A friends big birthday bought us to the Piedmont region in Italy’s north-east. It’s not as well-known as many other Italian regions, but we loved it and immersed ourselves in this wine and food mecca.
We flew into Milan and headed south-west for just under two hours. Passing rice covered plains it was not what we had expected to see, but Aborio rice is used for risotto, a staple dish in the local diet.
Eventually, the rice fields diminished and the landscape changed to rolling hills covered with a mosaic of grape vines. As we came into Alba, a beautiful little town adjoining Barolo we could follow the contour of the slopes, with each vineyard sharply defined creating a patch work effect. The endless grape vines surrounded the many hill-top villages provided a spectacular vista as far as the eye could see.
In addition to being the name of the town, wines with the name ‘Barolo’ come from around the Barolo village and also a number of surrounding villages. The ‘Barolo’ area where the grapes can be grown has a clearly defined boundary and it is carefully controlled. Land that come within the ‘Barolo’ boundary is now so valuable, every inch of it is planted in grapes and the land is worth millions of Euros per hectare.
Barolo is arguably the greatest wine in Italy and in the minds of some wine commentators Barolo wines are now one of the big three; Burgundy, Bordeaux and Barolo.
Barolo village itself is very small with a myriad of alleyways just wide enough for a small car. The locals take pride in their ancient town with immaculate cobble stone streets and boxes filled with flowers, herbs and vegetables growing in the narrow alleyways.
At the top of the village is a church and a historic castle which is now the WiMu Museo del Vino a Barolo. The somewhat unusual exhibition tells the story of wine production and drinking since pre-historic times. There is another quirky museum in the town specialising in corkscrews.
With many wine stores there is ample opportunities to taste the wines both in the village and out in the local vineyards.
So if you are looking to immerse yourselves in food and wine for a few days, Barolo is the place. It’s also surrounded by many neighbouring villages, of which we visited La Morra and Monforte.
My Barolo recommendations.
We stayed at the Barolo Rooms, in the heart of the village close to the castle and church. The establishment has just three rooms to rent of varying sizes. We had a very comfortable bedroom, ensuite and delightful balcony with view over the vineyards.
In the same building as the accommodation is a delightful restaurant and bar. Easy to find, its next door to the walkway to the castle and is open from 11am 11pm serving great food. We enjoyed several of the local specialties, including beef tartare with shaved black truffles, a typical traditional Piedmontese dish called vitelli tonnato- cold sliced veal with a creamy mayonnaise sauce flavoured with tuna, Barolo wine risotto and a delicious slow cooked veal dish before the town’s all time famous dessert Panna Cotta.
It’s a famous establishment run by two brothers in Barolo Village. We had a degustation menu including spinach pie, Russian egg salad, egg with pasta, beef tartare, pate, risotto and panna cotta. My english interpretation of these classic dishes does not do them justice, but believe me they were delicious. Address: Via Roma, 33, 12060 Barolo CN, Italy Phone: +39 0173 56198
Two minutes down the road is a top-end restaurant with a 180 degree vista of the patchwork plots of vines. Our exceptional meal of red peppers stuffed with tuna, asparagus gnocchi and guinea fowl was finished with a fruit custard tart, all accompanied with delicious Barolo wines.
Learning about the grape varieties and wines is part of the Barolo experience and we spent an afternoon at Rocca Giovanni. The family vineyard has been operating for three generations with Giovanni, Caterina and their two adult children Federica and Maurizio now running the business. From 22 hectares of land they produce 80,000 bottles of Barolo per year, exporting to many counties, including New Zealand. Their wine can be purchase from Sabato, in Auckland, New Zealand.