For several days we had been winding through the narrow roads of the Italian Piedmont region, visiting the Barbaresco, Barbera, and Barolo vineyards in and around the villages proudly boasting the naming rights to these amazing wines. Home base during this exploration of the Piedmont was La Villa, a charming boutique hotel located near the village of Asti (population 76,164).
It was autumn and, more importantly, it was truffle season! Nicola, the owner of La Villa, had arranged for us to have a truffle hunting excursion with Mario, a local hunter. After breakfast we assembled in the cozy lobby of La Villa before following Mario in his small Fiat to his property where we would hunt for truffles with his dog, York.
After a successful outing with Mario and York in which we found truffles under a stand of oak trees, he asked if we would like to sample some of his wine. Never being people to turn down an adventure we quickly said, “Yes!” Mario took us to the back of his modest-sized home, through his garden bursting with the figs, apples, and chestnuts, down into his cellar where he showed us his wine making equipment.
But what fascinated us the most were the sagging boards filled with corked bottles, covered in dust with no bottle labels, just crudely made signs hanging over sections of bottles. This truly was Mario’s cellar! We initially sampled his red Piedmontese wine and after our exclamations of pleasure he sensed he had an appreciative audience and proceeded to collect homemade salamis and cheese from the kitchen of his home. In minutes, Mario produced a charcuterie that would put most to shame.
As we sat enjoying the gifts presented to us Mario asked if we liked sparkling wine, bragging that he made some of the best. Honestly, my mother and I have never met a bottle of sparkling that we didn’t LOVE. So, Mario grabbed a bottle from his cellar explaining that he was going to place it in the freezer to chill.
After several more bottles of Mario’s wine, he decided that his sparkling wine was sufficiently chilled. However, before opening the bottle he showed us the yeast sediment in the bottle neck which had frozen into a cylindrical mass. As he opened the bottle the yeast laden bullet shot out of the neck and with it, some of the precious bubbling wine. Deeming this to be a special moment, Mario reverently filled fresh glasses with his crisp sparkling wine. It was indeed the best that I have ever tasted and remains the standard to beat to this day. With warm hand shakes goodbye we returned to La Villa at sunset knowing that we had just made a new friend.
Years later we were talking with friends who have traveled to Piedmont and stayed at La Villa only to discover that Mario had also created several magical moments for them. And, as we spoke about him, the impact of Mario’s generosity on our hearts and lives was still being felt. The benefactor of our collective magical moments was Mario – he gave generously of everything that he had – his skills, his wine and food, his joy, and his passion.
Mary Beth I have a passion for creating and experiencing unforgettable moments and sharing those with others. I hope that this story has helped you experience one of those moments.