Arriving in a famous wine area for the first time is wonderfully exciting. As you drive from the airport (in this case Turin), you pass through the neighbouring countryside which is flat as a pancake, if lying between the snow-covered Alps and the ‘ridges’ which give the Langhe its name. As you approach your destination you begin to see famous wine names on the road signs – Barolo, La Morra and many more, which of course are first and foremost the names of villages. Despite having now done it many times, it’s amazing to see the names of one’s favourite drink on the map or on road signs!
On the outskirts of the smallish town of Alba, you drive past the factory which produces its most famous product – Ferrero Rocher. So this is hazelnut and chocolate heaven as well as a town perfectly situated between Piemonte’s red wine appellations – Barolo and Barbaresco. A simple lunch at the Vincaffe is an introduction to the fact that Piemonte is one of Italy’s gastronomic centres – fantastic mixed antipasti of raw beef, veal with a slightly tangy sauce and and a chicken and nut (of course) salad, followed by soup of peasant proportion or gnocchi – time to lie down and surrender.
Wine by the glass offers immediate interest. If you ignore the famous names for the moment you can try the local grape varieties – Arneis for white (quite famous), but als0 white La Favorita and in the reds, Freisa. The last named, by Pellisero, has very ripe fruit, low acid and tannin and dense, herbaceous, fruit, nearer to prune than plum. Delicious and could only really come from here. In the evening we drank one of the staple reds of the region, Barbera. Its has a good light ruby colour, medium in weight, beautifully balanced in terms of acidity and tannin, far too drinkable. A bottle disappears in no time. It’s great value too – this example which hasn’t been a oak barrel, so the lovely fruit is what you get, is €14 in a restaurant. (Giovanni Sordo, Barbera d’Alba, 2008). No doubt there will be plenty of time for the mushrooms, pasta and in another season, truffles for which the place is renowned, but that’s a great start.