Piedmont: Hidden Gems of Culture and Wine
I often associate Piedmont with Barolo, Barbaresco, and truffles. The beautiful hills of the Langhe create a marvelous backdrop over the bustling centers of Ovada and Novi. Alba, famed for its truffled production, is a center of culinary expertise and mastery. In the end, it’s a foodie’s playground.
There is a lot we know about Piedmont. But there is also a lot we have yet to discover.
On Ciclismo Classico’s Piedmont: Barolo & Truffle trip, you get the best of the wine, the food, and the culture. We were the first company to offer a bike tour through Piedmont. To this day over half of our guide team comes from this rich and unique region. We are still the best in Piedmont, giving you behind-the-scenes experiences that no one can.
So what makes Piedmont so special to us?
When you set aside all the static, you begin to see other secret aspects of Piedmont that make it so charming. Here are four hidden gems that we find irresistible about this corner of northwestern Italy:
Positioned as the key village in the trade route between the Mediterranean Sea and Northern Italy, this town holds an important place in Piedmont’s history.
The “Passo della Bocchetta” runs through Gavi, making its way all the way down to Liguria. In the past, the Saracens captured and ruled the city. Local legend tells us the name Gavi comes from the Arab princess Gavia who made her home there.
Many wars between the Genovese and Savoyard kingdoms turned Gavi into a fortified city, positioned on the war-front. In the early 1800s, Gavi was part of the Kingdom of Sardinia and had frequently exchanged hands with the governments in power.
Gavi di Gavi DOC uses the local Cortese grape varietal: a crisp, dry white wine with notes of acacia, peach, and white fruits. Great for aperitifs and antipasti, shellfish and salads, Gavi is best enjoyed as a young wine. If you’d had your fill of Pinot Grigio, go Gavi.
Here we need to talk about religion, not wine. Casale Monferrato has a rich history extending from the Roman domination of the 8th C. But what’s truly remarkable about Casale Monferrato is the presence of one of the most beautiful synagogues in all of Europe.
Built in 1595, the exterior of the present-day building would give you no clue as to the cultural richness that lies within. The interior is exquisitely Baroque and is listed as a National Monument of Italy. It is one of the few synagogues that survived in Piedmont.
Two large bas-reliefs depicting Jerusalem and Hebron are on the main walls. Do not miss the 1787 Bible scrolls and the gilded, carved wooden choir (separated for men and women). When near Casale, be sure to check out this hidden gem of Piedmont.
Brachetto, Bramaterra and Lessona:
Most Piedmontese red varietals are full-bodied, dry wines. Brachetto d’Acqui is a grape of extraordinary freshness, grown in the valley around Acqui Terme. It’s unique aroma and taste comes from its intense aromatics and natural sweetness.
The must and the grape skins are macerated for at least two days, bleeding out the ruby-red pigment. It is a semi-sparkling red wine with notes of fresh cherries, strawberries, and raspberries. It makes a great wine for an aperitif or for dessert.
Bramaterra and Lessona are siblings. While most people know the Nebbiolo grape in its typical Barolo form, not too many know this varietal when it comes from the very north of Piedmont.
The mountain fresh air and warm valley breezes create hearty grapes and strong wines 60 miles north of the fabled Barbaresco wine region. Local vintners once produced Bramaterra in quantities rivaling that of Barolo. But sadly WWII ruined most of the production and the vines in the high mountains of Piedmont.
Lessona is commonly blended with Bonarda and Vespolina grapes to soften its edginess. Yet some 100% Lessona Nebbiolo are as good as their southern counterparts.
In the same hills that produce delicious Barolo and Brunesco, comes their long-distant relative. Just north of Alba you can find vineyards full of Arneis vines.
These grapes were almost wiped out to extinction until Alfredo Currado nursed the last vines into propagation in the1960s. One of the rare whites in the area, the pear-like aroma opens to almond notes. It is a crisp and refreshing white in a land of bold and full-bodied reds.
Learn more about our Piedmont: Barolo and Truffles trip.