The Piedmont Wine Region, particularly in the Langhe sub-region, is the land of castles, vineyards, and romantic hills shrouded in mist. The Alps hover over this beautiful wine region, and the region’s name refers to this (Piemonte means “at the foot of the mountain”). In autumn, thick fog hovers on the brightly colored hills (the red and orange vines actually “glow” with the reflection of the snowcapped Alps), and you can just make out the castle tops and hill topped villages poking out at the top. The Piedmont wine region is located right in the northwest corner of Italy, with Switzerland to the north, France just west, and the beautiful Mediterranean coastline and fishing villages of Liguria only an hour and a half south.
Burgundy of Italy
Piemonte is called the “Burgundy of Italy,” as it is most famous for its boutique wines and outstanding gastronomy (Piedmont region is home to the famous white truffle). The region attracts gourmet travelers and wine enthusiasts from all over the world who eat and enjoy fine wine. This type of traveler has been coined as a “Gastronaut,” and Piedmont is firmly on the Gastro-map. It’s no surprise that the Slow Food movement (now an international phenomenon) began here (in the amusingly named village of “Bra”). Piedmont’s three best areas (for scenery and quality of wines) are the Langhe, Roero, and Monferrato sub-regions. Piedmont’s principal city is Turin, a beautiful cosmopolitan city known for two main reasons- its superb chocolate makers and the “Shroud of Turin,” which regularly attracts Catholic pilgrims.
Winemaking in Piedmont is amazingly artisan and boutique. Production is microscopic, especially for the top wines, and most wineries are family-owned. Vineyards tend to be very small and neatly kept. Entire villages are dedicated to wine production, and wine is a part of daily life. The harvest festivals in the Piedmont wine region are almost as wild as Carnival, and nearly everyone participates in the local festivities. The wine villages of Alba and Asti are two of the most well-known and are good choices as bases for exploring wineries, along with sightseeing. Alba holds the annual Truffle festival (which attracts chefs from all over the world), and Asti holds the medieval “Palio” festival, a lively event.
The superstar wines from the region are the DOCG Barolo and Barbaresco Cru wines (named after the villages themselves where these Cru vineyards lie), both tremendously rich red wines made with the native “Nebbiolo” grape. Angelo Gaja is, without a doubt, the most famous producer of both Barbaresco and Barolo wines. Piedmont is also home to many other native grape varietals such as Dolcetto and Barbera (2 of the best red grapes, after the Nebbiolo) and Cortese (a white varietal used to make the deliciously fresh Gavi di Gavi wines) and another native white called “Arneis,” known for being highly aromatic and delicate.
Barolo is the name of a dreamy, castle-crowned hamlet as well as the wine. Barolo is famously referred to as “the King of Wines, the Wine of the Kings.” Many mythical producers are located right in the village, such as Giacomo Borgogno e Figli (which is the oldest winery here, dating back to 1761) and the elegant, aristocratic Marchesi Di Barolo. Barolo village lives for wine, and needless to say, there are terrific wine shops here and an array of wine bars where you can taste tiny production top Barolo. Within the appellation (DOCG Barolo), there are eleven villages where this wine is made, including Barolo and other beautiful hamlets like Grinzane Cavour, La Morra, Monforte d’Alba, and Serralunga d’Alba. There are 181 “cru wines” which were designated officially in 2009.
Barbaresco is located about 25 minutes northeast of Barolo village and is also both the name of the darling village and the highly esteemed wine. Barbaresco hamlet features an iconic, medieval tower, which has become the symbol of Barbaresco wine. The tower is visitable, offering fantastic views over the patchwork of vineyards and the Tanaro river while you can enjoy a sunset aperitif. Angelo Gaja, Italy’s most highly revered winemaker, is located right in the village. Produttori del Barbaresco, one of the world’s most famous super-premium co-ops, is a two-minute walk from Gaja. Just outside the village, you can find superstar estates like Bruno Rocca. Other “cru villages” besides Barbaresco hamlet include Neive and Treiso, both home to world-class estates, top dining options, and idyllic scenery.
A Piedmont Tour is an absolute must for visiting food and wine lovers. While Tuscany is full of great art cities (such as Siena, Pisa, Florence, Lucca), Piemonte’s attraction is its small charming villages (like Grinzane Cavour, La Morra, Verduno) and “Slow Food” style of touring. The food is simply out of this world, the landscapes are gorgeous, the wines are sublime, and the people extremely friendly- all of the components one needs for an unforgettable gourmet tour! There are many fine hotels in Piedmont for the intrepid traveler to choose from while exploring this beautiful region of Italy.