The landscape of Alba is the secret ingredient that makes northern Italian wines so great.
One of the most sought-after wines in the world, Barolo is sometimes called “the king of wines and the wine of kings.” This red wine from a small area around the town of Barolo, near Alba in the northern Piedmont region, can sell for more than $1,000 a bottle—and wine aficionados have been known to hoard bottles of Barolo for decades to age the wine to their liking. A good Barolo has a complex aroma of dried flowers, red fruit, and spice; it’s full-bodied and sophisticated without overpowering your palate.
Ceretto Winery in Alba
Because it’s so revered, the Barolo name is also heavily regulated. It’s protected by DOCG certification, a step above the usual DOP protection that controls how a certain product from a place is made. (Parmigiano Reggiano, balsamico di Modena, and San Marzano tomatoes are just a few Italian DOP products.) The “G” means it is guaranteed by the government to be especially high quality—basically, DOCG is a label that assures you are getting the best of the best. DOCG-certified Barolo wines can only be made in the small area around Barolo from 100% native Nebbiolo grapes, and must be aged for a minimum of three years.
But a funny thing happens when you cross the Barolo border. Winemakers all around the Alba region grow the Nebbiolo grape, and many of them treat it the exact same way as their upscale neighbors…but the wine they produce is infinitely more affordable. The simply named Nebbiolo d’Alba, for example, is literally made next to the Barolo region, and is similarly aromatic and elegant. The only real difference is that it can be enjoyed after just a year of aging, and great versions of this wine can be found for $20-$40.
There are dozens of incredible wines from the gorgeous rolling hills around Alba. Barbaresco, Gattinara, and Valtellina are all made with the Nebbiolo grape, while other native grapes Barbera and Dolcetto also make delicious, elegant red wines. More of a white wine fan? The nearby Roero region, just north of Alba, is home to the Arneis grape, which makes a medium-bodied, dry white similar to a French Sauvignon Blanc that can easily be found for under $30 a bottle.
The classic Piedmont landscape is the secret ingredient that makes these wines so great. The rolling hills of the region at the base of the Alps create the perfect microclimates for grape growers, who can pick and choose exactly which type of soil works best for their winemaking style. During the growing season, the area gets lots of sun during the day but cool breezes come down from the mountain at night, which helps protect against rot and other diseases that can damage grapes. It’s these same characteristics that make Alba a welcoming home for the town’s other famously expensive export: truffles.
With its fertile valleys, towering forests of chestnut and oak trees, and incredible native products like wine and truffles, it’s no surprise that Piedmont is home to some of the most decadent gourmet experiences in Italy. Luckily, they don’t have to cost an arm and a leg! With a little knowledge about the region, you can recreate an incredible Piedmontese meal like tagliatelle al tartufo or al Barolo in your own home without breaking the bank. (Hint: Start your shopping in the Giadzy pantry!)