Seven Tips for Piemonte Wine Travel
- Written by Valerie Quintanilla
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So, you want to do some Piemonte wine travel? Well, you are in for a treat. From the rolling Langhe hills to the rich, savory red wines the region offers, an Italian wine travel experience is unlike any other. To the uninitiated, a Piemonte wine adventure can be intimidating, but once you have these basic tips down, you’ll feel ready to conquer wine country.
To help wine lovers, we’ve developed seven Piemonte wine travel tips. Open a bottle of Nebbiolo and dive in.
Piemonte wine export grew 17% from 2012 to 2013; today it is the second most exported Italian wine region, just behind the Veneto.
Wine Monitor, Nomisa
1. Italian Wine Terms.
Let’s start with a cheat sheet of wine terms you may encounter in Piemonte:
• Vino Bianco: White Wine
• Vino Rosso: Red Wine
• Rosato: Rosé; if you are a fan of light, crisp French rosés, be advised that the Italian Rosato is a richer, heavier style. Rosato isn’t commonly found in Piemonte, but more than a few wineries are starting to tinker with it, particularly sparkling wine producers. Be on the lookout for these excellent rosé wines: Rosé Tinted (Wine) Glasses for the Summer
• Spumante: Sparkling; if you see ‘Metodo Classico,’ it’s made in the traditional Champagne production method. A fine example is Piemonte’s Alta Langa DOCG, made from Pinot Nero and Chardonnay, and receiving more and more acclaim in the sparkling world. Make sure to give it a taste.
• DOCG and DOC: Italy’s two highest levels of classification; the wines must adhere to strict government guidelines. DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) rules encompass production yields, grape ripeness, winemaking techniques, territory and geography, and more. To safeguard against counterfeit, DOCG and DOC wines must show an affixed government seal on the neck of the bottle. DOC restrictions are slightly looser; rules vary by region. And, by the way, IGT is the third level with less rigid requirements, but no Piemonte wines has the IGT certification.
• Cantina / Cascina: Winery
• Azienda: Estate or landholding associated with wine.
• Vendemmia: Vintage
• Vigneto / Vigna: Vineyard
• Enoteca: Wine shop / Wine bar
Barbaresco DOCG: 100% Nebbiolo with 2 years minimum aging, including 9 months in wood; Barbaresco Riserva requires 4 years minimum aging. Minimum alcohol: 12.5%.
Barolo DOCG: 100% Nebbiolo with 26 months minimum aging, including 9 months in wood; Barolo Riserva requires 50 months minimum aging, 9 months in wood.
2. Italy Wine Travel Planning.
Typically, on-site producer tours and tastings require an appointment in Italy. That is certainly the case in Piemonte. While you will find a few tasting rooms in better-known villages like Barolo and Barbaresco, by and large expect to put some time into researching and scheduling producer visits if you actually want to tour a winery.
Resources to explore:
• Wine Travel Sites: In addition to Wine Pass Italy, check out Winerist.
• Tourism Sites: Turin Epicurean Capital, Langhe Vini, Tartufo e Vino, Turin Italy Guide, Asti Turismo, Tu Langhe Roero, Turismo Torino
• Piemonte Wine and Travel Blogs : Girls Gotta Drink, Italianna, PiemonteMio, Wine Families, Food Wine Click, Living in the Langhe
• Look Local: Another great place to look is in your own backyard. Ask your neighborhood wine merchant or fine dining restaurant for tips. Wine lovers stick together, so they will likely have recommendations for you.
When you have identified who to visit, contact them early to schedule your tasting appointment. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t hear from them immediately. Smaller producers have limited staff who generally wear many hats, so it can take them a while to respond. And it’s important to call or email to confirm a day or two before the scheduled appointment to make sure they are still available. Producers who offer tours to English-speaking visitors will have a host who will speak English. Just know if you call to confirm you may get someone who doesn’t speak any English.
On big wine publications & big name producers:
Don’t rely solely on big publications like Wine Spectator or Decanter for identifying your producer wish list. They cite places like Gaja, Paolo Scovino, Giacomo Conterno, Chiara Boschis, Bartolo Mascarello, and other well-known winemakers. These producers are fantastic, but tastings can be difficult to secure.
If you hire a custom tour service and request these producers they will likely ask you to start the process with your local restaurateur or wine merchant. If a tour guide cannot get you into these producers, it does not mean they are not connected or respected in the region. It’s because these producers tend to fill with appointments for private customers. Starting with your local contacts gets you the best chance for a tasting, be it on your own or with a guide.
3. Regional Enotecas.
Piemonte wine travel isn’t just about visiting producers. Explore the Enoteca Regionale wine shops. These can be found in villages all over the area. The wine shops generally sell only wine from their particular region. They have a handful of wines open to taste, usually starting at about 2 euros each.
A starter list of Enoteche Regionali includes:
Enoteca Regionale del Barolo: Located in the village of Barolo, this has wines for sale from the entire Barolo zone. Recently the shop underwent a complete renovation and now features Enomatic dispensers so wine lovers can choose up to 32 different Barolo wines.
Cantina Comunale di La Morra: If you stop by La Morra (recommended – it has one of the best views of the Langhe and Barolo in the area), don't miss this enoteca in the town center, which has wine from all 70 La Morra producers. You can also buy online.
Enoteca Regionale del Barbaresco: Located in a restored church, the shop sells wines from the entire Barbaresco zone.
La Bottega dei Quattro Vini (Neive): Taste and purchase the 4 wines (quattro vini) produced in Neive, Barbaresco, Barbera, Dolcetto, and Moscato.
Enoteca Regionale Piemontese Cavour: Located in the 13th century Grinzane Cavour Castle, this shop stocks wines from all over Piemonte.
Enoteca del Roero: Located in Canale and features over 100 wines from Roero.
Enoteca Regionale Colline del Moscato: Located in a beautiful castle in Mango, this houses wines from over 80 winemakers and 20 food producers of the area.
Enoteca Regionale di Acqui Terme: Purchase and taste the wines of the Acquese and Ovadese wine zone, with a particular emphasis on Dolcetto d'Acqui and Brachetto d'Acqui.
Enoteca Regionale di Caluso:This enoteca carries wines from Torinese wine zone, including the white wine Erbaluce di Caluso
Enoteca Regionale della Serra: Located in a splendid castle overlooking a lake near Biella in Roppolo, this regional enoteca carries wines from Alto Piemonte and the Aosta Valley. They often hold wine tasting events and other wine-lover-friendly initiatives open to the public.
Enoteca Regionale di Canelli e dell’Astesano: This enoteca represents the great sparkling wines of Piemonte: Moscato d'Asti, Asti Spumante, and Alta Langa metodo classico wines; as well as reds and whites of the area, including Cortese, Loazzolo, Piemonte Chardonnay, Ruché, Grignolino, Freisa, Barbera, Dolcetto, and more.
Cantina Produttori Nebbiolo di Carema: Other than being located next to jaw-dropping terraced vineyards not far from Turin, visit this enoteca to taste some of the unique Nebbiolo wine made in Carema. The cooperative is made up of 78 producers.
Cantina del Borgo in Valentino Park, Turin:While this is a small enoteca, it lies along the Royal Wine Road (Strada Reale dei Vini Torinesi) and in the middle of the beautiful, mock-medieval village in Valentino Park in Turin. Enoteca della Serra runs this enoteca, so you’ll find a selection of Alto Piemonte wines.
Piemonte Wine: The Grapes
Primary Reds: Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto (Barolo and Barbaresco are made of Nebbiolo)
Primary Whites: Moscato d’Asti, Asti Spumante, Arneis, Cortese (bottled as Gavi)
→ Read The Indispensible Guide to Piemonte and its Wines to learn more.
4. Hire a Private Guide.
An easy and fun way to explore Piemonte is by hiring a tour guide. While this is a costly route, consider the money and time it takes to organize a tour on your own. If you hit the Piemonte wine trail solo, you will need a car (rental + gas), which also means navigating the curvy, hilly countryside. Even better, with a guide, you don’t have to spit and dump your wine. A full day package in Piemonte typically includes: transportation, lunch, applicable tasting fees, regional culture and wine information, tour planning, and travel tips. You can even find guides who will help you organize wine shipping.
5. Tasting Room Etiquette.
Appointments: Appointments are a must for a winery tour and tasting. If you are running late, as is common in Piemonte and Italy in general, let the producer know. Please be respectful of the Italian lunch hour, which starts between 12:30 p.m. and 1 p.m. and runs about 2 hours.
Rinsing the Glass: Often your host will pour a bit of wine in your glass, swirl it, then dump it. This rinses the glass before tasting or when in transition from white to red to sweet.
Favorites: Resist the urge to ask which wine is the producers “favorite”. To passionate winemakers and their staff, each wine is like their child, so they can’t choose. Instead ask, “What do you think is drinking best right now?”
Say Please: Revisiting a wine is generally no problem, just ask the host to pour you more. Please don’t pour for yourself without permission.
Cash or Card: Producers generally accept credit cards, but it is a good idea to confirm when scheduling the appointment with the producer or your tour guide. As a rule of thumb, try to pay with cash for smaller purchases (under 20 euros).
Tasting Fees: The practice of charging tasting fees varies by producer. Ask when booking about a fee and about payment method (some producers only use credit card machines for product purchases). If there is a tasting fee ask if it is waived with any wine purchases. If there is not a tasting fee and the producer opens numerous bottles (five or more), buy at least one bottle. It’s not necessary or required and they will not be offended if you do not. Just consider that the host has likely been away from other necessary activities at the winery and they are opening inventory for you. One inexpensive bottle can be a nice gesture to show appreciation for their time.
Photo from Alessandro Baffa, CC
6. Getting Wine Home.
There are three primary ways to get your wines home.
1. Importer Information: Ask the producer for importer contact information in your country to try to source it near you. Keep in mind that some smaller producers may not export, so the visit may be your only way to get their wines.
2. Shipping: One of the best options in the Langhe is shipping from Mailboxes in Alba. The cost to the U.S. is 80 euros for 6 bottles and 135 euros for 12 bottles. From Alba to the UK the price is 50 euros (+ tax, about 22%) for 6 bottles, 65 euros (+tax) for 12 bottles. Mailboxes Etc. has a great network around Italy. If you plan to ship, find a Mailboxes near your lodging before your trip, and contact them for shipping costs and logistics. When you are ready to ship, take your wine, fill out a shipping form, and they handle packaging in styrofoam containers. Find locations at the Mailboxes Etc. Italy website (http://www.mbe.it/). If you hire a tour guide, many here can help you with shipping.
3. Wine on a Plane: Checked luggage is the only option for flying, so make sure your wine is secure. Options for this include traveling with bubble wrap (bring it with you as you might not find it, nor will you want to track it down on holiday), plastic wine bottle holders (designed for travel), and specially designed wine travel cases. Options include:
VinGardeValise 12-bottle wine suitcase (available in the U.S. only).
Lazenne Wine Check Luggage (available in the U.S. and in select European retailers).
Numerous options exist for individual plastic wine bags. Find them at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk. Popular brands include VinniBag and WineSkin.
There are too many details on travel with alcohol by country, so check out Lazenne’s complete write-up, Flying with Wine and Alcohol 101, which reviews Europe and North America. When clearing U.S. customs always state your wine is for personal consumption.
Last, but not least, be ready to toast in Italiano!
Cin cin! = Cheers!
Salute! = To health!
Photo from Jeremy Evans Thomas, CC
Enjoy your Piemonte wine travels and let us know tips you’ve picked up while visiting this beautiful region.
Valerie Quintanilla is an American travel and wine writer who lives in the Langhe. Follow her expat chronicles on her blog, www.GirlsGottaDrink.com, Twitter, and Instagram. While marketing is her official trade, she also organizes travel and wine tours around the Langhe.