I'm a bit excited: finally, on Friday 7 October 2016, my journey of Italy's best sparkling wines began to toast the 60th birthday of the Fiat 500 together! I left a little late on the schedule... but I didn't expect so many wineries to join from the very first edition... so thank you all for your support! My sparkling wine guide 500 bubbles in 500 is more a diary of Italian wine tourism, or rather food and wine tourism. After all, what could be nicer than travelling around our beautiful Italy tasting wonderful food and sampling sublime wines?

Since I had promised myself that on 9 October I would drop by Roberto Rossi's in Girba to pick up this year's honey produced by Ottavia, 'my' queen bee, I decided to start the 500 bubbles tour right from Piedmont, specifically from the area of Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG Spumante metodo classico. Roberto and his family started the MyBee - Adopt a Beehive project some time ago. Right from the start I found it to be a beautiful, sustainable and perfect project for all nature lovers like me! Basically, you can adopt a beehive, name the queen bee, participate in adopter events and create your own labels. Every year you collect the honey in Girba, with a nice family party, between the end of September and the beginning of October. Do you know how nice it is to give your friends or clients organic honey from your bees at Christmas? And it really is delicious!!! For more information you can visit their website organic honey from Girba.

Before creating my sparkling wine guide, I admit that I was not a great connoisseur of Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG Spumante, also because this grape variety is best known for its delicious passito wines, capable of ageing in barrels for long years thanks to its marked acidity. I am therefore really pleased to have gained an insight into this DOCG, which is truly extraordinary and has nothing to envy to more renowned Metodo Classico Spumantes!

I left slightly late at around 4 p.m. on Friday and the traffic was really crazy... not to mention the accident I found on the motorway at Trezzo sull'Adda with a car totally on fire! Driving past it gave me the shivers, I still remember how my left arm was burning from the heat of the flames when I drove past! The accident made me skip the first winery I had to visit, Cascina Zoina, whose Ricardo Rosé Extra Brut V.S.Q. I tasted samples of. Metodo Classico. It will be for my next Piedmont tour... I won't miss it for anything! 😉

Sparkling Wine Guide - 1st stop: Vercelli, Restaurant Christian & Manuel of the Costardi Bros!

costardi bros vercelli hotel cinzia

Personally, when I entered the room, I was a little disappointed: the ambience is dated and not particularly well cared for and does not reflect such a young and bright kitchen. However, the two Costardi brothers were very good at playing with light to enhance certain parts of the room, such as the photographs and the display case. The table linen is very nice although I don't like tablecloths that come down to the feet and covered chairs: I like a fresher interpretation of the décor, with the materials left exposed, perhaps enhanced by a nice underplate (why not those of Dag Style which are gorgeous?). The floor is dated, the furniture is dated, the statue of the waiter... well, there you go... But I still underline their skill in attempting to modernise such an environment with a very pleasant play of light that on the whole makes the place pleasant.

costardi bros vercelli hotel cinzia

I found the photographs depicting them and some warm black and white kitchen scenes to be splendid, even if they are not very in keeping with the rest of the room. The mise en place is a bit minimal: there is nothing on the table but the plate, cutlery, napkin and glasses. On arrival I was brought a designer lamp that cleverly illuminates the food, but personally I felt the lack of a centrepiece and at least one fresh flower.

costardi bros restaurant vercelli

I will talk about the wines separately... but since the welcome was with a nice bubbly I would say that the chapter 500 bubbles in 500 - Time 1 can only begin here! The Valentino Riserva Elena 2011 Rocche dei Manzoni, Vino Spumante di Qualità Metodo Classico I had tasted at a tasting counter a couple of years ago and remembered liking it. I am fortunate enough to have a great visual memory that imprints labels on my mind... and I can often get my bearings because of this too! This sparkling wine is a beautiful intense golden yellow, with a numerous, fine and persistent bubble. The nose is intriguing, complex and fine, with notes of pineapple, grapefruit, bread crust and biscuits. The palate is soft, dry, acidic, fresh and savoury with good structure and balance. I find it perfect with raw fish, and indeed it paired perfectly with both oyster and Squid!

costardi bros vercelli hotel cinzia

As an entrée, the kitchen sent me a codfish mantecato with creamed potatoes and nutmeg. The warm potato cream created a nice contrast to the cod at room temperature. I really liked the texture of the cod, as well as the potato cream was perfect. Assuming that nutmeg goes divinely with this dish, in my opinion there was a bit of a lack of a crunchy note. It could have just as easily been a few toasted bread croutons, I probably would have put coarsely crumbled macaroons. I really enjoyed it, I wish I could always taste such delicious entrees!

costardi bros vercelli hotel cinzia

Here, Chef Costardi liked to win easy! ? I love oysters and I love caviar! He called it 'Oyster in its Natural Habitat' and reproduced the waters with a chlorophyll of parsley. So, from an organoleptic point of view we have an oyster that tastes of the sea with a caviar that is by nature very savoury, an aromatic herb like parsley that gives a bitter tendency and the citrus note of lime that also gives the same bitter tendency. In short, it is an extreme dish, savoury and bitter... I found it really really good, especially if you have the foresight to eat it all together. It is not an architecture of contrasts, but of strong concordances. Suitable for those who have no half-measures, this dish is not on the menu but is only brought to those who order the 'free hand' tasting menu.

costardi bros vercelli hotel cinzia

The squid is a preview, but it is also the best dish ever. A declination of raw squid, placed overnight in carbonated water to create a mousse (the carbonated water serves to make it 'frothy'). On top, a black compote and innards worked to perfection and textured with grated lemon zest and a barely perceptible hint of chilli pepper. A truly successful play of textures and flavours, kudos! For lovers of raw fish it really is worth the trip to Costardi Bros!

costardi bros vercelli hotel cinzia

This starter was masterfully executed and deserves to be highlighted! From the crispy sea bass skin, to the texture of the puree. The sea bass rests on a sour cream with caper powder and parsley chlorophyll. A well-balanced and very pleasant dish even if not memorable!

costardi bros vercelli hotel cinzia

Those who know me know that I am not a risotto lover, although I have had the privilege of eating some really good ones in my life. However, this was the dish that moved me the most and, in my opinion, is worth the trip to Costardi Bros. Beautiful presentation in the vintage, designer-style tin, but it is the taste that makes the difference. An extraordinary creaminess that does not lapse into greasiness, thanks also to the citrus note of the lime that 'degreases' it. The tomato is accompanied by a very fragrant basil oil which, of course, goes well with it. I would again emphasise the citrus note of the lime peel, which I really liked, although it was unexpected in this dish. Definitely the 'icon' dish of the Costardi Bros!

costardi bros vercelli hotel cinzia

Another off-menu item: risotto alla Piemontese. The ingredients are easy to spot: crispy diced tongue (probably baked in the oven), hazelnuts, tongue base, Maldon salt and lots of Parmesan cheese. A few well-blended flavours for a risotto that I really liked, although I would have kept it slightly more 'all'onda' in the manner of Gualtiero Marchesi. A very successful taste even if the Parmesan slightly overpowered the other flavours. I found the tongue delicious with the hazelnuts... and together they also gave the dish an interesting crunchy note. In short, an excellent risotto, very 'Piedmontese' indeed.

costardi bros vercelli hotel cinzia

Masterful cooking for this really succulent lamb! It's just a pity that the bottom was a bit too liquid which immediately dirtied the dish. In taste it was really good, both the lamb and the potato which I think was cooked in the bottom of the lamb because I found it really very tasty. The Maldon salt gave it that extra touch which I really enjoyed. Overall a good dish, even if it was the one that convinced me the least out of everything I ate! Don't get me wrong, I found it very good... but from Chef Costardi presenting me with a Squid Squid, I would perhaps expect something more special!

costardi bros vercelli hotel cinzia

Here is the pre-dessert, served in one of the jars that are so fashionable these days. Soft Pannacotta with must really delicious in both taste and texture.

costardi bros vercelli hotel cinzia

When Elena brought me this dessert, I never expected to experience such wonder on the palate. It is by far the most extraordinary thing I ate during the evening (along with the Squid and the tomato risotto) and I would say it is worth the trip alone. The dessert is called 'Invidia', a cute pun with Endive acting as a 'taste boat' filled with liquorice cream, almond ice and caper powder. The liquorice cream was sublime, from texture to taste. The almond ice gave a crisp, cool note to the cream, so rich yet light in texture that it almost reminded me of a mousse at a lower temperature. The endive was a perfect match, with that slight bitter tendency and its freshness. Here again, a dessert with a definite bitter tendency that is perfect for those who do not like overly sweet flavours, but overall very well-balanced and with a pleasantness that can only be understood after tasting it!

costardi bros vercelli hotel cinzia

The coffee was good and not burnt, but what really amazed me was the small pastries! A precious, wooden box, obviously branded, contained 7 small wonders for the palate. I loved the idea of putting them on rice: we are in Vercelli by golly! Well of course I love lemon peels covered in fondant, but I must say that the last one was the one I liked best, and not because of the edible gold.

Sparkling Wine Guide: not only bubbles...

A special note goes to the wines I drank, truly extraordinary! Three great wines, all sharing a great minerality.

The Pitasso by Claudio Mariotto 2013, made from Timorasso grapes from selected ancient vineyards in the Tortona area, was an intense straw yellow (the soft light did not allow us to be more precise about the colour), crystalline and consistent. The nose was truly wonderful, complex and fine, with notes of flint, some hydrocarbons, aromatic herbs and lots of chamomile. In the mouth, it was soft and enveloping, warm, quite fresh and savoury, with great structure and personality. Fine, with an almondy finish that persists for a long time, I find it perfect to pair with cheeses, or to drink on its own. In this case Elena paired it well with Branzino al Martini Dry, but also with the two risottos I think it would have been perfect, especially with the Piedmontese one!

The Langhe Bianco di Gaja & Rey 2010 I found it simply astonishing! This bright straw yellow Chardonnay comes from Piedmont's oldest vines and has a broad nose, on which hydrocarbons merge into notes of aniseed and chlorophyll, candied citron, vanilla and banana. In the mouth, it is very soft, fresh, rightly savoury, with a good structure, great finesse and persistence. It went very well with Chef Costardi's risottos... but the perfect match for a wine of this calibre in my opinion is a romantic evening at home, seasoned only with words, laughter, kisses and jazz music.

The Barbera d'Asti Nizza 2005 by Olim Bauda was another excellent discovery! Granted that I adore Barbera (you already knew this in this article dedicated to Poderi Gallinoright? ), when it comes to vintages like 2005, I get excited easily. The first thing I notice is the colour: despite its age, it is a beautiful red-purple. A small 'dusty' deposit of anthocyanins at the bottom of the goblet that did not detract at all from the quality, quite the contrary. The nose is complex, with spicy and roasted notes prevailing. Cocoa, vanilla, liquorice, coffee, but also lots of red fruit and cherries in spirit. In the mouth, it is full-bodied, firm, balanced and its finish is very persistent. Excellent with lamb, a wine that gives satisfaction with all red meats and game.


Apart from the fact that I risked forgetting Paco under the tablecloth so quietly, I left around 10pm, this time heading towards Bairo, in the province of Turin. The Vecchio Mulino di Bairo is an hour or so from the Christian & Manuel Restaurant in Vercelli and it's almost all on the motorway! From the moment I entered the Vecchio Mulino di Bairo, I couldn't help but notice the fine renovation carried out by the grandchildren of the last miller! Perhaps because of my past in the world of architecture, I couldn't help but notice the precision of every detail and must say that I really liked it!

old barium mill torino

The room was really nice and cosy, even Paco liked it immediately! ? Also very comfortable was the small table with the chair, from which I started this article and downloaded the photos of the evening! The only downside was that there was still no duvet in bed and no other blankets in the wardrobe either, so for me, who is in the habit of sleeping in my underwear all year round, it was a bit chilly, not least because the heating was still off at the beginning of October. But that's just me not being normal... the rest of the world I know can sleep in pyjamas so they probably would have been just fine! ?

old barium mill chambers

The bathroom was truly spectacular! Apart from the beautiful idea of the washbasin in the barrel, which I hope one day to have in my house too, everything was perfectly designed and in perfect harmony. Strictly folded quality towels, courtesy kit and plenty of space! Congratulations indeed!

And this is the spectacle I used to enjoy when I opened the door to my room! How wonderful to be able to look closely at these objects from the past full of history and the atmosphere that comes with it!

old barium grinding mill

Still walking down the street from my room to the lift, also made of transparent glass, one arrived at a delightful little room overlooking the river... the ideal place to relax for half an hour in the company of a good book!

old barium mill torino

Going down to the ground floor you arrive in a room that leaves you breathless... I, who adore the industrial style, was really fascinated! Incredible is the taste that can be seen in every detail! The Old Mill of Bairo is a place from another era from which to discover the surroundings of Agliè and Turin!

old barium mill

Breakfast was plentiful and full of sweet and savoury things. Like every morning in my life, I had hot tea with a fresh croissant! In the breakfast room there is also a video of the last miller in the family that is very nice to watch! I exchanged a few words with Walter and his mother, who passionately run this beautiful establishment... and then my Piedmont adventure for the 500 bubbles in 500 sparkling wine guide really began!

Ready to discover Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG Spumante Metodo Classico! !?

(The weather started with a grey sky... but then it opened up and the Fiat 500 was able to be naughty without the top piece all day! ?)

old barium mill

Thanks are due:

>>>Restaurant Christian & Manuel *Michelin Star - Costardi Bros

For the kind hospitality.

Address: c/o Hotel Cinzia, Corso Magenta 71 - 13100 Vercelli

Telephone: +39 0161 25 35 85

E-mail: prenotazioni@christianemanuel.it

Opening hours: LUNCH from 12:30 to 15:00 - DINNER from 20:00 to 24:00 - Closed on Mondays

>>>The Old Mill of Bairo B&B

For the kind hospitality.

Address: via Mulino 6, 10010 Bairo - Turin

Phone: +39 335 571 26 43 Walter

E-mail: info@mulinodibairo.it

>>>Sony Italy

For providing the DSC RX100M4 with which all photos were taken.

A truly outstanding professional compact, capable of working wonders even in environments with really bad lighting.

 P.S. The Castle of Agliè in the cover picture... it's the Castle of Elisa di Rivombrosa! How much I loved this TV series, so romantic and above all with a happy ending! I just couldn't miss it... if you're in the area visit it, it's a little gem! ?

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