cooked in pink sauce, Monferrari sauce, caper fruit egg cooked in the shell, fusion of hard Bra cheese, seared Santena asparagus; Carnaroli “Aironi” rice in a borage and wild herbs cream, crunchy Arnad, natural gorgonzola foam, almonds; “very soft” veal in aromatic panure, old Marsala sauce, celeriac cream, carrots and ginger; small iced fruit and spiced wine cup; desserts of the Piedmontese tradition: coffee and rum bunet, and zabaglione in Moscato mousse; lavazza espresso.
Piccolo Derthona TimorassoI Produttori del Timorasso; Il Boccanera di Luigi Boveri; Moscato dolce naturale; Calosso.
The following day, the Master indulged us with a more leisurely start time, and we did not leave the hotel until well after 9am. On arrival at the famous Turin Car Museum, we were given an introduction, before splitting up into groups and then making our own way round the Museo, with the aid of audio guides. The museum traces the history and evolution of the motorcar, from a crude motorised agricultural vehicle from c. 1790, right the way through to the electric cars of the present day. Whilst it was not surprising to see so many Lancias and Fiats (of all vintages) on display – Turin being home to both those iconic brands – it was good to see an immaculate, red E-Type Jag amongst the collection.
After another light lunch at Tabisca, Piazza Vittorio Veneto 16 – which consisted of pizza, wine and plenty of conversation – we enjoyed some downtime before getting ready for the climax of the trip: the black-tie Gala Dinner at Whist Club. After gathering in reception in our Glad Rags, we walked to Piazza San Carlo and soon located the magnificent palazzo in which the club is housed. There, we were greeted by our hosts Count Carlo Gianazzo di Pamparato, Signor Emanuele Olmi and Count Maurizio Cibrario (Honorary Chairman, Martini & Rossi). After an aperitivo of Prosecco Foss Maray, Vermouth del Circolo, fruit juices and water, we were treated to dinner in a room adorned with numerous gilt-mirrors, which felt like a mini-Versailles. Opening speeches were made by Count Carlo Gianazzo di Pamparato and the Master – who presented each of our hosts with a quaich and a bottle of Master’s Cask – before we settled down to a 5-course menu. Needless to say, it was a superb evening – and just to give you an insight into how exclusive the Whist Club is, my guest (who has worked as a lawyer in Turin for the best part of 30 years) did not even know of its existence!
Gala Dinner at Whist Club – 10th May 2023
Amberjack tartare marinated in lime with cucumber and celery emulsion; plin ravioli with stracotto sauce; braised beef in white wine; asparagus tips, spinach nests and small carrot flans; bunet with sabaglione cream, mango parfait with mango pieces.
Arneis Cordero di Montezemolo; Nebbiolo Cordero di Montezemolo.
The following morning, we said our goodbyes at breakfast and then the party dispersed.
All in all, this was an exceptional “money-can’t-buy” experience and one which will live long in the memory. Grazie mille, Master and Mistress!