My first reaction upon walking into Solativo Vinosteria, a wine bar in Ivrea until recently co-owned by the Ferrando family, was one of exasperation: I take two steps in Ivrea, pop.: 24k, I reflected, and already I encounter a wine bar plainly superior to any that presently exist in Paris.
I suppose I can't pronounce that with total certainty, as I never saw Solativo in full swing. We'd driven over in the afternoon with manager Ivan Zanovello after tasting together with Luigi Ferrando in the latter's nearby tasting room, and the bar was not yet open. But all the ingredients for a lively, inspiring wine bar were in place: a terrace, a long bar, a spacious, informal interior, fridges stuffed with excellent native and local wines, even a chalkboard cocktail / aperitivo list that looked refreshing, if not fancy by any means.* There's frequent live music. Meanwhile, the bar shares an entrance with Luigi Ferrando's son Andrea's wine shop, where a bottle of Carema Ettiquette Bianca can be had for 14€. (Compared to $60 on stateside wine lists.)
If we hadn't all been so knackered from the tasting, with several hours of driving ahead, it might have been nice to share a bottle with the heaping meat and cheese plates Ivan kindly fixed for us. As it was, we stuck with Chinotti, and I sat there trying to envision some reason to return to Ivrea one day.
I couldn't think of one. Even Ivan is planning to embark shortly for the USA - Washington, D.C., specifically, where he'll no doubt be a terrific asset to that city's wine scene. I asked him what else there was to do in Ivrea, other local attractions. He mentioned something called the Battle of the Oranges, a curious local carnival in which the city's townspeople divide up into nine teams and then pelt each other violently with oranges. An anonymous Wikipedia author summarises the strangeness of this as well as anyone could:
The origin of the tradition to throw oranges is not well understood, particularly as oranges do not grow in the foothills of the Italian Alps and must be imported from Sicily.
The event is apparently a dramatisation of revolutionaries (the orange-throwers) battling the guards of a local duke who insisted on first night rights with local newlywed women. If there is a lesson embedded in the ritual, it is probably this: if a duke tries to sleep with your new wife, be sure to have lots of citrus handy.
I asked Ivan if he himself ever participated in the Battle of the Oranges, and he laughed incredulously, saying it was strictly a thing for the locals. He was from about twenty minutes away.
* I find myself able to forgive all Italian cocktail lists, no matter how dopey or cack-handed, simply because they reliably contain litres of delicious bitter amari in everything. A bog-standard cocktail in Italy is generally a perfectly enjoyable variation on a spritz, whereas a bog-standard cocktail in France is usually a sugary rum confection or a chemically kir, both certain to induce instantaneous headaches, if not diabetes.
1/A (lungo dora)Tel: +39 0125644548
2009 Video of the Battle of the Oranges @ BBCNews