On the other side of the hills of Turin, beyond the famous Superga monument overlooking the city, lie fields of corn, forests, and a scattering of vineyards. In these Collina Torinese, or Turin Hills, smaller quantities of wine are produced than in Piemonte’s more famous wine zones. However, what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality and that perfect Italian descriptor, tipicità: typicity. Lying at the heart of this forest and farmland is Chieri, a city of many beautiful churches, a fine shopping street, and the eponym of this area’s wine: Freisa di Chieri.
The main street of Chieri is Via Vittorio Emanuele II, once an ancient Roman road, now a pedestrian street with several options for shopping, from clothes to craft beers. A Monumental Arch spans the road, a rare example of Late Renaissance architecture in Piemonte and built in 1580 in honor of Emanuele Filiberto I. Stop at the Avidano bakery under the Arch to sample some chocolates or sweet, local specialties. Keep an eye out for Baci Chieresi, chocolate cookies filled with cream; Umbertini, soft, tasty amaretti cookies with fragrance of orange flower; or hazelnut Brut e Bun (Brutti ma Buoni, “Ugly but Good”).
Chieri has a surprising number of churches – roughly a dozen – that display distinct historical periods. On Via Roma, the Chapel of Santa Croce (first mentioned in 1141) was established as a restoration point for pilgrims by the order of Templar Knights. Nearby is the Gothic Church of San Domenico. Inside, the lights are dimmed and the round, stained glass windows leave puddles of rainbow light – a beautiful visual effect. In Piazza Duomo, the Gothic Church of Santa Maria della Scala was founded in 1037 (reconstructed in the 15th century), and has painting and sculpture masterpieces that span 1000 years. For a fine example of Italian Baroque style, the Church of San Filippo Neri on Via Vittorio Emanuele II has an impressive façade.
Outside of the churches are descriptive plaques in Italian in English; you may also spot a second plaque detailing a snapshot in the life of an important historical figure, Don Bosco.
Giovanni Bosco (1815-1888), known as Don Bosco, was a Roman Catholic priest, educator, and writer. He invented the Salesian Preventive System, a teaching method based on kindness rather than punishment, and was known for his acts of charity towards orphans, street children, and poor youth. In the Jewish ghetto of Chieri, he taught his peers from books he purchased himself, as the Jews were not allowed to attend state school at the time. Today, the Jewish ghetto starts at Via Della Pace, passing Elija Foa’s bookshop and the Rabbi’s House (reproduced in the Valentino Park in Turin in 1884).
In the 11th century, Chierese inhabitants built the core of today’s historical center. It was a round, walled area that can still be seen today in the snail-shaped center that ascends as the curving roads reach the top. The hill is dominated by the 11th or 12th century Church of San Giorgio that boasts the oldest bell in Piemonte (1452) and the best view in town. Wind your way back down, taking a side street or two to get lost in the alleys and shortcuts, perhaps passing by the Ristorante la Chiocciola (“snail,” which is what the Chierese call this part of town!). The menu is full of traditional Piemontese dishes: risotto al Cortese wine of Monferrato, agnolotti made with aromatic herbs, beef braised in Freisa, and local cheese platters to name a few.
The best place to sit and enjoy a glass of wine is La Cantina del Convento, also a popular restaurant. As for buying a bottle or two, Il Sogno nel Cassetto in Piazza Mazzini has wine glasses full of territorial dirt, literal pieces of terroir on display.
As always in wine travel, however, the ideal way to experience the local wine and guarantee you return home with a few local bottles in hand is to visit the wineries. Freisa di Chieri is a rare wine, made by only seven producers in 17 townships.
Closest to Chieri (about 30 min walking, 5 min driving) is the Rubatto Winery and farm. Farmer and winemaker Enrico will self-effacingly explain that his family’s wines are “alla buona,” or good, simple, and rustic. If looking for something strictly of local taste, these are your wines. All stainless steel tank-aged with no wood, Enrico’s wines are powerful in tannins and acidity: a pure, traditional Freisa. The vino vivace, he explained, or the slightly bubbly version, is what sells locally. He usually sells vino fermo, or still Freisa to travelers and anyone coming from outside of the area, together with his Barbera.
Drive on the border of Asti territory towards Cinzano for about twenty minutes to reach the Rossotto Winery. The Rossotto brothers and their father produce a larger selection of wines. Federico, one of the producer’s two sons, discussed how they vary vinification, labels, wine names, and even denominations to draw in a variety of clientele. For example, the 100% Freisa wines will be picked up by the locals; those aged in wood will be picked up by out-of-towners. Blends, such as the Eclisse – 60% Barbera, 30% Freisa, 10% Bonarda – will draw in an international crowd, the acidity and tannins rounded out with the mix of grape varieties and the different aspects they confer to the finished wine: excellent wines all around.
Traveling back to Chieri, pass by small towns surrounded in green and bursting with character. The annual and regional Honey Fair is held in Marentino at the end of September; La Locanda delle Marionette in Sciolze has excellent Piemontese cuisine and is a charming place to stay. Not finished with wine tasting? Take a tour in the Balbiano Winery and visit the small wine museum in their cellars.
The other Freisa producers can be found here, on the Freisa di Chieri Consortium’s website. We suggest you stop by several of these wineries in one day while enjoying the small, historical towns nestled between the forests and fields of corn in the Torinese hills.
Where to Stop in Chieri
Via Vittorio Emanuele – 10023 Chieri (TO)
Via Vittorio Emanuele, 46 – 10023 Chieri (TO)
Tel.: +39 011-947-8354
Church of Santa Maria della Scala
Piazzetta S.Lucia, 1 – 10023 Chieri (TO)
Tel. +39 011-947-2082 | +39 011-947-1667
Via della Pace – 10023 Chieri (TO)
Cantina del Convento
Vicolo Sant'Antonio, 6 – 10023 Chieri (TO)
Tel. +39 011 947 0857
Church of San Giorgio
Via San Giorgio, 37 – 10023 Chieri (TO)
Ristorante la Chiocciola
Via San Giorgio, 12
Tel. +39 011 423 0276
Open Tues.-Sat. 7:30-10:30 | Sun. 12:30-3:00 and 7:30-10:00
Azienda Agricola Rubatto Guido
Strada Baldissero, 150 - 10023 Chieri (TO)
Tel.: +39 011 941 2018
Call beforehand to book a tasting
Azienda Agricola Rossotto Stefano
Via Colla N, 17 - 10090 Cinzano (TO)
Tel.: + 39 011 960 8230
Call beforehand to book a tasting
Il Sogno nel Cassetto
Via Carlo Alberto, 9/A – 10023 Chieri (TO)
Tel.: +39 011 942 4333
La Locanda delle Marionette
Via Generale Celestino Sachero, 9 – 10090 Sciolze (TO)
Tel. +39 011 960 3133
Open every day for lunch, breakfast, and dinner except Monday
Azienda Vitivinicola Balbiano
Corso Vittorio Emanuele, 1 - 10020 Andezeno (TO)
Tel.: +39 011 943 4044
Call beforehand to book tasting & tours, avail. every day 10-12 and 3-6. Min. 10 people
Museum free, open Mon.-Sat. 10-12 and 3-5; reserve beforehand
A special thanks
I'd like to thank Enrico of the Rubatto Winery and Federico of the Rossotto Winery for being my guides around the zone, hosting me in their wineries, and allowing me to discover Freisa di Chieri wine.