In Italy, local festivals are a way of life. They’re often centered around local food or wine, and in the rare cases when they’re not (I can’t even think of an example), both are served in abundance.
These feste and sagre all have something in common: a certain community charm. Everyone sees their friends and neighbors, and visitors or tourists get the chance to experience an authentically Italian atmosphere and event. In the time I’ve lived in Italy, I’ve been to many sagras, and the Festa del Verduno Pelaverga is one of the most enjoyable I’ve been to.
Verduno is a small town of about 550 inhabitants in the Barolo wine zone of the Langhe, just fifteen minutes southwest of Alba, the capital of the Langhe. The town is known for its hard-to-find red wine called Verduno Pelaverga DOC, produced by only eleven winemakers.
In early September, the organizers of the festival hosted myself and a group of journalists and bloggers, for a guided tour of the town, to taste Verduno Pelaverga, and enjoy the wine and food trucks in the streets and piazzas of this charming little town.
End of summer Pelaverga party
Why was it one of the most enjoyable festas I’ve been to? The vibe was relaxed and lively, and the activities, wine, and food hit all the right notes.
The festival is at the beginning of September, right when Italians are reluctantly returning from their long summer vacations. It still feels like summer, but office hours have just started up again. The grapes are heavy on their vines, ripe for harvest and hard fall labor. The festival begins mid-morning and lasts into the evening. It’s the perfect chance to stretch your legs and stay outside in the yet-lingering daylight hours, enjoying warm air in good company for a little while longer.
The setting is great for an end-of-summer party. At the top of the town is a wide expanse of grass and a fantastic belvedere. Everyone was sitting on blankets in the field, enjoying live music, drinking Pelaverga, and eating fritto misto or farinata from the street food stands below.
In the main piazza, there were plenty of activities being offered to enjoy the warm day, like a truffle hunt, guided walks through the vineyards, and bike riding tours for a few hours (the last two just €4). You could easily spend all day in Verduno—and many families and groups of friends do!
A royal party wine
The blogger and journalist group met under the 150-year-old weeping beech tree just off Via Roma (under its branches is the inscription: “Respect me, for I am definitely older than you”). We were guided through historical locations, like the Parish Church of San Michele (foundations from 12th century, existing church built in 1700s) and through rooms of the Castle of Verduno (1500s). One figure stands out among almost all others in Verduno: the charitable St. Sebastian Valfrè, born in Verduno and called Apostle of Turin for his long years of service.
Another notable figure was King Carlo Alberto of probably the only royal family you’ll ever hear in connection with Piemonte—the Savoys. Carlo Alberto was something of a wine lover in his day (as well as a partier, as we shall see). He used his royal hunting lodge in Pollenzo as one of his experimental wineries. Today, it’s the seat of the University of Gastronomic Sciences and the Wine Bank. Likewise, he used the Castle of Verduno as a winery. Still today, Castello di Verduno makes wonderful Verduno Pelaverga DOC. Carlo Alberto invited the General Staglieno, also known as the Royal Enologist, to make Pelaverga wine alongside his Barolo wine experiments in his Verduno castle.
In the early 1700s, Pelaverga was known as an excellent wine, a libation to help make dreary castle life a bit more interesting. Sigh, being royalty is so dreary. But was this because Pelaverga had great flavor and quality…or because it was considered an aphrodisiac? Either way (or perhaps both), Carlo Alberto and his friends thoroughly enjoyed drinking it at the Verduno castle.
One night, perhaps brillo (tipsy) with Pelaverga, he thought it a fun idea to inscribe his name on the large mirror in the drawing room. He invited all his friends to sign it, too. Today, we can see that they had quite some party—the mirror still hangs in the castle, which is decorated exactly the same as it was in the 1700s (today it is a hotel and restaurant). On the surface of the mirror are scrawled dozens of names. “Alberto” is the biggest.
Tasting Verduno Pelaverga
We tasted six wines (so, representing over half of all production!) during a tasting by the Wine Tasting Experience association. They were similar in appearance, light ruby red with orange-brown hues, notwithstanding their young age. And they had similar notes of red fruits and spices, especially white pepper. Their similarities were no surprise, because the production area is small and they were all of the same vintage 2015. But each one displayed individual characteristics that showed the hand of the winemaker.
Verduno Pelaverga is a dry red DOC wine of the Langhe. It has notes of strawberry, flowers, and spices, in particular white pepper. It is elegant and well-structured, often noted as displaying excellent balance between acidity and tannins, and overall is very drinkable. Best drunk young. The average price of a bottle in Italy is €8.00, and it can be found abroad in Germany, Norway, and the United States. Annual production is 140,000 bottles. Source: www.verdunopelaverga.it
2015 was an excellent vintage for Verduno Pelaverga. The wine is meant to be drunk young. We tasted wines by Castello di Verduno, Cadia, Diego Morra, San Biagio, Terre del Barolo, and Burlotto (see the complete list on Verduno Pelaverga’s official site).
I enjoyed them all very much and would probably recommend any of them, but my favorites were by Burlotto (cherry, black pepper, sweet herbs; good structure, balanced acidity and medium tannins, smooth) and Diego Morra (lingonberry, cranberry, anise, green pepper, floral; mouthwatering and fruity with a good structure).
I love Piemonte’s food and wine, the city of Turin, and my proximity to the Alps! My goal and challenge is to see as much of the region as possible using public transportation, but if you have a car I’d appreciate the ride. My intro to wine was at the Univ. of Gastronomic Sciences, and I love visiting family wineries, plus discovering Piemonte's craft beer scene. I’m hard-pressed to choose a favorite wine, but Nebbiolo never disappoints (from Barbaresco to Ghemme). As for beer, the Birrificio San Michele makes an incredible beechwood smoked brew.