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The Wines of Piedmont – a guest post

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I am pleased to share this great article by Gabriel, from Panoram Italia, about this wonderful region of Italy, which by the way we’ll be visiting on our upcoming tour (click on “tour with us” in the menu above to see all the details!)  Tempting, isn’t it?

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The Wines of Piedmont

Visit the Langhe Territory

2011/08/04 – Written by Gabriel Riel-Salvatore

Barolo countryside - Ceretto Tenuta Bricco Rocche (photos Gabriel Riel-Salvatore)

Barolo countryside – Ceretto Tenuta Bricco Rocche (photos Gabriel Riel-Salvatore)

Near the end of October, the wine-producing backcountry of Piedmont offers an impressive visual spectacle as the region’s thousands of hectares of vine transform into a symphony of colours.

The panorama displays rows of plants revealing tones of yellow, orange and red that take on the steep curves of the hills of the region. These characteristic alignments, locally called rittochino or girapoggio, as they slide down the slopes or groove them in steps, are the traditional signature of the Langhe, in the province of Cuneo.

It is in this historic area that the best terroirs of Piedmont are found. Nestled at the foot of the Alps, about an hour from Turin, the Langhe benefit from an ideal microclimate for wine production. Split in half by the Tanaro River, the north forms a zone called Roero, renowned mostly for its white wines made from Arneis, while the south, the Langa, includes the famous appellations of Barolo and Barbaresco made from Nebbiolo at the base of some of Italy’s finest red wines.

On the international market, the wines from the Langhe region distinguish themselves thanks to their strong personality. Nebbiolo is without a doubt the varietal that yields the most interesting wines of the region. It is on the slopes surrounding the villages of Barolo and Barbaresco that this grape, locally called Spanna, Chiavennasca or Picotener, expresses itself with the most eloquence. The terms sorì or bricco that often go along the names of the wines of Barolo and Barbaresco relate to a “cru” or a specific soil type that belongs to one or more wineries of the region. (Brunate, Cerequio and Cannubi; Asili, Martinenga and Sori Tildin) are amongst the greatest parcels of Barolo and Barbaresco.

Visit the Langhe

The Langhe are filled with activities for history, outdoors and gastronomy lovers. While it is possible to visit the region in a few days, it is however recommended to spend at least a week in order to fully grasp the splendours of the area.

Alba and its surroundings

Halfway between Barolo and Barbaresco, the city of Alba – a lovely, posh and sophisticated little town – hosts Vinum every year in the month of April, an event that brings close to 200 wine producers together for a grand, open-air tasting. I also recommend visiting Alba in the fall for the famous Fiera del Tartufo (truffle fair), the most sought after in the world. You will then be able to purchase the legendary Alba white truffle, which releases a delightfully unique scent when fresh. But beware, at 1000 Euro per Kilo, the famous mushroom is well worth its weight in gold!

Shopping lovers will also appreciate the luxury boutiques of the via Maestra that leads to Piazza Risorgimento, commonly called Piazza del Duomo, where you’ll find the lovely Romanesque cathedral of San Lorenzo. This public square hosts two restaurants: Trattoria La Piola and Piazza Duomo that both belong to the Ceretto family, also renowned for its wines. The philosophy of the two restaurants looks to promote the incredible gastronomic heritage of the Roero and Langhe territory – the former thanks to a more traditional and accessible wine bar formula and the latter through a more experimental and researched setting. Playground of chef Enrico Crippa, restaurant Piazza Duomo offers a menu that cleverly deconstructs and reconstructs local dishes and ingredients in a supreme culinary alchemy, pairing tastes and colours with a refreshing and comforting harmony worthy of the two Michelin Stars it was awarded.

Alba offers various types of accommodations and has the advantage of being easy to tour by foot. However, for those who prefer the country-style atmosphere to the city, it is recommended to find a room in one of the surrounding villages of the area. Generally perched on top of a hill, they offer an impressive view of the region, that largely compensate for the additional time required to move up or down from them.

You will be particularly amazed with a stay at the Case della Saracca in Monforte d’Alba. Located in the historic center of the village, this hotel is composed of three ancient medieval houses completely restored and designed following a successful marriage between modern architecture and the original materials of the buildings. The unique complex counts six rooms, as well as a wine bar and a restaurant which are both frequented and supplied by the best wine producers of the region.

Follow the wine route

A vacation in the Langa obviously means discovering great wines. Many producers offer guided tours of their property combined with wine tastings. The Strade del Barolo e grandi vini di Langa’s official website highlights a series of itineraries that follow the region’s wine routes. It is always preferable to book in advance and to plan a budget for your visits and purchases.

Barolo: south of Alba

Eleven villages make up the region of Barolo of which La Morra, Serralunga d’Alba and Monforte d’Alba are amongst the more renowned. Perched on a hill slope, the Castle of Barolo dominates the village of the same name. Property of the Falletti marquis from the 13th to the 19th century, it now hosts the regional enoteca (wine bar) where it is possible to taste and buy wines of the area. The village of Barolo also counts the Corkscrew Museum with its 500 different types of bottle openers dating from the 17th century to present day, as well as many restaurants and souvenir shops.

Recommended visit: Ceretto A stone’s throw away from Alba, the property of Monforte Berardina of the Ceretto winery offers a unique experience with its Californian style wine bar (dangling in the air like a springboard hooked to an impressive ancient medieval warehouse) that houses the head office of the business. Conceived by architect Giuseppe Blengini, the platform, nicknamed the ‘grape’, has a retractable roof that gives an exclusive view on the surrounding vineyards. In the heart of Barolo near Castiglione Falletto, their famous tasting room nicknamed the ‘Cube’ located on their Bricco Rocche property, is also worth seeing. Inspired by the concept of the Louvre’s pyramid, it was conceived by architect David Tremlett. Similar to a greenhouse, it is entirely made out of glass.

This audacious architecture reflects the image of the Ceretto family that mixes eccentricity with tradition in its business philosophy – a signature that Alessandro, Marcello Ceretto’s son and in-house winemaker, also tries to express through his wines thanks to exceptional raw materials and state-of-the-art technology. The winery has various ‘crus’ in Barolo as well as Barbaresco. Their Barolo Bricco Rocche Prapò and Bricco Rocche Brunate distinguish themselves from the other Barolos with their smoother and refined character tied to their unique terroir.

Producers to watch for: Prunotto (Barolo Brunate), La Spinetta (Barolo Campè), Michele Chiarlo (Barolo Cannubi, Cerequio, Brunate), Aldo Conterno (Barolo Granbussia)

Barbaresco: North of Alba The steep flanks of the villages of Barbaresco, Neive and Treiso (determine) the territory of Barbaresco. Recognisable because of its tower, the little village of Barbaresco has its own regional enoteca (wine bar), a few restaurants and holds the head office of the Cantina Sociale dei Produttori del Barbaresco.

Recommended visit: Gaja If the wines of Barbaresco now enjoy an equal reputation to that of their Barolo counterparts, it is mostly thanks to Angelo Gaja. A visionary and formidable businessman, he was able to emulate the French classification model of the great Bordeaux wines hoisting his wines to the top of the Barbaresco appellation prestige pyramid.

Like it is commonly accepted that a Château Latour sells for a far higher price than a simple Bordeaux, in addition to their taste, what distinguishes the wines of Angelo Gaja from the other producers is their prohibitive prices. Bruno Giacosa from Neive is one of the rare producers whose wines enjoy a similar standing to those of Gaja’s best labels. Even though Angelo Gaja became famous worldwide for his exceptional Barbarescos, he did not hesitate to downgrade his best crus such as the Sori San Lorenzo or the Sori Tildin to experiment with new blends, pairing Nebbiolo with great international vintages like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, thus ignoring the regional controlled denomination system’s regulations (DOCG).

An appointment is absolutely mandatory to get through the iron door of the winery located right in the heart of Barbaresco. If you manage to enter the dragon’s den, sumptuous cellars and an exceptional tasting room will be awaiting you.

Producers to watch for: Bruno Giacosa (Barbaresco Asili et Rabajà), Pio Cesare (Barbaresco il Bricco), Marchesi du Gresy (Barbaresco Martinenga)

Recommended visit: Marchesi Alfieri If Nebbiolo is king in Piemonte, it is however Barbera that dominates the region. Capable of the best and the worst, this grape type planted around the end of the 18th century, is easier to cultivate and more at ease in the flat lands surrounding the cities of Asti and Alba that each carry a specific appellation (Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d’Alba). Strongly recommended is a visit to Marchesi Alfieri which excel in the production of high-end Barbera. Their historic cellars in the basement of the Alfieri Castle in San Martino Alfieri are simply beautiful and their winemaker Mario Olivero is as intriguing and affable as his wines. The property also owns villas and rooms for rent.

On your way back towards Alba, stop by the small village of Prioca to experience the cuisine of the Cordero family at Il Centro restaurant. Their exquisite dishes such as the pancetta di maialino caramellata con purea or the pesche al forno ripiene con cacao e amaretti combined with a selection of close to 600 labels of the area will definitely make you appreciate the splendours of Piemonte even more.

Producers to watch for: Prunotto (Barbera d’Asti Costamiole), Vietti (Barbera d’Alba Scarrone), Olim Bauda (Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza)

View our selection of Piedmont wine reviews   

Address book

Restaurants and accommodations :

www.piazzaduomoalba.it

www.ristoranteilcentro.com

 www.saracca.com

Tourism boards:

 www.langheroero.it

www.turismoinlanga.it

www.stradadelbarolo.it

Fairs and museums:

www.fieradeltartufo.org

www.baroloworld.it

Producers:

www.ceretto.com

www.brunogiacosa.it

www.la-spinetta.com

www.gajawines.com

www.prunotto.it

www.marchesialfieri.it

Isola Bella and the Borromeo Family

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The islands of Lago Maggiore, near Stresa, are owned by a very influential family, the Borromeo’s – one of their most famous ancestors was St.  Charles Borromeo, or San Carlo Borromeo as he is known throughout most of the Latin world, and he is the favorite saint of Lago Maggiore.  His giant statue in Arona stands high above and watches over the Lake.  He is buried in Milan’s Duomo and his holy day is celebrated with much fan fare in the Cathedral and beyond.  I find it intriguing that one of the California missions closest to me here in the San Francisco Bay Area is named after him – Mission San Carlo Borromeo in Carmel!  It seems like he has followed my family’s destiny – even though he came long before my family left the beautiful shores of Lago Maggiore and settled in San Francisco!!  But I like to believe that it is the other way around 😉

The Borromeo Family acquired much fame and fortune around the 15th century when Vitaliano I, treasurer to the Duke of Milan, began accumulating much property in Northern Italy.  The Borromeo State was established in the 16th century and the family had complete rule over this area.  Lago Maggiore was right in the middle of their state – a strategic position between the Alps and Lombardy, and a beautiful oasis for their enjoyment.  In the 16th century, the rocky island of only an acre in size, was transformed into a wonderous palace and  garden masterpiece.  For centuries, many aristrocrats of European society visited the island, including the likes of  Napoleon and Josephine!

Today, Isola Bella is open to the public allowing access to parts of the palace and most of the gardens.  The Borromeo Family still resides there (when they are not in Milan tending to their business dealings), and the upper three floors of the Palace are their private quarters.  Amazingly enough, they are not bothered by the thousands of tourists that stroll through their property every day.  Their privacy is very well maintained.  They even have a walled garden that is all their own.  Their families spend much of their summers there, with the younger ones partaking in all the water activities like water skiing and jet boating.  The  senior members of the family, the Principessa Bona Borromeo and her husband, Principe Giberto VIII, do not like being in the public eye.  They prefer to live a quiet life, even though their many relatives are part of the European social scene.  For them, it is enough, to be able to reside in one of the most beautiful locations in all the world – a stunning view always in front of them!!

Join us in visiting this gorgeous island next September on our Italy…Wine, Dine & Unwind Tour.

Il Domm de Milan (The Duomo of Milan)

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Another of Milan’s treasures which we will be visiting on our upcoming Italy…Wine, Dine & Unwind Tour  will be it’s most massive Gothic cathedral, Il Duomo. I have visited this stunning architectural wonder several times, and once in the winter when it’s spires were covered in snow making it look like a decorated cake!

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The Duomo is the center of Milan, with the streets radiating out from it’s piazza. Begun in 1386, it took over 6 centuries to complete! Most of it was completed during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte when he crowned himself King of Italy. It’s official finish date, though, wasn’t until 1965 when its last gate was inaugurated! Throughout all of it’s construction phases and many architects, it took on various architectural styles. Some Gothic purists complain that it “steals from every style in the world; and every style spoiled.” This may be true from an architectural standpoint, but to the lay person’s eye, it is magnificent. It’s many spires and statues are awe-inspiring and create a façade of intricacy that looks like lace. Henry James described it as “a structure not supremely interesting, not logical not…commandingly beautiful, but grandly curious and superbly rich…”
The Duomo is constructed of marble quarried from the shores of Lago Maggiore and brought to Milan via canals that were built especially for the purpose of covering the Duomo’s façade. Leonardo Da Vinci engineered these canals under the direction of Ludovico Sforza. They were called the Navigli, and most of them have been boarded over except for the Naviglio Grande which today houses restaurants and art galleries.

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The inside of the Duomo has some very interesting elements, one of which is an astrological map. The zodiac signs are arranged in a long line on the floor of the Cathedral and span its width. There is a tiny hole on the ceiling which is open to the sky. When the sun is exactly overhead at noon, the shadow cast from the sun’s ray will fall on the current astrological sign. I was fascinated by its precision! It is like an ancient calendar!
Sitting on top of the Duomo, is a beautifully golden statue of “La Madonnina”.

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She has become the symbol of Milan. During WWII, she was taken off the church and put into storage to keep her safe. To this day, no building can be higher than “La Madonnina”. Here is a very famous song which has become a sort of anthem for Milan.

We are Going to Italy!! Won’t you join us?

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tour pc final

I am so excited to let you know that, after lots of careful planning, I have planned a trip to Italy for next September (2014)…and would like to bring you along, too! I’ve been working closely with a local travel agent in Italy to arrange for some pretty awesome activities and lodgings! I wanted to go off the beaten track so that we can explore Italy from the inside and really experience what it is all about! From eating at little local restaurants to staying in a working vineyard, the group will experience the best of Italy! See the itinerary below the slide show of this special trip!  I hope you like it!

Please enjoy this slideshow of the many beautiful places we will be visiting!

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Day 1: September 2nd, 2014
Arrival into Milan and check in at the beautiful Westin Palace. Time to settle into your luxurious room before meeting your fellow tour participants at the Welcome Party where we will enjoy some Italian wine and savories, while mingling and getting to know each other. It’s an early night in hopes of catching up on lost sleep to get ready for the exciting days ahead.

Day 2: September 3rd, 2014
After a delicious breakfast on the terrace of the hotel, we will take advantage of our stay in Milan to catch some of the highlights of this intriguing city. Milan was a very wealthy Duchy during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and has many reminders of those powerful days. Our personal guide will begin the tour at the splendid church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, where we will get to see the most famous of Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpieces, the Last Supper. Painted as a fresco on the walls of the church’s refectory, it was almost lost due to improper painting techniques. After countless restorations, it is carefully protected to preserve it for future generations. Only small groups are allowed to view the masterpiece at one time, therefore we are fortunate to book this special tour for you. Once finished admiring this work of art, we will continue into the historical center of Milan to visit the magnificent Duomo, the symbol of Milan and soul of the city. Begun in 1386, the Duomo took several centuries to be finished – and the end result is nothing but spectacular. Constructed entirely in marble from the shores of Lake Maggiore, it is one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in the world. From Piazza Duomo, we will walk through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II with its posh shops and glassed ceiling to visit the famed Teatro La Scala, where countless opera giants have graced its stage in numerous productions. Continuing along towards Via Mercanti, we will discover a picturesque corner of Medieval Milan and be transported back in time. Finally we will come to one of Milan’s most famous monuments, the Castello Sforzesco. Constructed in 1360 as a defensive fort by Galeazzo Visconti, it now houses several important museums. Included in its many rooms are masterpieces by Mantegna and Cesare da Sesto, as well as Michelangelo’s last work, the unfinished Pieta Rondanini.
Our guided tour will take a break at this point, in the center of Milan, to give you the opportunity to spend the rest of the afternoon at your leisure. Milan is the one of the fashion capitals of the world – making it a shopper’s paradise. Stroll along the famed Via Montenapoleone to see the fashion houses of all the great designers. Just looking at the window displays is a feast for the eyes!
We will meet up again for our first Italian dinner in a beautiful and characteristic restaurant near the Teatro La Scala before retiring for the night back at the Westin Palace.

Day 3: September 4th, 2014
Breakfast on the terrace of the Westin Palace before packing our bags and heading out by minivan for a day on lovely Lake Como. We will meet our guide as we board the ferry for a tour of the lake. The shores of Lake Como are studded with gorgeous villas surrounded by magnificent gardens which have inspired painters and poets (and Hollywood superstars, such as George Clooney!) Picturesque towns filled with stone homes perched on the shores enchant with the feeling that time has stood still. During the boat tour, the guide will point out the famous villas along the lake such as Villa D’Este and Villa Erbe (among others). We will disembark for a sojourn in Bellagio, the jewel of Lake Como. After strolling along the tiny alleyways and stairways filled with quaint little shops, we will stop for lunch before boarding the ferry once more for Tremezzo and the Villa Carlotta, famous for its botanical garden. Returning to Como, and back on the minivan, we will make our way to that other magical lake, Lago Maggiore, for dinner. A special choral performance awaits us in the ancient abbey of San Donato in Sesto Calende -a perfect end to a very special day! Our lodging tonight will be either in a restored villa or in a modern hotel on the shores of beautiful Lago Maggiore.

Day 4: September 5th, 2014
After breakfast at our hotel, we will set out for a visually stunning day exploring beautiful Lago Maggiore on our private boat. Our first stop will be the ancient hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso perched on a cliff on the eastern shore of the lake. This spectacular monastery boasts frescoes dating back to 300 AD. The buidings and art work have been carefully restored, and it is now both a tourist and religious destination. From here, we will continue onto the gorgeous Borromeo Islands off the coast of Stresa. Our first stop will be Isola Bella – so named because it is truly beautiful. The palace and the gardens, dating from the 1600′s, are simply magnificent! The gardens are a sight for the senses with white peacocks and exotic plant species filling its 10 terraces. We will break for a special lunch on the neighboring island of Isola Superiore dei Pescatori – an island frozen in time. To work off our meal, we will spend an afternoon strolling the beautiful botanical gardens of Isola Madre where we will see more exotic plant species and birds. Upon return to the mainland, we will end our day with a delightful dinner before bed time at our villa or lakeside lodging.

Day 5: September 6th, 2014
After breakfast, we will pack our bags and begin our journey into Piedmont. Our guide will take us to the exquisite Villa Taranto where we will get our morning walk amidst the rare and unusual gardens. And then it’s on to magical Lago d’Orta with its Isola di San Giulio. We will visit this tiny island with its ancient monastery and dine in a unique restaurant before exploring the enormous Romanesque basilica which boasts bas reliefs from the 12th century! Moments of tranquility can be had while taking a stroll along the Via del Silenzio before boarding the ferry back to the historic old center of Orta. We will wander along the cobblestoned alleyways before boarding our minivan for our drive into the heart of Piedmont and its world-renowned Wine Country. Upon arrival at our lodging for the next few nights, we will be greeted with a welcome aperitif as we become acquainted with the location. The Agriturismo Tre Poggi is a working vineyard which boasts an award winning restaurant, spa, and lodging facilities. We will experience their delightful restaurant with dinner before settling in for the night.

Day 6: September 7th, 2014
We will enjoy our breakfast at the Agriturismo before meeting the guide for our trip inside Piedmont’s wine country. Our first stop will be Asti, where we will wander the old town and see the location of the famous Palio d’Asti. Noble palaces, gothic cathedrals, and other architectural delights await us in this antique city. From there, we will find ourselves surrounded by the hills of the Monferrato region of Piedmont where we will visit a winery which produces an excellent DOC wine. We will have the opportunity to taste some of their special wines while enjoying some local delicacies. In the afternoon, we will proceed onto the Via Belbo where we will pay a visit to a winery that produces the famous Spumante wines of this region. The passion and loving care given to the vineyards, with their rolling hills, becomes evident in the production of this delicious dessert wine. This particular winery has been in operation since 1900 and is now being tended by the 3rd generation! Tasting here will include not only the Spumante, but some aromatic olive oils, grappa, and some other local products. A special dinner in a local osteria will end our day before retiring for the night

Day 7: September 8th, 2014
Once more, we will have our breakfast at the Agriturismo before meeting our guide that will take us to La Morra, the starting off point to a day spent in the Langhe region. La Morra sits atop a small hill and is surrounded by miles and miles of vineyards. From the Piazza Castello, in the center of town, we are awarded a gorgeous view of the surrounding countryside. Barolo, the town which has given its name to the famed wine, will be our next stop. Once again, hills and vineyards grace the panorama from this quaint town. We will stop for some wine tasting before heading to a local farm where we will be treated to a luncheon whose menu will be based on typical Piemontese cuisine. In the afternoon, we will leave for Grinzane Cavour and its magnificent castle. More wine tasting and a gander through the museum dedicated to the gastronomic history of this region, including the famed Tartufo (or truffle). By this time, we will have worked up a healthy appetite which we will satisfy at a local osteria!

Day 8: September 9th, 2014
After breakfast at the Agriturismo, we will board the private minivan with our guide to visit a goat cheese factory where the delicious Robbiola di Roccaverano DOP is produced. We will have the opportunity to see the factory in operation and learn their techniques in making this special cheese. Today’s lunch will feature “fritto misto alla Piemontese and Torta alla Nocciole” on a working farm. Then in the afternoon, we will proceed to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Canelli with its underground “cathedrals” that house its historic wine cellars. We will learn some of the secrets of wine-making before making our way to a grappa factory to taste Grappa alla Piemontese and the delicious Amaretti (cookies) of Mombaruzzo. Dinner will be at our Agriturismo before falling into bed.

Day 9: September 10th, 2014
We begin our last day together with a delicious breakfast at our Agriturismo. We will then spend the morning in a cooking class where we will learn to prepare some traditional dishes of the Piemonte. These delicious dishes will be enjoyed together for our final meal as a group. The afternoon can be spent packing up and relaxing at the Agriturismo, continuing with another cooking class, or by taking an optional excursion in the vicinity. Tonight, the minivan will transport the group to the Sheraton Malpensa where we will spend our final night. Dinner will be on your own.

Day 10: September 11th , 2014
Breakfast at the Sheraton Malpensa before proceeding to the airport for the trip back home

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Please see the new page on my blog (upper right on the home page) titled “Tour with Us” for more details and the registration form. And let me know if you have any questions – I would be happy to answer any and all questions about my favorite subject – Italy!