Piedmont is the holy grail of culinary wine travel. It is home to the Slow Food Movement, an annual Cheese Festival in Bra, prized white truffles from Alba, pastured heritage beef, rugged un-manicured terroir with unique variations in its soil and orientation making it a complex home for age-worthy Nebbiolo, comforting rich cuisine, delicious tangy creamy cheeses, the heavily contested University of Gastronomic Sciences AND Eataly, birthplace of Vermouth in Turin and the producer of some of the most interesting wines in the country: Barbaresco and Barolo. This is a frightening short synopsis of the culturally rich region, however the only way to get the full feel for it is to visit for yourself.
I recently had the pleasure to visit the area with local blogger, Valerie Quintanilla. Valerie also dabbles in wine travel and introduced me to all things Nebbiolo. Not only was she able to take me to some of the most special producers of the region, she effortlessly pulled off a wine maker dinner and whipped up a feast to be paired along with it. I pinched myself every moment of this trip, hoping to never wake up from this delicious dream.
Thanks to Valerie spending some time with me and a friend visiting, I decided that in addition to being able to hang with Val, these are the top reasons to visit Piedmont:
#1 Fratelli Cigliuti in Neive
Our first visit was in the commune of Neive and visited Azienda Agricolo Fratelli Cigliuti. We were given the red carpet treatment, learning about this particular producers agriculture by walking through the vineyards with one of the winemakers. There usually isn’t time for that in addition to a cellar visit and tasting, but Valerie made it happen. The winery is a family and the new generation of wine makers are the two daughters. Valerie informs me that this region is starting to have more and more females running the show.
#2 Vinoteca Centro Storico
This gastrobar, as I’d like to call it is favored among the biggest winos in the industry worldwide. They don’t have a website and it’s purely a locals place which you must be able to reach with a car. Valerie has a comprehensive write-up on the place, including a video of one of the somms sabering a bottle of bubbly. As if lunch wasn’t enough for our gluttonous blood, full fat sliced meats and soft, buttery grassy farmstead cheeses and local white wines with body and rich acidity to match, we headed to the vineyards of Castiglione Falletto, one of the wine-making communes of Barolo.
#3 Barrel tastings at Cascina Fontana
Cascina Fontana is a small, very traditional producer who makes Barolo the old-fashioned way: by mixing vineyards vs a single vineyard Barolo. The cellar is truly that of a Piemonte farmer with the old casks stacked on top of each other to get the best use of space. The very friendly wine maker does a terrific job of explaining the wine making style and his passion is contagious. The owner is so down to earth and makes it a point to salute all of us and shake our hands before leaving this unforgettable estate. We got to taste some Barolo in the aging barrels and got a chewy, raspberry-tastic preview for this wine’s massive potential.
Valerie knows buckets of producers in the region, including Ca’ del Baio where Valerie snuck me in for a one-on-one tasting with the producer’s daughter of their Barbaresco and Langhe Nebbiolo at this year’s Vinitaly.
#4 Local Cuisine
Val took me and my pal to an awesome eatery Osteria dell’Arco in Alba where I got to discover Agnolotti di Plin for the first time, which are little pinched pockets of pasta filled with either roasted meat or vegetables. These were lusciously smooth and simply flavored.
Since I have an offal-ly curious palate (wink wink), I also was able to try the local offal specialty of “Finanziera.” Born during the medieval times, this dish is bathed sweet and sourly with chicken crest, liver and other sweetbreads. For something a little more intimate, I discovered more small producers and local gastronomic specialties at a private winemaker dinner hosted by Valerie and her wine expert/wine making husband Evan Byrne. Noshes of note were a Barbaresco Risotto (paired of course with a Barbaresco) and Barolo braised beef “Brasato”, a simple, hearty local dish pulled off impressively by this Colorado girl in Piedmont.
#5 Pelaverga Wine
Before my indulgent trip to Piedmont, I’d never heard of Pelaverga before and it is a fringe DOC wine defined by floral, strawberry and pepper notes. During the winemaker dinner previously mentioned, the Pelaverga was paired nicely with a Asparagus and Poached Egg appetizer, which normally are stubborn foods for wine pairing however this light wine didn’t have strong tannins which would otherwise clash. Valerie’s wine paired dinner made me believe in pairing asparagus and eggs with red wine! The producer of this was Diego Morra of Cantina Diego. This humble, warm gent is an up and coming producer with great wines- and he is only just beginning his career in wine. Thanks to Valerie, I was able to meet a unique producer before he meets his eventual fame. Valerie estimates that he does about 10k bottles a year right now, about 2k each of: Langhe Chardonnay, Dolcetto, Pelaverga, Barbera, Langhe Nebbiolo, and is introducing his first Barolo soon. Diego was generous enough to bring a barrel sample of this Barolo in the making- what a exclusive treat!
#6 Alba International White Truffle Fair
Need I say anything else? White truffles grow in several regions of Italy (including Tuscany!) however the white truffles from Alba are very intense, prized and sought out. The fair began October 11th but it is still running until November 15th so there is still time to do the truffle shuffle! More info to be found here: http://www.fieradeltartufo.org/2015/it/
I LOVE Turin. When I first moved to Italy in 2012, I stopped first in Turin to visit a friend who was living there and I was spoiled. It is not only a food lover’s oasis as the daily markets put most others to shame, but their local wine shops, aperitivo bars, craft cocktail scene, being a real Italian city with a considerable percentage of a young employed working class, parks, public transport, mountain views, fall foliage and nightlife almost had me running back during my 1st year in Florence and I really couldn’t stand the disneyland feel any longer. I’ve since gotten over that but if I were to ever leave Florence to another Italian city, you bet your pants it would be Turin. Afterall, it is the home of Vermouth! Actually, now that I think of it…what the hell am I doing here?! 😛
A mega thanks to Valeria Q of Girl’s Gotta Drink for organizing such incredible memories for me. I’m hungry for more, watch out Val (I’ll be back for another 7 reasons!)
In your nebbiolo,
Interested in visiting Piedmont? Go over and check out Val’s super informative wine and travel blog!
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