BAROLO

Iíve just returned from a fabulous week tasting the wines of the Piedmont region of northern Italy. Flying into Turin, a fabulous town where I must recommend Cafť Mulafsano, on the Via Po just off the Piazza Castello. Itís a wonderfully stylish bar with waiters in white coats serving fantastic cocktails (and Iím not really a cocktail kind of bloke), this is the perfect place for an aperitivo.

We then spent a week in and around Barolo. This picturesque village is just like the many others that top the hills of the Langhe region. What sets it apart is that it gives its name to the expensive, deep, full bodied wine that makes the area famous. And because of this it is extremely popular with tourists which then hikes the prices up even further. Itís well worth a look but I recommend travelling to the many other villages in the ĎBarolo communeí as the prices are much more reasonable. One such is La Mora whose cantina communale sells local wines at producerís prices. Or better still for a bargain head to the local co-operative where they sell gallons of the stuff and are happy for you to have a taste.

There are far too many producers to chose from but one I'd recommend is Cascina Balarin, an agritourism place where we stayed (56 Euros per room per night B+B) who make their own wines (see www.cascinaballarin.it) the best of which was the 2000 Barolo (38 Euro/bottle) and the best value being the 2001 Dolcetto (16 Euro/bottle).

For wines in the style of Barolo but without the price tag go for Nebbiolo DíAlba or Barbaresco, both made with the Barolo grape (nebbiolo) but from regions just outside. I also fell in love with Dolcetto DíAlba. My first impression was that dolcetto meant sweet, it is however the name of the grape variety, which is also very good to eat. Another to look out for is Barbera D'Alba.

The region is blessed with fantastic booze towns, we spent an afternoon in Asti, where the Spumante is a lot better than at home. We then travelled on to the less than picturesque town of Cinzano which is dominated by a massive concrete monstrosity bearing the name Diagio Worldwide Distribution. Iíd never tasted Cinzano before so the Mrs had a Rossi and I had a Bianco, not a session ale and all in all best consumed only when in Cinzano.