Matteo Toso in the wine cellar at Il Boscareto Spa
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Wine, Idyll-ized

Jeffery Lindenmuth - October 2011

A winemaking family draws on their terroir to produce a destination resort and restaurant in one of Italy’s premier locales.

They arrive from Genoa, Milan, and even as far as Rome. First appears a white Lamborghini, next a red Ferrari, soon joined by an Aston Martin, each car chased by a plume of white dust as they bound over the hills of Italy’s Barolo region before coming to rest on the bucolic grounds of Il Boscareto Resort & Spa, the five-star luxury hotel perched atop the Boscareto vineyard, which also lends its name to a Batasiolo Cru Barolo, and surrounded by picturesque terroir that disappears into the fog-filled valleys.

Opened in October 2009, the 38 room Il Boscareto is a project of the Dogliani family, owners of the Beni di Batasiolo winery since 1978. The glamorous new structure sits on the former site of an old farm dwelling, or cascina, dating from 1910 and represents the first infusion of such international luxury in rural Piedmont.

Apparently, if you build it, they really will come—and they will pay rates of ¤220 to ¤800 ($316 to $1,150) per night. “Our wines are popular throughout the world, but few people knew about or visited the region. We’ve been thinking about this for 15 years, and we finally felt that the time was right to share Piedmont with the world,” says Fiorenzo Dogliani, managing director of Batasiolo S.p.A., which operates Beni di Batasiolo winery and Il Boscareto.

Valentina Dogliani, CEO of Il Boscareto and niece of Fiorenzo, says that despite Beni diBatasiolo being the largest family-owned winery in the region, the mission of Il Boscareto is independent from that of the winery. “The Piedmontese are more conservative as a people than the Tuscans, for instance, and they didn’t have confidence in themselves or the region. At first, the community was wary of our intent, but now they see that we’re trying to promote the entire region and we keep that separate from the winery,” she explains.

In overseeing the construction, Valentina insisted that Il Boscareto should include the area’s first full-service spa and abound with vineyard views and sophisticated surprises, like the indoor pool that becomes outdoors as the glass walls retract into the ground. “When we presented that idea, the architects said it was impossible. However, my father, Matterino, heads the family construction company that built the resort. He informed them that he blasts holes to drive through mountains; he can surely make a wall go into the ground.”

Gian Piero Vivalda, chef/owner of the Michelin two-star Antica Corona Reale da Renzo in Cervere, a temple of authentic Piedmontese cuisine, with two centuries of history, oversees food and beverage for the resort. Vivalda’s first move was to relinquish (somewhat reluctantly, he admits) his sous chef of 10 years, Chen Shiqin, to helm La Rei, Il Boscareto’s 70 seat fine dining restaurant. “When I first told Fiorenzo that Chen was coming he said, ‘Are you crazy? We are not making a Chinese restaurant in Piedmont!’ But once he, and all the critics, tasted the food, it was agreed that Chen is a great young chef who executes Piedmont’s cuisine with perfection,” says Vivalda. He next lured Davide Ostorero, awarded best maitre/direttore di sala in Italy 2007—and to head the cellar Matteo Toso, already a veteran of two Michelin-starred restaurants (La Ciau del Tornavento in Treiso and Locanda nel Borgo Antico in Barolo) at the age of just 25.

Visible behind a glass wall, the team of 15 chefs dazzles guests with choreographed industry as they enter the dining room. A dedicated pastry room is responsible for desserts and baking twice daily, including thin and crispy grissini (breadsticks), Piedmont’s gift to the global breadbasket. Pasta is made daily, using a ratio of 30 egg yolks to 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) flour before being transformed into agnolotti del plin with precise pinches of the fingers.

About 80 percent of the ingredients for La Rei are sourced from Piedmont, including local delicacies like the Greppi pigeon and pollo fichi, a Christmas-time chicken reared on figs and chocolate. Fish hails primarily from Liguria, then meets the deft blade of Japanese born chef Sato Tunezumi. And, when they are in season, the white truffles of Alba adorn everything.

Traditional dishes, like vitello tonnato, thin slices of rare veal topped with a dollop, not a dowsing, of simple tuna are the basis for the more casual Vineria La Briccolina, opened in September 2010 and directed by chef Vincenzo La Corte. “Here we want to offer the region’s most typical dishes, with a good price and faster service,” explains Vivalda. “These are the dishes of my grandparents.”

The precocious, and ambitious, Toso complements the house cuisine with a deep wine list, numbering over 1,200 selections, mostly from Italy, followed by France. “I first chose the wines that I personally love, because I want to be excited about the list. I next chose the wines that people in the region love to drink—wines like our own Barolo, Barbaresco, and Moscato, as well as Champagne,” says Toso. Of course, the wines of Beni di Batasiolo appear on the list, alongside 50 of the region’s top producers, accounting for about 300 different selections of Barolo alone. With legendary wine producers like Angelo Gaja (Gaja Winery) and Roberto Conterno (Giacomo Conterno) as regulars at La Rei, Toso has privileged access to many of the region’s most coveted cellars.

Toso, who grew up nearby, has a personal relationship with the wines and the region. Four of the 11 communes for Barolo DOCG wine are visible from the upper floors of Il Boscareto, and Toso points them out in the landscape, noting that the Nebbiolo vines for Barolo are grown only on specific soils and on the prime slope of the hill. Chardonnay, Barbera, or Moscato grapes claim the lesser ground. “Each of the 11 Barolo communes has a different character,” he elaborates, “and when you taste a lot of Barolo, you come to appreciate those differences and their importance for pairing the wines with food.”

With the Barolo of Monforte d’Alba, Toso says he appreciates the wine for its power, describing it as full-bodied and expressive, with flavors of mint and violet, characteristics that he suggests when pairing with braised goat, duck, or other meaty dishes. The wines of Serralunga d’Alba, says Toso, “are a bit greener, a traditional style with tart acidity and medium body that makes them superb with traditional pasta like agnolotti filled with a blend of veal, rabbit, and pork, or tagliatelle with truffle and butter.” With lighter antipasti, including the summery vitello tonnato, Toso suggests Barolos from La Morra. “These Barolos are very fruity with less tannin, feminine and elegant, ideal with our regional veal tartare.”

Aside from witnessing through a few aging wines, Toso may be scarcely old enough to recall the so-called “Barolo Wars” of the 1980s, when some of the region’s producers diverged to craft fruity, modern, accessible, and less tannic wines rather than the traditionally tannic, long-lived, acidic, and earthy wines that made Barolo famous. Helped along by a string of outstanding vintages (Wine Spectator rates 2004: 93; 2005: 92; 2006: 94), today many producers, including Batasiolo, find success embracing elements of both schools in the same winery—even in the same wine.

Likwise, Il Boscareto represents a reconciliation of the traditional and the modern in Piedmont, a boutique hotel perched among ancient vineyards, where a Chinese-born chef creates twists on regional cuisine and affluent wine lovers and weekenders arrive in the world’s fastest production cars, only to remain contentedly parked for days.