Let’s face it- rating regions of Italy is no easy task. This is a country where you are faced with win-win decisions when planning a vacation. With that being said, there are still hidden treasures unknown to most tourists. The northern area of Piemonte is such a treasure.
When you make the pilgrimage to Italy with hopes of sipping the world’s smoothest wines and savoring the most flavorful food, Tuscany is usually the bulls eye in the tourist mind. Who can blame you? Diane Lane in “Under the Tuscan Sun” gave a pretty good argument for setting up camp in the rolling hills. But, some popular destinations are becoming overrun with tourists, which, overtime, leads to the stripping of true authenticity in a place. Head a little north of Tuscany to the lesser known area of Piemonte and all your Italian dreams will come true.
Foodie Guide to Piemonte
I recently went on a wine tour vacation in Piemonte. Here, all roads lead to and from Alba, which is where we stayed. I loved this charming and non-touristy town. It is important to find accommodation near the old town though, because otherwise you may be stuck in an industrial part of town. During my stay, I was lucky enough to explore the grounds where the queen and king of wine comes from- Barbaresco and Barolo. We went to a handful of wineries, all with a unique character and story to tell. The most impressive feat of all of them though, was the fact that they have remained family owned and operated since the production of their first bottle. There are no corporations, no big box companies. Just (talented) families who turned a sipping hobby into a sipping career. And might I add a big thank you to them!
Here, just for you, I’ve gathered together the highlights of my trip through the rolling hills and gravel roads of Piemonte. Enjoy the ride!
Al Nido della Cinciallegra, Neive
I started the day with a prosecco tasting, as all good days begin, at this charming Enoteca (wine shop) in the quaint town of Neive. This is a beautiful town worth visiting in itself, despite the incentive of world-class wine. You are able to buy local food and wine products in addition to the tasting. Because this is an Enoteca only, there is no vineyard or production plant. However, the employees are very knowledgeable about not only their wine selection but also the region as a whole. Helpful hint: they let you try more wine from off the shelf after the initial tasting if you ask ;)
Marchesi di Gresy, Barbaresco
This winery has been family owned and operated since 1797, and is located in the Langhe and Monferrato areas (home to Piedmonte’s greatest wines), so it’s safe to say they know a thing or two about quality wine. This powerhouse winery is located in the Gresy family castle and includes a tour of the estate where you are able to learn more about the family and see where they live. So, picture it in your mind -a castle atop a hill overlooking miles and miles of vineyards, ancient homes, and the jaw-droppingly beautiful hills. Not bad, eh? During the summer, all the grandchildren come to stay so we were among many future producer’s during our stay. It’s a true family experience. My time here started with a tour of the cellar where I was lucky enough to see two producers testing some of the Barbaresco from the barrell’s to inspect the aging process. Every producer who works at Marchesi di Gresy is a member of the family, so it is more than a job to them- it is their heritage. After the tour of the cellar and production area, the much anticipated tasting began, followed by the inevitable shopping spree of the wines we sampled. Helpful hint: all of the wineries I visited produce world class wine that is very expensive in America. Because you are buying it at the source, it is significantly, drastically, radically cheaper. Moral of the story- leave room in your suitcase for some bottles.
Pit-stop for lunch at Trattoria Antica Torre, Barbaresco Village
You traveled all the way to Italy so I know you want authentic food that only locals know about. Well my friends, with this trattoria you’ve hit the jackpot. This restaurant is known around the region for having the lightest and best fresh pasta. My recommendation is the tarjarin pasta, which is like a thinner tagliatelle and is served with a savory and rich meat sauce. For all you vegetarians out there, including me, you can have the same pasta with a butter and sage sauce. And of course, don’t forget to order a bottle of wine to keep the day going. Buon appetito!
Ceretto ‘Monsordo’ winery, Langhe
This is a unique winery in comparison to the others that I visited. While the previous and the next have maintained the history in the architecture and production methods, this is the “high tech” and modern powerhouse. They have not sacrificed any beauty, though. Situated on top of a hill, you are able to overlook the miles of their grapes while tasting the king (Barolo), queen (barbaresco), and other world renowned wines like Barbera, Dolcetto, and Nebbiolo. Because they have been so successful in establishing themselves as top-notch wine makers, they have branched out in food production including hazelnuts (which you can munch on during your tasting), cheeses, and even nougats. Their philosophy is about “good living” and they communicate this through their education and sharing of the food and wine. But I ask you this- is there any other way?
Aurelio Settimo, La Morra
One word for this winery: Barolo. All hail the king, am I right?
Aurelio Settimo produces some of the best Barolo in the world, which is an impressive feat to say the least given the small size of the winery. When I visited, I asked if they had plans to expand given their ever-growing demand. Without hesitation, the guide (the only non-family member employee) simply said “no.” She explained that if they were to expand the quality and attention to detail that is so vital to this family would be sacrificed. In other words, at Aurelio Settimo, quality over quantity is more than just an expression– it is a way of life. We walked through the vineyards, caressing the grapes and catching family members inspect the development of some vines. In a way, I almost felt like I was in someone’s (large) backyard and was just a guest they had over for afternoon wine. That’s the level of family and comfort at this vineyard. All the while being able to look at the scenery, wanting to take as many mental snapshots as possible for fear of loosing the beauty in your mind. We were the only tour so the undivided attention and flexibility was a major bonus. This is a trait of the wineries in Piemonte because they are not bombarded with tourists and groups like in Tuscany or other areas. Sounds pretty good, right? Of course we made our way inside for a tasting and more purchasing. In addition to the Nebbiolo and Dolcetto, we were able to try several Barolo’s. After a day of a couple glasses of the king, my thought was this: spending time with royalty is not a bad way to live.
Overall opinion: Piemonte is as good a wine region as beautiful Tuscany. All in all, Piemonte may possibly be the most underrated place I’ve ever visited with its authenticity, visual mastery, and comparatively empty wineries. Go now while it is still under the invisible cloak to tourists. Happy sipping!