Departure dates: June 16–21
• Enjoy private, sit-down tastings at Elio Altare, Aldo Contero, Renato Ratti, Marchesi di Gresy, Produttori del Barbaresco, La Spinetta, Braida & more
• See 5 of the 11 communes making up the Barolo DOCG zone
• Visit La Banca del Vino in Pollenzo, a Slow Food project
• Lunch at an artisan cheese farm in the Alte Langhe
• Dine at two wineries (Marchesi di Barolo & Brezza)
DAY 1 – BAROLO’S PIONEERS
Barolo is dubbed “the king of wines and wine of kings,” and today we see why. After a pick-up in Tortona, we shuttle to the Langhe (an hour’s drive). Our first destination is the Castle of Grinzane Cavour. Now a museum, this was the home of Italy’s first Prime Minister, Camillo Benso, Court of Cavour. Like an Italian Thomas Jefferson, this politician was equally adept at wine and became a seminal figure in the creation of Barolo wine in the 1800s. At the museum, a film will provide an excellent historic overview and prepare us for our next tasting at the Marchesi di Barolo. It was here that Cavour’s good friend, the Marchesa Giulietta Colbert Tancredi, produced the very first Barolo. And it’s here that we’ll have our first tasting over lunch in the winery’s private dining room.
In the afternoon, the focus shifts from 19th century pioneers to 1970s winemaking radicals, namely Renato Ratti and Elio Altare. At Renato Ratti’s new state-of-the-art winery, we’ll hear his role in mapping the original historic vineyards, designing the distinctive Albeisa bottle, and revamping how Barolo is made. Then we visit his neighbor Elio Altare. Because of Altare’s then-radical innovations such as green harvest and French barrique, the winemaker was disowned by his father. But his methods have since taken hold, and Altare has been an influential mentor to the next generation of winemakers.
A welcome dinner in the medieval city of Alba introduces the elegant cuisine of Piedmont. Here menus are loaded with plin (tiny meat-filled ravioli), countless renditions of risotto, meats braised in Barolo, and delectable hazelnut-and-chocolate desserts. L, D • Hotel I Castelli
DAY 2 – BAROLO CRU
Brunate, Cannubi, Bricco Lucciani…. These are among the historic vineyard names that resonate with Barolo connoisseurs. Today we’ll taste cru Barolos from these and other star vineyards. We start at Ceretto. Located just outside of Alba, this estate was one of the hunting lodges maintained by King Carlo Alberto and his son, Vittorio Emanuele. Now it’s headquarters to Ceretto, a family that has been producing wine for 70 years and has a constellation of small-estate wineries. In addition to its Barolos and Arneis (the Langhe’s newly fashionable white), Ceretto is known for its innovative architectural commissions, such as the colorful Brunate chapel.
Then it’s back to the village of Barolo for lunch and our second tasting. Damilano controls over half of the historic Cannubi vineyard and has parcels in other prized sites, such as Liste. Yet while aiming for quality, Paolo Damilano and enologist Beppe Caviola have also prioritized value. As a result, theirs are among the best price-value Barolos around.
Our third winery is on a boutique scale, but gets the big scores: Silvio Grasso. Grapegrowers since the 1920s, the Grasso family began bottling their own wines in the 1980s. Our gracious host, Marilena Grasso, will pour an array of Barberas, Barolos, and Super Piedmont blends. But most fascinating will be the side-by-side comparisons between cru and vintages.
We finish up the day with dinner at a Slow Food affiliate restaurant in Alba. B, D • Hotel I Castelli
DAY 3 – MOUNTAIN CHEESE
Founded in 1870, Aldo Conterno was the first to export Barolo to the U.S. Today, the fifth generation runs the show, adhering to a traditionalist approach to Barolo while prizing fruit and freshness. Our eloquent host Giacomo Conterno will entertain and enlighten as he walks us through the family’s Monforte estate and pours both classics (Barolo) and novelties (Super Piedmont blends).
Then we head south into the Alte Langhe, the higher elevation zone of the Langhe, where hazelnut groves and pastures replace vineyards. Our destination is a cheese farm in Murazzano, a DOP area known for rounds of fresh cows’, sheep’s, and goat’s milk cheese. We’ll tour the family-run farm, where mama makes the salumi and daughter the cheese, then enjoy a buffet lunch.
Afternoon takes us to Pollenzo, a Roman town where King Carlo Alberto built another magnificent hunting lodge. Today this regal property houses a multimillion-dollar food & wine complex, opened in 2004, which includes a professional cooking school, a 4-star restaurant, and La Banca del Vino or Wine Bank. We’ll tour this archive-cum-laboratory, then continue to the town of Bra, home to the Slow Food movement. Here we’ll visit the Ascheri winery for a stand-up tasting in their public tasting room. Ascheri works with traditional grapes of the Langhe and is also experimenting with Rhone varietals Syrah and Viognier. We then return to Alba for dinner on your own. B • Hotel I Castelli
DAY 4 – BARBARESCO
Today we head to the village of Barbaresco, on the alluvial banks of the Tanaro River. Here nebbiolo makes a more silky, elegant, perfumed wine, representing the “queen” to Barolo’s “king.” We’ll start with the Produttori del Barbaresco, one of Italy’s most highly respected cooperatives, which makes benchmark Barbaresco in a traditionalist style. We’ll hear how its 55 growers decide when to pick, how to pay, and what to bottle as a cru. We then contrast this with modernist winery, Marchesi di Gresy. Barbaresco’s oldest and largest winery in private hands, Marchesi di Gresy owns Martinenga, the only cru belonging to just one owner. Here Barbaresco sees some time in barrique, as it does at our third winery, a boutique estate such as Moccagatta or Bruno Rocca. After a brief stop back to the hotel, we’ll head to dinner in Barolo at the Brezza winery, where we’ll sample their wines in the restaurant of their B&B. B, D • Hotel I Castelli
DAY 5 – BARBERA’S STANDARD-BEARERS
Today we focus on Barbera, Piedmont’s most widely grown grape. Until the 1980s, it was little more than a rustic table wine. But thanks to key innovators, it’s been transformed from a farmhouse quaffer to a wine of great character and finesse—another prized plum of Piedmont. The story starts at Braida, the estate of Giacomo Bologna. Now deceased, this man single-handedly revolutionized Barbera d’Asti. We’ll hear this Cinderella story and taste through the estate’s bottlings, which range from a dry frizzante Barbera to barrique-aged powerhouses. Then we head to Castagnolo Lanze, headquarters of La Spinetta. The Rivetti brothers have made succulent Barberas since 1985, but have also pioneered single-vineyard Moscato and added Barolo and Barbaresco to their portfolio, which achieved instant cult status. (In 2001, they also expanded to the Tuscan coast, founding Casanova della Spinetta.)
We return to Alba for some time on your own. You can search for older Barolo vintages in well-stocked wine shops, pick up white truffles and yummy chocolate-hazelnut candies in the gourmet shops, or visit the baroque and medieval churches. Our farewell dinner will be at the Restaurant Piola, owned by the Ceretto winery. B, D • Hotel I Castelli
Day 6 – ARRIVEDERCI!
A shuttle to the Asti or Tortona train station and assistance with your travel plans. B
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