Piedmont: Wine Travel
What you'll uncover in Piedmont is amazing vistas overlooking endless hillside vineyards dotted with medieval villages and off in the distance the Alpine peaks. Prized white truffles, hazelnut groves and the king and queen of wine – and that's just touching the surface of this phenomenal region!
Piedmont is a vast region with many DOCs with sub-territories and microclimates. This region has set the bar high when it comes to the quality of their wines. The local cuisine is one-of-a-kind and without question, a perfect destination for wine lovers.
Exploring this region, you'll wind up and down the Apennine hills as you traverse the wine country. Maybe it's because of this terrain that you don't experience huge busloads of tourists, but rather the experiences have an intimate feel. Undoubtedly contributing to this is the fact that almost 99% of the wineries are family owned and past down through generations, with many consider themselves farmers first. You won't find huge chateaus or many modern architected wineries, but instead tasteful facilities that blend in with their historic surroundings. One nice feature is the marked trails that run through the vineyards and connect the wine villages, so it's possible to do some wine tasting without needing to drive.
We were only able to dive into Barolo and Barbaresco and dip our toe across the Tanaro river into the Roero region to taste some Bianco Arneis. A better way to refer to this area would be to use the term ‘The Langhe", which is the name of the local DOC zone that encompasses both and is used to classify wines made from grapes outside of the traditional Piemontese. The Langhe, is a hilly Unesco-protected region, between Cuneo and Asti. Barolo and Barbaresco are the most well known of the region's wines, but surprisingly they account for less than 10% of Piedmont's total production. That said, let me tell you there is a lot to uncover in these two DOCGs.
Despite the winding roads, the Langhe is a compact area, so you don't have to travel far to visit the many villages and wineries. The Langhe is only an hour away from Turin (which has an international airport) and two hours from Milan, so it's very accessible. You could take the train to Alba and home base from there unless you want to stay in one of the many small communities surrounded by vineyards. It's best to rent a car to be able to visit the many of these villages in the area. Winery appointments are required, and if you are looking for a local guide, I can offer a recommendation.
Barolo is the most famous village, and a must stop when in the region, but we loved the charm of the town of La Morra. The views here are amazing, and we used this as a home base to explore. We found the people at the Cantina Comunale di La Morra so accommodating and eager to share a taste of their favorite little-known producer of this sub-region. You can stroll through the vineyards just outside the town of La Morra to discover a small chapel that has been painted in vibrant colors to stand out from the old world lure. On the east side of this region are the towns of Serralunga d'Alba and Monforte d'Alba, both well worth a visit.
In the town of Barbaresco, they have a wonderful cantina which is a converted church now paying homage to the local wines. Next to the town's tower with its observation platform, you'll find restaurant Antica Torre where you must try the homemade Tajarin pasta. After taking in the sites and filing your stomach, I would propose a visit to Produttori del Barbaresco. This cooperative formed in 1958 with over 50 families covering over 250 acres makes some of the best wine at a great value. They focus on producing nine single-vineyard designated wines so you can really get a feel for the different terroir in the Barbaresco DOCG.
We chose the town of Neive to use as a home base to explore Barbaresco and found it to be one of the prettiest villages with incredible views. The wine shop Al Nido della Cinciallegra offers a wide selection of wines where you can sit outside and enjoy the end of the day with a glass and some antipasto. The town is also noted for famous Grappa maker, Romano Levi, who hand-painted his labels and the designs can be seen on display when you wander the streets. Restaurant Donna Selvatica honors the local grappa producer for whom the 'wild woman' was a symbol. Not only is the food a treat here but their patio dining has some of the best views overlooking the vineyards and towns of Barbaresco.
The primary grape of Piedmont is Nebbiolo, which is used to make the esteemed wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. Other grapes of prominence are Barbera and Dolcetto that make a bit lighter and more everyday drinking wines. Barolo wine is referred to as the "king" for its masculine taste profile (big & bold) and Barbaresco the "queen" for its softer more elegant style.
There is an essential geologic distinction within Barolo, differentiating the east and west side of the region. The eastern part of the zone having the older sediments chalk, calcareous, and more compact soils, while the western composition is sandy and less dense. This distinction can be found in the approachability of the wines, with those from the west generally being easy to enjoy in their youth as opposed to those coming from the east requiring much more aging before the tannins and overall structure have integrated. Of course, there are many other distinguishing factors like vineyard slope and sun position, but this is a significant consideration. It's a good idea to try producers on both sides to come to understand your taste preferences.
While Piedmont is less known for their white wines, often overshadowed by the reds, there are still incredible ones to discover. One to try is Arneis, highly aromatic with aromas of apricots, pears, and almonds a medium to full-bodied wine with herbal and almond-tinged characteristics. One of our favorites was from Bruno Giacosa. Bruno was one of the legendary winemakers of Piedmont. His endless pursuit of perfection, his intimate knowledge of the terrain and his desire to produce site distinguished wines drew recognition and helped establish Piedmont as a leading wine region. His legacy rests with daughter Bruna, who continues to uphold her father's winemaking philosophy to respect traditional techniques while using the best of modern technology.
There are so many outstanding producers, here I'll highlight a few to give you a sample from the different areas in the two regions;
A beautiful estate to visit on the western side of Barolo is Oddero where 5th generation Mariacristina now operates the winery. The setting is idyllic; with vineyards surrounding the winery, views overlooking the rolling hills and the town of La Morra off in the distance. Visiting you can see how the centuries-old history evolves through the architectural expansions of the farmhouse and the underground cellars. Oddero is an amazing Barolo producer with an extraordinary collection of premier sites including Brunate, Bussia, Vignarionda, and Gallina in Barbaresco. Their winemaking style allows these sites to express their quality and character.
On the far southeastern area of Barolo, you'll find Elio Grasso in Monforte d'Alba. We enjoyed an excellent tour and tasting with Roberto, a long-time friend of the family that helps with visitors. Their estate has a panoramic setting although seemingly tucked away as you approach. Their Barolo's are aged using small baroque barrels, and the younger wines are aged in stainless steel. After a tour of the winery, we started our tasting with the Dolcetto, followed by their Barbara then on to their Lange Nebbiolo. This was divine; brimming with bright red fruits, spice, and fresh floral notes. Following the Langhe Nebbiolo, we tasted two Barolo wines, Ginestra Casa Maté, and Gavarini Chiniera. Two wines you can't go wrong with, and we tucked away in our suitcase.
Cascina delle Rose in Barbaresco was the vision of Giovanna, an entrepreneur who started the winery and is now assisted by her two sons David and Ricardo. Starting with her grandparent's family home, she turned it into a bed &breakfast and expanded into a winery. I almost didn't want to share this one because the wines are so good, but a small production and hard to find.
Lastly don't forget the food – in my opinion, you will find some of the most outstanding cuisines in Italy here. It's best known for truffles, but there is so much more; Carne Cruda (raw meat with olive oil), Vitello Tonnato (thinly sliced veal in tuna sauce), Tajarin pasta (long thin egg noodles) along with a hazelnut torte for dessert were absolute standouts. There are many fabulous restaurants, but one that stood out for us was L 'Osteria del Vignaiolo. Located in the countryside outside of La Morra, where you are able to sit outside on their beautiful patio and have the best local cuisine.
There's such a remarkable amount of diversity in this region, one I will continue to return to because there are so many wonderful things still left to discover.