Piedmont, Italy: The Wine Landscapes of the Langhe

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.

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Piedmont, Italy: Monferrato’s Slow Food, Wine & Truffles

Motoring through Italy’s Piemonte or Piedmont region, I sometimes felt as though I’d been whisked back in time a few decades, perhaps even centuries. The dramatic hills of the Langhe, Roero, and Monferrato districts were wrapped with rows of grapevines and orchards, crowned with handsome fortresses, and dotted with villages wearing terra-cotta rooftops. Large-scale industry was largely absent from this swathe of the Northern Italian landscape, and that’s much of what made it so visually appealing.

With just weeks to go before the grape and white truffle harvests, the enthusiasm among the locals was already palpable. Together with our local guide, Marco from Meet Piemonte, Shawn and I would spend two days exploring pockets of Piedmont. This article highlights our time in the Monferrato district, to include the city of Asti, home to the famous Palio horserace, plus wine-tasting and truffle hunting excursions in the countryside. My other post in this series focuses upon the nearby Langhe-Roero hills, including the elegant city of Alba.

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On the Sideways Movie Trail: A Wine Tasting Tour of Santa Barbara

Far from home, in the Macedonian capital city of Skopje, the American wine-lover’s flick Sideways was providing background fodder at a wine event. For a second, Shawn and I thought we’d been whisked back to the United States, until we spotted the Academy Award winner’s subtitles written in the Cyrillic script, an alphabet made even more foreign after a glass of wine.

Fast-forward two years, and we’d find ourselves in the heart of Sideways filming locations, in rustically-beautiful Santa Barbara County, California. On a tasting excursion with wine entrepreneurs Kevin and Sherene Donoghue, of Santa Barbara Classic Wine Tours, we’d explore three wineries and a beer taproom, don furry Davy Crockett coonskin hats, and hear a plethora of praise for the 2004 film that helped to put this Southern California wine region on the map.

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Tasting Central California: A Paso Robles Wine Tour

Six decades ago, my grandparents and their then-eight children piled into the family car and drove to San Luis Obispo from Minnesota. My grandfather was to begin a teaching position there. Though the family’s chapter in San Luis Obispo (SLO) ended up being a short one (frankly, I don’t know how they bid farewell to charming SLO and its wonderful weather) my relatives left with sunny memories of playing at the beach and in the hills, and a now-iconic photograph of my father sporting golden-brown curls, pushing a 1950s-era wire stroller.

With that personal connection as well as the knowledge that fine wine country exists not only in San Luis Obispo, but also nearby Paso Robles, Shawn and I made a point to stop in SLO as we made our way along California’s coastline from Monterey to Santa Barbara. We were also lured in by SLO’s designation as the ‘Happiest City in America’ and felt that vibe the moment we took to the walkable downtown, past quirky eateries and shops, and the city’s 18th century Spanish Mission church.

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A Land of Hidden Gems: Moldova’s Wine, Food & Monasteries

On a quest to discover Moldovan wine, food and culture, we embarked on an adventure in the countryside, having just left the small European country’s capital city of Chisinau. Roadside merchants sold their wares: wicker baskets, colorful mums wearing autumnal hues, and large bowls containing green grapes fashioned into a pyramid shape. Farmers picked apples in orchards, a grape-harvesting crew took a break by lounging in a vineyard, and cows and goats grazed on the expansive golden plains.

If ever a swathe of land could be called ‘wine country,’ Moldova would be one of the most deserving to wear the label. Nestled between Ukraine and Romania, the country is abstractly shaped like a cluster of grapes. Winemaking accounts for 7% of the country’s exports, and when you go there, you get the sense that every family has an amateur winemaker in its ranks. Though family-made wines are common, the country is also becoming increasingly well-known for its high-quality, commercial wine, which is now made with adherence to international, modern standards. A National Office for Vine & Wine was established to help regulate the industry and promote Moldovan wine abroad.

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Where Tempranillo & Tradition Meet: A Wine Tour of Rioja Alavesa, Spain

As we motored through the Rioja Alavesa wine country in northern Spain, a golden landscape dotted with hilltop monasteries, sweeping vineyards, and walled towns with window boxes overflowing with red geraniums, I reflected on what we had absorbed that day. In a region famed for wine we’d enjoyed much wonderful vino, of course, but we also took in a rich amount of history – everything from walking in a 1,000 year-old necropolis with burial plots chiseled out of rock, to diving deep into a wine cellar that was originally dug out to be an escape tunnel during times of war. We also mingled with winery owners possessing a respect for tradition, and a desire to incorporate forward-thinking, sustainable practices into their businesses.

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Santorini Wine: From an Eruption to Effervescence

 

“Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.”

– Pablo Picasso

Each year, nearly half a million visitors flock to striking Santorini. Many come to the legendary Greek island in search of black and red beaches, cool-blue infinity pools, and rugged cliffs speckled with whitewashed buildings. And many, I suspect, are unaware of the island’s intriguing and violent geological history, which shaped its tantalizing cuisine and its unique viticulture. During the last of our ten nights in this paradise of the Aegean, we’d learn about the latter offering, tasting 15 Santorini wines on an excursion with Santorini Wine Tour.

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Mingling Over Macedonian Wines: A Wine Tasting & Lecture in Skopje

A Macedonian legacy of winemaking goes back to the 13th Century BC, and today the southeast European nation’s industry is witnessing a rebirth. On our first night in the country’s capital, Skopje, we were lucky to be taken under the wing of Ivana Simjanovska, one of the country’s foremost wine experts, as we attended a wine tasting and lecture at the sleek MKC Club & Restaurant. Our tour was organized and hosted by good-natured Ljupco, who works for a small tourism company called Macedonia Experience. Ivana is the company’s wine tourism specialist.

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