THE WEATHER AND THE WINE
Don’t bring snowboots, everyone said. It only snows in the mountains,
not in the city. It’s fairly mild, although raw and chilly, but you
definitely don’t need boots.
So I didn’t pack boots. Sneakers. Shoes.
Some nice heels in case I got a night out on the town. The day I arrived
was cold, with a thick haze doing its best to blot out the sun. And
then it snowed. And snowed. And snowed. And snowed.
The mountains, home of many Olympic venues, welcomed more snow to what has
been a particularly dry winter. The city tried to close down, shocked
at the most snow it’s received in years. Decades, even. While
it continually melted away, making for sopping wet streets and sidewalks,
it continued to come down for two days, blanketing some areas of the region
with feet, rather than inches, of the white stuff.
Not that you could see much of it. Torino is famous for its fog – a
thick winter layer that prevents you from seeing the Alps or the sun, and
seems to make everything a black and white film that unfolds in real time.
But apparently the fog is a good thing: it makes the Langhe Hills, just south of the city,
a prime environment for growing Nebbiolo
grapes, and it is where both Barolo
and Barbaresco, the “king” and the
“little brother” of wine, respectively, are located. In fact, the grapes
are actually named for the fog, as the word comes from nebbia, which means
fog in the old Piedmontese dialect.
At the Ristorante Del Cambio, which
I was lucky enough to visit last Saturday night for my one fine meal before
the Games begin, I had a chance to see what kind of use these grapes are
put to. The restaurant, which first opened in 1757 and is nicknamed
“Old Lady,” is stunning – considered one of the best in Torino. We
entered into a room of chandeliers and ornate carpeting, decorated with an
oil painting of Count Camillo Benson di
Cavour, who declared war against Austria to create Italian autonomy
in 1859. Cavour, according to legend, actually declared Italian independence
and then went straight to the restaurant: “Today we have made history;
now it’s time to dine.” We were greeted cordially, offered a seat in
the lobby for an aperitif, and then we were taken into the dining room, which
is as extravagant as any I’ve ever seen: plush red velvet booths, gilded
mirrored walls, grand silken draperies. And what they put on our plates
over the course of the three hours – cocottina alla crema di tartuffo,
agnolotti (the brown ravioli that is the signature dish of the Piedmonte
region), brasato della vena al vino Barolo (beef braised in Barolo wine with
polenta) – were works of art. But nothing was more beautiful than the
piece of chocolate cake, a special recipe so local that there isn’t a word
for it in Torino, that the waiter placed before me without asking if I wanted