Now that truffle season is coming and it’s getting time to open those bottles of Barolo, I figured I should recap a weekend in the Langhe.
Nestled in the south of Piemonte in North‑Western Italy lies the Langhe, a picturesque area of rolling hills and endless rows of vineyards. Besides stunning vistas, the region is world‑renowned for its wines and foods, being home to Barolo, fassona, hazelnut, and white truffle.
🍷Welcome to the Langhe 🍇
I decided to stay in a B&B atop a vineyard right outside of Barolo. The view makes or breaks a stay in a place like the Langhe, so choose that room that has the view, you will not regret it.
Performance is a must when driving on winding country roads; however, may I suggest something with some off‑road capabilities and/or ground clearance. Whether it be the parking for that restaurant or that fantastic B&B you booked, a Porsche 911 may not be treated too well. After all, this is a farming area with its fair share of unpaved roads. You will put your driving skills to the test when you weave around tractors exiting fields or carrying new barrels to wineries.
The Winery & Vineyards
A winery tour is essential. Fontanafredda 1858 ‑ founded by a son of King Vittorio Emanuele II, Count Emanuele Alberto di Mirafiori ‑ is a winery located on the former hunting grounds of the King. Best known for its tradition of innovation in the manufacturing of Barolo, touring the grounds is an opportunity to visit a living museum. From the royal stables turned maceration room, barrel ageing cellars covered in stalactites, to the former hunting lodge turned Michelin star restaurant (Guidorsistorante) the tour is finished with a variety of tastings for all palates and budgets.
The Lay of the Land
Bordered by the Ligurian Sea Alps to the south and the Po River Valley to the north, the rolling hills of the Langhe is a unique mix of geology and geography. The resulting landscape has not only made it a beautiful place to see, but it also provides the necessities for the delicacies of the region to grow. From its unique climate to the ground below, every inch of the Langhe is fascinating.
The best way to spend a weekend in Langhe is by dividing and conquering. Staying in any of the towns around Barolo, La Morra, or Monforte d’Alba provides a convenient home base.
Some useful distances:
📍Barolo‑ Dogliani 12km
Being that the Langhe is made up of ancient sea beds, the soil ‑ Terroir ‑ is very chalky, full of limestone, clay, and sands resulting in a highly alkaline environment. These limestone‑based soils help give wines such as Barolo to become a smooth and low acidic wine.
Being a wine region, the Langhe grows a variety of grapes: Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Barbera, and Fresia. In the case of Nebbiolo ‑ the grape used to make Barolo ‑ it is one of the first to be planted and the last to be harvested. Besides its beautiful dark hue, the grape contains everything to make a delicious wine.
Vendemmia, the harvest. As the Autumn fog rolls into the Langhe the time to pick these beautiful grapes follows. In a frenzy of activity, a mobilization of farmers and tractors buzz around the region navigating around the random fanatical (inebriated) tourists. Being harvested by hand is no cheap or easy feat, adding to the time and effort it takes to make Barolo.
This is where the magic happens. Deep in the cellars of Fontanafredda grapes are processed and aged. In the case of Barolo Classico, the grapes ferment on skins for 12‑15 days before maceration, where they will be left for 20 more days. This process helps in extracting the tannins the wine is known for, along with giving it a more suitable structure and flavour profile.
This ‘problem’ has split the production of Barolo into two schools of thoughts: the Traditionalists who prefer the utilization of the long (~30‑day avg.) maceration and large barrels, and the Modernist who prefers less maceration time (~10‑day avg.) and the smaller French barriques.
Barolo is rich in tannins, making it a perfect wine to age. What is a tannin and its importance? Tannins are naturally occurring astringent chemical compounds found in organic plant matter that give a dry mouth feeling when drinking wine or tea. A wine heavy in tannins has the potential to polymerize into a longer chain, creating a complex and smoother wine as it ages.
Since Barolo is intended to be aged in the bottle after it’s manufacturing (at least 3 years), the bottle needs to stand the test of time. In this case, it also has to be easy to transport via bicycle.
The only issue with Barolo is the time and labour taken to complete the winemaking process. Whereas other wines are often ready to drink in less than two years, some bottles of Barolo take up to 10‑15 years to mature.
Now the best part…the wine‑drinking part. Barolo can be an intimidating wine, either by its high cost or very tannin flavour profile. With the guidance of a good sommelier, even wine novices can have an enjoyable tasting experience. From organic innovations to special reserves that cost more than a new car, the choice is yours.
Both Modernists and Traditionalists make ‘Barolo’, but they do differ from each other. The Modernist Barolo is fruitier and earlier‑drinking ‑ having a lesser ability to age in‑depth ‑ and the Traditionalist Barolo being the Barolo known as a well-aging wine with hints of rose, cherry, dried fruits, and sometimes slight mushroom notes.
A tour of any Barolo producer’s cellar today shows that they meddle in both the Traditionalist and Modernist ways, tweaking production to make better wines or a better variety. I still don’t know what makes a bike-friendly Barolo.🚲
High above the Langhe is La Morra, with beautiful southward‑facing views of the Langhe and northward‑facing views of the Po River valley. Besides being full of top‑rated restaurants, the variety of independent wine bars serving awesome pairings of niche wines and charcuterie is the real experience you don’t want to miss.
The home of Count Camillo Bensoca Cavour, the first prime minister of Italy and one of the principal intellectual powers behind the Risorgimento (The Unification of Italy) ‑ is also home to an impressive vineyard. Cavour being a fan of the wine spent much of his free time here formulating what Barolo as we know it today. From innovations in technology to the management of grape genetic lines, the estate‑turned‑museum is both informative and beautiful.
With my camera bag over my shoulder, I spent the majority of the week shooting film alongside my mirrorless camera. Shooting on a vintage Nikon EL2 in black and white film added some romanticization to the adventure that only film can do.
Bring a bag and dress to walk, the trunk of my car quickly filled up with food and wine for the journey back. Make sure you have a way to carry it all… in style.
As mentioned above, the ground is dusty and chalky. Make sure to have the proper footwear to explore those wine cellars or the endless rows of vineyards. Don’t let yourself miss out on the fun because you decided to wear those fancy suede loafers.
If you have a fair complexion like me and are visiting in the summer, bring a hat as it looks cool and helps you stay cool.
I hope this either:
A. Helped you on your own adventure to the Langhe
B. Brought you some enjoyment to read about the Langhe
Either way, thanks for reading, safe travels.
If this guide was of interest, enjoy it on Instagram where the guide is also available.