In the vineyard-dressed landscape of the Langhe, in Italy’s Piedmont region, hillsides rise steeply on one side, then drop off more gradually on the other. The name ‘Langhe’ is believed to have Celtic roots, meaning ‘tongues of land,’ alluding to these steep hillsides, and the area’s raised valleys. Our host, Marco Scaglione, from Meet Piemonte, described it this way:
“The Langhe’s soil has more of a clay composition, whereas the neighboring Monferrato and Roero districts tend to be more sandy. Imagine if you dropped a handful of sand onto a table top; the sand would form into a cone of sorts — more rolling, more gradual. Clay, however, can be molded into more steep hillsides and valleys.”
Like the Roero and the Monferrato, the Langhe landscape is also inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Barolo & Barbaresco, the ‘King & Queen’ Wines of the Langhe
Barolo and Barbaresco are the wines most famously produced in the Langhe. Both of these powerhouse reds are made with the Nebbiolo grape. However, despite that commonality, the wines have distinctly-different personalities and manners of production.
Barolo wine, for example, must spend two years in barrels and an additional year aging in the bottle, whereas Barbaresco must only spend one year in the barrel and one year in the bottle.
While Barbaresco wine can generally be enjoyed when it’s younger, it doesn’t tend to age as well as Barolo does. Barbaresco is also said to be lighter, and more feminine.
Tasting a Trio of Wine at the Montaribaldi Winery
Surrounded by a sea of vineyards resembling a natural amphitheater, the family-owned Montaribaldi Winery greets visitors with wooden barrels brimming with red begonias, a children’s playground, and a table shaded by a grapevine-covered pagoda.
Inside, we’d meet Antonella Rivetti, the daughter-in-law of Montaribaldi’s founders, Pino and Carla Taliano. On a tour that would take us through the fermentation room and cellar, Antonella and Marco walked us through the basics of what Montaribaldi does.
“Barbaresco wine is the queen while Barolo is the king,”Antonella said, with a smile, while pointing to a bust likeness of the so-called ‘father of Barbaresco,’ Domizio Cavazza.
“At first, Barbaresco was the poor brother of Barolo, but it got recognition thanks to Cavazza’s help,” she added.
Cavazza, it turns out, was a gifted agronomist, who not only established a winemaking school in nearby Alba, but who also co-founded a cooperative that produced the first Barbaresco wine in 1894.
Like Barbaresco’s founder before them, the Montaribaldi Winery family is also involved in their community. When the winery commemorated its 20th anniversary last year, the team decided to donate money to a charity benefitting children with special needs rather than have a lavish party.
As for its winemaking philosophy, Montaribaldi is not yet certified organic, but the winery is moving in that direction.
“It’s a process that takes a while,” said Antonella. “We do use some natural fertilizer from stables, and some stems are composted as fertilizer.”
Unlike Monferrato wine country, which we’d visited the day before, Antonella explained that Montaribaldi doesn’t remove the grass that grows around the base of their grapevines.
“The better you do in the vineyard, the less work there is after the harvest,” she said. “Instead of removing the grass, we just cut it short. The grass helps to absorb water, which in turn controls humidity. It also helps prevent landslides.”
The Barbaresco Tower’s Dazzling Views
“The cities of Alba and Asti were enemies for centuries,” Marco said, as we took in extraordinary views of the Langhe-Roero countryside from the medieval Barbaresco Tower.
“Because of this rivalry, Alba had this tower to watch out for Asti.”
Barbaresco’s 30-meter-tall brick tower had only months earlier been opened to the public, however, it’s been around since medieval times — perhaps as far back as the 12th century.
Today, Alba and Asti are no longer warring city-states, of course, but the two cities do maintain a friendly rivalry. For example, Alba annually holds a donkey Palio race that pokes fun at Asti’s much-revered horse race. The latter event dates back centuries.
From the Barbaresco Tower, we had gorgeous views of the surrounding wine country. We could see the Tanaro River (which divides the Langhe and Roero districts). Off in the distance we could also glimpse Alba. Unfortunately, a perpetual haze prevented us from seeing the majestic, snow-capped Alps that give the Piedmont region its name. Piedmont literally means ‘at the foot of the mountain’.
Once back on Barbaresco’s cobbled streets, Shawn, Marco, and I passed bicyclists enjoying an afternoon coffee at a café. We also spotted a church-turned-wine-shop and a man selling local products. I was delighted to make an edible purchase: a traditional Piemonte cake made of hazelnuts. The Torta Nocciola Piemonte was simply wrapped in brown paper and tied with a twine-like rope. We brought the cake back to Germany, where we dressed it up for my father’s birthday.
The Snail-Shaped Town of Serralunga d’Alba
Motoring through the backroads of the Langhe, Shawn, Marco, and I embarked on a discussion of Italian misconceptions. Marco was passionate about the topic.
“In Italy, there is really no such thing as Alfredo sauce, or Chicken Parmesan. Spaghetti & Meatballs are also more of an Italian-American invention. Immigrants wanted to show their new social status and the fact they could afford meat, and thus the dish was born,” Marco said
Marco then asked me what international chain I hadn’t noticed in Italy. Shawn and I rarely frequent fast-food chains, so Marco caught me without a response.
“Starbucks, of course! In Italy, it’s customary to stand at a counter for a quick drink. You don’t see Italians commuting with coffee cups in hand, as you might elsewhere in the world.”
Our mini misconception lesson complete, we’d arrived in Serralunga d’Alba. The town’s nucleus is its fortress, from which businesses and homes spiral out in a snail-like pattern. Unlike Alba and Barolo, which seem to be more on the tourist radar, Serralunga d’Alba was rather quiet. A female resident read a newspaper on a bench, laundry hung from upstairs balconies, and we passed empty streets. No doubt, much of the town’s residents were enjoying the afternoon siesta or riposo. After our wine tasting, and the day’s whirlwind four cities’ tour, I felt as though I could join them in that endeavor!
Barolo Town, ‘The King’s’ Namesake
As we approached the world-famous town of Barolo, Marco mentioned that Barolo wine had actually been fine-tuned by a French woman named Juliette Colbert, from Bordeaux. Juliette married the prominent Marquis of Barolo, Carlo Tancredi Falletti, in the early 19th century. The pair’s coat of arms is still visible on Barolo’s castle. Today it houses a wine museum.
Juliette is said to have implemented Bordeaux-style wine-growing techniques in Piedmont. In addition to her oenological know-how, Juliette is also remembered for advancing various women’s and children’s causes. She also established a foundation for women and children that still exists today.
Elegant Alba, Home of Chocolate, Truffles & Wine
Though we witnessed a mock truffle hunt the day before in Monferrato, we would miss Alba’s famed White Truffle Fair by just a few weeks. There, prized fungi can fetch thousands of euros per kilo!
We would see other fixtures for which this capital city of the Langhe is known, mainly the Ferrero Chocolate Factory, and Alba’s elegant Neo-Gothic cathedral. We found it interesting to hear how the cathedral’s interior had evolved. Marco explained that the priest originally had his back turned to the congregation. Later, an evolving philosophy dictated that he face the attendees and be closer to them. This more recent evolution resulted in a new chandelier and altar being constructed. The light fixture is ultra-modern, and apparently stirred up quite a controversy when it was installed.
Video of This Experience:
Where in the World?
- Italy’s Piedmont (Piemonte) region is located about 140 km (85 miles) southwest of Milan. High-speed trains link the Piedmont area to Italian tourist meccas such as Rome and Venice. See Trenitalia for schedules and prices.
- We traveled by train from Milan to Asti, and even day-tripped to Turin using Asti as our home-base for 3 out of 4 nights. In Asti, we stayed at the La Fabbrica dell’Oro Hotel (affiliate link). We found it to be clean and centrally-located, and we enjoyed our Palio-themed room, as well as all the black & white family photographs in the entryway. (The other night, we stayed at a lovely agriturismo in the Monferrato hills.)
- While we found mass transit accessibility to be good in larger Italian cities like Asti and Turin, we were told that public transportation is quite limited in Piemonte’s countryside. Locals routinely advised us to rent a car or hire a private driver.
- Marco, one of Meet Piemonte‘s co-founders, coordinated the details of our visit in advance, and guided us through each excursion. He and his colleagues lead customized tours covering everything from wine-tastings, to cooking classes, truffle hunts, hiking and biking excursions, and visits to Piedmont’s rice fields. Having worked in the tourism industry for more than a decade, Marco speaks fluent English and also helped ensure that tour partners took into account my gluten intolerance.
- For more information, visit the following sites:
- Need more inspiration? This link contains an index of all my posts from Italy.
Disclosure & Thanks:
Meet Piemonte hosted us during this day’s excursion.
We’d like to say Mille grazie to Marco for being such a knowledgeable, patient, and enthusiastic host.
Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved. My husband, Shawn, created the video.
37 thoughts on “Piedmont, Italy: The Wine Landscapes of the Langhe”
such amazing journey, valuable information and educational.
Thank you, Mihran! Indeed, we were lucky to embark on this adventure through Northern Italy. I’m pleased to hear that you found the details useful.
Ah, now I need to go!!!
Fleming, glad to have helped put Piemonte on your travel radar. Have you been to other parts of Northern Italy?
Not really! I studied abroad in Rome and have traveled extensively in central and southern Italy but not northern! It has a special place as it is my boyfriend’s maternal grandfather’s homeland! Love this post!! Have you been to Southern Italy? If so, please post!! Always love to see more!
Having ancestral roots in a place can add such a nice depth to a visit, so it’s neat that your boyfriend’s family has ties to the northern part of the country. With the exception of short-weekend jaunts to Sardinia and Sicily, I can’t say that I’ve been farther south than Rome, though. We’re now living south of Sicily, in Malta, so we’re looking forward to exploring more of Southern Italy. Are there any spots you’d recommend from your travels, Fleming?
Beautiful pictures and wonderful descriptions! Thanks for sharing all of your travel tips! So helpful…
Hi Jean, I’m happy the post was helpful to you. Are you headed to Piedmont soon? Seeing your love of all things culinary, I suspect you’ll be in heaven there. :)
No trips planned for the immediate future… though maybe next summer?! We took our children to Rome and Tuscany a few years ago and fell in love. It was absolutely life changing… taking a deep breath, slowing down, and enjoying life with family and friends is the priority. The food, wine, and beauty found all around- from the rows of cypress dotting the landscape to the Sistine Chapel- is just magical. Even the kids said, “Mommy, you’re nicer in Italy!” ;)
What a gift for your children to be able to travel at a young age! Here’s hoping you and your family will someday soon be on a plane, headed to a slow-travel destination you’ve been yearning to see. As for me, I’d been to Turin for the Olympics, but had never explored the surrounding Piemonte countryside. We missed Asti’s Palio horserace and White Truffle hunts by just a few weeks, but got just enough of a pleasant glimpse that we’re looking forward to return to Piemonte some autumn. Wish you a terrific Thursday!
Thank you, Tricia! We were fortunate enough to catch one of the trials for Siena’s Palio. What a memory I have of that night… the horse that won was paraded up and down the narrow streets of his contrada or neighborhood. Long tables were set up going the length of the lane and tablecloths marked with the motif of that particular contrada were unrolled. In minutes at least a hundred people of all ages, from infants to great grandmothers were seated, ready to enjoy the block party. All of this at 10 o’clock at night. It was beautiful!
Your Siena Palio experience sounds magical, Jean; what a great sense of community and tradition such events foster! We had to smile when we heard that the historically-rival cities of Alba and Asti (both in Italy’s Piedmont region) both have Palios of their own. Asti’s traditional Palio is said to be one of Italy’s oldest, and the nearby city of Alba organized a Palio degli Asini (donkey palio) to mock Asti’s. :)
Love the sense of humor the people of Alba have! ;)
It’s a great and very interesting post, dear Tricia. Your informations are detailed and the pictures bring you down there (dreaming of good wines and tartufi on plain pasta)… I wrote you an sms but since I didn’t get an answer I’m affraid you didn’t get it… is about Annibale :-( I’ll soon write you an e-mail or a letter (when you will find a space to stay in La Valletta. Kisses and hugs from all of us claudine
Dear Claudine, thank you for your kind words! I do hope that we’ll again be able to share a lovely bottle of wine together. Indeed, I did not get your SMS, but I suspect that is because I now have a new Maltese mobile number. I wrote you an email message last night, as I’m sorry to hear that things may not be well with precious Annibale. Hugs to you and the entire family, and we shall talk soon.
I just stumbled upon your amazing blog (to which I just subscribed) and I was excited to see that your last post is about the place where I live, Piemonte! I’m glad to see that you had a good experience here in Italy! The photos you took are amazing and I have to admit that hazelnut cake is one of my favorite desserts ever!! :)
Have a super nice day! Italy will be super happy to welcome you again :D
Hi Martina, you’re lucky to call such a beautiful part of Italy home. With that being said, the expression, “the grass is always greener on the other side” comes to mind too, so I’m sure you get wanderlust as well. Do you live in Turin? Regarding the hazelnut cake, is that a dessert that’s customary for certain holidays, or any time of year? Mille grazie for reading and for subscribing. :)
Hi Tricia! Yes, you’re completely right, I get wanderlust almost 24/7 even though I really like where I live. There are tons of places out there I want to explore! :) I don’t live in Turin, but very close to it, I go there very often. As for the hazelnut cake, it’s a typical cake of the region (it’s especially famous in Monferrato) and it’s generally eaten during fall, but it’s not customary for a specific holiday. In september/october many small villages in Piemonte organize what we call “sagra”, it’s a festival where you can eat typical foods of the region and that cake is generally sold there. :)
Grazie mille to you for subscribing too! Have a nice day :)
I live in Veneto, northern Italy, so this post really makes me proud and happy. Beautiful and interesting trip ! !
Angela, that’s lovely to hear – grazie mille! My husband and I spent some gorgeous spring days in the Veneto with Verona, Venice, Treviso, Padova and Valpolicella as some of the highlights. Of course, enjoying some Amarone factored in there too. In what part of Veneto do you call home?
I live in Treviso ! Wow, it’s amazing to hear that !
Tricia and Shawn, what a magnificent post. I did pour a glass of red myself to enjoy the voyage you took me. It is so very educating about wine and different soils, as well of those historical places. Thank you for being there
Ciao Cornelia, or perhaps, zum Wohl! I’m happy this dispatch from Piemonte inspired you to enjoy a nice glass of vino last night. Every time Shawn and I visit a new wine region, I’m struck by how complex wine-making is. If you like learning more about wine, and the life of sommeliers, you might enjoy the documentary, SOMM. A few people in the wine industry recommended it to us when we were in California earlier this year: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SOMM_(film)
Wow, very informative and extensive post… beautiful photos… really enjoyed this journey!
Roslyn, thank you for the nice feedback! Given your appreciation for art history & architecture, I suspect you’d like this part of Italy. Have you been to Northern Italy?
It must have been awesome to drink that kind of wine right at the source. Thank you for sharing your experience and your beautiful pictures.
Greetings Gerard, indeed it’s a special treat sampling wine in the environment in which it was grown. I hear it’s been a good harvest in Piemonte so far. Are you a fan of Barolo or Barbaresco? As I recall, you appreciate the bigger reds. :)
I’ve never tasted either one but I think I would like the Barolo better because it’s a big wine (big alcohol and big flavor).
Admittedly, Gerard, we didn’t try the Barolo those two days. At dinner the night before this day’s stops, we almost chose a bottle of Barolo, but it was such a balmy summer evening, that something lighter seemed more appropriate. I suppose that just means we’ll have to return so that we can try ‘the king’ in the environment in which it was grown. :)
Tutto bello. Tutto bello. Hi Tricia: it may be who knows when before I can send you any recipes … Winter is arriving and with it pretty bad arthritis. And the years weigh heavily in Winter. I’ll get back in touch later. But you travel right there in the middle of it… so recipes can follow your every step. Ciao, V.
Vera, please don’t feel pressured at all to share the recipes; it’s just quite nice to hear your wonderful insight into life in the region! We’re actually not in Italy now, since we’ve moved to Malta for Shawn’s studies. With a few airlines and ferries linking the two countries, we’re looking forward to getting up that way and explore some more. Wish you a relaxing weekend. Here’s hoping it will be a gentle winter for you, Vera.
Thank you. Enjoy life while you are young and strong. I did in my days long ago.
Ah, Vera. Thank you for the important reminder about savoring each day. Sending you a big hug!
Really good pictures, you’ve tempted me to make a visit when I go to Italy next summer!
Ella, Piemonte is a worthwhile addition, so I’m glad to hear it! What other parts of the country will you be visiting?
That opening shot is brilliant, looks a bit like an abstract before settling into the reality of a vineyard…beautiful. I’ve visited a few vineyards in California and Oregon, and one line you have hit home as I’ve seen it at the better vineyards and wine is “The better you do in the vineyard, the less work there is after the harvest,” and it creates a continuity with both work and life. I really like the thought of this, as it is true in just about everything. Incredible series of photos that give us a taste of this place and the atmosphere ~ and that blends perfectly with the both the modernity (stainless steel) and the historical (the importance of the different soils and earth). Wishing you both a great weekend ~
Randall, I always appreciate your thoughtful comments, especially here how you’ve drawn parallels between winemaking, work, and life itself. Shawn and I have been fortunate to have explored a fair number of wineries around the world, and each time, I’m struck by what an art and a science winemaking is.
Enjoy what remains of your Tuesday, since you’re a few hours ahead. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.