Boca is a town for the wine adventurist. This northern village in the province of Novara, population 1,195, is not a tourist destination in itself unless you’re a wine seeker or, perhaps, a pilgrim. Instead, its red Boca wine, certified DOC in 1969, is the town's principal attraction.
Traveling to Boca is no small feat if a car is unavailable. This, however, is all the more reason for a serious wine tourist to be determined to taste this evasive wine: Boca DOC must be sought after both at home and abroad, but the treasure is worth the hunt. Great wine from Boca might seem like a new gem of high quality today, but the zone has been producing praiseworthy wine "since ancient times," as Novarese noble Pietro Azario affirmed in 1300.
To reach Boca, travel to Borgomanero by way of Novara, a charming city to explore before catching the next train or bus; a bus may extend the trip by 40 minutes, but it travels through beautiful countryside, by the Castle of Barengo, and a smattering of tidy villages bursting with flowers in the springtime, a real-life postcard that is worth the extra mileage. Switch buses at Borgomanero at the bus station in Piazza XX Aprile off of Via Maioni (5-10 minutes' walking distance from the train station). On this last leg of the trip, notice the roadsides tunneled in green forests and the hills becoming steeper; Boca is the last wine town of the most northern Piedmontese wine zone, and after its hills come the foothills of the Alps.
The bus stops at the base of Boca's Town Hall, the front wall of which is graced with white statues holding wine chalices and bunches of grapes, a big wine barrel welcoming visitors to the community. In the green space across the road is a map of the area. Follow indications down Via Senato to the Parish Church of St. Gaudenzio and its bell tower, constructed in the Medieval era.
Before jumping into winery hopping and wine tasting, take a 15-minute walk up the road in the direction of Grignasco to the Sanctuary of Boca, designed in 1830 by Alessandro Antonelli and visited by a few thousand pilgrims every year. The Sanctuary is surrounded by a stream and a lush, green park, but just a few dozen years ago it was actually surrounded by vineyards.
In fact, the story of Boca is similar to other northern Piedmont wine zones such as Ghemme and Caluso: once, 100,000 acres of vineyards covered the rolling hills, but after phylloxera swept through Italy and ravaged native grapevines, younger generations of winemakers searched instead for a different line of work in Milan and Novara. Recently, the tiny wine zone of Boca is feeling a revival in its own small way as interest in its potential grows.
Once in town again, let the wine tasting begin! A trip this far north in Piedmont's wine zones gives you the chance to sample terroirs of rarely-mentioned wines. Boca DOC is, in fact, another facet of Piedmont's most highly-hailed grape, the Nebbiolo. In Alto Piedmontese form, it is expressed as a velvety wine with juicy red fruits and a spicy complexity. In contrast to its southern Barolo and Barbaresco cousins in the Langhe where the climate is warmer and drier, the nearby mountains and high altitude keep the air fresh and humid, with chilly nights and sun-warmed days. Boca is actually the highest wine region in the Novara-Vercelli area at 389 m (1276 ft).
Choosing a winery here is somewhat like choosing from a menu at a high-end restaurant (Italian, of course): although the selection is limited, each dish--or winery--will satisfy.
Begin by tasting wine in the Enoteca of Boca in Piazza Matteotti (also called Bar Pinguino) right near the Town Hall. It houses some of Boca's best wines plus others from the region and beyond. Boca itself has just 11 DOC producers, so why not sample a wine from each? Or, stop by the Pro Loco association down the hill on Viale Partigiani next to Osteria Ori Pari: If you happen to be visiting during mid-May to early June, the Boca Wine Fair and Tasting is held annually (this year marked the 42nd), offering numerous wines from every producer and the option to pair it with local cheeses, salumi, and bread. Whichever month you visit, stop by for tourist information, as this non-profit is active in cultural and social events all year long.
Now it's time to visit some of the wineries in the area. As a small zone with few producers, contact the wineries before visiting and they'll certainly give you a warm welcome (a piece of advice that Alice Feiring has also emphasized). Within walking distance from the center of Boca, though forming a triangle and therefore necessitating a choice of direction before setting out, are the wineries Azienda Agricola Terrini and Cantina Vallana in Maggiora; Cantine Rogiotto and Swiss-owned Le Piane in Baraggia; and, to stretch your legs if already at the Sanctuary, beyond this is Poderi ai Valloni. Further out, but only about ten minutes by car, are the Azienda Agricola Carlo Davide near Grignasco; Azienda Agricola Marcodini near Borgomanero; Cascina Montalbano in the small community of Montalbano, an especially eye-pleasing estate; Cantine del Castello of Conti wines in Cureggio; and the Antico Borgo dei Cavalli, which has a particularly nice area for wine tastings.