Lessons in wine: Tis the (Harvest) season for truffle and wine enthusiasts in Italy

 
Paul Hammond
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A truffle pig, which has been replaced by truffle hounds in recent years

October is the most awaited month of the year in wine country. Harvest is a most decisive moment in the winemaking process as it determines the acidity, sweetness, characteristics and, in general, the style of the wine we will be drinking.

The precise date varies, but the majority of wineries in Europe harvest during this period, organising festivals and grape stomping events, meaning it’s a great time to visit your favourite wine region.

Piedmont is particularly special at this time of year. Within the stunning UNESCO World Heritage Langhe region, there lies Alba, the home of white truffles, chestnuts, hazelnuts – Nutella was born here – Dolcetto and Barbera d’Alba wines.

Known as white gold, white truffles are only found in this special Piedmontese town. They grow naturally underground, are hard to find and you need helpers to hunt them. In the past, pigs were used as hunters, but it became impossible to stop them eating them. The scent of truffles is extremely similar to a male (both pig and human) pheromone. This is the reason modern science believes truffles are so successful as an aphrodisiac.

Today, dogs are the real protagonists of the truffle hunting season, as they have the best sense of smell and can detect a truffle at 100m. In fact, there is a Truffle Dog University in Piedmont where they’re trained to detect them when they’re puppies so they become exquisite little sniffers.


The Alba white truffle is a real delicacy this time of year in Piedmont

Piedmont has some superb restaurants, too. It’s not hard to find a dish of delicious pasta or risotto featuring the honoured mushroom accompanied by a delicious glass of local Dolcetto d’Alba. At Dulcis Vitis, truffle expert and head chef Bruno Cingolani makes sure white Alba truffle is King.

The Michelin-starred Al Castello is also worth a visit, set within the stunning scenery of Grinzane Cavour castle, while Locanda del Pilone specialises in local dishes and offers guestrooms with panoramic views for guests who enjoyed too much Dolcetto during dinner. Borgo Merlassino, within La Raia estate is also a great stop, especially if you want to stay at a winery.

For fantastic wine tastings, go for Palladino winery, within the charming town of Barolo and the Enoteca Regionale del Barbaresco, which serves up award-winning wines inside an deconsecrated church. Then you must visit Gaja, without which Barbaresco may not be the grand wine it is today. The modest entrance belies its outstanding wines.

And if you’re impressed by Gaja, drop by Giacomo Conterno winery on your way to Barbaresco. Stop in the charming village of Neive, take a seat at Enoteca La Contea in Piazza Cocito, and ask for a glass of Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato. You won’t regret it.

• City A.M. Wine Club has teamed up with specialist travel company Winerist. To enquire about wine trips or visits abroad join the City A.M. Wine Club, or contact Winerist directly on 020 7096 1006, email to bookings@winerist.com or visit winerist.com for more information on the best destinations for wine enthusiasts.

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