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Piedmont Wine

Piedmont Wine

Nestled at the foot of the Alps and the Apennines, Piedmont is a storied region in northwestern Italy known for its rich winemaking history, diverse microclimates, and some of the world’s most esteemed wines. With its patchwork of vineyards, ancient villages, and misty hills, it's a region where tradition and innovation are interwoven in the very fabric of the landscape. This comprehensive exploration will traverse Piedmont's viticultural excellence, from the robust reds of Barolo to the sweet, effervescent Moscatos.

The Terroir of Piedmont

Piedmont, or Piemonte in Italian, meaning "at the foot of the mountains," is graced with a unique terroir. Its vineyards are cradled in fertile valleys and rolling hills, primarily centered around the provinces of Cuneo, Asti, and Alessandria. The region experiences a continental climate, with hot summers, cold winters, and a significant diurnal temperature variation which is conducive to the production of wines with intense aromatics and profound complexity.

Nebbiolo: The King of Piedmont Grapes

At the heart of Piedmont’s winemaking tradition is the Nebbiolo grape, a varietal that produces some of the most revered and long-lived red wines in the world—Barolo and Barbaresco. Nebbiolo is named for the 'nebbia,” or fog, that blankets the hills in autumn, when this late-ripening grape is typically harvested. It’s a grape that demands patience, both in the vineyard and the cellar, but rewards with deeply complex, aromatic wines that can age for decades.

Barolo: The Wine of Kings and the King of Wines

Barolo, often dubbed 'the king of wines,” is a robust red wine that comes from designated zones around the towns of Barolo, La Morra, Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d'Alba, and Monforte d'Alba. Made exclusively from Nebbiolo, these wines are known for their powerful structure, deep concentration, and potential for aging, acquiring subtle and nuanced flavors over time.

Barbaresco: Elegance and Finesse

Slightly northeast of Barolo lies the Barbaresco zone, where Nebbiolo expresses a somewhat more delicate side. Barbaresco wines are renowned for their elegance and finesse, displaying floral aromatics, complex fruit, and polished tannins. They are generally considered to be more approachable at an earlier age than their Barolo counterparts.

Other Noteworthy Red Varietals

While Nebbiolo reigns supreme, Piedmont is home to a variety of other red grapes that contribute to the region’s enological tapestry:

Barbera: As Piedmont’s most widely planted red grape, Barbera produces wines with bright acidity, juicy fruit, and a friendly, approachable character. Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d’Alba are among the most well-known appellations for this varietal.

Dolcetto: Meaning "little sweet one," Dolcetto belies its name by generally creating dry red wines that are fruit-forward, with moderate acidity and a gentle bitterness. Dolcetto di Dogliani and Diano d'Alba are prominent examples.

Freisa, Grignolino, and Ruché: These lesser-known indigenous varieties offer a diversity of flavors, from the lightly sparkling and strawberry-scented Freisa to the elegant and floral Ruché.

Piedmont’s White Wines: A Symphony of Aromas

While reds may dominate the landscape, Piedmont’s white wines are equally worthy of attention:

Moscato d’Asti: This slightly sparkling, semi-sweet white wine is made from the Moscato Bianco grape. It’s best enjoyed young and is celebrated for its perfume of peach, apricot, and fresh grapes.

Gavi: Produced from the Cortese grape, Gavi or Cortese di Gavi is appreciated for its crisp acidity, green apple flavors, and mineral finish, often compared to fine Chablis.

Arneis: Native to the Roero area, Arneis creates aromatic wines with hints of pear and apricot, and an underlying almond character.

The Sub-Regions and Appellations

Piedmont’s wine country is divided into several key sub-regions, each with its own DOC and DOCG classifications. The Langhe area, home to Barolo and Barbaresco, is perhaps the most prestigious, but areas like Roero and the Monferrato hills also produce exceptional wines with distinct identities.

Viticulture and Winemaking Practices

Piedmontese winemaking is a blend of age-old traditions and modern techniques. The steep slopes of the Langhe necessitate careful, hands-on vineyard management, and many producers adhere to organic and biodynamic practices. In the cellar, a combination of traditional large oak botti and smaller barriques are used, depending on the winemaker's desired expression of the grape.

The Modern Piedmontese Wine Scene

In the last few decades, Piedmont has seen a stylistic evolution, with some producers embracing a more fruit-forward, accessible style of wine that can be enjoyed younger, while others remain staunch defenders of the traditional, austere wines that require years to mature. This dynamic tension between tradition and innovation ensures that Piedmont remains at the forefront of the wine world.

Food Pairings: A Culinary Journey

The wines of Piedmont are inseparable from the region’s rich culinary culture. From the white truffles of Alba to the hearty dishes like 'brasato al Barolo” (beef braised in Barolo), the wines are elevated by the local cuisine, and vice versa.

Wine Tourism: Experiencing Piedmontese Hospitality

Piedmont is also a prime destination for enotourism. Visitors can stay at agriturismos (working farmhouses), tour the cellars, and taste wines amidst the very vines from which they sprung. The annual 'Collisioni” festival in Barolo merges wine, food, music, and literature, drawing visitors from around the globe.

Conclusion: A Wine Region of World-Class Stature

Piedmont is a wine region of extraordinary depth and heritage. Its wines, from the storied Barolos and Barbarescos to the vivacious whites, are a testament to the passion and dedication of its producers. Whether you’re a seasoned collector or a casual wine enthusiast, the wines of Piedmont offer a tapestry of flavors and experiences that continue to captivate and inspire. Through the misty hills and sun-drenched valleys, the story of Piedmont wine is one of a relentless pursuit of quality—a pursuit that is evident in every glass poured.

Notable Wines of Piedmont

Piedmont, in the northwestern corner of Italy, is a region famed for its exquisite wines, with a diverse range of red, white, and sparkling varieties. Below is a comprehensive list of Piedmont wines, categorized by type and highlighting the main grape varieties and notable appellations:

Red Wines:
Barolo DOCG

Made from Nebbiolo grapes, it’s known for its deep color, complexity, and aging potential.

Barbaresco DOCG

Another Nebbiolo star, offering a slightly softer profile than Barolo but with great complexity.

Barbera d'Asti DOCG

Produced from Barbera grapes, these wines are noted for their deep color, vibrant acidity, and cherry flavors.

Barbera d'Alba DOC

Similar to Barbera d'Asti but typically has a fuller body with a more robust structure.

Dolcetto d'Alba DOC

A softer, fruitier wine made from Dolcetto grapes, often with a bitter almond finish.

Dolcetto di Dogliani DOCG

Sourced from Dolcetto grapes, these wines can be more structured and concentrated.

Gattinara DOCG

Produced from Nebbiolo, these wines are notable for their minerality and longevity.

Ghemme DOCG

Another Nebbiolo-based wine that balances fruitiness with earthy tones.

Nebbiolo d'Alba DOC

This showcases the Nebbiolo grape in a less tannic and more approachable style.

Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG

Ruché grapes create a wine with a distinctive aroma of roses and spices.

Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese DOC

Made from Grignolino, these wines are light in color with a characteristically high level of tannins and acidity.

Freisa d'Asti DOC

A wine that can range from dry to sweet, made from Freisa grapes.

White Wines:
Gavi or Cortese di Gavi DOCG

Made from Cortese grapes, Gavi is known for its crisp acidity and citrus flavors.

Roero Arneis DOCG

Arneis grapes produce this aromatic and full-bodied white wine.

Erbaluce di Caluso or Caluso DOCG

This wine, from Erbaluce grapes, can be still, sparkling, or passito, with a bright acidity and complex flavors.

Asti DOCG

A sweet and often sparkling wine from Moscato Bianco grapes.

Moscato d'Asti DOCG

A lightly sparkling, semi-sweet wine with a distinctive grapey aroma, also from Moscato Bianco.

Langhe DOC

This catch-all appellation includes various white wines made from local and international grape varieties such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Sparkling Wines:
Alta Langa DOCG

Piedmont’s answer to Champagne, this sparkling wine is made in the traditional method from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Brachetto d'Acqui DOCG

A sweet, sparkling red wine with flavors of strawberries and florals.

Sweet and Dessert Wines:
Passito di Caluso/Caluso Passito DOCG

A sweet wine made from dried Erbaluce grapes, rich and honeyed.

Barolo Chinato

A unique aromatic wine made by infusing Barolo with quinine bark and other botanicals, often enjoyed as a digestif.

Moscato Passito

A dessert-style wine produced from dried Moscato grapes, offering a sweet, fruity profile.

Piedmont's wine offerings reflect the rich viticultural heritage and diverse terroir of the region. From the robust, tannic reds to the delicate and aromatic whites and sparkling wines, Piedmont provides an impressive range for wine enthusiasts to explore.

Italian Wines
  • Italian Red Grapes
    • Sangiovese

      • The most well known of the Italian grapes and responsible for the famous Tuscan wines. Using tradional techniques, the wines are earthy, full of cherry fruit and cedar. The wines produced include such famous names as: Chianti, Rosso di Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso di Montepulciano, Montefalco Rosso. The "Super-Tuscans", produced for the international market, blend the Sangiovese grape with Bordeaux varietals such as: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, and often used French oak barrels to age.

    • Nebbiolo

      • Translated, the name means: "Little Fog", which refers to the autumn fog common in the region of Piedmont where it is grown. The grape seems to like these conditions but is difficult to cultivate otherwise. It is responsible for the famous wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, both produced in the Cuneo province of Piedmont. Barolo is often kept for more than 50 years, and is considered by many to be the greatest wine produced in Italy.

    • Montepulciano

      • This grape is planted in Abruzzo,and should not be confused with the town of the same name in Tuscany. It produces a wine with silky plum-like fruit, friendly acidity, and light tannin, recent bottles have improved greatly on those in the past.

    • Barbera

      • This grape is the most widely grown in Piedmont and southern Lombardy, particularly around the towns of Asti, Alba and Pavia. Previously, the Barbera wines were considered a poor alternative to Barolo, but recently they have improved dramatically. The wine has bright cherry fruit, a very dark color, and a food-friendly acidity. It is being produced increasingly for the international market.

    • Corvina

      • This is the grape that makes Valpolicella and Amarone, the best known wines of the Veneto. Valpolicella has dark cherry fruit and spice. If the grapes are dried, a process called "passito", they produce a wine called Amarone. Some are aged for more than 40 years and can command extremely high prices. Amarone di Valpolicella was awarded DOCG status in 2009.

    • Nero dAvola

      • A native varietal of Sicily, this grape was virtually unheard of a few years ago. Now, the quality of the wine is improving steadily and it is becoming increasingly popular on the international market for its plummy fruit and sweet tannins.

    • Dolcetto

      • This grape is called "Little Sweet One", because it is easy to grow and produces great wines for everyday drinking. It is grown alongside the Barbera and Nebbiola grapes in Piedmont and produces wine with flavors of concord grape, wild blackberries and herbs.

    • Negroamaro

      • Translated, the name means "Black and Bitter". It is grown extensively in the region of Puglia where it is used to produce the Salento wines: spicy, toasty, and full of dark red fruits.

    • Aglianico

      • Considered by many to be the "Noble Varietal of the south" Aglianico grapes are primarily grown in the regions of Campania and Basilicata. The name is derived from Hellenic, so the grape is considered to be a Greek transplant. Thick skinned and spicy, the wines are often both rustic and powerful.

    • Sagrantino

      • This grape is native to Umbria. It is only planted on 250 hectares, but the wines produced from it are world-renowned. Inky purple, with rustic brooding fruit and heavy tannins, these wines can age for many years.

    • Malvasia Nera

      • Red Malvasia varietal from Piedmont. A sweet and perfumed wine, sometimes elaborated in the passito style.

Other major red varieties are Ciliegolo, Gaglioppo, Lagrein, Lambrusco, Monica, Nerello Mascalese, Pignolo, Primitivo (Zinfandel in California), Refosco, Schiava, Schiopettino, Teroldego, and Uva di Troia. "International" varietals such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc are also widely grown.

  • Italian White Grapes
    • Catarratto

      • This is the most widely planted white varietal in Salaparuta, south western Sicily.

    • Trebbiano

      • This is the most widely planted white varietal in Italy. It is grown throughout the country, with a special focus on the wines from Abruzzo and from Lazio, including Frascati. Mostly, they are pale, easy drinking wines, but trebbiano from producers such as Valentini have been known to age for 15+ years. It is known as Ugni Blanc in France.

    • Moscato

      • Grown mainly in Piedmont, it is mainly used in the slightly-sparkling (frizzante), semi-sweet Moscato d"Asti. Not to be confused with moscato giallo and moscato rosa, two Germanic varietals that are grown in Trentino- Alto-Adige.

    • Nuragus

      • An ancient Phoenician varietal found in southern Sardegna. Light and tart wines that are drunk as an apertif in their homeland.

    • Pinot Grigio

      • A hugely successful commercial grape (known as Pinot Gris in France), its wines are characterized by crispness and cleanness. As a hugely mass-produced wine, it is usually delicate and mild, but in a good producers" hands, the wine can grow more full-bodied and complex. The main problem with the grape is that to satisfy the commercial demand, the grapes are harvested too early every year, leading to wines without character.

    • Tocai Friulano

      • A varietal distantly related to Sauvignon Blanc, it yields the top wine of Friuli, full of peachiness and minerality. Currently, there is a bit of controversy regarding the name, as the EC has demanded it changed to avoid confusion with the Tokay dessert wine from Hungary.

    • Ribolla Gialla

      • A Slovenian grape that now makes its home in Friuli, these wines are decidedly old-world, with aromas of pineapple and mustiness.

    • Arneis

      • A crisp and floral varietal from Piedmont, which has been grown there since the 15th century.

    • Malvasia Bianca

      • Another white varietal that peeks up in all corners of Italy with a wide variety of clones and mutations. Can range from easy quaffers to funky, musty whites.

    • Pigato

      • A heavily acidic varietal from Liguria, the wines are vinified to pair with a cuisine rich in seafood.

    • Fiano
      • Grown on the southwest coast of Italy, the wines from this grape can be described as dewy and herbal, often with notes of pinenut and pesto.
    • Garganega

      • The main grape varietal for wines labeled Soave, this is a crisp, dry white wine from the Veneto wine region of Italy. It"s a very popular wine that hails from northeast Italy around the city of Verona. Currently, there are over 3,500 distinct producers of Soave.

    • Vermentino

      • This is widely planted in northern Sardinia and also found in Tuscan and Ligurian coastal districts. Wines are particularly popular to accompany fish and seafood.

    • Verdicchio

      • This is grown in the areas of Castelli di Jesi and Matelica in the Marche region and gives its name to the varietal white wine made from it. The name comes from "verde" (green). The white wines are noted for their high acidity and a characteristic nutty flavour with a hint of honey.

Other important whites include Carricante, Catarratto, Coda de Volpe, Cortese, Falanghina, Grechetto, Grillo, Inzolia, Picolit, Traminer, Verduzzo, and Vernaccia. As far as non-native varietals, the Italians plant Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer (sometimes called traminer aromatico), Riesling, Petite Arvine, and many others.

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