Douja D’Or: Asti’s Celebration of Food and Wine
Douja D’Or , which means Pitcher of Gold, is a ten-day celebration of the outstanding wines and foods of the Piedmont region in northwestern Italy. Wine production is hugely important here. In the Piedmont province of Asti, miles of vineyards stripe the hillsides, growing fat clusters of grapes that will become some of the world’s best wines.
From old Nebbiolo vines come the deep, intense, world-renowned red wines of Barolo, Barbaresco, and Barbera d’Asti. The favored “everyday” red wines, lighter and less complex, are mostly made from the Dolcetto grape. Then there’s the famous Asti Spumante, produced in vast quantities from the white Moscato grape. It’s always sparkling and can be sweet or dry; I prefer dry, served as an aperitif or with dessert. On a recent trip to the province and Asti town, I tasted Moscato d’Asti, also sparkling and made from the Moscato grape, and found it light and tangy with just a touch of sweetness. These great wines come from the scores of wineries scattered throughout the area, among the lovely Monferrato and Langhe hills.
Dozens of festivals celebrate these wines and Piedmont’s food specialties, but the two biggest are held in the fall, in Asti. One, which is also a major competition, is the Douja D’Or. My husband John and I attended this year and were dazzled. In the past, the festival was held in various palaces, gardens, and piazzas. This time, it was at the Palazzo dell’Enofila, a trade center on the edge of the ancient town. Jazz musicians were performing when we arrived in the tented courtyard, along with a steady stream of wine-tasters. We seemed to be the only Americans.
Indoors, wines from 21 regions of Italy were on display, and in the hall of foods, dozens of stalls offered tastes and sales of regional products– cheeses, honey, pastries, sausages, candies, hazelnuts, patés. Each night of the Douja D’Or, a different chef prepared a restaurant’s specialties, and bow-tied waiters brought them to tables set with linens and flowers. San Marco di Canelli, the restaurant featured on our night, served rabbit-stuffed ravioli and risotto with sausage in a rum and tomato sauce, plus two Barolo wines.
Choosing a few of the 500 wines to taste was a challenge, but we managed. With wine glasses, nifty bags to carry them in, and tickets (2.50 – 3.50 euros), we stepped up to the counters and sipped several excellent whites. We could buy bottles, as well, at reasonable prices. Douja D’Or has more than one purpose. It’s an intense competition, with the Douja prize going to the winning wine of the year, but it’s also a way to promote the province’s restaurants, foods, and wines. We sampled hazelnuts in honey, salamis, flaky pastries, chocolates, and Brut e Boun (“Ugly and Good”), a nubbly candy made from hazelnuts, sugar and egg whites.
The other big fall festival was established in 1974 as a complement to the Douja D’Or. Festival delle Sagre celebrates the farms and wineries of Asti province. For a weekend in early September, Piazza Campo del Palio becomes a huge, all-day, outdoor restaurant, offering more than 100 traditional foods and wines to eager crowds. On Sunday, people from some 50 villages parade through town, walking or riding floats that depict farm life of days gone by. This nod to history gives only a hint of Asti’s far reach into the past. It’s been an important town for centuries, with wealthy merchants competing to build ever-taller towers; in the 17th century it was known as “the city of 100 towers.” Several remain, and one of Asti’s symbols is the 13th-century Torre Troyana. It’s 144 feet (44 meters) high, the tallest tower in Piedmont and the only one visitors can enter and climb to the top. It’s open on weekends, April to October.
Read my earlier post Where to Stay in Asti for hotel and other Lodging recommendations.
Written by Marilyn McFarlane for EuropeUpClose.com