“Time is the substance I am made of” Jorge Luis Borges
There can be no movement without time and vice-versa. At least so thought Aristotle. If you needed proof of how inseparable they are then get yourself to Northern Italy’s Piedmont region and witness how the pace of one affects the other.
This is after all, the birthplace of the “slow food” movement. A welcome antidote to modern life’s obsession with the fast-paced and convenient. Here too is the home of the so called “Barolo wars”. Essentially a disagreement that split generations of families over how long and by what means the Nebbiolo grape should be aged for. It was a variance over time itself. Traditionalists demanded patience against modernism’s creeping vandalism of time in the here and now. And all that’s not to mention Bicerin, the coffee most associated with the region’s capital Turin. The fact that it can take up to 15 minutes to make should give you pause for thought
So it’s here that I find myself taking my summer holidays, in the middle of Autumn’s harvest.
There is a myriad of grapes native to the region. Food-friendly Barbera and white Cortese of Gavi-fame are standouts, ably supported by Dolcetto and Arneis but that’s only the beginning. Like so many other Italian regions, the list of available indigenous grapes read like an almanac from a lost civilisation. Arneis is particularly appealing as your model weekday white but its fame hasn’t spread as, according to my waiter “nobody is sure how to pronounce it”.
Unashamedly though I’ll admit that I’m in the region for none of the above. Nebbiolo might be the quintessential autumnal grape. Quite apart from its distinctive garnet and brick-red hue, it ripens late in the season when the vast local forests of red and white oak, beech and conifer reflect its tones obligingly. Earthy and elegant, it is the grape that the aristocratic Barolo and Barbaresco wines of the region are beholden to.
Great wine should always speak of place, so is this is what sets Nebbiolo apart? Because it also speaks of time.
With night now starting to outlive the day, time is against me. And I still haven’t even mentioned the truffle. More anon.