Like all great wine regions, the wine region surrounding the towns of Barolo and Barbaresco in Piedmont, Italy, has its own story. Piedmont is famous for its Barbaresco and Barolo wines, and they are considered by many to be the absolute elite of the elite Italian wines. As a result, the wine region can bring tears of joy to culinary travelers, and I’m not afraid to say it: I batted a weepy eye after tasting well-aged Barolo and white truffle for the first time. This is one of the ultimate foodie pilgrimages!
From Milan, it takes about three hours by train to travel to the Barolo area of Piedmont, where towns like Alba, La Morra, and Castiglione are found. The hills rise and fall so rapidly that the countryside becomes practically violent; on the hilltops, you find medieval Italian towns, and, at the bottoms, you find streams and oak-tree groves where trifolau, or truffle hunters, find their extremely flavorful and expensive crop.
In the 1800s, these billowing hills made it difficult to travel in and to transport wines out, but the fact that the wines had a high sugar level helped them to survive the trip. Barolo wines were originally made sweet in part due to a lack of prepared yeasts, and the sugar acted as an antioxidant and slowed wine spoilage. It wasn’t until French enologist Louis Oudert arrived on the scene in the mid-19th century, causing a great riff between local winemakers (and even members of royalty!), that Barolo became a dry wine. I woudn’t imagine that many Italian winemakers liked taking tips from a French winemaker, either.
If you want to go wine tasting in Barolo, I recommend renting a car in Alba, which has good hotels and is surrounded by wineries. Once in the countryside, you’ll pay local prices for great Barolos and Barbarescos. This is one of the most stunning aspects of wine tasting in Barolo, and, if you’ve ever bought these wines in the U.S., you’ll be shocked: I’ve purchased a fantastic ten-year-old Barolo for as little as $35 before (1999 Elvio Cogno Barolo “Vigna Elena”)!
On my most recent wine tasting trip in the Barolo wine region, I found beautiful wines, friendly people with a passion for great food and hard work, and some of the most stunning fall vineyard foliage ever. This was in November, and the wineries were relaxing after a busy harvest full of wine production and thirsty visitors. At Cordero di Montezemolo of La Morra, a winery located in the center of Barolo, I met Elena Cordero, whose family owns the winery. Along with her terrific Barolo wines, she offered this travel tip: In Barolo, the wineries are busiest in the fall, and one of the best times to go wine tasting is in April or May.
The next day, I visited the Giuseppe Cortese of Barbaresco winery, and Tiziana Cortese took me on a tour of her family’s winery. In the subterranean facilities, decades of vintages of Barbaresco wines lay covered in dust, and I could almost hear the voices of the people who had worked together to create them. For a moment, I felt as though I were in Edgar Allen Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado! Tiziana, very pregnant at the time, poured out her family’s Barbaresco wines, and she gave me insight into each vintage’s growing conditions. “I think, with the 2004 you really get those earthy flavors,” she said, “the mushroom, the soil.” It was delicious.
Wine Tasting in the Piedmont
Cordero di Montezemolo of La Morra: Open March-December and tastings cost 12€. Call or email 2-7 days in advance.
Giuseppe Cortese of Barbaresco: Open all year and tastings cost between zero and 8€ depending on group size. Call or email 2-7 days in advance.
Ceretto: Open 7 days a week April-December, and Monday-Friday January-March (closed from December 22nd-January 20nd). Wine tasting with winery tour costs €15 per person. No appointment necessary.
Elvio Cogno: Open Monday-Saturday from 9am-12pm and 3pm-5pm. Call or email to make an appointment. A tasting costs 15€, and the fee is waived with the purchase of three or more bottles.
Renato Ratti: Open Monday-Friday from 9am-12pm and 3pm-5pm. Tastings of 4 wines and a tour cost 15€ with a minimum of 4 people, or you can taste 2 wines for free. Reservations required 3 days in advance for tasting and tour.
Written by and photos by The Ravenous Traveler, Mattie Bamman, for EuropeUpClose.com