This week we are talking Italy, and more specifically the Italian northwest region of Piedmont. We've asked expat and local resident Valerie Quintanilla why Piedmont is a must for wine lovers thinking about visiting Italy.
The first time I heard about the Piedmont wine region (Piemonte in Italian) was during a business dinner with an Italian colleague in the United States. I had a trip to Italy planned with wine as my focus. I gushed about visiting the Valpolicella to experience Amarone and of course Tuscany — because back then I thought wine travel in Italy was not complete without a trip to Tuscany.
As she shook her head a disapproving click-click came from her mouth. “No, no. If you want Italian wine, you go to Piemonte,” she said.
I had never heard of the region. My eyes widened as she described a rural wine mecca in the hills of Northern Italy, surrounded by the Alps and steeped in wine making traditions. I knew I had to go there.
It took me a year, but I finally made it. Five years later, Piedmont is my home.
I didn’t make it on the first solo wine trip because after hours of online research it seemed too difficult to navigate such a rural place on my own. Today, it’s slowly getting better. More hotels, producers, and tourist boards have websites. More tour companies have set up shop to show visitors the region. And, more and more locals are speaking English. Yes, it is getting better. But, visiting Piedmont is still not easy.
And to many that is part of the region’s charm and intoxication. Those who put in the travel planning time are aptly rewarded with its breathtaking beauty, the world class food, and of course some of the world’s greatest wines.
Piedmont is situated in Italy’s northwest corner, bordering France and Switzerland. In 2014 Piedmont’s vineyard landscape in the Langhe, Roero, and Monferrato wine growing areas received Unesco World Heritage designation. Vineyards stretch out across the rolling hills as far as the eye can see and charming little winemaking villages dot the countryside. In many ways it feels like being in a magical bubble, cushioned from the outside world. The best views of Monviso, Montblanc, and the supporting Alps cast come in the winter and spring. And, in the fall when the nebbia (fog) has settled over the region and the peaks are visible, you know you have found a little slice of heaven.
Each year from mid-October through mid-November the area hosts international visitors during the Alba White Truffle Festival. The event runs six weekends in the primary winemaking town of Alba, which sits between the Barolo and Barbaresco zones. Tourists can be found exploring the fair, taking in a truffle hunt, wine tasting, and trying any number of menus topped with the decadent tartufo bianco d’Alba. Eateries all over Piedmont serve up truffle shavings by the kilo on traditional foods. Insider’s tip: Truffles are better in colder, icier conditions, so if you plan to attend the Alba White Truffle Fair do it in the last two weeks for the best ones.
The Antipasti of Piedmont:
• Carne Crude is raw beef served either thinly sliced as carpaccio or ground and mixed with olive oil, fresh garlic, lemon juice, and salt and pepper.
• Bagna Cauda is an olive oil-based anchovy and garlic fondue served with bread and seasonal vegetables for dipping.
The Pasta of Piedmont:
• Tajarin is a long, thin ribbon-like pasta that looks like tagliatelle made with eggs.
• Agnolitti del plin are small ravioli named for the Piemontese word for pinch, “plin”. The pasta gets pinched together during assembly with fillings like pork, beef, rabbit, or vegetables,
The Secondi of Piedmont:
• Brasato al Barolo or Brasato al Barbaresco are braised veal. The meat is marinated overnight in Nebbiolo, Barolo, or Barbaresco, then braised in herbs and vegetables for hours until tender.
The Dolce of Piedmont:
• Torta di Nocciola is a cake made of local roasted hazelnuts.
The most famous wines of the region are Barolo, Barbaresco - made from the Nebbiolo grape. Nebbiolo was named for the Italian word for fog (nebbia) because harvest takes places in late fall when fog settles over the vineyards. These wines feature a powerful balance of acidity and tannin - all age worthy characteristics. Nebbiolo is intensely aromatic and perfumed, showing earthy notes and red fruits.
Other noteworthy Piedmont wines include the soft and easy table wine of Dolcetto and Barbera, the most widely planted grape in the region. The primary whites are Arneis and Gavi (from the Cortese grape). The area is also producing some great sparkling wines including Moscato d’Asti and the Champagne style (metodo classico) wines from Canelli and the Alta Langa.
The region and its wines are getting more and more attention from the global press and international travelers. But, it remains an enchanting mystery to most. If you are planning wine travel in Italy, make sure to add it to your itinerary. The views alone make it worth the price of admission.