I’m pretty sure that the first thing that comes to your mind when dreaming of wine tasting in Italy is Chianti in Tuscany. However, Italy is home to other equally charming wine regions producing excellent grapes in fantastic sceneries. One of these is the Langhe, in the northern region of Piemonte, which is home to some of the finest wines in the world.
Just about 60 km south of Turin, Langhe is an incredible wine region rich in noble vineyards, exceptional scenery, ancient castles and outstanding cuisine. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 2014, this area is dotted with pretty hilltop villages full of wineries and wine cellars that offer excellent tastings. Some of Italy’s greatest red wines are produced here: Barolo, Barbaresco and Nebbiolo.
WHAT TO SEE
Considered the capital of the Langhe, Alba is a hotspot for gourmet travelers who flock to town for its excellent wines and divine white truffles (and those of you with a sweet tooth will be pleased to know that Nutella is produced here!). Alba is often nicknamed the “town of 100 towers” due to the numerous towers that dominated its skyline in medieval times, although there are only a few left nowadays. Today it is an elegant town dominated by a pink-bricked cathedral, with lively streets and yummy shops.
Named one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, Neive is a charming place frozen in time. Its walled medieval heart sits at the top of the hill, with charming cobblestone alleys and ancient stone buildings. Lovely treasures to explore here include Casa Cotto, the oldest house in the village, the XIII-century clock tower and the XVI-century chapels of San Rocco and San Sebastiano.
This picturesque village is the heart of the production of the world-famous Barbaresco wine, which is often nicknamed Barolo’s younger brother (since it requires a shorter aging process). Its symbol is an XI-century tower that was originally part of a fortified complex built to defend the village from foreign invaders. There is also a fantastic sundial painted on the wall of a house, depicting the wine making process.
Grinzane di Cavour
Grinzane is a medieval hamlet whose name pays tribute to Camillo Benso Conte di Cavour, the statesman that played a key role in the unification of Italy. The must-see here is the imposing castle where Cavour lived while serving as the local mayor between 1832 and 1849. Today the castle is home to an ethnographic museum and the Cavour Regional Enoteca, established in 1967 to showcase the famous wines of this region. Inside the castle there is also a Michelin Star restaurant. You’ll be able to enjoy striking views of the surrounding vineyards. The castle hosts a prestigious truffle auction in November.
Often referred to as the “balcony of Langhe” due to its panoramic position on top of the highest hill in the area, La Morra is a sleepy village with lots of atmosphere. Its heart is Piazza Castello, the square where you can see a 31m-high bell tower built in the XVIII century on the remains of the ancient castle that was destroyed in 1544 by the French troops. Just outside the village, there are two interesting sights not to be missed: the Chapel of Barolo, a deconsecrated little church that was painted it in strikingly bold colors American artists David Tremlett and Sol Lewitt, and the giant Lebanon Cedar tree at the top of the Monfalletto hill, which was planted here in 1856 by a young couple to seal its love and still today witnesses hundreds of marriage vows.
A short but steep drive from La Morra leads to Barolo, the place that gives its name to one of Italy’s greatest wines. It’s a small village of colorful houses and charmingly-decorated balconies set in the heart of the Langhe region. Wine lovers come here for the WiMu, an innovative museum dedicated to the history and culture of wine, and some serious tasting at the Enoteca Regionale del Barolo. For a quirkier experience, head to the Corkscrew Museum, a unique showcase of 600 corkscrews, from antique pieces to more modern samples.
This pretty village hides a precious historic center in its upper side, with a stunning natural amphitheater and a XIII-century bell tower. The climb up through the narrow streets is rewarded with gorgeous views over vineyards and the Alps in the distance. Monforte d’Alba is said to be one of the liveliest places in the Langhe region, with fancy restaurants, gourmet botteghe and a fantastic jazz festival that takes place in the summer.
It is also worth stopping by Castiglione Falletto to see the castle and Serralunga d’Alba to visit Fontanafredda, which was officially awarded the title of “European Winery of the Year”.
WINERIES TO VISIT
Wine enthusiasts will be spoilt for choice with so many places offering tours and tastings, from old cellars to family-run boutique wineries. Most of the wineries can be visited by appointment but some of the more famous may be a bit harder to get into, so it’s better to plan in advance.
I can personally recommend the following:
- Cantina del Glicine (Neive), an old winery dating back to 1582
- Josetta Saffirio (Monforte d’Alba) for a deep dive into the world of wine, from production to bottling and labeling
- Poderi Rocche dei Manzoni (Monforte d’Alba), where music is believed to influence the wine making process
- Cantina Ceretto (Alba), a modern and stylish winery with breathtaking views over the surrounding vineyards
- Vietti (Castiglione Falletto), a four-generation family winery
- Enoteca Regionale del Barbaresco (Barbaresco), housed in a deconsecrated church
- The closest airports are in Turin, Milan, and Genoa and a car rental is the easiest way to get to the area. Alternatively, you can get to Alba by train with a little bit of patience
- It’s difficult to get around without a car, especially if you are planning to visit the wineries scattered throughout the countryside. However, you may want to consider hiring a driver or join an organized tour, since roads are steep and winding and you’ll be drinking lots of wine…
- I stayed at Dimora I Manichei in Monforte d’Alba, an enchanting place in the heart of the historic center, which proved to be a great base for touring the region. Plus, it’s 2-minute walk from Le Case della Saracca, a fantastic restaurant/wine bar housed in a series of medieval buildings. Another great place for lodging is Hotel Le Torri in Castiglione Falletto, with a fantastic restaurant next to it
- Regarding eateries, I can suggest Osteria More e Macine in La Morra, Tra Arte e Querce in Monchiero, just south of Monforte d’Alba and the homey atmosphere of La Terrazza di Renza in Castiglione Falsetto
- Autumn is the best time of year to visit the Langhe, with the grape harvest season bringing lots of local festivals and key events like the Alba White Truffle Fair between October and November. Other important events throughout the year include the Collisioni Music Festival in Barolo (July) and Monfortinjazz in Monforte d’Alba (July-August)
Confession: not many pictures available for this article, I was too busy tasting wines – sorry!