Barolo wine tour planning: Know before you go

barolo wine tour

My Barolo wine tour experiences began with me as a participant back in…2011! The Piedmont region, particularly Barolo wine country, has changed dramatically in that time. Back then, few wineries charged tasting fees, there was less staff for Langhe wine tasting experiences, and few guides were offering services like mine to help visitors navigate the area. For my Barolo wine tours, I incorporate my experience as a wine traveler from all over the world with my intimate knowledge of how things work (and the geography!) of the area. I update this post regularly ensure the latest hospitality shifts in the area are noted. 

Today, a visit to Barolo and Barbaresco wineries is still not your typical tasting experience. You may find yourself welcomed into the winery (or cantina) that is also the family home. For my Barolo tours, it’s a relaxed day, but one that must start on time because producer visits almost always run long. Trust me, you don’t want to be rushed when a producer insists on opening just one more bottle.

barolo wine tour
My Barolo wine tours range from intro to higher level education with specialty tastings and private experiences with the winemaker.

How to plan your Barbaresco and Barolo wine tour

Drop-in tasting rooms in Barolo and Barbaresco are still not in great supply, but there are far more than when I firsted started coming or when I moved in 2013. Some producers have them in a few villages, but the authentic experiences happens at the winery. Here, you get to see how the proprietor and their family has made wine for generations. Each stop is a little different with insight into the region’s tradition and culture. And usually, the staff is the family.

Do I need to schedule tasting appointments?

Always. For us westerners, we are used to places like Napa and Sonoma where the winery has staff dedicated to an on-site tasting room. That is not how it works with a Barolo wine tour. Always schedule an appointment. Please resist the urge to just stop in for a tour. The majority of the producers here have a limited number of staff members, so a last minute two-hour plus tour and tasting affects them.

How do I find wineries to visit for my Barolo wine tour?

Expat and tourism sites are other good places to learn about the local producers that would appeal to you. When I used to travel to Italy for holiday I would ask my neighborhood wine shops, wine bars, and Italian restaurants. I always enlisted staff help in selecting my wine so it made sense to get tips on producers to visit.

How many appointments should I book in a day on my Barolo wine tour?

For our Piedmont wine tours we recommend two – and, no more than three winery visits – in a day. We say this because the visits generally go long. We like guests to truly experience everything the producer offers. That can include vineyard walks or barrel tastings, tasting indigenous varieties or different Barolo or Barbaresco vintages.

Another reason is that the region is so spread out. Even if you are in the same area you can expect at least 15 minutes of drive time between producers or villages.

Piedmont Wine Tasting Pro Tip:

How to organize your time.

I suggest you focus on a certain area each day. When I get more than one day with clients, I start with a day in Barbaresco as these wines tend to be softer, more approachable due to a more maritime climate. If you spend one day in the Barbaresco zone, then another day in the Barolo zone you can get in more village stops and have more time with producers.

And, don’t miss out on the lesser known regions like the Roero, home to younger drinking nebbiolo wines and the area’s top white or Arneis. Or, the Monferrato, land of the area’s food-friendly barbera wines and the sparkling frizzante Moscato d’Asti. And, make some time in the high country of the Alta Langa for sparkling metodo classico wines as well as food adventures with artisan cheeses and hazelnut production. 

When should I start booking appointments?

Once you’ve identified a list of producers you want to visit contact them early to schedule your appointments. It might take time for them to respond as the locals are not as tied to technology. Some only check email a few times a day. Be patient and book early.

Always confirm the appointment a day or two before the visit. Producers who book an English-speaking tour will have someone to lead it in English, but just know that if you call to confirm (which is the best approach), you may get someone who only speaks Italian. Just be patient and try to communicate the reason for your call as best you can. Google Translate will get you by.

Piedmont Wine Tour Pro Tip: 

How to schedule your appointment times.

If you are driving yourself make sure to get a sense of the travel times between stops. Since the region is so spread out it can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour to get from one location to another. Make sure you have an idea of your drive time before booking appointments close together. I map tour days out in advance with Google Maps. I recommend trying to work in at least a 30-minute cushion to account for appointments running long or driving direction mishaps – GPS isn’t always accurate in our rural ‘hood.

What if I’m running late to my tasting appointment or lunch reservation?

As I mentioned, appointments often run long and getting around the area takes time. So, it’s not uncommon to fall behind after the first stop. Just make sure to contact the producer or the eatery where you have a lunch or dinner table booked. They will generally be understanding and do their best to accommodate. Just know that many eateries close the kitchen around 14:30 (2:30 pm), so if you want to eat, you need to communicate your delay. And, be prepared if they say they cannot wait.

piedmont wine tours
On our tours, guests get right into the vineyards to touch, taste (yes, taste), and smell the grapes!

What is Piedmont tasting room etiquette? 

Lunch Hour: Be respectful of the lunch hour. Some parts of Italy have stopped practicing the two-hour lunch hour, but not Piedmont. Here, most places shut down for two hours between 12:30 and 15:00 (3:00 pm).

A Second Taste: Revisiting a wine is fine, just make sure to ask the host to pour it for you instead of taking the bottle to do it yourself.

Method of Payment: For the most part producers who take visitors do accept credit cards, but make sure to confirm when scheduling an appointment. Try to pay cash for smaller purchases (under 25 euros). Producers really appreciate use of cash on smaller purchases as credit card fees get expensive. (Remember, if we keep their costs down, their wine prices stay down!)

Tasting Fees: The practice of charging tasting fees varies in the Piedmont wine region. When I first started visiting the are in 2011, few charged tasting fees. Today, it’s a must to cover costs like staffing and inventory costs since tourism has increased in recent years. Ask about tasting fees when booking your appointment and ask if the fee is waived with a minimum purchase. I’ve always found that to be a good incentive to take a few bottles with me.

If the producer does not charge a tasting fee and opens numerous bottles (five or more), it is a nice gesture to buy a bottle or two. It’s not necessary or required and they will not be offended if you do not. But, remember that your host has likely been away from other business activities to welcome you. Even one bottle shows appreciation for their time and passion.

barolo wine tour

Hiring a Barolo wine tour guide

Hiring a Barolo wine tour guide is a great way to explore the region. For my clients, I organizes appointments / speciality tastings, lunch stops, and cultural visits. I even help with shipping if you are bringing wine home from Italy.

Most tour guides around here work on a private tour basis, so that means your Piedmont wine tour will be customized to your interests. Pick-up / drop-off you is at your lodging so you don’t worry about driving and tasting. Note that Southwestern Piedmont is quite rural and spread out, so if you are staying further away, you may be outside the pickup zone.

For guests outside the zone, we have options, particularly if you want to do a day trip from Turin. Read about area geography to help you decide where to stay in Barolo wine country

Contact me for more Piedmont wine tour information. Our custom travel and Barolo wine tours service includes unguided activities as well as logistics like lodging and driver services for your time in Barolo, Italy. 

Cin cin!

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