melissa i strong

rock climber, writer, photographer, working on life daily

Left: The view from our room at Villa Tiboldi

Below: Images taken around the Villa.  The Malvira' vineyards are in the background.


                                                 Piedmont, Italy: wine vacation


In the back of my mind, our dream climbing trip to Switzerland was always laced with the notions of seeing more than just the boulders.  Once I realized how close to Piedmont we were our vacation from our vacation began to blossom.  From our apartment in Claro, Switzerland the Piedmont region in Northern Italy is about a three hour drive.  Being that we both enjoy red wine and that we sell several wines from the region at my work I did not want to pass up visiting the home of some of my preferred red wines including Borolo, Barbaresco, Barbera and in northern Piedmont Gattinara.


Going into this completely blind I learned a lot (yet still have a lot to learn) and we had a fabulous time exploring and relishing in the Italian countryside.  We stayed at Villa Tiboldi located on the outskirts of Canale, about 20 minutes from Alba.  We knew we were in the right spot as the flat landscape swelled into rolling hills covered with vines and in some cases crowned with a picturesque village or a beautiful estate—which was the case with Villa Tiboldi. The beauty of the Villa greeted us as we turned onto the drive heading up the hillside that cut a path through part of the Malvaia vineyard. It was evident before we even stepped out of the car that great care and attention to detail is a priority at Villa Tiboldi.  After checking into our junior suite–complete with a rubber ducky adorning the claw foot cast iron tub, we headed off to our first wine tasting scheduled in the Barbaresco region at Albino Rocca.


A little about Barbaresco & Barolo wines: they are both made with the Nebbiolo grape in the Langhe Valley.  Barbaresco is located north of Barolo and a bit smaller of a region.  The same grape is nurtured in both areas but the miles in between result in different soil and microclimates making the final product extremely different.  Barbaresco tends to have more limestone in the soil that is rich in nutrients creating a lighter wine being touted as “the wine of Queens.”  The richer Barolo coming from a sandstone clay soil is slower to mature and referred to as “the wine of Kings.”  Both grapes are rich in tannins but with Barbaresco the tannins tend to soften quicker which is why it requires a shorter ageing period than Barolo.  Barbaresco can be aged in oak or chestnut for 2 years and 4 for a Riserva where Barolo is aged in oak only for 3 years and 5 years for a Riserva.


Barbera wines are made from Barbera grapes and are grown in the hills of Asti and Alba.  Once again the soils and the microclimates make the difference in the wine, which tends to be low in tannins but higher in acidity.  Barberas typically are lighter and crisper compared to wines made from the Nebbiolo grapes.  D’Alba must be 85% Barbera and 15% Nebbiolo opposed to D’Asti which must be 85% Barbera and the other 15% can be a blend of Freisa, Grignolino and Golcetto.  Asti tends to be richer in berry flavors while Alba produces more floral tones.  These wines can be aged but require less ageing than Barolo or Barbaresco.


Our first wine tour and tasting took us to the vineyards of Albino Rocca in Barbaresco.  The Roccas are a four generation wine making family.  They produce Barbaresco, Dolcetto D’Alba, Barbera D’Alba, and a red blend Rosso Di Rocca, Chardonnay, Moscato and Cortes. A family member of the great wine-producing heritage, Monica Rocca, greeted us, at the top of one of their vineyards in their winery.   They produce about 100,000 bottles per year.  The grapes are hand picked, macerated and fermented in a machine and then the top wines are aged in a handmade Austrian & German Oak barrels.  They are known for their Barbaresco Ronchi made from some of their oldest vines planted 50 years ago.  We were able to taste the Ronchi along with several other varietals and did not go home empty handed.


That evening we were off to our extravagant delightful dinner at the Piazzz Duomo in the town of Alba, rated 39 in the top 50 restaurants in the world. Being the off season we were able to easily secure a table at famous Duomo.  It was indeed an experience of a lifetime.  From the service to food I was blown away by flavors and their friendly approachable professionalism.  It was more than a dinner it was an experience.  The synchronized service was a choreographed dance of suite donned servers moving elegantly and discretely helping us enjoy our experience.   The food was amazing creation of flavors and courses that seemed to never stop coming.  The décor is a contemporary art fresco on a bright pink background—you can see its uniqueness in some of the pictures.


One of the glitches we experienced was locating the vineyards where I had scheduled appointments.  We had a GPS but several times experienced that frustrating moment when Siri informed us, “you have arrived at your destination” and it is nowhere in sight.  Unfortunately my Italian is more limited than my knowledge of wines so were unable to be directed when we called.  We missed that wine tasting but were happy to see some estates had “open” signs by their name and thanks to this we drove up to Fratelli Serio & Battista Borgogno and we met again a great, great granddaughter of the man who started the vines growing at.  Here we tasted their Barolos they are known for from the Cannubi hillside.  Cannubi has been said to be “a vineyard kissed by God” creating the most renowned crus.  The wine lived up to the reputation and was deliciously intense and rich while still be graceful.


That evening we were able to acquaint ourselves with some of the Malvira wines grown around the Villa Tiboldi when we dined at their restaurant.  There we had delicious courses including homemade pasta, pork fillet cooked with honey and cumin and homemade cinnamon gelato with pares cooked with red wine.  The Malvira wine we enjoyed was made from the Nebbiolo grape in the Roero region, we had their Roero Riserva Mombeltramo it was outstanding and unfortunately not easy to get in the States.


La Spinetta was our finally winery to visit for this trip (we were saving Gattinara for a day trip being closer to where we were staying) fortunately the GPS took us there first try for our 10:00 am wine tasting once again with a great, great granddaughter, Manuela, of the man who started the vineyard.  This was the largest group wine tasting with seven people total including myself and Adam (all other wine tastings were just the two of us).  Here we tasted their Barbaresco Bordini, Barbersco Gallina, Barbersco Valeinrano, Barbera d’ Asti & d’ Alba, Barolo Garretti and their Chardonnay and Moscato.  It was a leaning experience tasting the different years and crus side by side seeing the subtle difference.  They also produce olive oil that is young and light with a slight bitter taste.   La Spinetta was the largest vineyard we visited yet still had a very warm approachable feeing.  They produce 220,000 bottles per year of just Moscato!


Gattinara is also made with the Nebbiolo grape but is located about an hour north of Alba and Barolo.  It is still in Piedmont region but a completely different climate with remarkably different soil.  The difference in the air is obvious as you move closer to the Italian Alps and away from the ocean.  The soil is more volcanic, rocky and arid completely different from the heavy sandy clay soil of the Langhe valley.  The soil is more acidic creating a wine that is lower in tannins than Barolo resulting in a rich, robust wine that is a bit lighter and more approachable.  To help balance out the tannins the Traviglini Gattinara is aged in large barrels first and then using what some would call a modernistic approach moved into the French barriques—small French barrels.  Gattinara must be aged for 2 years in oak and 4 years for a Riserva.


We waited a few weeks before taking our day trip to Gattinara, located about an hour and a half from our temporary home in Claro.  For anyone who has asked for my wine recommendation at the Dunraven you will have heard me mention the wine, Traviglini Gattinara.  Only going by what I taste and like I have had many pleased costumers who take me up on this recommendation which was one reason why I was very excited to have the opportunity to visit Travglini.   Alessandro, the export manager at Travglini, was able keep our appointment providing us a tour and tasting.   We tasted the Gattinara and the Riserva, their Nebbiolo and the Cinzia.  It was one of my favorite wine tastings maybe because I already new a little about the wine and was able to learn more, or maybe it was just the day.  After we stopped for an espresso and some gelato in downtown Gattinara before making the journey home.  The town of Gattinara being at a distance from the Langhe valley was more relaxed and modest.


The wine tastings and wine country was one of my most favorite aspects of our vacation, next to the amazing bouldering of course.   I feel like I learned a good deal and yet just scratched the surface of this great wine making region.  The experience definitely got me very excided to learn more!

Piedmont was a pleasure very much enjoyed and someday I hope to return.


View of Tiboldi from my morning run.

Town of Canale in the distance

The long hallway that connects the traditionalist and the modernist -- Monica Rocca

Albino Rocca in Barbaresco

Their bottling machine

Piazza Duomo, Alba

Fratelli Serio & Battista Borgono in Barolo-- Above: the view from their facility, Left: their wines, Above right: their bottling machine

La Spinetta

Right: the wines we tasted

Middle: Moscato aging in steel tanks & their bottling machine

Far right: thier wines

Below aging in their French barriques


The view from outside La Spinetta's facilities.

Last night dinner at Villa Tiboldi

Gattinara, Above-their wines

Below left: the biggest barrels we had seen (each cost approximately 40,000-50,000 Euro)

Below middle: Travaglini's bottling machine made to fit their unique bottle shape designed in the 1950's by Giancarlo Tracaglini designed to catch the sediment during pouring

Below right: gelato in downtown Gattinara--much less busy than the southerns towns in Piedmont like Barolo and Alba.

Back "home" in Claro with our bootie.