What wines are in Piedmont?
Piedmont makes up one of the 20 regions of Italy, it borders France & Switzerland and sits at the foot of the Alps. Being the most famous wine region of the country (along with Tuscany), it homes 17 out of the 74 DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) and 42 out of the 329 DOC (Denominazione di origine controllata) wines in the country.
Let's have a quick look at what wines are in Piedmont.
P.S If you didn't already know, not all Italian wines are called by their grape name. In fact, most of the time they are named after where they are grown/the local commune or town (an example being the first one below; Nebbiolo is the grape variety for both Barolo & Barbaresco wine)
First, let us look at its native grapes:
Nebbiolo is an antique red variety to Piedmont, dating back to the 13th century. It is fragile to aggressive weather and requires exposed hills that are not too dry, therefore it lives above the ‘fog’ in the valley - in which Nebbiolo might derive its name from. It matures late in harvest whilst it buds early. These two things make it harder to grow (like Pinot Noir). Other things that make it similar to Pinot Noir is that it has thin skins & is extremely terroir expressive; it reflects the particular earth, soil, and climate characteristics, unlike other grapes.
Profile: Delicate in colour & aroma. Powerfully high body, high acidity & tannin. Red fruit & rose on the nose. Cherry, coffee, anise & earth in the mouth.
Age Min Required:
- Barolo: 3 years, 2 in cask.
- Barolo Reserva: 5 years, 3 in cask.
- Barbaresco: 2 years, 1 in cask.
- Barbaresco Reserva: 5 years, 3 in cask.
*Reserva does not mean better, it refers to a higher alcohol content & longer ageing (which may make it better for you)
Even with its 100s of years of history (since the 7th century) Barbera has never won the pride of Nebbiolo. It gained its fame post phylloxera reconstruction; during the healing of the vineyards after the Second World War. The producers were forced to focus on quantity over quality to increase sales & this was favourable towards Barbera (a vine of good vigour, in constant production & matures in the third age). Its lack of superiority leaves it with the second class real estate in Piedmont (personally, I think it needs more attention!)
Profile: Intense in colour & aroma. High in acidity, medium body, low in tannin. Dark Cherry, Dried Strawberry, Plum, Blackberry.
OTHER: Violet, Lavender, Dried Leaves, Incense, Vanilla, Nutmeg, Anise.
Age Min Required: 2 - 4 years.
Dolcetto is believed by some to have originated from the Piedmontese village of Dogliani, other theories suggest that it was bought to Monferrato from France in the 11th century, however its synonym (ormeasca) leads to the claim that its territory of origin is the area between the Italian provinces of Cuneo and Liguria. By the 19th century it became the most widespread red grape variety in the Alba area, and because of its early ripening capabilities, could spread on the highest and coldest hills. For this reason Dolcetto can be found on the less favoured sights as an early market wine whilst the Nebbiolo & Barbera matures. The wine it generates is dry and its name "Dolcetto" (meaning little sweet one in Italian) probably comes from the sweetness of the pulp, which holds poor acidity.
Profile: Deep ruby to purple in colour, delicate aroma. Medium body, medium tannins & low acidity. Black cherry flavour, ripe blackberries, plums & liquorice. Major food friendly wine.
Age Min Required: 1 year.
Pelaverga is found in Verduno, one of the 11 communes of Barolo in the province of Cuneo. The small pelaverga is an autochthonous vine, that only in this territory has the optimal conditions to express its unmistakable and characteristic spicy and floral notes. The first historical traces date back to before the eighteenth century; after having resumed extinction (by phylloxera) it was reintroduced in the seventies and since 1995, it has been protected as one of the smallest Docs in Italy. Being only limited to 18 hectares, you could say it has conquered the hearts of the public.
Profile: Intense ruby red colour, aromas are pronounced. Fruity/floral fragrance of violet & currant with distinct spicy notes of white pepper & dog rose with a nutty finish. Moderate acidity, body & tannins.
Age: 6 months in stainless steel then straight to bottle.
Records date back to the 14th century in the hills of Roero - northwest of Alba. Traditionally, it was used as a blending grape to soften red Nebbiolo wines & was also planted to keep the birds away from the "better Nebbiolo" fruits, hence the common synonym "Nebbiolo Bianco/The White Barolo". It is generally a difficult grape to cultivate, with naturally low acidity, its tends to get over ripe if harvested after September. Arneis has been rescued from the verge of extinction and is now enjoying something of a revival. In the 1960's, just a few hectares of Arneis vines remained and in the 70's only two producers were making any kinds of Arneis; Bruno Giacosa & Vietti. There are now more than 610ha of vines found in Piedmont.
Profile: Shades of yellow straw with green reflections, aromas are delicate of floral as well as fruity pear & apricot rounded with a creamy hint of hazelnut. Full body with relatively low acidity.
Age: 4 - 8 months in stainless steel then straight to bottle.
The most cultivated grape in Alto Monferrato; the southeastern corner of Piedmont, dates back to this area in the 17th century. Its area of diffusion is wide and is also found in Liguria, Lombardy and Veneto. It's most famous expression of crispy, lime-scent is elected to Gavi, here, with better terrains and with limited yields, it has proven to be able to create elegant wines of excellent longevity and has revealed a great potential as a sparkling base. It prefers well exposed, dry and not very fertile soils; ripening takes place at the end of September and its productivity is potentially very high, if it is planted on rich soils.
Profile: Pale, lemon-white in colour, aromas of lime/lemon zest, apple, peach, honeydew with almond and light herbal or grassy aromas. Known for its high acidity & freshness even in hot environments (as found in Gavi). *Outside this area wines can be unmanageably acidic - leading to malolactic fermentation or its use in sparkling wines.
Age Min Required:
- Bianco Reserva (100% Cortese):1 year, including 6 months in bottle.
- Reserva Spumante Metodo Classico (100% Cortese): 2 years, including 18 months on lees
Moscato (Muscat Grape)
The origins of the Moscato vine are ancient - one of the oldest in the world. One thinks of a provenance from Greece and it is well known that it was much appreciated by the Romans who left it with impious written traces. In Langhe, the first mention is in 1512, in the Statutes of La Morra, as in the first years of the 17th century they tried to maintain the sweetness of the must and its perfumes using bags of canvas, forerunners of the modern filters. The vine, which in Langhe produces the DOCGs Asti (sparkling/spumante) and Moscato d'Asti (semi-sparkling/frizzante), enjoys good vigour with abundant production. It is sensitive to soils; where there is a lot of clay the muscat ripens less well, creating less fine wines. It is the best dessert wine in the world.
Profile: Colour varies from pale to deep yellow, pronounced aromas of Fruit/Floral: mandarin orange, ripe pear, sweet lemon, orange blossom, and honeysuckle. Light bodied & sweet but balanced with acidity, light bubbles, low alcohol (5.5% ABV) with a clean, minerally finish.
Age Min Required:
- Moscato D'Asti: in steel tanks for at least 2 months and then in bottle for at least 1 month.
- Asti Spumante: in steel tanks for at least 2 months and then in bottle for at least 1 month.
It is worth mentioning a rare autochthonous white grape vine, the Nascetta or Anascetta. Once more widespread, it is today actually confined to the Municipality of Novello (in this case it is part of the Doc Langhe Biano) it can give rise to interesting wines, balanced with acidity, with intense floral, fruity and honey scents.
So, what other wines are in Piedmont?
The best way to discover is by coming and drinking them yourself.
Otherwise, stay tuned as I update this list with some of the other, not so native, yet well cultivated & famed varieties growing in the region.
By Chloe Crsitallini,
See you on one of our tours soon!
P.S To find out about the wines these varieties produce to create some of the most famous DOCG & DOCS such as Barolo & Barbaresco,
please check out: Famous Wines In Piedmont (coming soon).