The steep hills that begin in the Langa Cuneese and stretch through the gentle slopes of the Asti Monferrato until the Alessandria plain make up one of the most beautiful areas not only in Piedmont but in all of Italy.
In this verdant angle of Italy with its high quality food and wine culture, the inebriating aroma of grapes ripening on the vines drifts through the August and September air. Here, Moscato d’Asti and Barbera d’Asti find their most natural habitat as two of the most representative wines of Piedmont.
A PRODUCTIVE COUNTRYSIDE
Moscato d’Asti is made with Moscato bianco di Canelli grapes. It is more or less straw yellow in color; Its fragrant and characteristic aromas distinguish it, while its flavor is sweet and aromatic but never sticky. Currently, about 4,000 families in 52 municipalities cultivate Moscato (whose growing zone was defined in 1932) in about 10,000 hectares dispersed among three provinces: Alessandria, Asti, and Cuneo.
Barbera d’Asti is a DOCG wine cultivated in 3915 hectares of vineyard land by 2456 producers among the provinces of Asti and Alessandria. It is mainly produced in two versions: vinified in stainless steel or aged for at least six months in wood; this last takes the name of Barbera d’Asti Superiore. The marly-sandy hills are fertile in the Asti territory, and produce a small subzone called Nizza, one of three subzones for Barbera d’Asti, together with Tinella and Colli Astigiani. Nizza produces the best and most age-worthy Barbera d’Asti’s.
The zone where Moscato d’Asti and Barbera are produced was declared a UNESCO World Heritage on June 22, 2014, as part of the Vineyard Landscape of Piedmont: Langhe-Roero and Monferrato.
Discover the hills of Moscato d’Asti and Barbera—here are our travel tips and recommendations!
SANTO STEFANO BELBO, HILLS OF MOSCATO D’ASTI
If you want to explore the land of Moscato, you won’t find a better starting point than Santo Stefano Belbo, whose Moscato wine was already highly appreciated in 1583 by the Dukes of Mantova and the Marquis of Monferrato. The city’s crest is engraved with the Latin motto Vitis Sancti Stephani ad Belbum vita (“The vine is the life of Santo Stefano Belbo”).
Santo Stefano Belbo was probably founded in the Roman era. The abbey of San Giuseppe, constructed in the 10th century, was constructed overtop an ancient Roman temple. Located at the foot of the Moncucco hill, there still visible traces of this important and powerful Benedictine center: there are traces of a section of the building, three semicircular apses, and mosaics still preserved. An ancient tower is left over from its medieval past, once incorporated in the Castle that sat upon the right shore of the Belbo River; the castle was destroyed in 1635 during a battle between the Spanish and the Austrians. In the historical center is the ex-Church of Saints Giacomo and Cristoforo, dated to the 14th century and the first parish church of the city; today, it is used for conferences. Places of social gathering include Piazza Umberto I—seat of the Wednesday market—and the Sferisterio, where traditional matches of pallone elastico are held (Augusto Manzo, called “Gusto,” was a huge fan of this sport and a native of Santo Stefano Belbo).
Moscato vineyards encircle the tiny village of Valdivilla; following the road, you’ll arrive at the Sanctuary of Madonna della Neve. Here, every year on the evening of August 4, a great, traditional bonfire is lit, illuminating the hills around Santo Stefano.
Last but not least, it is only proper to remember that Santo Stefano Belbo is the birthplace of Cesare Pavese (1908-1950). Even though this famous writer’s family decided to move to Turin in 1914, Pavese always remained very attached to his hometown, so much so that the setting of one of his most successful books is based here, La luna e i falò, “The Moon and the Bonfires.” The town has returned the affection that its most famous citizen held for it, and throughout the streets and piazzas, everything evokes something of Pavese—and not just within town (Albergo dell’Angelo, Centro Studi, Cascina della Mora), but also in the surrounding countryside, like his birth home along the road towards Canelli, and even the carpenter’s, home of Paolo Scaglione, the “Nuto” in La luna e i falò. And then there are the names of the villages and hills in the area: Salto, Mora, Robini, Gaminella. Pavese himself explained his love for his countryside: “You need a hometown, if only for the sake of going away. A hometown means not being alone, knowing that there is something that is yours in the people, in the plants, in the earth, something that waits for you even when you’re gone.”
NIZZA MONFERRATO IN THE HILLS OF BARBERA D’ASTI
We’ll continue our journey towards Nizza Monferrato, a city positioned between Alba, Asti, and Alessandria in the heart of the zone. Situated at the confluence of the Nizza River as it flows into the Belbo, Nizza was already a vital commercial center in the 6th century. Over the course of the 18th century, it experienced enormous prosperity because of sericulture (silkworms). Today, in addition to its “hunchbacked” cardoon, it is known for being a great wine destination. The Regional Enoteca is located in Piazza Martiri d’Alessandria in the 18th century Palazzo Crova. Inside, you will find an infinite variety of Barbera d’Asti DOCG along with other wines of the zone.
On June 22, 2014, Nizza became part of a UNESCO World Heritage together with Canelli, as it too is located within the vineyard landscape of Piedmont given the title. An unmissable stopping point is the Museum in Piazza Dante with artifacts from rural life and vintage prints, free entry. It is located in the Borsano wine production building, in which a stone winery has been reconstructed and there is a collection of prints on display from the 17th century and on. The building is named after the lawyer Arturo Borsano, who died in 1978 and founded the Borsano winery, one of the province’s most important wine producers.