Piedmont (or Piemonte) has sometimes been referred to as ‘Tuscany without the tourists’, Piedmont’s undulating hills striped with vineyards bear more than a passing resemblance to its famous southern counterpart. The name ‘pied monte’ literally means ‘at the foot of the mountains’.
It is surrounded on three sides by the Alps, including Monviso, where the Po
rises, and Monte Rosa. It borders with France, Switzerland
and the Italian regions of Lombardy, Liguria, Aosta
Valley and for a very small fragment with Emilia Romagna. Piedmont is the second largest of Italy‘s 20 regions, after Sicily. The countryside is very varied: one passes from the rugged peaks of the massifs of Monte Rosa and of Gran Paradiso, to the damp rice paddies of Vercelli and Novara, from the gentle hillsides of the Langhe
and of Monferrato to the plains. Monferrato is one of the areas of Piedmont that we spend time in on our tours.
The regional capital of Turin (Torino) is magical. It is Italy’s fourth-largest city and has an illustrious past, resulting in elegant squares, world-class museums and historic cafés, flanked by some 18km of colonnaded walkways
Head to the south and the border with Liguria, and we enter wine and truffle country. The town of Alba sits among the hills of Le Langhe. This is home to white truffles, which are more delicate and aromatic than the more common black version. Alba is also home to Barolo, the ‘king of Italian reds’ and the lighter, Nebbiolo, which also happens to be the name of the grape variety that Barolo is made from. Neighbouring Asti is another big wine town, famed for its sparkling sweet whites of course, and also for its annual Palio festival.
Apart from the excellent Piemontese wines, the cuisine here has a combination of the flavours of France and a slice Mediterranean Italy. Fondue features on the menu, especially bagna caoda – with its sauce of anchovies, garlic, butter and cream. And dishes are as likely to be larded with butter and cream as with olive oil. Pastas and risottos are often flavoured with delicate shavings of truffle, and saffron is another popular risotto ingredient. In-the-know foodies seek out Piedmont’s white truffles, hazelnuts, chocolates, and vintages such as Barberesco, Barolo and sparkling Asti. Its abundance of fresh produce and artisan traditions inspired the Slow Food Movement here, which is based around savouring the simple pleasures in life – an art which the Piedmontese have perfected.
With 46 different DOC and four DOCG areas, Piedmont is the region that produces the largest number of best known, noble, and world-appreciated prize-winning wines, such as Barbera, Barolo, Barbaresco, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Grignolino, Malvasia and Asti Spumante among others. Another distinguished characteristic of Piedmont is that most of its wines are produced on family estates made up of relatively small parcels of land. As touched upon above, the main grape grown here is the distinguished Nebbiolo, which is the base for the famed Barolo, Barbaresco and Gattinara among others.
Its name derives from the word nebbia, or fog, because of a velvety, whitish coating over its berries in addition to the fact that it grows in an area where, at ripening time in September, heavy morning fog is a given and the humidity that it provides gives the grapes an ideal habitat. Among the whites, the Asti Spumante achieved national fame thanks to Carlo Gancia, who learned the Champagne method in Rheims, France, and applied his newly acquired knowledge experimenting with Moscato grapes. This wine is perfect with the rich pastries and fine chocolate products.
Another Piedmont creation that achieved worldwide fame is the Vermouth, which was first created by Benedetto Carpano in his wine shop near the Turin Stock Exchange. The classic American martini cocktail takes its name from the most known Italian producer of dry vermouth, Martini & Rossi. Although the original Vermouth complex/factory in central Turin is now private apartments, a visit to see the stunning outside entrance to the complex is highly recommended!