Italy - Piedmont
Piedmont is Italy's most important wine region. It accounts for
two of its finest reds, Barolo and Barbaresco, as well as two of
Italy's finest whites, Gavi and Arneis. Oddly enough, however, most
of its production is the white, sweet, bubbly and widely adored
Practically all of Piedmont's classified wines derive from native vines. Besides
the noble Nebbiolo - source of Barolo, Barbaresco and Gattinara, which
are all DOCG - Barbera ranks as the most popular vine for reds and
Dolcetto is admired for its soft, full-flavored wines. Freisa, Grignolino,
Brachetto and a host of other varieties round out the honour roll
of red wines.
Italy's westernmost region with borders on Switzerland and France, Piedmont
is hemmed in by Alps and Apennines, which explain why its name means
"foot of the mountain." Though it ranks only seventh among the regions
in total production, in every other way Piedmont is a giant of wine.
It has the most DOC-DOCG zones with 38 (taking in 43 distinct types
of wine) and the most vineyards dedicated to classified production.
For craftsmanship, respect for tradition and devotion to native vines
in their historical habitat, the Piedmontese have no rivals in Italy.
The region's climate is rigid by Italian standards, with distinct changes
of season. Winters are cold with plenty of snow; summers are usually
warm and dry; spring and autumn are usually cool with fog normal at
harvest time. Most vineyards are located in two major areas; the Langhe
and Monferrato hills which are connected to the Apennines in the southeast
and the foothills of the Alps to the north between Lake Maggiore and
The focal point of premium production is the town of Alba on the Tanaro
River. In the Langhe hills Barolo (king of wines and wine of kings)
is produced at the rate of about 6 million bottles a year and Barbaresco,
which many experts rate its equal, rarely reaches half that. Both
come from Nebbiolo, which gives them the powerful structure that makes
them capable of improving for many decades.
The traditional Barolo and Barbaresco were admired almost as cult wines,
though often criticized as too elaborate for modern palates. But the
combination of a series of fine vintages and newly studied techniques
among winemakers, many of them young, seems to be changing the old-fashioned
image. Barolo and Barbaresco have retained their ample dimensions
while becoming better balanced and more approachable than before.
The Alba area is renowned for its smooth, supple Dolcetto under several
appellations, and for first-rate Nebbiolo and white Arneis from the
Roero hills, as well as table wines of class sometimes under the name
But the most surprising progress in both the Alba and Asti areas has been
made with the ubiquitous Barbera, which after years of being considered
common has rapidly become chic. Certain barrel-aged Barberas from
choice plots around Asti and Alba have emerged to stand comparison
with fine Nebbiolo reds. Piedmontese drink more red wine than white
and about half of the red is Barbera, which can be attractive in its
youth. Three other red wines that have recovered after decades of
decline are the pale Grignolino, the often frizzante Freisa and the
sweet and bubbly Brachetto from Acqui.
In the other major area of Nebbiolo production, the hills to the north,
more modern styles are emerging in such reds as Ghemme, Carema, Lessona,
Sizzano, Fara and the long vaunted Gattinara, which has become DOCG.
Piedmont ranks with Italy's leading producers of sparkling wines. Foremost
among them is Asti Spumante, the world's most popular sweet sparkling
wine. The market for this fragrant white is actually larger abroad
than in Italy. In fact, worldwide demand is so great that a shortage
of Moscato di Canelli grapes has developed.
Among still whites, Gavi has emerged as one of Italy's most coveted, with
a crisp, lively style. Admirers consider it one of the best with seafood.
Arneis continues to gain ground in Roero, where the light, zesty Favorita
is also beginning to emerge. Some predict a revival of the ancient
white Erbaluce di Caluso produced near Turin. Although Piedmontese
growers were among the first to experiment with such outside varieties
as Cabernet and the Pinots early in the 19th century, these vines
largely faded from favor. Just recently, though, Cabernet Sauvignon
and especially Chardonnay have shown unusual promise as table wines.
But the principle grapes from hear are so tied to the area that they
each bear a stamp that is unmistakably Piedmontese.