Despite a lack of signage, we knew where we were as soon as we drove out of Emilia-Romagna and into the Piedmont region. Pick a sense: Sight? Imagine grapes literally everywhere, on every surface imaginable, sloping down from hills, right beside the road, in every available space, vines laden with rich purple fruit. Smell? Picture windows open as you breathe in juicy, aromatic, earthy scents, the aroma coloring every thought you take (along the lines of, hmm, I'd really like a glass of wine right now). Taste? Every single meal, with the exception of breakfast, was highlighted by an exquisite bottle or glass of wine. Barbaresco in Barbaresco? Yes, it happened. Nebbiolo, Dolcettos, Barberas. The wine lists were daunting in their selection, especially because a large number were affordable and appealing.
We lamented the fact that we couldn't ship boxes of these wines home: though American importers do an excellent job, just as Oregon keeps much of its amazing wine and beer for its residents, Italy does the same thing. Italians drink wine like water (which isn't even the best analogy, because they don't really drink water). For whatever reason, be it the kind of wine, the attitude, or even the expectations, a glass of red wine in the Piedmont didn't induce a late afternoon nap or red wine headache. It actually invigorated me.
We stayed in Vaglio Serra, in a lovely bed and breakfast tucked amongst grapevines and drove from there to Asti (email me if you're considering visiting this town), Alba, Bra, Dogliani, Neive, Barbaresco. Every 10 minutes we'd pull to the side of the road to marvel at the grapes and the sightlines: we were lucky to have excellent visibility on two of the days we were in this region. From Vaglio Serra, in the Asti province, we relocated to Fossano, in the Cuneo province (but still in driving distance of the same towns, so we went back to Bra and Alba again!). Bra is the birthplace of Slow Food, and every restaurant featured regional dishes (mostly meat focused, as well as snails).
Alba and Asti used to be bitter rival provinces, before Italy unified, but the only reminder of this are the remaining towers in each of the towns. Our favorite meal on this section of the trip was in a roadside restaurant outside of Cherasco called Duvert. Again, this place was tucked beside a gas station (a trend of our trip, apparently), and again, we were the only ones dining. The restaurant staff spoke zero English and so we ordered with the help of Google translate, passing the phone back and forth. I had sublime tomato soup and a serving of mushroom risotto that could have served four people, but happily served one: me.