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?
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)
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)
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