Sarah Knowles MW, having taken over the reins from Sebastian Payne MW for buying our Italian wines, was due to visit Piedmont to make final selections for our en primeur offer of Barolo wines (published in March 2020).
I was asked to accompany her. It was a great opportunity to learn more about this fascinating region and its wines (which you may have picked up from our previous reports on the region, are a little bit complex!). Importantly, it will also help me to share that knowledge with you in my capacity as Tastings & Events Co-ordinator and also with my colleagues (I teach on our WSET – Wine and Spirit Education Trust courses, here at The Wine Society).
Needless to say, I can thoroughly recommend a visit to the region, whether you are an aficionado of the wines or not; and for foodies, it's a must. So I'll leave the wine write-ups to Sarah Knowles MW and will focus here instead on some touristy tips for would-be travellers.
How to get there
We flew into Turin and then hired a car from the airport. From Turin it took us just over an hour to drive south to Verduno, where we were based for the week. Unlike other more spread-out wine regions, it's quite feasible to base yourself in one place for these buying trips and drive out each day to different producers.
When to go?
September is a lovely time to visit Piedmont, as along with the atmospheric fog that the region is so famous for (the Italian for fog – nebbia – actuallly gives its name to the principle grape of the region – nebbiolo), the rolling hills are covered with vines whose leaves are turning to autumnal hues. It really is quite stunning.
A top tip if you want to impress your friends is that the leaves of the dolcetto grapevines turn red, whereas Barolo's (which are nebbiolo vines) turn green, and those of the barbera grape turn yellow!
The other bonus to visiting in autumn is that you're in truffle season which runs from September to the end of December. Fortuitously, it turns out that the Langhe, Turin and Montferrato hills in Piedmont are particularly suitable for white truffles and indeed they did make an appearance on practically every menu. Much to our delight. If you're lucky enough to get your hands on some of these glorious tubers, try them with a (large) glass of Barolo – preferably with a bit of age. The earthy, mushroom aromas in the wine mirror the savoury character of truffles for a heavenly combination. I will of course talk more about food later!
And when to avoid…. Sebastian Payne MW, who has been visiting the area for many years advises trying to avoid coming between late December and February as it often snows then in the region. Pretty spectacular scenery, but lethal driving conditions, as with some of the steep hairpin bends you encounter as you make your way through the hills of Langhe and Monferrato, you really are taking your life into your hands.