Alto Piemonte @ The Gander Restaurant, NYC (8/8/2017)

Ed Zimmerman organized this dinner on the spur of the moment. With only a few days to organize, it is amazing how really well everything turned out. A great group of people, a great group of wines, and excellent food at The Gander. The Gander is at 15 W 18th Street, just east of 6th Avenue. It is self-described as Chef Jesse Schenker’s new American restaurant located in Manhattan’s Flatiron district.

The exceptional group of dinner attendees included Evan Bienstock (Ed's Partner in the Tech Group at Lowenstein Sandler), Ryan Burke (Former Special Assistant to President Obama for Economic Policy, the White House), Christopher Calicott (Managing Director, Trammell Venture Partners, Austin, Texas, and part time wine writer), Charles Curtis (Author, Consultant, Fine Wine Appraiser), Joe Eagan (Bon Vivant and disliker of 2005 Barolo), Ben Goldberg (Computer Science Professor at NYU and software consultant), Josh Greene (Editor & Publisher, Wine & Spirits Magazine), Stephanie Johnson (Italian Wine Editor, Wine & Spirits Magazine), Ken Vastola (the Fine Wine Geek), Jamie Wolff (Owner, Chambers Street Wines).

For each flight, I tasted the wines first without food, then with food. Since there were 6 flights and 4 courses, I stretched the lentils and the steak over two flights each. The dinner started just before 8pm and lasted till about 11pm.

Alto Piemonte refers to the upper or northern part of the Piedmont region north of Turin. This distinquishes it from the currently more famous regions of southern Piedmont such as Barolo, Barbaresco, and other areas around Alba and Asti. Today, the most famous wines of Alto Piemonte are the DOCGs of Gattinara and Ghemme and the DOC of Boca which are all in Colline Novaresi (Novara Hills in English) in the province of Novara. There is also the DOC of Carema produced in the province of Torino west of the Colline Novaresi where the best known producer is Ferrando. But back in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s many of the best wines were simply labeled "Spanna", the Alto Piemonte name for the Nebbiolo grape.

Arguably the best producer then and now is Antonio Vallana e Figlio. Twelve of the 22 reds we tasted were Vallana wines. The Vallana family has been in the wine business since the 1700s. You can find much more information on this winery in my write-up of this 2013 tasting of their wines.

For each image, I have posted a compressed (and possibly cropped) version. Click on it to see the original, much larger image.

Entering The Gander:
The downstairs private room (from their website):

Tasted during greetings and introductions.
Josh & Stephanie look on as Joe opens bottles
and Ed arranges flights:

Flight 1: Youngest Wines
Warm Lentils With Poached Egg, Mushroom, & Pecorino.
(Others had Tomatoes, Corn, & Basil.)
Flight 2: Things that didn't fit elsewhere
Same Warm Lentils With Poached Egg, Mushroom, & Pecorino.
Flight 3: Gattinara
Spaghetti with Mushrooms, bottarga, & Pecorino (Everyone had this dish.)

Flight 4: More Gattinara and Two Others
Dry-Aged 14oz Strip Steak, Cauliflower, & Caramelized Onions.
(Others had Salmon with Kale, Mushroom, & Carrot.)
Flight 5: 1960's and 1970's Vallana Spanna
Still with the Dry-Aged 14oz Strip Steak, Cauliflower, & Caramelized Onions.
Flight 6: 1950's and 1960's Vallana Spanna
Assorted Murray’s Cheese Plate:


A fascinating tasting. There is so much to learn about these wines. A big thank you to Ed for organizing and inviting me. I found it very educational. I thought the food was excellent and went well with the wine. I only wish I had more time to spend with every guest.

I had heard the rumor about Aglianico in the old Vallana wines many times, but this tasting was the first where I felt several wines from the 60s and 70s really tasted more like old Aglianico more than old Nebbiolo. So I checked with Carole Meredith about how old of a wine she and her team could assess from a DNA perspective to ascertain the grape varietals comprising the wine. She said their current technology can assess DNA for the first five years or so of the wine’s life. She's retired, but she has a former post-doc at the U. of Siena still working on it, so maybe some day…

Neck Tags

Three of the older Vallana bottles still had the original hanging neck tags.

1964 Antonio Vallana e Figlio Spanna Traversagna:

1958 Antonio Vallana e Figlio Spanna:

1955 Antonio Vallana e Figlio Spanna Campi Raudii:

People Pix

Ben, my empty seat, Christopher:

Christopher & Jamie on the sychronized tasting team, Stephanie:

Jamie, Stephanie, Josh:

Charles, Joe, Ed (doing his Dr. Evil impression):

Ed, Ryan, Evan:



All original content © Ken Vastola