It seems that when people write about Barbaresco, it tends to be about its celebrated wine. Barbaresco is a small village with a population listed as just 656! The village is surrounded by lush vineyards and its most striking structure is its 100 foot tall, 11th century tower. It is a remnant of the town’s medieval fortification when for centuries, the territory of Barbaresco was disputed between the rival cities of Asti and Alba. The tower is visible for miles and offers visitors an unrivaled view of the area from its observation platform. The castle is now owned by the Gaja Winery, whose uncompromised approach to the art of winemaking has helped to propel Barbaresco wines to its elite status. There are more than 40 wineries and two enotecas (wine shop/bars) in the area. Only a few miles separate Barolo from Barbaresco, but the differences in the soil make Barbaresco a softer wine, effectively playing the part of the ‘queen’ to Barolo’s status as ‘king.’
The Enoteca Regionale del Barbaresco was created to celebrate the local wine production and is located inside the former home of the St. Donato Brotherhood. Bottles from 130 different wineries, with 250 labels are represented, and offers frequent wine tasting events.
The territory of Barbaresco has been inhabited since prehistoric times. In that period its many hills were covered by forest all the way to the banks of the Tanaro River. The Romans were the first to clear the woodlands and develop the agriculture that has flourished ever since. With the fall of the Roman Empire, the Langhe became a land of conquest, first by the Lombards and subsequently the Franks. Ultimately, the lands fell under the rule of the House of Savoy.
The Publisher’s Tour group felt right at home in the town, which is as far removed from a touristy destination as one can imagine. The people who make some of Italy’s greatest wine consider themselves farmers, with a deep respect for the land and what it yields. You quickly begin to feel their sense of pride, but it is the landscape itself that will take your breath away. There is no denying that the sea of vineyards, peeking out from the morning fog, is an awe-inspiring sight. The area is punctuated by castles surrounded by little villages, perched high on the hilltops.
One such village lies just east of Barbaresco, the town of Neive. The historic center of the town preserves its medieval character, with narrow cobble stone streets and elegant buildings in terracotta. The group walked through the town to the heart of Neive, the Piazza Italia, an 18th century square dominated by Palazzo Bianco, the former Town Hall. Everyone marveled at the grand construction of the edifice, especially for a town that has a population of only 3,000. With its arches and slender columns, the structure would be right at home in a much larger city such as Alba or Asti. The streets of Neive all lead to the surrounding hills and vineyards, where four types of wines are produced on the Collina di Neives: Barbera, Dolcetto d’Alba, Barbaresco and Moscato d’Asti.
The group then headed north, leaving the province of Cuneo and entering the province of Asti and the historic city that is the namesake of the area. Asti has a population of 76,000 and was known as the city of 100 towers, although there were 120 in total. Just 15 of the medieval turrets and towers remain standing, located in the northwest portion of the city. It is an area rich in history and pre-Renaissance architecture. The Tower of the Comentini dates from the 13th century, as do the octagonal Torre de Regibus and Torre Troyana, where you can view sweeping panoramas of Italy’s northern region. The oldest structure in Asti is the ancient Rossa di San Secondo, built during the reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus.
One of the most famous events held in the city is the bare-back horse race, Palio di Asti. This event recalls a celebratory race around the walls of Alba after Asti was victorious in battle against its rival. Asti’s Palio is the oldest horserace in Italy and is held in the triangular Piazza Alfieri on the third Sunday of September.
The city is also the center of production for the sparkling wine known as Asti Spumante. Sweet and low in alcohol, it is made solely from the moscato bianco, the white muscat grape. It was Martini and Rossi that made the sparkling wine internationally known, but red wines such as Barbera d’Asti, Grignolino d’Asti, Bonarda, Grignolino and Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato have also grown in popularity and are now exported to the U.S. It was a day that the Publisher’s Tour group relished, with incredible sights and unforgettable wine; who could ask for anything more?