Megan Mallen, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
The Renowned Wines of Piedmont
As a wine aficionado, Italy’s Piedmont region is a must-visit. It’s a place where the extraordinary Nebbiolo grape reigns supreme, yielding the region’s pride and joy: Barolo and Barbaresco wines. This ancient variety, Nebbiolo, is considered to be one of Italy’s most respected wine grapes, known for its ability to produce beautifully aromatic wines that age gracefully.
Adding to the region’s red wine fame are the Barbera and Dolcetto grapes. The former gives rise to delightful wines characterized by robust acidity and fewer tannins than Nebbiolo, resulting in a more delicate wine. In contrast, Dolcetto, which translates to “beautiful little one” in Italian, yields wines that are light, dry, and subtly tannic, contrary to the sweetness one might expect from its name.
While the region is primarily celebrated for its red wines, Piedmont’s viticultural heritage is rich and varied, including white grape varieties that produce commendable wines. Gavi and Arneis, with their elegant profiles and crisp acidity, are emerging as stars in the Piedmont wine scene, making them perfect pairings for fresh pasta and white truffles.
Historical and Cultural Context
The Celtic tribes were the initial inhabitants of the Piedmont wine region until its eventual conquest by the Romans. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, Piedmont, being near the Italian border, was vulnerable to attacks and was subsequently taken over by the French.
Located in northwest Italy, Piedmont shares borders with Switzerland and France. The region is known for its city of Turin, its white truffles, wines, and northern and western ski resorts.
Piedmont’s wine industry faced a significant challenge in the late 1800s with the arrival of phylloxera, a tiny aphid that ravages grape plant roots. This crisis led to the introduction of different plant species, including Barbera, which now makes up a significant portion of the region’s annual DOC red wine production.
The Unique Microclimate
Situated in northwest Italy, nestled between Swiss and French borders, the Piedmont region is aptly named “foot of the mountain.” Unlike traditional Mediterranean-style Italian landscapes, Piedmont’s grapes thrive in a climate that alternates between cold, foggy winters and hot, dry summers.
Food and Tradition
Piedmont is home to the Slow Food Movement, which includes 85,000 members advocating for traditional regional agriculture and opposing land redevelopment for commercial purposes. Instead of promoting fast food, they champion local traditions and sustainable farming practices.
Famous Piedmont Wines
While red wines dominate the Piedmont region, it is also home to some white wines. However, none can rival the DOCG red wines Barolo and Barbaresco, both crafted from the Nebbiolo grape. These wines are full-bodied, dry, and tannin-rich, requiring extended aging to soften their robust tannins.
Piedmont’s most popular white wine is derived from the Moscato grape, often enjoyed as a dessert wine. It is a light, mildly sparkling (Frizzante), sweet wine with a low alcohol content (5.5% alc.vol.), making it an ideal summer beverage.
In areas where Nebbiolo is not cultivated, Barbera and Dolcetto thrive. Barbera wines are medium to full-bodied, while Dolcetto wines are light and slightly dry.
Barbera is the most widely cultivated grape variety in Piedmont. Wines produced from Barbera grapes offer silky tannins, high acidity, and captivating fruit-driven aromas of liquorice, blackberries, and sweet cherries, coupled with enticing dry herb notes. Their high acidity makes these wines excellent partners for fatty meals, creating a harmonious balance.
Dolcetto is renowned for its soft, fruity flavors of plums, raspberries, and blackberries, coupled with low acidity. The characteristic scent of violets and black peppercorns is prevalent in Dolcetto wines, which are distinguished by their firm, tannic structure. Notable producers can be found in both DOCG and DOC regions, and most experts recommend consuming the wine within five years of release due to its lower acidity.
Nebbiolo presents a fascinating contrast. It exudes an aroma that combines earthy tar and delicate rose petals. Despite its gentle hue, it hides a robust structure. More than any other Italian grape, Nebbiolo takes its time to ripen and mellow. However, the wait is worthwhile for Nebbiolo enthusiasts. With its unmatched complexity and longevity, Nebbiolo offers a wine experience like no other. Devotees often patiently store bottles to open many years later, revealing a wonderfully soft and delicate wine.
The Piedmont wine region is a treasure trove of varietals and styles, each telling a unique story of the region’s rich history and diverse terroir. From the robust and complex Nebbiolo-based wines to the delicate and fruit-driven Barbera and Dolcetto, Piedmont offers a wine for every palate. So, whether you are a seasoned wine connoisseur or a curious beginner, Piedmont is a wine region worth exploring.