Piedmont is one of the best expressions of Italy one can find. Considered a top wine region next to Tuscany & Veneto, it has a whole new set of regional grapes & varietals to get to know, and the famous Barolo & Barbaresco only account for 3% of the total production in the Piedmont region!
GENERAL TERROIR & HISTORY
Wine in Piedmont has an ancient history, all the way to the sixth century BC. The modern Piedmontese wines gained popularity in the 19th century, after winemaking regions slowly shifted to more suitable territories. The Barolo regional style was born in 1830 by the work of Marquises Falletti and Count Camillo Benso di Cavour. Dominizio Cavazza later gave birth to Barbaresco amongst his other achievements in the wine world.
The Word Wars were a big hit to Piedmont viticulture, but the 1980s saw the bounce back of the Langhe, Monferrato and Roero areas, with integration of elegant winemaking styles of Bordeaux & Burgundy to make, moving away from the rustic styles before the war. This led to the style of Piedmont wines that we know today.
With the Alps to the North & Apennines to the South, most of the quality wines would come from the hills of Piedmont. The reason is because of the wide range of temperatures caused by the cold Alps & warm Mediterranean, the lower areas are filled with morning fog, which blocks sunlight. A side effect of this is that since they are in elevated positions with cooler climates, these wines are much lighter tasting & higher in acidity.
As with all Italian wine, they follow the DOC classification scheme that originated in Veneto. Majorly, the grapes grown in this region are Barbera, Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Moscato, Cortese & Arneis
MAJOR WINE VARIETALS & STYLES
Nebbiolo based wines are definitely the flagship of Piedmont, especially due to the fame of Barolo & Barbaresco. However there are many different styles from Piedmont, that most people don't naturally associate with Piedmont, such as Moscato. While there are very many regional grapes produced, the main ones are captured below.
A growing number of producers are making a Metodo Classico, which is made in a similar style as a Blanc de Blanc Champagne, out of the Gavi or Cortese grape.
LIGHT BODIED WHITE WINE
Cortese (Gavi), Arneis
Cortese is popularly known as Gavi, which is a the town or region where it's from. It's made in a light & dry stype, and has lemon like citrus notes & bright acidity, similar to Pinot Grigio & Chablis style wines. The key region is Gavi, but there are some smaller regions producing Cortese
Arneis is the flagship white wine of the Roero region. They draw some similarities with a White Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc. Medium bodied with bitter almond notes on the finish, the wines are bright & grassy. Best expressions come from Roero, with an abundance in Langhe as well.
MEDIUM BODIED RED WINE
Barbera is the everyday drink of the people of Piedmont. It's the most planted red grape in all of Piedmont, and produces a laid-back yet robest red, Dark in color with notes of black cherry, anise & dried herbs, it pairs well with a wide variety of foods. It's often oaked to create a richer style. Key regions include Asti & Monferrato, amongst others.
Dolcetto is a little bit of a liar, in the sense that the word means "little sweet one" but it's just the opposite of that really. Big tannins with notes of blackberry, licorce & tar, it's a very dark wine that doesn't age well due to it's low acidity. Usually made in a more fruit forward style to balance out the tannin, you could expect something similar to a Merlot.
FULL BODIED RED WINE
Nebbiolo isone of Italy's most important red wine varieties, offering delicate aromas paired with strong tannin. Fruity flavors of cherry and raspberries, supported with aromas of rose and anise, will shine through the powerful leathery tannins. It's like a friend who can't make up their mind; subtle yet powerful, simple yet complex, vibrant yet tight. Nebbiolo will get slight more savory herbs & sour cranberry aromas in the cooler years. Key regions include Barolo & Barbaresco, but there are many sub-regions across the entire Piedmont producing various styles of Nebbiolo.
DESSERT / FORTIFIED
Brachetto is a sweet, floral light red wine with strong perfumed strawberry notes. It's usually made in a sweet bubbly style called Brachetto d'Acqui, which is most commonly consumed as a pairing with desserts. Look for Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG or Piemonte Brachetto DOC.
Moscato or Muscat Blanc actually comes from the same region as Barolo. An ancient aromatic white grape with intense notes of cotton candy, roses & oranges, it's either made in a fully bubbly style Asti Spumante, or a slightly fizzy style Moscato d'Asti. The fizzante style is sweeter & more low alcohol than the bubbly, making it the perfect dessert pairing with lighter citrus forward desserts.
MAJOR REGIONS / SUB-REGIONS
Barolo, Barbaresco, Dolcetto d’Alba, Barbera d’Alba, Moscato d'Asti
In the southern region of Piedmont sits some of the most important territories of Piedmont. Langhe is host to the hills of Barolo & Barbaresco, and the whole region is characterised by hilly & foggy landscapes, with clay dominant soils that provide complexity & structure to the wines.
The main subregions are Barolo, La Morra, Monforte & Serralunga, while the Asti region which produces Moscato d'Asti & Asti Spumante is shared on the border with Monferrato.
The smallest subregion is Alta Langa, which produces classical Champagne style sparkling wines out of Pinot Noir & Chardonnay grapes.
Just north of Langhe with soils rich in marine sediment & sandstone rocks, as well as layered clay & sand, wines from Roero have enhanced freshness & fruitiness. The most common production here is Arnies for white & Nebbiolo for red
Monferrato covers a wine production area, and includes the provinces of Alessandria & Asti. Many small regional varietals come from this area, including Ruché, Calosso & Albarossa. However, it's main production would be Barbera, including the DOCG regions of Barbera d’Asti, Nizza, Barbera del Monferrato Superiore. In the Asti area, Moscato is the big main stay, covering both the Asti Spumante & d'Asti. While there are some dry styles produced, it's a very niche production.
Alto Monferrato in Alessandria is the home of Gavi as well as d'Acqui styles like Brachetto
Tomorasso, a another regional white wine, is produced here. It's a small area to the east of Monferrato.
Closer to the north of Piedmont is Canavese, which runs along the Aosta Valley, with soils made up of glacial deposits. Nebbiolo is the main dominant grape here, made in a lighter more fruit forward style. Also look out for regional grapes such as Bonarda, Freisa & Erbaluce di Caluso.
Erbaluce di Caluso is an interesting sparkling white wine using the apassimento style.
Rocky soils, rich in sand and clay, blend perfectly with Nebbiolo, hosting popular sub-regions such as Gattinara, Lessona & Ghemme