At Carnival anything goes – especially wine!

Carnevale is just over. Confetti are still everywhere in the streets and the spring-like weather contributes to make us wish we could keep on partying forever. Like many other celebrations, Carnival has Pagan roots (the Ancient Roman Saturnalia) which then evolved into a Christian festive season characterized by parades, masks and lots of food – especially sweets – to farewell abundance before the fasting of Lent.

If Venezia is known worldwide as the set of the most beautiful and colorful Carnival celebrations in Italy, Piemonte has its say, too. However, no room for the frail-hearted here: Ivrea’s Battle of the Oranges is a real last-ditch effort. Don’t forget to wear your Berretto Frigio, a traditional type of cap, if you want to enjoy the event without getting hit!

A little fighter - photo license by Sebastiano Rossi
A little fighter – photo license by Sebastiano Rossi

In many other places, beans are the protagonists: Santhià, for example, is claimed to host the oldest Carnevale in Piemonte and the biggest fagiolata. This peasants dish is a perfect symbol of the local gastronomic tradition: poor in ingredients but rich in taste! It’s impossible not to look for a nice red wine for pairing. From Nebbiolo to Pelavarga, from Grignolino to Barbera, it’s a hard but never deceiving pick.

With such a collection of wine jewels, how could Piemonte’s most famous character not be an absolute food – and wine – lover? Gianduia, or Gioan d’la Douja in the local dialect, is named after the ancient local wine jug (douja) from which he loved to drink. But he is not the only one: since 1966, the Chamber of Commerce of Asti organizes an annual national wine competition called “Douja d’Or”. A panel of wine tasters and experts assigns every year this prestigious title to the submitted Italian DOC and DOCG wines which obtain a score above 85/100. Those above 90/100 get the special “Oscar” prize.

A correlated festival takes place in September, ten days of independent and conducted wine tastings leading to the Sagre festival week end and, a week later, to the Palio race. It’s the perfect chance to discover this beautiful town surrounded by the Monferrato hills and enjoy it’s many traditional produces. For wine is seldom alone. So, which are the best wines for pairing with the local Carnival sweets? Dessert wines, of course! Piemonte offers a wide range of wonderful fizzy and sparkling sweet wines, the perfect match for the traditional friciò, small doughty pastries stuffed with raisins, sometimes apple and a drop of Marsala wine, then fried and sprinkled with sugar, either powdered or in grains. Similar sweets can be found in other Italian regions but with different stuffing.

Friciò - photo license by Greta Ceresini
Friciò – photo license by Greta Ceresini

Here’s a quick summary of the dessert wines you can find in Piemonte (I apologize for the ones I may have forgotten):

  • Moscato d’Asti – fizzy, passito or in the sparkling Asti version (read more on this wine)
  • Brachetto d’Acqui – fizzy, sparkling or, very rarely, passito
  • Loazzolo and Strevi Moscato passito
  • Erbaluce di Caluso passito
  • Malvasia di Casorzo & Malvasia di Schierano (or Castelnuovo don Bosco), both in fizzy, sparkling and rare passito versions
  • More unusual and difficult to find are the passito wines produced from Barbera or other red varieties, and the Nascetta passito from the small village of Novello. Along with a passito from local varieties, Casa Ronsil, in Chiomonte (Val Susa), produces an Ice Wine from local Avanà, Becuet and Chatus grapes.

Want to know more on the different methods of production of sweet wines and ice wines around the world? Click on the link above to go to the related posts!

Cheers! - photo license by Leana
Cheers! – photo license by Leana

Read more on the Carnival tradition in Piemonte from other members of the Blogging Piemonte group (updated list) and follow us on Twitter with the hashtag #BlogPiemonte!

The Treasonous Past of the Famous Carnevale Figure Gianduja, by The Entire Pizza
The Oldest Carnevale in Piemonte, by Once Upon a Time in Italy
Lettuce, Rags, and Lies for Carnival, by Turin Mamma
Carnivale in Piemonte Means Bugie! by Italianna
Ivrea: THE Carnival in Piedmont, by Turin Epicurean Capital
No snow? Try Carnevale! by Living in the Langhe
Carnevale… with kids? by Langhe secrets

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Elisa Pesce

Esperto assaggiatore ONAV, assaggiatore ONAF, WSET Advanced in Wines & Spirits nonché tecnico di marketing per l'enoturismo. Dato che la vita è una sola, preferisco sia il più incasinata possibile: il vino è l'unico modo per mantenere l'equilibrio. Vistita il mio Blog o scrivimi una mail