“Piedmont has wine??” someone commented on Facebook when I posted a photo of my trip.
Wine lovers tend to know about Barolo wine and maybe the bubbly Moscato D’Asti which are both from the region of Piedmont, in Italy’s northwest corner, but ask even a well-informed Italy traveler to name top wine regions in the country, and the answer is usually Tuscany. But Piedmont is considered a heavy hitter in the wine industry and is a fantastic place for a wine focused visit. It’s a big region, so a good start is to focus on Barolo and Barbaresco territory – called the Langhe – and you’ll get a great taste for it. A few random tips to help you enjoy it:
Rent a car. Or get a driver for a wine tour. The towns in this area are not very well serviced by trains, and the countryside is so pretty that you’ll want the independence to be able to explore it.
Start at an Enoteca for an introduction to the wines of the area. Piedmont makes an overwhelming number of wines so start with an overall introduction before diving in to visit individual wine makers. The towns of Barolo or Barbaresco are a great place to start. Sample a white, maybe a bubbly, a light red and some heavier reds. The region also produces wonderful dessert wines and grappa, if you’re up for it. We started with a few wines at the Enoteca Regionale in the town of Barbaresco:
Check visiting days and hours of vineyards. Piedmont is not set up for wine tourism as much as, say, Tuscany. Many vineyards do not allow visits at all, and those that offer tastings or tours are somewhat casual. There likely won’t be a designated visitor tasting room (though there are some exceptions, including Ceretto‘s very unique The Grape tasting room), and the person pouring the wine may only be serving it a few hours a day as a break from their regular job of, for example, doing the books or even harvesting the grapes. This means you get a more personal experience, but it also means you can’t just show up and expect them to be open.
Visit a wine-related museum or two. The corkscrew museum in the town of Barolo is fun, or visit the city’s wine museum which – ironically – is better for kids than for adults: it’s more of a show than an education about wine as this reviewer notes. I really enjoyed my visit to the Banca Del Vino, a sort of wine library, in nearby Pollenzo. The building is pretty from the outside (photo below), and the Banca itself houses an impressive collection of wines and was also a great place to buy books and wine-related gifts for friends and family.
Get to know the land. There are vines everywhere, rolling hills, beautiful vistas, castles and small towns dotting the countryside. The history of the area and of the wine is all about the land: the soil, the sun, the hills; and it’s worth spending some time appreciating those surroundings. I really enjoyed my short walk at the Fontanafredda winery and the fantastic views from La Morra (photo below, view of the town of Barolo from La Morra). I loved the picturesque small town of Serralunga, with its pretty castle and small streets, and the towns of Neive and Alba. The Aurelio Zen mystery novel, set in the Langhe, was not only a fun read, but a wonderful introduction to the area.
Don’t go during the harvest. Yes, Autumn is a fantastic time to go to Italy. But if wine tasting is your focus, you’ll meet overworked and tired vineyard employees and owners who may actually be too busy to pay much attention to you. You’ll be among throngs of tourists, which adds challenges to parking and booking a hotel. If you’re going for a festival or fair that is only on at that time of year like the Asti Palio or one of the truffle or cheese fairs, then by all means, go (just try to avoid weekends) and for wine tasting, stick to enotecas or to the larger vineyards that are set up to accommodate tourists. But if your dates are flexible, visit the area in the spring when the vines are green, wine makers are relaxed and happy to show you around, and other travelers create a nice buzz in the air, and not a stressful chaos.
All photos by Madeline Jhawar and may not be used without permission
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