Plan your Italian getaway with these eight top Piedmont wineries to visit, from Lonely Planet's new book Wine Trails.
Eight Piedmont wineries to visit
01 Michele Taliano
The Tanaro River divides the Barolo and Barbaresco vineyards of the Langhe from Roero, a more biodiverse landscape encompassing farm and woodlands too.
Red wines made in the Roero may never achieve the greatness of the best vintages from Barolo and Barbaresco in the Langhe, though today a new generation of Roero viticoltori are pushing new boundaries and producing some exceptional Barbera and Nebbiolo wines. It’s when it comes to white wines that the Roero terroir comes into its own, making a serious reputation for the crisp, acidic Arneis and more fragrant Favorita.
Although the Taliano family have a small parcel of vines in Barbaresco, it is two other wines that really impress at a tasting in their modern winery. Their robust Roero Nebbiolo is perfect to accompany a plate of salami and prosciutto, while the more full-bodied 2009 Roero Riserva is best opened a while before and should be paired with a rich brasato of braised beef or wild boar. They are part of a new breed of winemakers turning back to old-fashioned cement vats instead of steel. Accompany Azio Taliani on a tour of the vineyard and you embark on an adventure safari on rutted tracks through dense forest before coming out at a breathtaking vista of graphic crisscrossing vines. Be sure to ask Azio to open a bottle of their intensely aromatic sparkling Birbet, made from Brachetto del Roero, a native grape that is fast disappearing.
www.talianomichele.com; tel +39 0173-976100; Corso Manzoni 24, Montà; by appointment
02 Cantina Mascarello Bartolo
Maria Teresa Mascarello may not have a website or even a mobile phone, but visitors are certainly made to feel welcome at her tiny cantina in the heart of the medieval wine town of Barolo.
The winemakers around here are divided into modernists, who favour single vineyard cuvées, aged in small French barrique barrels, and traditionalists who insist on blending different parcels of vines and using huge Slavonian oak casks. Maria Teresa, following in the steps of her father Bartolo, a pioneer figure in Barolo winemaking, is definitely a traditionalist. She’s a fierce defender of Barolo’s historic identity, making wines of intense purity and finesse. And for the moment, the pendulum of popularity is swinging back in the direction of these kinds of wines.
Working a small 5-hectare (12-acre) estate of prime Nebbiolo vines, Maria Teresa does not resemble the typical red-faced Piemontese viticoltore, but rather a delicate pixie who looks miniscule as she walks past the towering wooden vats in her cantina.
Tel +39 0173-56125; Via Roma 15, Barolo; by appointment
Serralunga is a spectacular amphitheatre of vineyards, and Paolo Manzone’s cascina (farmhouse and cellar) is hidden away down a zigzag dirt track. A lengthy tasting session with Paolo is the perfect opportunity to understand the complex world of Barolo. He is an innovative viticoltore, forever experimenting but never abandoning the traditions surrounding Barolo’s unique grape, Nebbiolo. It has been grown here for seven centuries, and takes its name from the mist that often descends on the vineyards in autumn.
He describes his crisp, fresh Dolcetto d’Alba as ‘a wine I make for my father – not elegant but rustic, drinkable, like the wine he sold in demijohns’. Meanwhile the round, robust Nebbiolo d’Alba is ‘my Burgundy because I think the Nebbiolo grape can stand on its own in the same way Pinot Noir does in France’.
He makes two very different Barolo, the traditional Serralunga, aged in large, old oak barrels, and the more modern Meriame, using smaller, new French barrels. And he has just built a Fort Knox–like strong room where he aims to stock 10 years of successive vintages to see how they develop.
www.barolomeriame.com; tel +39 0173-613113; Cascina Meriame, Serralunga d’Alba; open 10am-noon & 2-6pm Mon-Sat, 10am-noon Sun
04 Ca del Baio
Three generations work together in this idyllic winery nestling in a valley of vineyards. This is classic Barbaresco country, a wine that historically has been the ‘little brother’ of Barolo, but when you taste this family’s vintages, you’ll discover it can reach equally great heights.
The winemaking is in the hands of three dynamic sisters, Paola, Valentina and Federica, who recount ‘when our great-grandfather bought the land in 1900, everyone thought he was mad, that it was just worthless woodlands. But he always believed in the potential of the soil and began planting vines, firstly selling demijohns in the post-war industrial boom of Torino, then bottling the wine himself and concentrating on quality’.
Their Treiso cru from around the winery is surprisingly supple, while the cru from vineyards in Barbaresco itself is far more complex and really needs to be aged. Don’t miss the eminently drinkable Dolcetto – ‘great with a pizza,’ says Paola with a grin. There’s also a wonderful Moscato d’Asti, just 5% alcohol but bursting with fruit, like a fizzy grape juice.
www.cadelbaio.com; tel +39 0173-638219; Via Ferrere Sottano 33, Treiso; by appointment
05 Cantina del Glicine
This unique cantina is a must-visit for Barbaresco lovers, stepping back in time when wine was
made in a slower, more instinctive way, rather than depending on modern technology. Adriana Marzi and Roberto Bruni are an eccentric couple but very serious about the wine they produce from their small 6-hectare (15-acre) estate. Before the tasting, Adriana takes you through a forbidding blood-red door that leads down to the cantina, what the Piemontese call ‘Il Cutin’, a natural grotto that is then hollowed out and extended into a maze of damp, cool cellars. This one dates back to 1582, and is like walking into a scene from Lord of the Rings, with mushrooms growing over the damp walls, greedily gobbled up by snails, dark corners stacked with ancient wooden barrels, and alcoves filled with dusty bottles laid down to age.
The younger Barbaresco vintages are not easy for tasting, as they really need a good few years more to fully mature, while even the supposedly less-complex Barbera and Nebbiolo are seriously intense. And beware that Adriana always insists visitors try her famous grappa.
www.cantinadelglicine.it; tel +39 0173-67215; Via Giulio Cesare 1, Neive; by appointment
The words Asti and Spumante have been famous throughout the world for more than 150 years as the symbol of Italian sparkling wine. Although today more attention is turned to bubbly Prosecco and the refined metodo classico of Franciacorta, the story of Spumante began in Piedmont, specifically at the house of Gancia, whose castle still dominates the medieval town of Canelli.
Inspired by a long stay in Champagne where he learnt the alchemy of producing method champenoise, Carlo Gancia returned in 1850 to Canelli, most famous for the aromatic, fruity Moscato grape, and planted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to create the first Italian Spumante.
Like all the famous Champagne houses, Gancia has become a huge multinational, controlling 2000 hectares (5000 acres) of vines, which produce some 25 million bottles a year, and although the original Gancia family are still present, a Russian vodka company has a controlling interest. But a tour of the historic cantina in Canelli remains an unforgettable experience, not just for the maze of subterranean cathedrallike cellars, but for the family’s unparalleled historic collection of advertising memorabilia that for a century promoted a unique Italian lifestyle. It’s only open one Sunday per month, so call ahead for information.
www.gancia.com; tel +39 0141-8301; Corso Liberta 66, Canelli; by Appointment
Braida is forever associated with the name of the late Giacamo Bologna, another of the mythical figures of Piedmont wine, along with Angelo Gaja and Bartolo Mascarello. Planting the then humble grape of Barbera in the unsung region between Asti and Alessandria back in the 1960s, Bologna proved that Piedmont’s great wines did not have to be restricted to the Nebbiolo-based Barolo and Barbaresco.
Using 100% Barbera and ageing for long periods in small French oak barrels to compensate for the lack of natural tannin, he produced stunning vintages of the full-bodied Bricco dell’Uccelone and the intense, late-harvest Ai Suma. In contrast, the wonderfully drinkable La Monella (‘The Tomboy’) is refreshing, frizzante and named after Giacomo’s daughter Raffaella.
Today, this dynamic winery is run by Giacomo’s children, Raffaella and Giuseppe, who have expanded the estate to over 50 hectares (125 acres), but continue to make wine following their father’s principles. After a visit to the state-of-the-art cantina, don’t miss lunch at their family Trattoria I Bologna.
www.braida.it; tel +39 0141-644113; Via Roma 94, Rocchetta Tanaro; open 9am-noon & 2-6pm Mon-Sat, also Sun Sep-Nov
08 Il Mongetto
North of the Langhe, the wilder region of Monferrato may be less renowned for its wine than its neighbour, but being under-the-radar means wine travellers get a great welcome, and viticoltori here are cultivating a selection of indigenous grapes.
The brothers Carlo and Roberto Santopietro have converted an 18th-century palazzetto (frescoed mansion) into a guesthouse where guests stay the night, wines are tasted, and at the weekend a cosy dining room serves local specialities.
Carlo, a bearded giant of man, is the winemaker. He produces not just a robust Barbera aged in small oak barrels, but surprising reds such as the fruity but tannic Grignolino, a vivace (lively) Cortese, the slightly amabile (fruity and easy-to-drink) Freisa, which records show has been grown here since the 15th century, and Malvasia di Casorzo – sweet, fizzy and only 5% alcohol. Roberto meanwhile travels all over the world promoting Piedmont specialities like bagna cauda (hot dip) and mostarda d’uva (grape mustard).
www.mongetto.it; tel +39 0142-933442; Via Piave 2, Vignale Monferrato; open daily by appointment
Reproduced with permission from Wine Trails, 1st edn. © 2015 Lonely Planet.