Ovada and its countryside feel like an up-and-coming Langhe, although comparing it to another territory doesn't do it justice at all. This town has its own identity and two of Piemonte's rather hidden crown jewels, the wines Dolcetto di Ovada DOC and Ovada DOCG.
Ovada is the central town in the Acquese and Ovadese wine zone and sits at the confluence of two rivers, the Stura di Ovada and the Orba. For this reason, it was very important and much-traveled for centuries, and its long history is seen in 14th century churches and palazzos. One church worth stopping to see is the Oratory of the S.S. Trinity and St. John the Baptist, whose steps lead up to a chandelier-lit interior with several important statues. The beautiful statue of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist was made by Anton Maria Maragliano, a well-known 17th century Genovese artist; and a wooden sculpture of an expressive Christ on the cross is by the artist Bissoni.
Ovada's center is characterized by colorfully painted buildings and cobblestoned streets, rather Ligurian-style, and Ovada's cuisine and culture are, in fact, influenced by the nearby Liguria. Via Cairoli in particular has many boutiques, as well as Via San Paolo della Croce. Passing by small produce shops, you may notice crates of fresh mushrooms if the season and weather are right; Ovada's hills are known for their thriving mushroom colonies, and gathering them is a common pastime with Ovadese residents. In fact, the high quality white truffle of Ovada is found here and celebrated and sold in November during its very own truffle fair.
Also along Via Cairoli is the IAT Tourist Center, full of helpful information, maps, and guides. At the end of the parallel Via Roma and down a set of white stone steps, come to a terrace overlooking the confluence of the two rivers that form a V at this point. Behind you is where the Castle of Ovada once stood, its ruins torn down in the 1850s. The square, however, is still called Piazza Castello.
Ovada has several restaurants that serve local specialties and can boast long lists of wine. Osteria Archivolto serves the garlicky bean soup perbuireira, and you can order fresh agnolotti pasta with a carafe of Dolcetto wine to splash in -- a wonderfully simple sauce. Its wine list includes many selections from Ovada, as well as from the rest of Piemonte, Italy, and the world. Ristorante Da Pietro also has a satisfyingly long wine list and delicious local menu.
An important stop for the wine tourist is the new Regional Enoteca of Ovada and Monferrato. Its rooms are below ground in the cellars of Genovese-style Palazzo Delfino, and nearly all the Dolcetto-producing towns of the province of Ovada are represented here, lining the walls on wooden shelves. It is the fairly new Consortium of Ovada's wish to have the Enoteca as a common grounds for meetings, events, and tastings - casa nostra, "our home." A consortium (consorzio) for wine is independently created in the promotion and interest of that region's viticulture and wines, and is often made up of local wine makers and supporters.
Dolcetto di Ovada DOC and Ovada DOCG are made from 100% Dolcetto grapes. As a wine, Dolcetto has been misunderstood in the past, and not only because its name tends to confuse people (even Italians) into thinking it's sweet. Dolce means "sweet," but it's possible its name comes from dusset, local dialect for "hill." About 50 years ago, it was produced in quantity rather than quality, and its grapes were sold by weight, meaning they were grown with abandon and little loving care. Dolcetto is not meant to be squeezed for quantity (though are any grapes truly expressed their best that way?), as it can be delicate to grow. But it earned a DOC in 1972, becoming the first Dolcetto to earn that certification; and with the rise of a new wine maker generation that focuses on quality over grape weight, it earned a DOCG in 2008.
Traveling just 10-15 minutes outside of Ovada, you might get the idea that you were in the Langhe of 25 years ago. The towns are beautifully kept and characterized by Medieval castles and tall bell towers; several good restaurants can be found in each, if somewhat less of a choice of accommodation; and around every hillock are vineyards planted in neat rows.
Rocca Grimalda, ten minutes south, sits atop a rocky outcropping overlooking the Ovadese and Acquese territory. Its main road climbs up under the Castle to a bellavista that looks over a large expanse of the Acquese and Ovadese territory; to the right see a large semi-circle field, which was once the gardens of the castle. In sight of the castle is a Slow Food restaurant, Trattoria alla Rocca. For a wine experience with diverse cantinas, continue your drive through the Ovada territory immediately outside of town. Begin in Capriata d'Orba at the winery Cascina Gentile; call Daniele Oddone before visiting, and make sure to see his wine lab, which looks a bit like that of a mad scientist. His winery is exactly on the border of Gavi and Tortonese territory, and he produces Cortese wines as well as Ovada DOCG.
Ten minutes away is Tagliolo Monferrato, whose Castle has a beautiful bed & breakfast with a wonderful wine selection. Then, down a rough backroad is Boccaccio Winery. Its vineyards come right up to its front yards and the old stone house is beautiful, but it gets really interesting down in the wine cellar. It was constructed in the 1300s, and its infernot - rather like a root cellar, but used for wine in Piemonte - once hid its occupants during the 2nd World War. Call winemaker Roberto Porciello for a tasting in this unique atmosphere.
The final winery is the ying to Boccaccio's yang, a new construction in wood, stone, and concrete painted in refreshingly bright colors: Rocco di Carpeneto, whose organic and eco-friendly La Bella Vite Agriturismo has a spa and pool. While this winery of Lidia Carbonetti and Paolo Baretta is new, some of its vineyards are very old, up to 60 years. A vine is somewhat like an olive tree - if human hands don't cut it down, it can grow for hundreds of years or more.
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Wine Pass would like to extend their thanks to the Consortium of Ovada DOCG, who organized and took care of the trip to Ovada. They reached out to us after hearing that Wine Pass was to write about Ovada, and showed us every hospitality and a beautiful introduction to the area.
The Consortium of Ovada DOCG is one of Piemonte's newest wine associations, formed in July of 2013 and made up of over 20 producers of Ovada DOCG in the zone. This red wine is, in fact, one of only three Piemontese wines made from Dolcetto that has the DOCG denomination (the others are Diano d'Alba and Dolgliani). The aim of the Consortium is to promote Ovada DOCG, the jewel of Alto Monferrato, as one of the region's most important wines and points of reference, repositioning it in the world of wine as one of Piemonte's great red wines of importance.
President Italo Danielli (Tel. +39 339.563.47.21)
Vice President Giuseppe Ravera (Tel. +39 340.253.93.06)