The 3 B’s of Piedmont Wine

As I mentioned in the last post, we have become fans of the wine of Italy’s Piedmont region.   However, while we knew the most famous types – Barolo, Barbaresco, and Barbera – we did not know the slightest about the vinoculture.

So, to develop our knowledge on Piedmont wine, we had no choice but to travel there and have an official Piedmont wine tour!

To start, all three of these are grown in the Langhe region of Italy.   This is an area within the Piedmont.   Italian wine isn’t as complicated as French with Grand Cru, Premier Cru, and village level designations.  However, they do have a similarity in that certain plots are valued more.  However, these are more ‘small areas’ than particular plots belonging only to one winery.     While France uses AOC to designate the its approval of the grape / area, Italy uses the term DOC.

The Langhe region is very hilly.

Of the three I mentioned above, in addition to being types of wine made with Nebbiolo grapes, Barolo and Barbaresco are also towns.   There is no town of Barbera, but the Barbera grapes grow in the Piedmont and come from different towns…Barbera d’Alba, Barbera d’Asti, etc.

Barolo is the king – the best.   There are eleven towns in the Langhe which can call their wine Barolo.   Building on that, there are many crus, or plots of land where these special Nebbiolo grapes come from.    At our first stop, Fratelli Revello, we tasted their Barolo 2008, Barolo Vigna Gattera 2007, Barolo Vigna Giachini 2007 and Barola Vigna Concha 2007.   The names Gattera, Giachini and Concha are the plots.  They pointed out their window to show us where they came from – to the south, to the southeast, and across the street.  Thus, Barolos are not blended.

Checking out the Barolo map while overlooking the beautiful vineyards

While visiting the Marchesi di Barolo winery, we learned a bit more about Barolo’s history and the influence of the Savoy, who made their capital in nearby Torino.  This was very influential in the growth of Barolo.

As I mentioned, Barolo is a town.  And it is quite lovely….it is located in the middle of the hills, complete with a charming castle.

View of Barolo as we descended from our tasting above in La Morra

If you don’t have a planned visit, there are countless local wine stores in the town of Barolo with signs that invite strollers to come have a tasting.  We abstained due to the heavy amounts we were tasting at our visits, but did buy some local goods – hazelnut creme, pasta, and a handmade wine opener.

Exploring the town of Barolo, Italy

Barolo’s castle

Barbaresco is a town and also a type of Piedmont wine made with the Nebbiolo grape.   Exactly like Barolo, Barbaresco has only certain plots within the DOC.   There are only five compared to Barolo’s eleven.    We visited a charming family winery, Ca’del Baio.  In addition to their flagship Barbaresco, this winery also produced a few other local grape varieties: Dolcetto, Barbera d’Alba, and a Nebbiolo without DOC designation (outside the borders).

The hubby, checking out the family’s photo collection.

Barbaresco town is beautiful yet still much smaller than Barolo.   It is situated on the top of one of Piedmont’s rolling hills.

Town of Barbaresco, as seen from a neighboring hill

Like Barolo, you can taste in the many tasting rooms of Barbaresco.  Our guide told us about one tasting room that is a converted church.  We didn’t visit the Sunday morning we were there, but you can see it in the below photo as the central building.  Barbaresco also has a charming Sunday market.

Sunday morning market in Barbaresco. We purchased some nocciola creme and olive oil.

Finally, an explanation on Barbera.   As mentioned above, Barbera is the name of a grape, not a town.    So, it came come from different areas, generally designated on the label.

Barolos are the most expensive, ranging from 30 – 50 euros a bottle.  Barbarescos are a better bargain at 20 – 25 euro bottles.  Barberas are 6 – 12 euros.

While I like Barolos and Barbarescos, my wallet keeps me a bigger fan of Barbera.


Gratitude Friday: Thanksgiving

We weren’t able to make it home this year for Thanksgiving.   It is the first time for both of us not seeing family during at least one to two days over the long weekend.  To boot, Gabe doesn’t get Thanksgiving off as he is on the European system.

Instead of being sad, we decided to infuse Thanksgiving into Geneva by hosting a traditional dinner at our flat.   Our group was comprised of 5 from the United States, 1 from Ireland, 1 from Finland, and 1 from Germany.  Oh, and a Swiss dog!   It was our first International Thanksgiving.

Those of us from the US made some traditional dishes –  green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce.   It was my first attempt at making turkey and we used the recipe from this site.      Many thanks to the friends and family who sent me recipes over email since I was nervous.

My “Virginia biscuits” didn’t turn out so hot, due to the fact they don’t have self rising flour here.  Oopsie.    The pumpkin pie had a crater, but oh well. It still tasted like a piece of home, and was fun to share an ‘authentic’ Thanksgiving with our friends from other countries.

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While we miss our family and friends back home, we feel fortunate to have been surrounded by wonderful friends and good and plentiful food.

Bon weekend everyone!

The Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre, Italy is one of my favorite places in the world.  I first discovered it with friend R in the summer of 2007 during our girls trip to Italy.   Cinque Terre means 5 Lands in Italian and the area is comprised by five small towns perched on cliffs above the Ligurian Sea.

The area is a UNESCO world heritage site because of the early civilizations’ ability to build, live, and thrive on landscape that has the odds of being inhabitable.

I wanted to share it with Gabe, so we had selected it for one of our Honeyfund trips for our wedding.  We planned to go after my feet had fully recovered, which ended up being this Fall.    While we had some stormy skies our entire trip, I found the lack of tourists and cooler weather to be an refreshing change.

MONTEROSSO AL MARE, #5 was the town we stayed in.  It is the biggest, and I picked it due to our late arrival as it had more hotels that accomodated late check-in as well as actual parking lots for our car.   We arrived around 9pm and found that we couldn’t drive through town to the side we were staying in.   Note to future travelers: the Old Town and New Town are not connected for the average driver, only with special permit can you open the chain / gates.   It is a 20 – 30 minute deviation to drive back up the mountain to come back the other side.  So make sure to note that in your driving plans!

We checked into Hotel Baia.  It was a basic Italian room, but in a suberb location on the water and near the Monterosso train station.

Beach town of Monterosso

Early the next morning, we  put on our rain gear and set out to hike the seven mile Trail 2 from our hotel to Riomaggiore.  We were greeted with a locked gate.  The trails were closed due to the mudslides last October and continuing bad weather.   Oops.  While I researched the affects of the mudslides on the towns, I had not specifically looked into the trails.

Luckily there is a fantastic transportation solution – a regional train connects the five towns with an hourly train.   While they aren’t quite always on time, it was a very nice back-up to get to see the area with the trail closings.

The next stop, VERNAZZA, #4,  was my favorite of the five towns during the 2007 trip.  It has a natural harbor and I adore the bell tower from the church and how it looks over the coast.   We saw a large poster detailing the devastation the mudslides caused in this particular town.   It showcased homeowners and shopkeepers standing in the mud which once was their home/shop.   The beach was still a little damaged, but otherwise, there were scarce signs of the horrors they experienced last October.  They’ve done a remarkable job cleaning up.

In the harbor of Vernazza

Still too early for lunch, we climbed to the highest point of the town – the castle.  We loved seeing the ominous skies surround the colorful buildings.

Above Vernazza at the castle

Birds-eye view of Vernazza’s port

We enjoyed a lovely lunch at Gambero Rosso, the same restaurant where R and I had enjoyed a meal five years prior.  We both ordered the fresh pasta with pesto, a Ligurian specialty with a glass of local white wine.   Deliciouso!

After lunch, we scurried to catch our train.   Due to some technical difficulties which I’ll chalk up to not reading the board properly Italian chaos and mis-direction, we missed the hourly train to the next town of Corniglia.   We opted to catch the next train which bypassed the other two towns in order not to lose another full hour.

RIOMAGGIORE, #1, is the first town on the trail and supposedly the least touristic.   We watch a fisherman for awhile and reflected on the colorful boats and buildings which trailed upwards.

A lone fisherman

The vertical town of Riomaggiore

We explored the height of the town, certainly the “most vertical” of the five, and sat for a quick glass of vino, another Cinque Terre white varietal.  After, we caught the train backwards to town #4.

MANAROLA, #4, was Gabe’s favorite of the Cinque Terre.    Back when we were single girls on our Italian vacation, R and I had headed straight for Manarola’s beach to catch all the summer action.  Now, it was a ghost-town, but it left us more time for exploration.  We wound around the vineyards surrounding the village, getting every vantage point.  I’d have to say that this trip, Manarola was  my favorite.

Foamy waters surrounding Manarola

Gabe, checking out the village

Ominous clouds covering Manarola

Because we liked it so much, we opted for a longer stay in Manarola versus hitting the fifth town of Corniglia.   My husband prefers to enjoy fewer activities for longer…..quality not quantity.  And for me, it’s a good lesson for me to remember as I never want to miss anything.    Gabe joked it would have to be Quattro Terre for him.

We were able to see Corniglia from a distance.

View of Corniglia #3, from Monterrosso #5.

View of Corniglia #3, from #4 Manarola. We saw the evidence of mudslides taking out the trails between these two on the hills to the right of the photo.

Good thing we opted to leave.  The skies let loose after we got to Manarola’s station.   In order to reach Corniglia, there are 400 steps.  So, I am thankful we weren’t caught in that exploring the last remaining town.

We returned to Monterosso for a wonderful dinner at Ciak and drinks at Enoteca da Eliseo.  We ended up seeing the couple who’d taken our photo in Vernazza.  They were photographers from Indianapolis who were celebrating their 5th wedding anniversary.  We had a few drinks with them comparing travel notes.

It was an awesome weekend.  A big thanks to our Honeyfund contributors from our wedding.  You really made our 18 month anniversary (Nov 7) very special.   We appreciate it!

Over the river and through the Alps, to Italy we go….

We used our last Honeyfund this weekend to go to Cinque Terre in Italy.  Every time we take a road trip, we are in awe of the beauty of Central Europe.   I wanted to share a pictorial recap of the drive.

Immediately after leaving Geneva, we drove through the French Alps.  Here, there were a few signs of Fall but we don’t see it as strongly as we do in The States.

Starting our drive out of Geneva

A bit more Fall foliage here

Mt Blanc was being shy that day, hiding behind cloud cover

The glaciers near Mt. Blanc. I joked that if we were playing the car alphabet game, this would be a good one for “Letter G…I spy a Glacier!”

We entered the Mt. Blanc tunnel and emerged in Italy, surrounded by Italian Alps in the Aosta Valley.

The Italian Alps.

We drove through tunnels in 3 countries: Switzerland, France and Italy.   Italy had the most tunnels, as we traveled on the Ligurian coast which is covered in mountainous terrain.   In total, we completed 119 tunnels during the course of the 6 hour drive.

French tunnel ahead….

Many of the Italian tunnels (114 of them in total) had homes teetering above the entrances


The exit our GPS instructed us to get off on was closed, so we had to take the next one.   We ended up on curvy Ligurian roads in the Cinque Terre forest.   The location was so remote, we had to do a little road clean up to get there.

The hubby moving a tree out of the road, in his dress shirt.


While a six hour road trip can be a little tiring, we are really happy to have had such a neat journey.


Gratitude Friday: Autumn in Switzerland

Post by Lauren

This Friday, I just wanted to express my gratitude for Autumn in Switzerland. Since our house hunting fell in Winter and our move in Spring, Fall is the last season that I have yet to see. It was worth the wait…..


Bon weekend, everyone!


Friday Hikes in the Swiss countryside

Post by Lauren

I had taken a sabbatical from Friday hikes for awhile because of my feet, but started back up for the past two weeks. I absolutely love the views walking in the countryside, so was grateful for time outdoors. Here are a few snapshots :

AVUSY, a 50 minute bus ride from center city Geneva:


GLAND to ROLLE, a 15-20 minute train from Geneva’s main station:

The great news is that between this and Burgundy last weekend, I have a lot more painting inspiration. I hope people like vineyards 🙂

Adventures in Bourgogne Wine

Post by Lauren

This weekend, we traveled with S & S to Bourgogne (Burgundy) wine country. It’s only about a 2 1/2 hour drive from Geneva. Not bad. Below you can see the portion of France that is designated to be Burgundy. I make this designation of what is truly Burgundy because they certainly make sure to educate you that their wines are the most special viticulture region of France, above Champagne and Bordeaux. We had an excellent guide, Jean Michel, who used to be the director of the travel board of Burgundy. In this role, he traveled all over the world educating on Burgundy wines. And after a day with him, we all felt a bit smarter on wine.

Takeaway #1 – Burgundy wines are special because of the geology. The Cote d’Or used to be an actual coast many years ago. When the Alps formed, it rifted the layers of limestone, thus creating different steps of limestone based soil. It was the Cistercian monks In the 11th Century who actually discovered that the different plots produced different tasting wines. It is because of this that they have the four designations today: regional, village level, village premier cru and village grand cru. They can be literally intermingled.

Notice the gradients in the limestone in the top picture and how the different soils make different color leaves, resulting in a "patchwork" effect.

This land is only a cool 6 million for 2.3 acres. What a deal! But this price and scarcity of sale prevents people from buying large plots at once. It isn’t unusually for an owner to only have 3-4 rows of vines in one place, and then own another few rows elsewhere. This also keeps production small and focused on quality.

Why were monks making wine, you might ask? Well in this day and age, they dedicated one-third of their time to prayer, one-third to education/study, and one-third to labor. Their labor was on the land they were given, the vineyards, and they used their production for gifts and for trade.

Scenes from the monastery, Clos de Vougeot
The monks worked here during the week and marched home on Sundays.

Takeaway # 2 – Europeans really believe in the terroir methodology. We heard yet again how Californian wine has a bigger nose, meant to wow, with this mentality being the American style. Jean Michel taught us that Burgundies have a lighter first nose, but then their tastes exceed expectations. You may remember in Italy I learned a lot about Old World vs. New World production. It’s a constant theme here.

At our cellar tasting, Jean Michel taught us that wine tasting was an “intellectual process”.

Takeaway # 3 – Wines are meant to be shared. We talked about the art of selecting a bottle throughout the day, being equally as difficult a skill as tasting. Jean Michel told us that his cellars were never locked for his children, but they were taught that if they took a bottle, they must ensure that the person they shared with appreciated the quality. In the cellars at Gevrey Chambertin, there were bottles from 1934. He told us they were literally “priceless”. I’d strongly encourage anyone traveling through France to make a stop in Burgundy. An incredible place.

Wine O Clock

Post by Lauren

Our favorite Geneva festivals are wine festivals.

Reason # 1. Swiss wine is pretty good. And, you’ll have to come visit us to experience it. In keeping with Swiss tradition, they only like to consume their own agricultural goods. This is based on knowing their own are of higher quality (like everything Swiss) and more historically, on WW2 and the refusal to be dependent on anyone else for food. So, by the time they drink their own supply, only 1% is left for export.

Reason # 2. Doing independent wine tasting on your own requires a lot of work. Wineries are only open 10-noon on Saturdays. I have learned customer service and pleasing the public is not on their list of to-dos. So, you’d have to be well-planned to visit more than 2 in one weekend due to the short opening hours. Plus, I am sure you have to be fluent in French for it not to be awkward to show up at someone’s farmhouse ready to taste.

Reason # 3. Past Success. You might remember our first weekend we attended Caves Ouvert , where we met A & A and also D. We were delighted to go 2 for 2 with the A’s for Geneva wine festivals. They hosted an awesome pre-game brunch to lay good groundwork for the day. Sadly, D was not with us but we carried her around on a popsicle stick all day for photo ops. 2 out of 5 (the guys) thought this was creepy. But, all the girls enjoyed the humor in it and we made sure D on a stick had a good time.

Things we learned for next year:

–Don’t show up at noon for the Russin Wine Festival. Things don’t get started until about 2pm-3pm. We wondered around a ghost town Russin until about then.

–Babies aren’t allowed to drink

–If you dress up in a Father Wine Suit, you are likely to have lots of pretty girls pose with you.

–The most important lesson comes tomorrow. Be sure to tune in.

In the meantime, for more facts on Swiss wine, check out Schwingen in Switzerland.

Gruyeres, Switzerland

Post by Lauren

We are excited to have Andreas in town visiting for the US this week. At first, Switzerland decided to show Andreas its gloomy side, but Gruyeres ended up being a good little day trip as the heavy clouds made the castle a little bit more mysterious, and the chill in the air made our cheese dishes a little bit more tasty.

When we first arrived, we checked out the Gruyere cheese factory and even got to try a sample.

Touring the Gruyeres Cheese Factory

The arduous process certainly made us appreciate our cheese more. I really especially liked the story, told from the perspective from one of the cows, detailing the history of cheese and cheese-making. The story also compared wine tasting (when you pick of flavors of cherry, oak, etc) to cheese tasting, where one should pick up the cumin, the thistle, etc of the matter that the cows graze on.

Next, we moved onto the town of Gruyeres. Usually you can see the Alps in the background. But, it was a tad foggy. Oh well. We were still charmed by the beautiful walled town. We grabbed a traditional cheese dish of raclette and relaxed and dined by a panoramic view of the valley.

After lunch, we adventured to the famous Gruyeres castle. It was really neat, but my favorite was the beautiful geometric gardens that rested in the courtyard.

We almost had an additional adventure when our car took 7 times to start in the very empty rainy parking lot. But, he made it. More on that later.