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For wine lovers, Piedmont is kind of the holy grail as it is the home place of Barolo and Barbaresco. Despite the prestige of these wines, you don’t get the crowds that you get in Tuscany (for now!). After years of hearing about the wine of Piedmont from my husband who lived in Turin, we spent several days driving around Piedmont tasting Piedmont’s best wines, including Barolo. This post will be discussing transportation, tips for making it easier to do wine tastings on your own in Barolo and Barbaresco, how to get winery tours (without spending hundreds), and how to do a tasting of multiple wines at once.
There’s nothing like driving through the famous Piedmont fog as you weave down skinny roads past some of the most famous vineyards in the world. That’s just another day in Piedmont for you.
Tips for doing a wine tasting in Piedmont
It takes longer to travel in Piedmont than you might imagine
Despite being in located in one of Italy’s most prosperous provinces, Piedmont still lacks the large-scale infrastructure for tourism due to its skinny roads and winding hills. You’ll spend a lot of time driving on one-way roads. Although you might be only three kilometers from somewhere distance wise, you might be amazed how long it actually takes to get there.
Public transportation in Piedmont is pretty limited. Alba and Asti are easily accessible by train from Turin or Milan. Beyond this, there are some buses that go further into Piedmont, but you often need to hire a tour, bike, or take a taxi. Many agriturismos offer free bikes if you have strong legs and think that you can handle the hills. I had initially requested a bike, however I ended up choosing not to utilize it.
Avoid drinking and driving
Italy is strict in terms of its limitations with its drunk driving laws. A blood-alcohol level of more than 0.05 percent is considered legally intoxicated (2019). That’s just one glass of wine (5 ounces). I recommend using significant caution in terms of spacing out any tasting and waiting sufficiently long (at least an hour), even after a small tasting.
If you want to be sure that you won’t be drinking and driving, you can pay for a private tour of the region’s vineyards, which will include transportation and entry to wineries.
Go to an entoca regionale to try an assortment of the best regional wines and compare
One of the best innovations in the Piedmont region has to be the enoteca regionales. These tasting rooms show off the best wine from all around the region within a centralized location. Knowledgeable sommeliers are there to answer your questions (if needed) in most cases. They’re generally free to visit besides the actual tasting and you can generally buy the bottle afterward.
I was really impressed by the enotecas regionales in Barolo and Barbaresco, which did a great job of showing you the difference between various micro-regions that produce each wine and cheap/expensive versions for about 2-4 euros per glass. Some ask for an upfront cost paid for several wines (4). ( The funny thing is that my favorite wines weren’t always the most expensive.)
With Barolo, aging matters more for the quality while for Barbaresco (and a few other wines), less aging is required for a good glass of good wine. The difference between going to an enoteca regionale and an actual vineyard is quite vast, however you’re likely to be trying the newer batches at a vineyard instead of a wine that has already been aged for the sufficient amount of time to be at its best. Both experiences are worthwhile, but I think the enotecas regionale provide great value in terms of doing a wine tasting in Piedmont.
Get a good base and consider staying overnight (if you want to drink!)
One of the cheapest ways to enjoy wine in Piedmont is easily buying it by the bottle, however you’ll need to stay overnight to enjoy your wine without worrying about driving! I recommend thinking carefully about your base. La Morra or Barolo is a great base in Langhe for this reason and you’ll find affordable agriturismos in Barolo itself. Book in advance, especially if you’re visiting Piedmont in fall. In case you’ve not heard of an agriturismo, it is an Italian invention where you stay on a working farm of some sort. Expect your money to stay local, great food produced on the farm (or nearby), and relaxation.
If you have a car, you don’t need to in the city of interest itself, but you can choose an agriturismo or an affordable hotel. For value, I’d recommend staying further east in Langhe. I stayed in a charming 16th-century castle turned agriturismo with a fantastic restaurant not far from Serralunga d’Alba.
If you’re more interested in Barbaresco, I’d recommend staying in Alba or Barbaresco itself if you don’t have a car as it’s only 15 minutes away. A taxi should be relatively affordable and there are some buses that run to the picturesque city if needed. Just outside of Barbaresco, you’ll find the charming town of Tre Stelle, which is home to a few agriturismos surrounded by vineyards (including a favorite winery of mine: Ca Del Baio!). Book earlier rather than later as the best agriturismos book up quickly!
Plan carefully your day with booking appointments ahead and which towns you’ll be visiting
Wineries in Piedmont aren’t the same as more commercial wines elsewhere. Here, most of the wineries are still family-run and small. You’ll need to call ahead to book an appointment with the owners, who generally have an okay web presence. (Be warned that summer and fall are busy!)
You can’t arrive without an appointment, but you might get lucky (as we did) calling the same day to ask if it was possible to come the same day for a tasting. Be sure to specify English if you don’t know Italian. I recommend looking up the best wineries for a specific wine near a certain city as you’ll be overwhelmed by choice otherwise. (I visited Ca del Baio near Barbaresco.)
You’ll typically pay some amount (10-25 euros; we paid 15 euros) for a tasting, which typically will include a tour. This fee is often waived if you purchase wine. Unlike vineyard tours elsewhere, you’re likely to meet the family behind the most famous wineries in the region. It’s pretty unique sitting with one of the vineyard owners for more than hour as they explain their family’s history, the wine, and their fields. We also chatted about travel and chocolate in Turin!
It’s very feasible to visit around 1-2 wine towns or tasting per day in Piedmont, if not more, if you won’t be drinking more than a tasting in each. More is definitely possible if you have a DD (designated driver), but be sure to check the driving directions beforehand to minimize distance. We were able to cover around 3 towns within one day on a day that we only did one tasting prior to having dinner (with wine) at an agriturismo. I’d recommend grouping together La Morra, Barolo, and maybe Novello.
I’d recommend at least two days in Piedmont to give yourself a chance to explore the region beyond Barolo and Barbaresco. Many people that we met mentioned that Roero was still an undiscovered gem that produced great value as it’s far less famous than Barbaresco or Barolo.
What to expect from visiting a winery in Piedmont
So, you’ve managed to get an appointment at a winery that you want to visit. Maybe because I’ve mostly visited very commercial wineries elsewhere, but it feels much more intimate here. I definitely recommend reading up ahead about the wine that you’ll be tasting if you’re not an expert, so you can ask the right questions. I recommend reading Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wine by Kerin O’Keefe for a good overview of the wines!
Expect the personal touch. It was really special meeting the family behind one of the Barbarescos that I had researched in advanced, down to having the father waving goodbye to us as we pulled out.
Arrive on time. Look up the wine from the vineyard beforehand. This will ensure that you get to try the wines that you’re most interested in, which is best for picking the right places to visit and wines to sample. I had not tried a Dolcetto d’ Alba before this trip, which is contrary to popular belief, not sweet. I tried to remain open, but I think knowing your preference is best prior to a customized tasting! For me, the focus of the tasting was understanding the difference between different microregions.
Most wineries will accept cards happily, so don’t worry about paying for the tasting fee. My only note is don’t feel too much pressure to buy wine unless you really like a bottle as you’re already paying a tasting fee in most cases. You might want to look up how easily it is to buy the wine you prefer at home via an importer as that might be a good option for your favorite (as it was for me!) I did end up buying a cheaper bottle of Nebbiolo, which was good.
Keep in mind your ability to carry your wines or ship your wines home safely. Most wineries will sell you quite a bit, but due to my limited luggage situation, I was unable to carry home wine safely. If you’re only interested in a few bottles, I’d recommend carrying some wine protectors for your suitcase with you.