The Roero area is adjacent to the Langhe which produces Barolo, one of Italy’s great red wines. It also grows the same Nebbiolo grapes, but Rupert Parker finds that their white wines are its greatest hits
I leave Turin airport travelling an hour through the flat plains of Northern Italy. Soon the landscape begins to change and undulating dome-like hills, cut by deep valleys, begin to emerge. I’ve now entered the province of Cuneo and I’m heading for the hilltop Castello di Guarene, now a luxury hotel, which is hosting Roero Days 2018. This two day event is an opportunity for 75 producers to present the new vintages of Roero Arneis 2017, Roero 2015 and Roero Riserva 2014.
Until 30 years ago this hilly region was mainly a fruit producer, famous for the peaches of Canale and a local pear variety known as Madernassa, as well as cherries, strawberries and apricots. Grapes were only grown for local consumption, but the great success of the wines of Langhe, just across the River Tanaro to the south, led growers to think about planting here. Farmers were also leaving for jobs in the factories in Turin, so prices fell and land could be snapped up for good prices.
The local grape was Arneis, translated as “little rascal”, since it was notoriously, difficult to grow and produced low yields. By the 1960’s only a few hectares were left and the white wine was mainly sweet. It was saved from extinction by a few producers, notably Alfredo Currado, a member of the Vietti wine family, which still produces some of the best Arneis. It’s a floral scented wine, with touches of pear and apricot, rounded out with a hint of hazelnut. The colour is pale golden yet it’s bone dry and crisp on the palate
Today there are more than 600 hectares under cultivation and the best wines come from the region’s cooler north facing slopes. It’s usually made in stainless steel vats, although some producers are now experimenting with oak to add body and longevity. During Roero Days I get a chance to try the new vintages from 2017 but also taste the older wines, notably a 2012 from Cascina Pace winery. It’s particularly well balanced and at around 30€ excellent value compared to the wines from the Langhe.
The locally grown Nebbiolo grape is used to make Roero Rosso, a medium bodied and high tannic wine, with aromas of black fruit and sour cherries. It’s aged for a minimum of 20 months with six of them in oak. The Riserva must spend a further 12 months in the bottle. Unlike the whites, the best reds come from south-facing slopes, steep and sandy. They’ve a lighter, more fragrant style than those from the heavier limestone and clay soils found across the Tanaro in Barolo and Barbaresco. They’re also far better value. I like the Roero Riserva from the tiny Pinsoglio winery and their Arneis is pretty good too.
As well as tasting the wines I get a chance to explore the region, now established as an Ecomuseum and recognised by UNESCO since 2014. There are over 300km of hiking and biking rails, each with its own theme. Of course there’s a Wine Trail but also a Honey Route where you travel 38km from village to village. Notice boards give you information about the local bees, beehive products and their manufacture and you also get to taste the stuff. The Roero hills are topped with lookout towers, medieval castles and baroque residences, and the Castle Route takes you to the most interesting.
I finish by meeting Giovanni Negro at his winery Azienda Agricola Negro Angelo e Figli in Monteu. His family have been making wine since the 17th century but when Giovanni took over the business they had barely two hectares. He decided to concentrate on local grape varieties, using traditional methods, and claims to be the first to have vinified a “dry” Arneis in 1971.
At the same time, he noticed that farmers around him were leaving to work for Fiat in Turin so he shrewdly began buying up their parcels of land. The estate now includes almost 70 hectares of vineyard, distributed among the historical Cascina Perdaudin in Monteu Roero, Cascina San Vittore in Canale and Cascina Basarin in Neive. As well as Arneis and Roero Rosso he also makes excellent sparkling wines using the classical champagne method. If you want to try them, there are daily guided tours with wine tastings in the cellar.
La Madernassa Resort & Restaurant in Guarene has one Michelin star and its charming rooms make a good base to explore the region.
Restaurante Il Centro in Priocca d’Alba also has a Michelin star and features Piemonte home cooking.
The Osteria dell’Enoteca in Canale offers excellent value from its Michelin starred chef and also has a store selling a wide range of selected wine and local products.
EasyJet flies direct to Turin from London Gatwick
The Gatwick Express is the fastest way to get to the airport from central London.
The refurbished Travelodge Gatwick with its new SuperRooms ensure you get an excellent night’s sleep if you’re taking an early morning flight.