Barolo Wine Tour
We took one of our days on our trip to Alba for the International White Truffle Festival and Donkey Palio to explore the home of Barolo wine. As our last trip to Asti in Piedmont, we booked through Piedmont Food and Wine for a customized experience.
We met our guide for the day, Matteo, in the center of town and he drove not even ten minutes and we noticed the landscape change from the town to the rolling hills of Piedmont. The views from the car alone had us longing for this view every day.
Quick recap on Nebbiolo! Nebbiolo is the grape most prominent in Piedmont. Nebbia means “fog” which is typical over the hills of Piedmont, giving Nebbiolo the success to grow (nebbia= nebbiolo!). Barolo and Barbaresco (other than being villages in Piedmont) are the names of the two wines that Nebbiolo grapes make. What makes one Barolo and one Barbaresco is all where it is grown. If it is grown in the DOCG region of Barolo, the Nebbiolo makes Barolo. If it is grown in the DOCG region of Barbaresco, the Nebbiolo makes Barbaresco. If the Nebbiolo grape is grown somewhere not in the DOCG regions of Barolo or Barbaresco, it makes Langhe Nebbiolo. This is a high level overview but it certainly helped me get a start in understanding wine in this area. The same also applies to wines in Tuscany with Chianti and Chianti Classico. The Italian wines are highly regulated so there is little left up to interpretation when making wine.
Our first stop was to the hilltop town of Diano d’Alba where we drove to the top where the panoramic views of the entire Barolo region was traceable.
Among the hills were the occasional tower or castle signifying another town. Every direction you looked was another postcard- it was magical to be up on this hill. Matteo took the time to show us the various villages, the points where the different Barolo regions were, and where the wineries we were familiar with were located as well as the ones we visiting today.
A short drive away was our first stop at Giovanni Rosso in the Serralunga d’Alba region of Barolo.
We were first treated to a barrel tasting of three different Barolo wines, each from a different area within Serralunga d’Abla. The barrels were all 2016 harvest and would not be ready for release for another two years as Barolo wines are required for four years aging, the last year in the bottle. This was our first time doing a barrel tasting so we really appreciated this experience. A simple (though I do not think it should be that simple) turn of the key and out came the wine from the massive oak barrels. It was interesting to try the wines this way as even two years in they still felt far away from being the Barolo in the bottle two years from now. There were hints that called to the typical characteristics of this wine but it was evident the time was essential to the development into Barolo.
After the barrel tasting, we sat in the tasting room to try five of the Giovanni Rosso wines, some of which were the same as the ones we tried in the Barolo with the exception of the vintage year as 2014. It was so fun to compare the Barolos side by side and then reference the barrel form to understand the development of the wine. The five wines included their Langhe Nebbiolo, Barolo blend of the Serralunga d’Alba region, the Cerretta Barolo, the Serra Barolo and the wildcard Etna Bianco. I think Kevin and I both really enjoyed the Serra Barolo the best but we were so impressed with the producer’s first vintage of Etna Bianco- white wine from Sicily- I think we have another wine destination on the list!
More scenes of rolling hills took us to the town of Castiglione Falletto for lunch.
We parked by the castle and walked around to the Cantina Comunale and we were instantly stunned. Was this where we were eating lunch?
This view! Oh it was incredible as if it was a fake backdrop, hard to believe this was a place people can enjoy every day (insert hopes and dreams of living in Piedmont one day!).
It was going to be difficult to ruin this meal in anyway and luckily we had nothing to worry about as everything was wonderful. We got a bottle of 2016 Dolcetto d’Alba from Cavallotto which was delightful to drink.
For the meal, we opted for a truffle break (this place did the “weight the truffle” approach as we saw a couple each permit over 60 euro of white truffles (yes, each) onto their plate, gasping at the final price- can’t return those shavings!). Instead we ordered classic piedmontese dishes, both of which were wonderfully prepared. Kevin ordered the “tajarin die 43 tuorli al tartufo nero” (Tajarin with 43 yolks tartufo nero)- black truffles which incentently are insanely affordable in comparison to white truffles.
I ordered the “raviole dell’orto al burro e salvia” – small ravioli stuffed with vegetables (tasted mostly like spinach to me) with butter and sage.
I think what is most enjoyable able Piedmontese food is how simple the dishes are and since the focus is on quality ingredients, simple is all you need. Nothing extravagant or fancy, just fresh pasta and a no-fuss gravy or in most cases, just good butter.
For dessert we split the (get ready) “Caud e fried di torrone del Gallo semifreddo con tiepida crema al cioccolato fondente” and we had (once again) no idea what we were going to get. Out came a white white among liquid dark chocolate. The white cloud is all I can describe as a cold mousse or custard of sweet cream and hazelnuts. So far the surprise desserts have works out well for us as this one was delicious.
Soaking in our final views of this amazing spot, it was time to head to the next winery.
Matteo had a quick pitstop to show us what is known as the “la cappella del Barolo”, a chapel in the middle of the vineyards. We arrived to a multicolored small building that is now an art masterpiece.
Damilano was the next tasting spot for Barolo. We were given a quick tour since harvest was in full swing and the facilities were in use, as well as shown the barrel room.
Our tasting was of four Barolo varietals from the different areas. We had 2014 vintages of the Brunate, Cerequio, and Cannubi, with an extra treat of the 2007 Lis, each representing a different vineyard where the grapes came from. Once again, we found it fascinating to taste three different nebbiolo grapes, all considered Barolo, all handled in the the same manner- the only difference being the plot of land, and observing the vast differences in the wines. These difference would certainly be unnoticed by everyone who is not a sommelier when tasting is done apart but in direct comparison the distinctions are apparent. The Lis was certainly far different from the others as the year was 2007 so the wine had the brown aged tint to it and many of the tannins had smoothed out.
The final beverage we go the chance to try was named “Barolo Chinato”, a digestif or after dinner beverage that all Barolo producers make from their Barolo musks (what is left over from the wine production) and each have their own recipe to make this thick beverage. This fortified drink reminded us of a sherry. It was surprisingly a bit sweet though it smelled like cough medicine- hold your nose and bottoms up!
More sweeping views as we make our way to the final vineyard.
The last winery of the day was Costa di Bussia, nestled among the vines.
We started with a tour of the vines, describing the harvest, and tasting the Barbera and Nebbiolo grapes that were still on the vine.
Kevin loves tasting the grapes so I know he enjoyed this part. When the grapes are not ripe, they are very unpleasant to eat but when the grapes are ready to be picked, they turn into edible goodies. You can even taste the difference in the grapes- Barbera is typically a more acidic wine and the grape was definitely more acidic than its Nebbiolo counterpart.
Back inside, there was a museum we walked through of artifacts found on the property that was left unattended for many, many years. The founding of this vineyard was by a pharmacist, Luigi Arnulfo, in 1874 using principles of chemistry that much of wine making is owed to today. He was also known for making a square bottle for the long shipping process to San Francisco when the Panama Canal was not yet built. The winery still makes an exclusive small batch of square bottle to this day to preserve the history. He was also the first to advertise his wine and is known as a pioneer in marketing. I am pretty sure he is my favorite pharmacist and if I can recall enough chemistry, may be my break through career move into wine making!
After a tour of the barrel room, we got to tasting the wine. I am certain we lost track of the number of bottles we tried. I know we started with an unoaked Chardonnay which was surprising that is a grape produced in this area. From there, a slue of perhaps six Nebiolo grapes followed, starting the two Langhe Nebbiolo wines and then the Barolos. I do recall that our favorite one was the Barolo Bussia Riserva wine.
Also their own version of Barolo Chinato, we tried it with the enthusiasm of the last one, except this one was exceptionally bitter- one sip was one too many for me! But the bottle it is in was worth the taste- supper cool alchemist bottle.
A few more photogenic photos of the Piedmont hills scattered with vines and we made our way back to Alba.
We were very happy with our day in Barolo and pleased that Piedmont Food and Wine scheduled another wonderful experience for us. Three vineyards all with different style and flare, an unbelievable view over traditional Piedmontese lunch, and an extremely knowledge guide. Thank you Matteo and Piedmont Food and Wine!
Continue reading about the Alba trip here!