If you adore Italian wines like powerful Barolo and Barbaresco, light and sweet Moscato d’Alba, and deliciously floral Roero Arneis, it’s hard to beat a wine tasting holiday in Piedmont.
After months of lockdown, we’re all desperate to get out into the world again. And, as Italy is exempt from the FCO advice against non-essential travel, now is the perfect time to sip your way through its best vineyards. Elvira and I are no strangers to wine travel in Piedmont, so we wanted to share our top tips and suggestions with you.
Whether you’re heading to the Bel Paese for a long weekend or a full-on fortnight of wine tasting, we hope you’ll appreciate our tips on family-run wineries, boutique agritourismo and rustic restaurants.
The do’s and don’ts of wine tourism in Piedmont
First things first, not all wine tasting locations are equal. Beware of tourist traps, where the high price doesn’t match the low quality of wine being poured. To get the best out of your trip and have a really memorable experience, we suggest doing some research first. After all, life – and your holiday – is too short to waste time on substandard wineries.
To work out if a place is worth your while, check to see if they’ve won awards from Decanter or Tre Bicchieri. Often these wineries are off the beaten path. Although it may take a bit of work to find them, the wines will be superb and it’s less likely you’ll end up battling through hordes of tourists.
Where to stay during a wine trip to Italy – agriturismo is the answer
As far as I’m concerned, agriturismo – farmhouses converted into stylish family-run B&Bs – give you the best and most authentic Italian holiday experience. Don’t be fooled by the simple-sounding name. Agriturismo spaces can be quite luxurious, providing lush accommodation in a rural setting. Many also have stunning features such as swimming pools, mountain views and on-site orchards. Try to avoid large hotels, unless of course you like to be around crowds of people piling in and out of buses.
How to find the best places to visit and stay? ask the winemakers!
A little bit of local knowledge goes a long way, so we spoke to the premium winemakers we work with in Piedmont. We asked their opinion on the best wineries to visit and where to stay, and we’re happy to pass on their recommendations to you. We’re going to focus on three excellent wineries to visit, along with a few cosy agriturismo places nearby. We’ve visited them ourselves, and had wonderful experiences every time.
Gallina hill in Neive, Barbaresco DOCG
Where to taste Barolo and Barbaresco: Cantina Francone
Wines produced: Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbaresco Riserva, Barbera, Moscato
Winemakers: Fabrizio and Mario Francone
Awards: Decanter Gold Medal, Decanter Silver Medal
Location: Neive, Province of Cuneo, Piedmont
Neive is one of three Barbaresco sub-zones. Its wines are made from 100% Nebbiolo grape, like in the neighbouring Barolo, and are famous for an austere and powerful character with high tannins.
Cantina Francone’s main vineyard sits on the hill of Gallina, next to Neive. In this vineyard, Fabrizio and his brother Mario cultivate a number of different grapes: Nebbiolo, Barbera, Moscato and Chardonnay.
The Gallina vineyard faces south-east, which is very favourable because it helps the grapes to ripen well. This is especially important for Nebbiolo, which is a late-ripening varietal and isn’t harvested until the middle of October. Some vines are 40 years old, and they produce very complex and long-aging wines.
The Francone brothers also make Barolo wine from Nebbiolo grapes grown in their other two vineyards in La Morra and Monforte. Grapes from La Morra bring richness and power, while Monforte is known for elegance and freshness.
Winemakers Fabrizio and Mario Francone
Wines to taste at the Francone winery:
- ‘Francone, Gallina’, Barbaresco DOCG , Nebbiolo , Italy, 2016
- ‘Francone, La Morra and Monforte’, Barolo DOCG, Nebbiolo , Italy, 2015
- ‘Valsellera Rose’, Neive, Nebbiolo , Italy, 2019
- ‘I Patriarchi’, Barbera d’Alba DOC Superiore, Barbera, Italy, 2017
- ‘Riserva’, Barbaresco DOCG , Nebbiolo , Italy, 2014
- ‘Antichi Poderi Dei Gallina’, Moscato d’Asti DOCG, Moscato, Italy, 2018
Prices start from €15. Book in advance on their website https://visit.franconevini.com/en/5d302f9e9a6c3126a35f775e?lang=en
Wine tasting at Cantina Francone
- Langhe Country House https://www.langhecountryhouse.it/
Where to eat:
- Borgo Vecchio, Via Borgese 10 – 12052 Neive (Cuneo) +39 335-800-82-82 https://info47755.wixsite.com/borgovecchioneive?fb_ref=Default
- Agriturismo Lo Sprin, Località Tinella, 7 – Neviglie • Tel. +39 0173 630110 https://www.losprin.it/it/
Where to taste Roero Nebbiolo and Arneis: Malvirà
Malvirà is a sustainable, 100% organic winery owned by the Damonte family. It is nestled between the vine-covered hills near Alba, on the left bank of the Tanaro river. Malvirà was established in 1950, and has become the biggest wine producer in Roero.
Wines produced: Roero Nebbilo, Barolo, Barbera, Arneis, Favorita (Vermentino),
Winemakers: Roberto and Massimo Damonte
Awards: “Three Glasses” and “Two Glasses” by Gambero Rosso (awarded to ten vintages over several years), Vinibuoni d’Italia, Decanter Silver Medal, Decanter Bronze Medal
Location: Canale, Province of Cuneo, Piedmont
Vineyards of Malvirà
Malvirà has 103 acres under vine across six vineyards in Roero’s hills: Trinità, Renesio, Saglietto, San Michele, San Guglielmo, and Mombeltramo. Each vineyard gives its name to the signature wines of the estate, and they’re all farmed organically.
Roberto Damonte, owner of Malvirà, says:
“The secret for making good wine is loving and respecting the land where you live, not overusing chemicals, and not pushing the vines to over-production”.
Part of respecting the land is understanding the unique soil types of each of Roero’s hills, along with how it can impact the flavour of the wine. For example, the soil of the Trinità hill has high levels of sand and sediment from ancient oceans. Nebbiolo is planted on the upper part of the vineyard facing south, which helps the grape to ripen well. Meanwhile Arneis, the elegant white grape, is planted on the lower slopes.
The soil on the other hill, Renesio, is rich in calcareous marl and planted with Arneis and Nebbiolo. As for the next hill, Saglietto, its vineyard soil is composed of marlstone and clay. This helps to produce wines with more structure. This hill is only planted with white grapes: Arneis and Favorita (which you probably know as Vermentino).
The vineyard of San Michele has calcareous clay soils. This is where Barbera, used for the San Michele Barbera wine, is grown. And finally San Guglielmo, home to the family’s oldest and most historic vineyard. It borders Trinità and shares the same soils, rich in oceanic sediments and sand. It’s reserved for the red grapes, Nebbiolo and Barbera.
As for why you should try Barolo from Roero, Roberto believes it’s surprisingly special.
“Like in Barolo and Barbaresco just across the river from here, Nebbiolo is the most important red grape in Roero. There’s a difference between Nebbiolo grown in Barolo and Roero. The area where it grows characterises this great grape, and we can say that Nebbiolo from Roero is a modern wine, that is not based on power like Barolo, but on balance and aromas. Nebbiolo is famous for its high tannins. Here in Roero, tannins are softer and less aggressive. This makes Roero Nebbiolo wines lighter on the palate and easier to drink and enjoy. Also, global warming helps the grapes to ripen better and makes the tannins more gentle.”
Wines to taste:
- ‘Renesio Riserva’, Roero DOCG, Nebbiolo , Italy, 2012
- ‘S. MICHELE ‘, Barbera d’Alba Superiore DOC, Barbera, Italy, 2006
- ‘Malvira’, Sauvignon Blanc, Langhe Bianco DOC, Italy, 2016
- ‘Treuve’, Langhe Bianco DOC, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Arnais, Italy, 2015
- ‘No Sulfites’, Roero Arneis DOCG, Arneis, Italy, 2017
- ‘Renesio ‘, Roero Arneis Renesio DOCG, Arneis, Italy, 2018
- ‘Vigna Saglietto’, Roero Arneis DOCG, Arneis, Italy, 2016
From €15 to €50. Advance booking required, phone +39-0173-978-145
Villa Tobildi on the Trinita hill
Where to stay (agriturismo):
Agriturismo Villa Tiboldi https://www.villatiboldi.com/
Villa Tiboldi is a stylish hotel with only 10 guest rooms, opened recently by the Damonte family. It’s a converted mansion on top of a hill overlooking the vineyards of Roero. The rooms are equipped with elegant Italian furniture, creating a lovely atmosphere. It’s not cheap, but it’s extremely reasonably priced for what you get – even in the middle of high season.
Where to eat:
Villa Tiboldi Restaurant https://www.villatiboldi.com/en/the-restaurant/ We have been here, and it was so nice. The restaurant is quite fashionable, and it’s a totally delightful thing to dine in style sitting on top of the hill and looking down at vineyards stretching in every direction. The food is really good.
Prices are really reasonable – given all the natural beauty you are getting with it. Home made agnolotti “del plin” pasta or Risotto is 15 Euro. Pigeon with almond, pumpkin and bay leaves is 20 Euro. The “Menù Degustazione” – which is five courses chosen by the chef, is 52 Euro, or 69 with three glasses of award-winning wine.
Where to to taste Nebbiolo, Cabernet and Moscato in Monferrato: Scagliola Sansi
Scagliola is a boutique family winery in the Langhe area of Piedmont, set in the hills of Monferrato. It’s carefully managed by three generations of the same family, all working together to create exceptional wines. The vineyards are farmed in a sustainable way, with minimal use of chemicals and utmost respect to nature. The winery’s red Nebbiolo and Barbera wines have a stunningly complex style, with beautiful oak ageing, and the sparkling Moscato is delightfully fresh and sweet.
Wines produced: Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Moscato, Dolcetto, Cortese, Chardonnay, Grignolino, Monferrato Rosso, Brachetto, Pinot Noir
Awards: “Three Glasses” and “Two Glasses” by Gambero Rosso
Location: Commune of Calosso, Province of Asti, Piedmont
Scagliola’s vineyards stretching over the Monferrato hills
The Scagliola winery sits on the very top of the San Siro hill, overlooking vineyards in every direction. The vineyards cover almost 40 hectares, planted at altitudes ranging from 320 to 380 meters above sea level. This idyllic place is sandwiched between Monferrato and Langhe, next to the medieval castle of Calosso and its surrounding villages.
The soil in here is a unique mixture of marl, limestone and sand. Experts in terroir believe that sandy soils create wines with fruitier flavours, while limestone helps the vines to produce grapes with a rich and complex profile.
In the vineyard, the use of fertilisers is minimal. Before the grapes start to ripen, the family members walk through the vines and remove a large number of healthy bunches of grapes. This practice is called “green harvest”, and it’s used to reduce the number of fruit left on the vine. This results in more concentrated and powerful flavours in the remaining berries.
The grapes are always harvested by hand. White grapes are picked earlier in August through September, followed by the red grapes from September to mid-October.
Three generations of the Scagliola family together in the cellar
Wines to taste:
- ‘Azord’, Monferrato Rosso, Barbera, Cabernet, Nebbiolo, Italy, 2017
- ‘Sansi’, Barbera d’Asti Superiore, Barbera, Italy, 2017
- ‘Volo Di Farfalle’, Moscato d’Asti DOCG, Moscato bianco di Canelli, Italy, 2019
From €15 to €50. Advance booking only, phone +39-0141-853-183.
Open Monday–Saturday, 9am–12noon, and 2pm–6pm.
Hotel Relais Villa Del Borgo, Piedmont
Where to stay and eat (agriturismo):
- Villa Del Borgo – Via Del Castello, 1 – Canelli (AT) Italy – 0141/824212 – www.relaisvilladelborgo.com
Relais with Wellness SPA and swimming pool
- Villa Fontana Relais & Wellness Spa – Via Giuseppe Mazzini, 67 Agliano Terme (AT) Italy – Tel. +39-0141-964031 http://www.villafontanaaglianoterme.it/ Hotel with Wellness SPA and swimming pool
- Agriturismo L’Arche’ – Loc. Vogliere, 44 Santo Stefano Belbo (CN) Italy – Tel. +39/0141/840958
http://www.agriturismoarche.it/ Rooms and Piedmont cuisine
Where to eat:
- Cròta ‘d Calòs Ristorante, Enoteca, Vineria, 7, Via Cairoli – 14052 Calosso https://www.crotadcalos.com/
- Ristorante Del Belbo Da Bardon – Via Valle Asinari, 25 San Marzano Oliveto (AT) Italy – Tel. +39-0141-831340 Closed on Wednesday and on Thursday – Typical Piedmont cuisine specialized in meat
- Tra La Terra Ed Il Cielo – P.za Castello, 9/11 Moasca (AT) Italy – Tel. 0141-1800739 https://www.tralaterraeilcielo.org Typical Piedmont cuisine and panoramic aperitif/dinner
Enjoy your holiday in Piedmont!
Hopefully those recommendations will keep you busy during your wine holiday in Piedmont. By heading slightly off the beaten path you can find some true hidden gems. Just keep an eye on which vineyards are winning awards, and stay far away from those tour buses, and you should be fine.
As always, Elvira and I are happy to share our recommendations. If you want to learn more about travelling to Piedmont – or want recommendations on wines to try for your own Northern Italian tasting experience at home – please get in touch.