In a Northern Italian Wine Region, Raising a Glass with Less Fuss

Like other wine-drinking venues in Piemonte, Palas Cerequio, a nine-room hotel, has taken a more casual air to raising a glass.

When you buy a bottle of wine at La Vite Turchese in Barolo, a village surrounded by vineyard-lined hills, the cashier often grabs a corkscrew and two glasses instead of wrapping it in a bag. In this wine shop, where metal shelves are stacked to the ceiling with mostly Italian wines, there are also unfussy tables and chairs and a couple of couches around a wood coffee table. I planned a visit to this wine shop, not just to browse and buy, but for lunch.

La Vite Turchese is both a wine shop and a wine bar, a hybrid that is increasingly redefining how to drink wine in Piemonte. This prestigious wine region in northern Italy is well known for its lovely white tablecloth, sometimes stuffy Michelin-rated restaurants with extensive wine cellars (at often eye-watering prices). But what about when you just crave a special glass of wine and a snack, not a five-course meal?

In what feels like a generational shift, the wine-drinking scene in Piemonte has taken a significant turn. Formal restaurants are no longer the only place to find a wide selection of notable local wines. Wine shops with a handful of tables — informal places that locals frequent for lunch or a bite before a late dinner — now have shelves that are packed with the region’s best wines at retail prices, not the pronounced markup found in many restaurants.

These informal hybrid shops felt fresh and exciting on a recent visit to the region in comparison to some of the well-known restaurants. The hybrids tend to have a youthful vibe in their atmosphere, music and knowledgeable staff, which can assist in narrowing down the vast options. There are often bottles uncorked for sampling before purchase, perhaps alongside a board piled high with local cheese and prosciutto.

“We wanted to try something different,” said Stefano Moiso, owner of La Vite Turchese. “We wanted to have a big selection, but to mix bigger names with the lesser known.” Mr. Moiso offers more than 230 wines by the glass, and glasses start at 6 euros, or about $7. He gives customized tastings, getting a sense of your preferences and then whizzing around the shop to select limited and rare wines (he also offers master classes, by appointment).

La Vite Turchese opened in 2013 and sells wines that don’t always leave Italian borders. “Some of the best wines are family made,” Mr. Moiso said. “They have no website. These are winemakers with their feet planted in the soil.” Alongside a plate of salami and goat cheese, he placed two glasses in front of me, with the wine labeled by name and vintage in erasable marker. As I snacked and sipped, I couldn’t help but think that it’s a strong business model to have wine for sale within arm’s reach after such a pleasurable lunch.

In 2014, Voglia di Vino opened as solely a wine shop in Alba, a cobblestone-lined city that is a 20-minute drive from Barolo. But the town is full of good wine shops, and owners Luca Tirelli and Daniela Stocchetti wanted to set themselves apart.

“What is the biggest problem with a wine shop?” Mr. Tirelli asked me over a glass of sparkling wine. “You can’t taste everything you want to try.” Voglia di Vino now serves more than 60 wines by the glass and the shelves are stocked with over 400 types of wine from 150 producers. “People come in for a drink, eat some salami and breadsticks, and take two bottles home,” Mr. Tirelli said.

Voglia di Vino carries wine ranging from 10 to 650 euros a bottle. Customers who want to buy off the shelf and open the bottle — either inside the candlelit wine bar or at an outdoor table on the cobbled street — pay a 10-euro corkage fee. This is a popular and more affordable option for winemakers and sophisticated drinkers looking to splurge on a bottle without paying the markup found at traditional restaurants. “It used to be if you want to drink something special, you must go to a high-end restaurant,” Mr. Tirelli said. “Now that has changed.”

The octogenarian winemaker Michele Chiarlo and his family are behind Palas Cerequio, a nine-room hotel surrounded by vineyards outside the hilltop village of La Morra, about 20 minutes from Alba. It’s also home to a wine cellar with a shop focused on single vineyard wines from several producers in Barolo.

“When stocking the shelves, we looked at it from the perspective of the customer: You come to taste different things,” Mr. Chiarlo said. The brick-lined cave is like a library of single-vineyard wines from Barolo, complete with back vintages and a range of producers from Gaja to Paolo Scavino to Damilano. To sample the range of flavors possible in a single vineyard, visitors might want to ask about a horizontal tasting.

The shop doesn’t have a traditional wine bar area for opening a bottle, but guests can raise a glass on the terrace overlooking the vineyards, poolside under the shade of an umbrella or even over a picnic in the very vineyard where the grapes were picked.

“In the past, it wasn’t traditional to order wine by the glass or to take an open bottle home from a restaurant,” Mr. Chiarlo said. “But here in Piemonte, the culture around drinking wine is changing.”

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