Piemonte shines in the autumn like it does no other time of the year. Harvest brings out the best in local food, festivals, and wine. Enjoy the best of it with a day trip through the Langhe and Barbaresco.
Italy comes alive again after the languorous month of August and the summer holidays the Italians take. September and October are months of the vendemmia, or the grape harvest. Leading into the end of October to November, the work moves from the vineyards to the cellars where the must begins fermenting, its unmistakable scent permeating the rooms.
Wine producers aren’t the only busy people. It’s harvest, and in Piemonte this means a celebration of traditional wines and foods, from porcini mushrooms to pumpkins and local dishes to enjoy in the cool weather like bollito misto, mixed boiled meats, or polenta. One of the most important events is the International White Truffle Fair of Alba, a two-month event that calls in tourists from all over the world.
If you come to Alba for the Truffle Fair, make the most of it: visit the Fair, taste truffles shaved over a plate of pasta, visit a winery and taste wines, and stop by a nearby wine town. Here’s an itinerary you might want to follow:
Morning: visit the International White Truffle Fair of Alba
There are many festivals and fairs dedicated to the truffle in Piemonte and Italy this time of the year, but the one in Alba, held for over 85 years, is Italy’s most important and renowned. Every year, tens of thousands of visitors flock to the capital of the Langhe to breathe in that one-of-a-kind aroma and browse the stands in search of a “white gold” nugget to take home.
White truffle of Alba. Photo © Julie Sitch
The most popular part of the fair is the Truffle Market, held every Saturday and Sunday in the Cortile della Maddalena in central Alba (2016 entrance: €3). Inside, browse the myriad truffle products and non: truffle butter, truffle olive oil, truffle salt, hazelnuts, wine, and more. At the far end of the market pick up lunch, like tajarin with fresh white truffle shaved over top.
One of the most memorable parts of the fair is seeing the trifolau, or truffle hunters, displaying their treasures. Their truffles are checked by an official quality control board. The tartufi lay underneath transparent cases upon soft cloth like jewels—and they are just as expensive (but oh, so worth it!).
Trifolau, truffle hunter. Photo © Julie Sitch
Want to know more about the white truffle? Go here → The White Gold of Piemonte is the Alba White Truffle
Early afternoon: winery visit and tasting at Marchesi di Gresy
Alba is called the capital of the Langhe. It sits in the center of a cluster of towns that any Piemonte-phile or wine lover will recognize: Barolo, Barbaresco, La Morra, Serralunga d’Alba, Neive, and Verduno are all just a quick drive away. You can’t drive two minutes without seeing signs indicating wineries and producers off the side of the road.
We headed to Marchesi di Gresy, a renowned and historic Barbaresco producer just fifteen minutes from Alba. Allow yourself time to take the winding country roads slowly, enjoying the view of vineyard-covered hills that stretch on forever.
Vineyards of Marchesi di Gresy in Barbaresco. Photo © Julie Sitch
Important: Call the winery to reserve your visit several days in advance. Not only is this polite, but especially around the Truffle Fair, wineries get an endless stream of visitors and have to juggle this with the demands of harvest. As much as they want to welcome everyone, wineries can’t always accommodate unannounced visitors.
About the winery
The Marchesi di Gresy winery has vineyards in the Langhe and Monferrato, and they produce a wide variety of wines from the most traditional Piemontese grapes (nebbiolo, dolcetto, barbera, and moscato); international varieties that have been present in Piemonte for a century or more (chardonnay, sauvignon blanc); and a couple of newcomers (merlot, cabernet). Their flagship wines are rooted in the territory: three Barbaresco DOCG labels of the Martinenga MGA, or cru. Their main winery holdings are in the same area, which is where we had our visit.
The winery structure is embraced by the natural vineyard amphitheater that the Martinenga vineyards create, and the winery owns and bottles wines from this cru’s entire area of nearly 25 ha (62 acres). This is unique, because many other MGAs, or micro-terroirs, in Barolo and Barbaresco are divided amongst several producers because of the land’s high worth and potential. We were shown a map of the hill and which vineyard plot the Barbaresco wines came from during our tasting, imbuing the entire experience of the visit and tasting with a strong sense of place.
I’ve visited many wineries in Piemonte and I never fail to learn something new. What stuck with me this time was a poetic description of the percentage of wine that naturally evaporates, slowly and gradually, from the porous barriques and botti (the bigger barrels) during aging. It’s called the angel’s share.
The botti are enormous—each one contains 25 hectoliters of wine, or 3000 bottles—making the use of a colmatore, or airlock,a practical way for keeping tabs on the wine level and, more importantly, protecting the wine from oxidation. The mechanics of this green glass device were invented by none other than Leonardo da Vinci, we were told. The huge barrels are filled to overflowing and the excess wine runs up into the colmatore, which is then sealed using water. The level of wine is also easily visible in the transparent colmatore (and as it goes down, the angel is taking his share).
Late afternoon to evening: Visit Barbaresco
In keeping with the theme of the winery visit and territory, we drove five minutes to the town of Barbaresco. The town glowed softly in the golden light of late afternoon. It’s a one-street town, with the Regional Enoteca containing the wines of all Barbaresco producers at one end and the tower at the other. The tower of Barbaresco was recently renovated, and for a fee visitors may climb the stairs for a fantastic view over the hills.
Main square of Barbaresco. Photo © Julie Sitch
Between these two landmarks on the Saturday that we visited, the tiny town was bustling. A couple of local producers’ stands were set up, selling cougnà (a Piemontese spread made from grape must and often dried fruits and nuts; divine with cheese), honey, olive oil, biscotti, and more. We were given a paper bag of moscato grapes to munch on in thanks for buying some food (whereupon I realized I’d be a horrible winemaker because I’d eat all the grapes). Tractors passed up and down the narrow road, laden with nebbiolo grapes that they delivered directly to the crusher outside of the famous cooperative Produttori del Barbaresco. We squished grape skins underfoot and smelled that ever-present juicy scent of the must, as aromatic to us as it was to the bees.
If you have more time, you may want to stop by other towns, even La Morra 25 minutes away for the sunset (it has one of the best views around from its central piazza), then find dinner in a local osteria.
Neive – 12 minutes away
Mango – 15 minutes away
Guarene – 18 minutes away