There’s a self-assured elegance about Turin. Its royal palaces and charming succession of piazzas reminiscent of the sets of an itinerant theatre, with the Alps creating a dramatic backdrop and the majestic River Po flowing through.
At the heart of Italy’s most prestigious wine region, Piedmont, the city has a natural allure for wine lovers thanks to the proximity of such world-class areas as the Langhe. There is, however, much more to the local wine scene than Barolo and Barbaresco. Wines like Carema DOC – an exceptional Nebbiolo from spectacular mountain-terrace pergolas in the north – and Freisa – a native variety actually grown within the city – are a joy to discover. There’s an exciting trend for local whites, with Erbaluce, Favorita and the citrussy, fresh Nascetta pleasingly present on wine lists.
Where’s the best place to start?
The centre of Turin, with its mosaic of neighbourhoods, is easy to explore on foot. A good way to start is with a stroll through the central piazzas with their historic cafés and speciality shops, towards Palazzo Reale where, in an impressive mid-19th century marketing stunt, 325 barrels of Barolo were famously delivered for Savoy ruler Carlo Alberto.
Just off the piazza, the narrow cobbled streets of the Quadrilatero Romano, which culminates at the vast and colourful Porta Palazzo market, and the popular San Salvario quarter are among the locals’ favourite areas for their many bars and eateries. From Michelin-starred restaurants to low-key piole, Turin’s dining scene is nothing if not varied and gastronomic traditions are deeply ingrained: filled agnolotti pasta, beef tartare, vitello tonnato (veal with tuna sauce) and platters of local cheeses feature regularly.
When is the best time to visit?
Lovely all year round, autumn is an especially good time to visit Turin, when nearby vineyards are ablaze with colour and the major wine event, Vendemmia a Torino, takes place (www.vendemmiatorino.it) – 2021 dates tbc) with tastings and masterclasses held at historic locations including Palazzo Reale and Villa della Regina, a 17th century Savoy residence in a birds-eye position overlooking the centre where vines grow now, as they did back then. Major restoration work in the early 2000s saved the villa from collapse, restoring interiors and reclaiming part of the original vineyard plot where the same clone of Freisa, a close relation of Nebbiolo, was replanted.
‘It was a tough challenge,’ says Luca Balbiano, who’s behind the vineyard project, ‘but our first harvest was a dream come true – even more so when we tasted the wine.’ The Balbiano family winery has been instrumental in the rediscovery of Freisa which, high in acidity and tannins, can be complicated.
‘The calcareous terrain here is very different to the soil at our winery, 15km away on the other side of the hill, so we weren’t sure what results we’d get.’ The wine, elegant and ageworthy with peppery overtones, gives a real taste of all the culture and character of Turin.
Turin city guide: 10 top places to wine and dine
One of a wonderful trend of wine shops with tables, this fresh and appealing contemporary store run by brothers Edoardo and Andrea Gazzera has an encyclopaedic selection of around 1,700 labels including rare local varieties Baratuciat or Montanera. Choose your bottle from the well-ordered shelves or go for one of the 15 wines by the glass and enjoy dishes such as tajarin pasta with sausage and leeks, or egg-dough focaccia.
011 6502183, rossorubino.net
Run by four brothers, this place near the Valentino riverside park is the archetypal down-to-earth piola. Come for the atmosphere and enjoy Turin’s signature oversized grissini with tasty home cooking, like pasta with beans, meatballs, or gnocchi with toma cheese and pistachio. Wines include local reds Ruché, Pelaverga and Dolcetto, as well as the ubiquitous Barbera and Nebbiolo. Open 7.30am-7.30pm as a bar and lunchtime trattoria, plus dinner Thurs-Sat.
011 657465, Via Galliari 28
A historic wine shop offering 900 labels, including the Rabezzana family’s own, combined with an all-day eatery serving the chef’s own takes on local favourites such as veal-filled agnolotti pasta with a Barbera wine and black truffle sauce, plus seasonal vegetarian and seafood dishes. Pasta is made at the adjacent 100-year-old Giustetti deli, run by another branch of the family. Jazz events are held in the contemporary downstairs dining room.
011 543070, www.osteriarabezzana.it
There’s a welcoming, homely atmosphere at this 100-year-old cheese shop where young owner Chiara Franzosa, who took over from her grandmother, chats on first name terms with clients who’ve known her since she was born. Chiara selects her stock of up to 90 different cheeses from small producers, largely in Piedmont, including rarities such as Slow Food-promoted Montébore. Contact her in advance for a tasting or to order a picnic hamper.
328 0166854, latteriabera.it
Villa della Regina
The beautifully restored interiors and Italianate gardens are truly charming but it’s the working vineyard that’s the real highlight here. It’s a 20 minute walk up from riverside Piazza Vittorio Veneto and views, dominated by the cupola and spire of the city-symbol Mole, which houses an exceptional cinema museum, are magnificent. Book to taste Villa della Regina Freisa di Chieri DOC here or at the Balbiano winery (15km) where it’s made.
Villa: 011 8195035, polomusealepiemonte.beniculturali.it
Winery: 011 9434044, www.balbiano.com
Homemade bread and pasta, delicious traditional dishes such as vitello tonnato, truffle pasta or finanziera stew in winter, plus around 800 wines sourced from small-scale producers by Gianluigi, who is passionate about Nebbiolo, make this place understandably popular. Book a table on the pleasant piazza or opt for the attractive dark green and wood interior, and finish your meal with a chocolate cremoso paired with a Barolo Chinato aromatised wine.
011 6696693, www.scannabue.it
Caffè-Vini Emilio Ranzini
Emiliano and Alberto are the third generation of the Ranzini family to run this atmospheric and refreshingly low-key old-style wine bar dating from the mid-19th century. The wines are all local – try the citrussy white Nascetta, Freisa or Grignolino with crostini, a platter of cheese, or a traditional bite like anchovies with green sauce. A keen cyclist, Emiliano also runs the bike workshop opposite.
011 7650477, Facebook
Casa del Barolo
Book for a fun, informative tasting with Carlotta at the wine shop she runs with her father Francesco Molinari, who has built up an impressive collection of rare bottles over the 45 years since he opened. Otherwise just pop in to enjoy a glass with a gourmet platter, or go to their restaurant round the corner for braised beef and other local dishes or the dedicated vegetarian, duck or seafood menus.
011 546875, www.casadelbarolo.com
Ristorante del Cambio
One of Turin’s nine Michelin-starred restaurants and a city institution dating from 1757, with sumptuous decor and an elegant al fresco area. Reserve the chef’s table for a privileged personalised culinary experience and take your time over the wine list, which includes 3,000 labels, many from Piedmont but others from all over the world; the historic cellar is magical. Experience the house style at less expense at their bistro-patisserie, Farmacia, next-door.
011 546690, delcambio.it
One of around a dozen historic cafés in Turin, Pepino first opened in 1884. Take a seat on charming Piazza Carignano to enjoy a Pinguino, the world’s first chocolate-covered gelato on a stick, invented here in 1939, or opt for a dairy-free avocado-based gelato. Other must-tries include a bicerin, the city’s speciality coffee with chocolate and cream, or a locally-produced vermouth, another of Turin’s contributions to the world.
011 542009, www.gelatipepino.it