Northern Italy: Piedmont Wine Region

The Piedmont wine region is situated in Northeastern Italy, with the stunning Alps in the backdrop, and famous for wines such as Barolo, Barbaresco, and Roero – and rich and savory food, including decadent truffles. In Piedmont, we stayed at Relais Villa d’Amelia in Alba, which is renowned for its truffle market and slow food movement. Days of tasting the region’s best grapes, paired with Michelin-starred dining, were complemented by cycling, hiking, and hunting for fresh truffles.

For wine enthusiasts, the Piedmont wine region is one of Italy’s and the world’s most important wine regions. Beyond the tannic and earthy reds, we indulged in zippy and complex whites from the Cortese, Arneis, and Moscato grapes. October is the peak time to take in the beauty and spirit of this celebrated region, and we definitely celebrated!

Castaglone Monferrato – “The other side of Piedmont”

Our drive into the region started in Monferrato, where we enjoyed our first wine tastings of the Piemonte at Montalbera. This was a real treat and surprise because Piemont is generally synonymous with Nebbiolo, but in Monferrato, we were introduced to a little-known varietal called Ruchè, “the Red Prince of Monferrato.” This exciting and unique grape exudes pleasant floral notes of rose and violet, the fruity apricot, and the spiciness which distinguishes it from other wines of the region. Montalbera is the world’s largest private producer of Ruchè, with 60% of it grown in their vineyards! It was delicious!!

The Piemontesi are rightly very proud of their traditional products, and the region boasts many extraordinary gastronomic delights. There are too many to do full justice to here, but highlights include Robiola di Roccaverano DOP cheese, a popular soft mild cheese with its roots traced back to the middle ages and the only Italian goat cheese to achieve DOP-protected status. Look out for carbo gobbo di Nizza at local food markets when in season, a relative of the artichoke with a delicious, nutty taste. Pasta traditions are plentiful, but two notable favorites are agnolotti del plin—pinched little parcels containing meat—and tajarin, a long and very thin pasta often served with ragu.

In addition to its vineyards, the Monferrato hills are lined with thousands of hazelnut trees. The nuts are used in many sweet and savory dishes, including a famous chocolate and hazelnut spread. But don’t go for the big brand here; instead, hunt for gianduja at local stores and markets for a more authentic and ethically delicious treat.

Piedmont is home to the most prestigious Italian truffles, and the Monferrato hills will be alive with trifauli (truffle hunters) during the harvest seasons, accompanied by their faithful truffle-hunting dogs.

Piedmont was the birthplace of the Slow Food movement, and its influence on dishes and customs in homes and restaurants across the Monferrato region is evident and celebrated.

D.Barbero Torroneria & Cioccolateria (Nougat and Chocolate!)

Slow food is about protecting local food, cultures, and traditions. It’s also about protecting biodiversity for its seasonal range of flavors. It’s about furthering relationships between farmers, chefs, and buyers. And it’s about making and sharing meaning in our food consumption. Our fabulous guide this week was Sander, a graduate of the Slow Food University in Piedmont and the perfect host for our group! The first food stop was at the legendary candy company dating back to 1883 and still producing all sweets by hand.

The artisanal making of these delicious nougats and chocolates is on full display as we were toured through the factory by the granddaughter of the current family head of D. Barbero. My favorite? Everything that included the local hazelnuts; I have never enjoyed them so fresh and flavorful!

Panoramic Cycling in the Upper Langhe

The Langhe is divided into the three areas of Bassa Langa (lower Langa), with mainly viticulture; Alta Langa (upper Langa), with hazelnut cultivation; and the Langa Astigiana area, famous for its truffle cultivation. Today we saw a bit of it all, including charming towns, ancient castles, churches, and dreamy landscapes.

The steep and long hills on our 30+ kilometer ride were not for the faint of heart. Having e-bikes in this hilly region is suggested even if you don’t think you will want them. It’s an excellent tool to have even if you don’t turn it on, trust me!

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Our fabulous day was only complete (and safe!) with this expert trip of Cycling and Wine Guides: Alessandra, Marcelo, and Alessandro! I think they liked us too!

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Not sure if this was the result of the cycling or the wine…..

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Bio Amaltea These Farm

There is a reason one has to pedal so high to get to the cheese farms. Much of Piedmont is covered in vines, and to get to land where sheep, goats, and cows can graze; you climb to the upper Langhe. We visited a family-owned cheese farm and enjoyed a three-course meal showcasing their organic cheese production, all washed down with a selection of local wines whose high acidity and fruit perfectly complement the creamy goodness.

Ristorante la Ciau del Tornavento

This meal was the highlight dinner of the trip at the famed la Ciau del Tornavento, located in the historic center of Treiso, one of the four villages that make up Barbaresco. The top restaurant caters to lucky adults, children with special table settings and amenities, and even dogs with special pampering.

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We were dazzled with a highly creative multi-course menu showcasing all local Piedmont products. I only captured about 1/3 of the meal in images, but trust me, it was memorable, and this is a must when staying in Piedmont.

The most impressive wine cellar we visited, is a mecca with the top wines from all over the region and the world and is said to have the most complete wine list in all of Italy.

Truffle Hunt

Today was an epic day as we hunted for truffles with “celebrity” Luca, the Truffle hunter, and his dog. It is truly a family affair, as Luca’s daughter is also a well know truffle hunter. His other daughter is a chef whom you will “meet” later in this story! 🙂

Luca and his dog at work, so much fun to be a part of the hunt!

The next best part of the day was visiting Luca’s house and meeting his entire family. They package and sell all sorts of truffle products, and there was a buying frenzy, as you might imagine!

And finally, my favorite part of the story was having the spectacular lunch prepared by Luca’s other daughter showcasing, of course TRUFFLES!

A beautiful experience meeting locals and further supporting and enjoying the Slow Food Movement!

Roero – Angelo Negro

Our most fun wine-tasting experience of the trip was in Roero at Angelo Negro. Everyone loves internationally acclaimed Barolo and Barbaresco, but Roero, also in the Langhe, produces killer wines at a much better value. A bit less known in the mainstream, but nothing about it is mainstream. Not only did we taste and buy spectacular Barolos, Barbarescos, Barberas, and Nebiolos here, we made great friends with Fabio, the ultimate SURFER-DUDE wine guy! Check out our video singing the Beach Boys’ “Surfing USA.”

Hiking – Monforte d’Alba to Barolo

We had a gorgeous morning hiking through stunning villages and vineyards from Monforte d’Alba to Barolo.

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The Big Bench Project: From Chris Bangle’s Big Benches, now a symbol of the Langhe, comes the BIG BENCH COMMUNITY PROJECT (BBCP) initiative to support local enterprise, tourism, and craftsmanship in the towns that host these out-of-scale installations.

Barolo – Franco Contorno

Piedmont’s most famous red wine is made with 100% Nebbiolo grapes. Its translucent brick-red color, deceptively light body, and floral aromas contrast its dense tannin structure. Think roses and tar, raspberries, cherries, and licorice! This was not only a TOP day for tastings, but the weather and scenery were majestic!

Farewell Dinner at restaurant Enoclub 

Our final dinner was terrific. There is nothing as special as sharing a journey with other curious travelers. Some of us were old friends, some of us new friends, but as you can see, we all bonded over the sharing of an enviable experience in a lovely part of the world, in a place where people, food, and tradition are highly valued. This last night in the heart of Alba was cherished with…
New and Old Friends….

The Slow Food Movement – cherishing and nourishing all that is local, sustainable, and traditional…

And then sharing with each other our fondest moments of the destination, but also of our fellow travel companions. Che bella e la vita!! Grazie, Piemont!!

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