Before we got locked down due to the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020, we took a glorious trip to the Piedmont region with friends from back home.
Except for the fact that in mid-February the grapevines are no longer heavily-laden with fat, beautiful grapes, late winter turned out to be a great time to visit the Piedmont area. Most of the wineries are closed to visitors during the winter months, so we were among the first tourists to return to the quiet, rolling hills. There were a few spots not yet open, but I will take those closures over the fall crowds. Our focus was to visit a sampling of wineries and learn more about the wines from the Piedmont region. Kevin and I had visited parts of the region twice before, so I finally felt like I had my bearings around the area. For this trip, we sampled 3 wineries and stayed at two of them, traveling around from place to place in the world’s biggest industrial-sized rental van.
After picking up the rental car and heading west, we first made our way to Alba for a late lunch and a walk around the town made famous by an enormous truffle festival that occurs in the Fall. See my blog post http://mcmahonsonthemove.com/thealbawhitetrufflefair from 2018.
We wasted no time sampling the regional wine in Alba, and then hopped into our enormous van and wandered towards Dogliani, Italy, where our first winery awaited us. I planned the trip after reading many articles about the region, and landed on this article for some good selections of places to visit and stay. https://www.forbes.com/sites/catherinesabino/2018/10/28/why-you-really-should-visit-italys-outstanding-barolo-wine-region/#59b86e112f89http://
I decided to pick one winery that was a bit off the beaten path (Poderi Einaudi), a well known winery in the historic center of the town of Barolo (Marchesi di Barolo), and another one recommended in the Forbes article, called FontanaFredda. Before our guests came to Italy, I booked hotel rooms and tasting events at the 3 wineries.
We pulled up to the Poderi Luigi Einaudi Relais (the hotel connected to the winery) and fell in love with the beautiful scenery atop the hills. http://www.poderieinaudi.com. We cannot recommend this place highly enough. There were almost no other guests staying in the Relais, so we settled in and walked next door for our reserved winery tour and the wine and food tasting.
While researching the wine and food pairings, I learned that Einaudi had just launched a new offering of their own wines paired with food prepared by a local chef. The owners of the family-owned winery are in the process of modernizing equipment and creating stunning tasting rooms. This would be a lovely place for a small wedding reception or a nice party. The local chef came to the winery and used Poderi Einaudi’s beautiful kitchen to prepare 3 dishes that were paired with 8 wines. We went all out and selected the top food and wine pairing choice, and we were not disappointed. The wine and food tasting we chose was called “Expressions of the Nebbiolo Over Time”.
Our contact was Vittoria Abbona, and you can call her (+39 3465277654) or look at the website and contact them for the hotel and the tour of the winery. The food gave our guests a true sampling of traditional dishes from the Piedmont region and we bravely tried all the dishes placed in front of us. Our chef was young, the presentation of the dishes was magnificent and the wine tasting was as good as we could have imagined.
We weren’t sure if this evening could be topped. We highly recommend the hotel and the winery.
After dinner, we pulled out some cards and played games in a ‘board room’ open to the hotel guests, where we continued to drink wine that they kept in the boardroom for the guests. The hotel rooms were quaint and the room where we had breakfast, with windows looking out over the grapevines in every direction, made us feel like we were in wine country, for sure!
The next day we drove to the town of Barolo and got our bearings around town before driving up the hillside to La Morra, a town I had visited in the fall of 2019. When I visited this area last fall, the roads and towns were brimming with tourists and the hillsides carried grapes heavy on the vine.
Unfortunately the sky was a bit foggy so our friends weren’t able to fully appreciate the view from La Morra, but it was still pretty. We ate lunch at a charming spot called Uve (actually, we liked it so much that we came back the next day for lunch there again!), once again trying Piedmont dishes and wines.https://www.uvelanghe.it/it/ This is the life!
After lunch we headed back down to Barolo in time for our wine tour of one of the oldest wineries around, the Marchesi di Barolo. http://www.marchesibarolo.com. We had a tasting of 4 traditional wines (including a Barbaresco and a Barolo Cru or Riserve), paired with hand-rolled breadsticks from Barolo and a selection of traditional Piedmont cheeses and cold cuts. Our tour of the winery and the tastings began at 4:30, so once again we used this as our dinner and enjoyed the samplings. The winery tour was nice but less personal than the one at Poderi Einaudi, and we imagined the tons of people packed in during the high season. Our tour consisted of us and one other couple (our tour at Poderi Einaudi was just us). If you are in the region and want to visit a historic winery, Marchesi di Barolo is a fine place to visit.
On our third day, we left the beautiful confines of Poderi Luigi Einaudi Relais and drove to Serralunga d’Alba for a stay at a hotel located on the property of the Fontanafredda winery, which is now owned by Eataly. http://www.hotelcasedeiconti.it. You could feel the corporate presence and support here. http://www.fontanafredda.it. Once again, we were almost the only ones staying in the Foresteria delle Vigne, a charming small building with limited rooms across from the larger hotel. Plans are to build a much bigger hotel on the grounds- I wonder if this will change after the Coronavirus pandemic. https://www.eataly.com/us_en/magazine/eataly-stories/meet-fontanafredda/
We checked in and walked along a nice hiking area, up the hills of the vineyards and around the historic property, with signs along the way describing flora and fauna. It was a beautiful place to enjoy the sunset before our dinner at the Michelin starred restaurant, also on the grounds of the winery, called Guido Restaurant. http://www.guidoristorante.it. The chef is Ugo Alciati and there were only 2 other tables of guests eating there that evening, so we had more wait staff helping us than there were guests! The food and wine were magnificent. Honestly, what could be better than enjoying the beauty of Italy with good friends and great food and wine. We felt so lucky to be here!
The next day we had our final wine tour of the trip and enjoyed the tales of hidden tunnels used by King Vittorio Emanuele II to meet his mistresses below ground in the winery, as well as the beautiful large wine barrels and the pungent smell wafting everywhere. If you plan to visit this region in the fall, you must plan your trip well in advance. The numbers of tourists who come to visit all these wineries are staggering. I suggest you try to come at off-season times for a more personalized experience.
One last recommendation- in the fall I went to a restaurant with my American friends that is one of my favorites so far: Ristorante La Ciau del Tornavento. https://www.laciaudeltornavento.it/. It is high on a hilltop with breathtaking views and the food was delicious (albeit pricey). We went there for lunch in the fall, which suited us fine because the winding roads without much signage would have been a challenge at night. I highly recommend this place if you book it in advance and you aren’t afraid to try different dishes. I will dream of returning to this place.
We had a great time with our friends and loved sampling the wine and food. Try the Piedmont region and I hope you love it as much as we did!