There's something afoot in Serralunga. In this tranquil hilltop town of only 300 or so inhabitants, there's a sudden surge in renovations, perhaps the result of in influx of new money or maybe just of a revived thirst for renewal. Adjacent to the town's main square and its scenic overlook, major construction is underway at Azienda Agricola Vigna Rionda, where owners/winemakers Franco and Roberto Massolino are adding a floor and a rooftop terrace to create updated, separate accommodations for their winery's trade and public visitors. And not more than three or four hundred meters from there, a short walk down the winding cobbled streets through the town center to the base of Serralunga's old tower, there's something else afoot.
Just past the dog – he actually lives a couple of kilometers away, I'm told, but he's always there – and just through that door lies one of the most lively, inviting café/wine bar combos one could imagine, whether in Serralunga or elsewhere.
That place is Vinoteca Centro Storico. The name couldn't be much more straightforward: a wine bar in the center of the old historic town. Nor could the mission be much simpler.
Owners Alessio Cighetti and his wife/partner Stefania turn out what is an essential Piemontese experience, combining the simple pleasures of food and wine and making the pairing accessible to any and all who walk through their doors.
Stefania's food is the essence of simplicity. Think of it as home cooking — consistently good, hearty, classic Northern Italian home cooking — and you're on the right track.
Balancing the simple soulfulness emanating from Stefania's cucina, Alessio has put together a pretty damn satisfying wine list. The local offerings aren't anything to snub a nose at, with verticals of Monfortino and other top Baroli offered alongside more humble options in Langhe Nebbiolo, Langhe Bianco and, yes, even French wine. Actually, it's French wine, and a very particular sort of French wine, upon which Centro Storico has really built its equally particular reputation.
In this town of less than 300 residents, Alessio sells over 1500 bottles of Champagne a year. He's put together a list that rivals if not betters any I've seen here in the US, with big names such as Salon and Krug resting alongside gravitas-laden options from the likes of Philipponat (a vertical of Clos des Goisses, anyone?) and Diebolt-Vallois, all peppered with hipster-chic offerings from producers such as Cédric Bouchard, Ulysse Colin and Jérôme Prévost. And it's all priced more than fairly, about the same if not a tad less than what you'd pay at retail here in the States. Poured by the glass during my visit(s) was Champagne Doyard's "Cuvée Vendémiaire" Extra Brut, a sumptuously rich Blanc de Blancs from Vertus that displayed the breadth of aroma and body brought on by extended lees-aging. Lovely stuff and, ironically, more or less the first wine to whet my whistle in Nebbiolo-land.
There are a mere four or five tables on the ground floor and about the same upstairs, a few more outside when weather permits. Just enough space to accommodate the mix of wine loving locals, travelers and regional producers who frequent the place. Don't miss it if you're ever (or when you're next) in the area. I came pretty damn close to calling it home base during my stay... and I'm already missing that carne cruda and Champagne combo.
Vinoteca Centro Storico
Via Roma, 6
Serralunga d'Alba (CN)