Thirty-five intrepid members of the Algarve Wine Society have just returned from a wonderful “field trip” to the Piemonte wine producing area of northwestern Italy.

Our timing was perfect, as the weather was excellent and the vendemmia was in full swing.

We were met at Malpensa airport in Milan on Sunday morning by the coach that was to provide our transportation for the next week. Before you could say “buongiorno”  we were in our lunch restaurant – da Bardon in San Marzano Oliveto near Asti, where Gino and Andrea made sure that our first meal in Italy was a memorable one.

Then it was on to our base for the week – the super deluxe 5 star hotel, Il Boscareto Resort, located near Serralunga d’Alba in the middle of vast hillsides covered with regimented rows of vines. It would be hard to imagine a more picturesque setting or a more luxurious hotel. Dinner Sunday night was in the Osteria dei Catari in Monforte d’Alba, where Filippo took good care of us.

It is a characteristic of Piemonte (unlike Portugal) that almost all the wines are single varietals rather than blends. The Piemontese mainly use Nebbiolo, for their Barolo and Barbaresco wines (both classed amongst Italy’s very greatest), Barbera and Dolcetto in their red wines, Arneis and Cortese in their whites and Moscato Bianco in their low alcohol sweet dessert wines. Although the area producing Piemonte wines is vast, the most important producers are clustered around Alba and that’s where we focused our attention.

On Monday morning we were off to the Braida winery in Rocchetta Tanaro, specialists in Barbara d’Asti (and given 4 stars out of 4 by Hugh Johnson). This old property has been in the Bologna family for generations, and our lunch was in the nearby iBologna restaurant where chef Bepe and sommelier Carlo Bologna saw that we were very well dined and wined. After lunch our visit was to the Berta distillery in Mombaruzzo to sample their excellent grappas.

On Tuesday we were treated to a tour of the Batasiolo winery in La Morra and a tasting of their wonderful Barbara d’Albas and Barolos. The afternoon visit was to Cordero de Montezemelo, another superb La Morra winery with a long history and great Barolos.

On Wednesday morning a number of us went truffle hunting with a local Trifualu and his dog, it being the season (particularly for white truffles) and the Alba area being the center of this activity. Unfortunately, we couldn’t keep the tartufi we found! Then the group had a walking tour of, and lunch in, Alba. In the afternoon we tasted the excellent Barbarescos of La Spinetta in Castagnole Lanze (another 4 star winery).

Thursday morning was spent in the town of Barolo, first at the Marchesi di Barolo winery, where we watched harvested Barbera grapes being pressed and then tasted some memorable Barbera d’Albas and Barolos.

Then a lovely walk around the picturesque town capped by a visit to the new wine museum in the castle. Lunch was in the Michelin starred Locanda nel Borgo Antico just outside town. In the afternoon the wines of Vietti in Castiglione Falletto were sampled.

Most of the best Barolo producers are too small to accept a large group. We overcame that problem Friday morning by going to the Cantine Comunale in La Morra for a wonderful horizontal tasting of the Barolos of 8 different producers, all from the 2003 and 2004 vintages, highlighted by the sublime products of Elio Altari and Roberto Voerzio (both 4 star producers). We finished the morning at the Ascheri winery in Bra, where we had lunch in their Osteria Murivecchi.

The Gala farewell dinner Friday evening in a private room in the hotel brought a fitting end to a 5 day gastronomic tour of dining and drinking in one of the better known, and truly excellent, wine producing regions of Europe. The Algarve Wine Society members left Il Boscareto for Malpensa airport on Saturday morning with a considerably enhanced knowledge of Piemontese wines and wine making and the happiest of memories.

The final events in the Algarve Wine Society’s very active autumn calendar will be a tasting of Campolargo Bairrada wines at the EVA hotel in Faro on October 15, a visit to the Nova Cortiça cork factory in São Brás de Alportel on November 3 (to be repeated on November 8), a day trip to Cortes de Cima in the Alentejo for a tasting and a Danish Christmas lunch on November 24 and the Society’s traditional Christmas dinner on December 4 at Penina Le Meridien.

Membership in The Algarve Wine Society is at its upper limit, and there is a waiting list, but if you would like further information please contact the Society’s Secretary, Larry Hampton by email: [email protected].