If you have already explored Northern Italian wines, chances are you have already heard of the Langhe. The Langhe is one of Piedmont’s best wine regions, located just south of Turin. This beautiful region is filled with medieval Borghi and historic castles, rolling hills, plenty of vineyards, and delicious food. Let’s take a better look at what is the Langhe:
Where is the Langhe?
Once upon a time, the area was referred to as Mons Langa et Bassa Langa. Eventually, the whole area became known simply as Le Langhe. It spans the province of Asti and Cuneo, surrounding the Tanaro River (which is key to the winemaking in the area!).
The area might seem reminiscent of Tuscany’s vineyard hills, but there is something unique in the Langhe. From every hill, you can look and see the beautiful Alps in the distance. Vineyards are sprawled across all the hills. Larger vineyards are marked by castles and villas dating back to the medieval period, and up to the 19th century. These were once the property of French and early Italian nobility.
Since 2014 the area of the Langhe has been included on the UNESCO World Heritage list for its landscape, winemaking tradition, and unique history.
A note of the Langhe’s History
While the area of the Langhe has been inhabited since before the Romans, it has had a bit of a back and forth success. Though the land was fertile, most lands were managed under a system of “mezzadria”, much like a feudal system. Farmers had to provide a large portion of their produce to the landowner and had to answer to the landowner’s desires. This system was actually present in Italy up until the 1960s, in some areas.
Although wine was a key product, and the land was fertile, the economic benefits were not seen directly by those who worked the land. After the World Wars, many left their land behind for more promising jobs in the city: the industry was sweeping through Turin promising stable jobs for many. It was not until the late 20th century that the Langhe saw a great economic boost. Today thanks to its popularity the wine, hazelnut, and truffle business are key to this region.
Where to go in the Langhe?
When visiting the Langhe, you will most likely need a car. The best thing to do is to go for a drive and hop from town to town enjoying the beautiful landscape. However, if you are prone to car sickness, or prefer to experience the area hands-on (or feet-on) the hills are lined with numerous hiking paths. These paths can take you from town to town, right through the vineyards.
All these trails are marked by red and white markers. Though few may show up on Google Maps, I suggest looking at Gulliver or simply parking in a town and looking out for the Red and White trail signs. This is the perfect chance to do all the wine tasting, while not being worried about driving. Plus it adds a little exercise to the day so you don’t feel guilty about all the wine and cheese. Longer trails can take you further into the Piedmontese landscape, some people even spend a few days, staying in a new wine village each day.
The small towns of the Langhe, though similar are all unique and beautiful on their own.
Barolo is of course one of the most famous villages, you should also see La Morra, Serralunga, Castiglione Falleto, and Verduno. Then my personal favorite: Monforte d’Alba. The main “city” of the area is Alba, which is really just a larger town. It provides a great base to travel from.
Many of these towns are even listed on the Borghi Piu Belli d’Italia (most beautiful villages of Italy).
What to eat in the Langhe:
The main reason to visit the Langhe: eating & drinking. Seriously this region is filled with such delicious specialties, you need to make time to taste them all.
All the food in the area is so good, it is hard to go wrong. The Slow Food movement was founded in nearby Bra and the area takes pride in the value of its cuisine. Expect your lunches to be long and slow, enjoy antipasti, straight through to your final coffee. Then it is time for more wine tasting.
So what local specialties should you try? Hazelnuts of this area are renowned around the world, chocolate (this is where Ferrero Rocher and Nutella are from, but look out for boutique chocolate makers!), tajarin (a fresh egg pasta), and agnolotti (a type of ravioli, traditionally made with 5 meats). Then of course truffle on everything, and cheese. This small area alone produces hundreds of sheep, goat, and cow milk cheeses that are all delicious.
Many dishes are meat-based though you should be able to find vegetarian options. However, a warning, veganism does not really fit with the area. If there isn’t meat on your dish it is going to be filled with cheese.
Piedmont’s Best Wine Region
Piedmont is filled with many different wine sub-regions, all with their own microclimates and unique soils. Le Langhe has become world-famous for its incredible reds and of course, Nebbiolo. But what makes the region so perfect for wine production?
The Langhe is perfectly situated between the coast of Liguria and the Alps, there is a warm sea element that blows up from the south and cool mountain air that comes down from the Alps. Much of the vineyards are along the Tanaro river valley which further leads to that excellent morning fog that is ideal for Nebbiolo production. The soils are a mix, even within the Langhe, which provides diversity among the producers and towns.
Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Barbera, and Arneis are the traditional grapes of the area. They produce easy to drink young wines and richer, noble wines like the famous Barolo and Barbaresco. When visiting the region, I would suggest trying a few producers a bit distant from one another to compare the flavors.