Piedmont

The name Piemonte comes from medieval Latin Pedemontium or Pedemontis, meaning “at the foot of the mountains.” It is located in northwest Italy and borders Switzerland and France. True to its name, Piemonte is a land of mountains surrounded on three sides by the Alps which serve as the background for sweeping, picturesque landscapes dotted with vineyards, small towns and castles. Prior to the reunification of Italy, Piemonte was considered the “capital” region of Italy. Today, it is revered for its great reds made from the Nebbiolo grape (also called Spanna) including Barolo and Barbaresco. Barbera is the most widely planted red varietal and Moscato is the most widely planted white.

Important Grape Varieties

White

    Arneis

  • Cortese (Gavi)
  • Erbaluce
  • Favorita
  • Moscato (Asti)

Red

  • Barbera
  • Bonarda
  • Brachetto
  • Dolcetto
  • Freisa
  • Grignolino
  • Nebbiolo or Spanna in the Novara hills (Barolo, Barbaresco, Gattinara, Ghemme)
  • Ruche

PIEDMONT

A panorama of dramatic peaks and sloping hills is the backdrop for the breathtaking beauty of Italy’s westernmost region.

Piedmont, which literally translates as “foot of the mountain,” borders Switzerland to the north and France to the west. It is a confined region with an evident French background, a land of hearty wines and foods, heady truffles and stout souls, hard workers who possess such non-Italian traits as punctuality, precision and fastidiousness.

The agricultural heart of Piedmont lies in the Po Valley to the southeast. The fertile Langhe and Monferrato hills of rocky volcanic soil contribute to the character of the intense red wines born there.

Piedmont is famous for her rich, warm red wines — among the most notable produced with the noble Nebbiolo grape are Barolo, Barbaresco, Gattinara, Ghemme, Carema and Spanna (the local name for the Nebbiolo grape variety.) Nebbiolo, the predominant red grape variety in these wines, derives its name from “nebbia” or “fog” which envelops the vineyards at harvest time. Other illustrious reds include Grignolino, Dolcetto and Barbera, the most widely cultivated red grape in Piedmont.

World class whites are also found here — among them the elegant, crisp, dry Cortese di Gavi, the well-balanced, dry Erbaluce di Caluso (either still or sparkling) and its rich, unctuous “passito” version, the soft, aromatic Moscato and the fragrant Asti Spumante. Piedmont ranks with the leading producers of sparkling wines, both sweet and dry.

Another important economic product of Piedmont is Vermouth. Strictly speaking, it is not a wine – but to be labeled Vermouth it must contain at least 70 percent wine by volume. This base is then flavored with roots, herbs, spices and woods, etc.

THE DOCGs of PIEDMONT

BAROLO

Defined by many to be the “king of wines and the wine of kings” because of its regal characteristics and majestic reputation, this splendid Piemontese red is one of the standard-bearers of Italian enology.

Barolo is born, nurtured and matured in the province of Cuneo and in the communities of Barolo, Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d’Alba, Novello, La Morra, Verduno, Grinzane Cavour, Diano d’Alba, Cheracso and Roddi.

Produced with 100 percent Nebbiolo grapes (sub varieties Michet, Lampia and Rose’) Barolo is an intense, dry, robust but velvety garnet-colored (tending toward orange with age) red wine. It requires a minimum aging period of three years (at least two in cask). In order to be called Riserva the wine must be aged for a minimum of five years. Aging for the wines begins January 1st of the year following the harvest. Barolo was named a DOCG in 1980.

BARBARESCO

If Barolo is called the “king of wines” then there must be a “prince” somewhere nearby – that young royal is Barbaresco. Barbaresco, following in the footsteps of its older brother Barolo, is also produced with 100 percent Nebbiolo grapes. The Barbaresco zone of production also lies in the province of Cuneo, in the communities of Barbaresco, Neive, Treiso and parts of San Rocco Senodelvio d’Alba.

This is a wine of extremely ancient origin and even mentioned by Livy in his monumental “History of Rome.” According to an old tradition, the Gauls were attracted to Italy and descended into the peninsula because of the goodness of the wine of “Barbaritium,” from which the words “Barbariscum” and later “Barbaresco” were derived.

It is garnet red in color with orange reflections and has a characteristic perfume of tar and faded roses. Barbaresco is dry, full, robust, austere but velvety in taste.

Barbaresco requires a minimum aging period of two years (at least one in cask.) Riservas demand aging of no less than four years. Aging begins January 1st following the harvest. DOCG status was granted to Barbaresco in 1980.

GATTINARA

Gattinara, which takes is name from the town around where the grapes are grown, is made with a preponderance of Nebbiolo (locally know as Spanna), 90% minimum, with the addition of Bonarda and/or Vespolina, 10% maximum, to soften the wine.

Locally, the Nebbiolo is known as Spanna. The name is derived from “span,” a measuring unit — the distance from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little finger when the hand is fully extended. It is the average length of the fully developed clusters of Nebbiolo grapes.

Gattinara is garnet tending to orange in color. It offers a fine perfume that hints of violets and roses which becomes spicy with extended aging. The wine is dry and well-balanced with a characteristic bitterish finish. By law Gattinara must age at least three years, one in oak or chestnut casks. Riservas must be aged four years, at least two in wood. Aging begins December 1st of the year of harvest.

GHEMME

Ghemme, which is made primarily from Nebbiolo grapes, is produced in the Colli Novaresi and Vercellesi viticultural area. The wine boasts extremely ancient origins. Recent excavations near Ghemme provide archeological confirmation that vines were cultivated in the district at least as early as the beginning of the Christian era. The Romans owned some vineyards in the district that were veritable models of up-to-date agricultural practice and where scientific rules were followed in every phase of winemaking.

Ghemme is garnet red in color and a perfume that hints of color. The wine is dry, tends to be tannic but harmonious. By law the wine can be produced with 75% Nebbiolo and a maximum of 25% Uva Rara and/or Vespolina used alone or together. The wine requires at least three years of aging, at least 20 months in oak. Aging period begins November 1st following the harvest.

GAVI or CORTESE di GAVI

Gavi is produced with Cortese grapes grown in the Alto Monferrato, a vitivinicultural zone situated in the southern part of the province of Alessandria. A total of 59 communes are involved in its production in a district that is predominantly hilly. Acqui, Ovada, Gavi and Novi Ligure are the best-known communities in its production zone.

Although the variety is extremely ancient, documentary evidence of its existence goes back only several centuries. The first fairly detailed account of the Cortese variety is provided in an account written in 1798 suggesting that this variety makes “good wine in substantial quantity and it keeps well.”

Gavi is pale straw in color with greenish reflections and has a delicate perfume that hints of fresh fruit. It is dry and appealing. It may be produced in still, frizzante or sparkling versions.

MOSCATO d’ASTI/ASTI

The Moscato varietal has been cultivated in the Asti area since extremely ancient times. The grape was cited in the Statutes of the Commune of Canelli as long ago as the 13th century.

According to an old legend of the Asti district, the grape’s origins date back to the time of the Stanzianelli, who founded the community.

Giovan Battista Croce, a Milanese jeweler who moved to Turin at the end of the 16th century, is regarded as the “father” of Moscato d’Asti. A noted goldsmith and jeweler to Duke Carl Emmanuel I of Savoy, Croce was also the owner of a vineyard between Montevecchio and Candia in the Turin hills where he conducted experiments with various training systems in order to improve quality. In his cellar, he perfected the techniques of making sweet, aromatic wines with low alcohol levels. In 1606, he published his findings and conclusions in a small book with the title, “Of the Excellence and Diversity of Wines That Are Made on the Mountain of Turin and How to Make Them.”

In producing Moscato d’Asti, the grapes are separated from the stalks immediately before pressing and the must obtained is vinified off the skins. The first filtration is carried out and the process is repeated regularly so that the wine remains sweet. The product thus obtained is known as sweet filtrate. Natural Moscato can be consumed as it is or it can be turned into a sparkling wine, Asti. (With its elevation to DOCG, the term “spumante” need not be used on the Asti label. Producers {and the government, alike} felt that consumers the world over, know Asti as a fully sparkling wine, therefore, the term “Spumante” as a modifier was redundant.)

BRACHETTO d’ACQUI or ACQUI

A superb Piemontese dessert wine, Brachetto d’Acqui is produced in only extremely limited quantities. According to popular tradition, the wine was greatly appreciated by, and was the preferred beverage of one of the most famous characters of the Italian comedy in masks, Gioan d’laduja or Giovanni of the jug. The figure is said to have drawn inspiration for his bubbly high spirits from this fizzy red wine with a fragrant foam.

Brachetto’s origin is much disputed. According to the most reasonable hypothesis, the variety originated in the hillsides around Asti.

The wine is produced from the Brachetto grape with a maximum addition of no more than 10% Aleatico or Moscato Nero. The wine must have a minimum alcohol of 6% (5 for the non-spumante) and can be still, lightly frizzante or sparkling.

ROERO ARNEIS and NEBBIOLO

To the left of the Tanaro riverbank in Piedmont lies the Roero district where the white Arneis and red Nebbiolo share vineyard space. The white Arneis may be still or sparkling and is produced with 100% Arneis and there is no mandatory aging requirement. The wine is straw yellow in color.

In the case of Roero Nebbiolo, the wine is produced with 95% Nebbiolo, up to 3% non-aromatic red grape varieties and up to 2% white Arneis. The Roero Nebbiolo, which is ruby to garnet in color, must age for a minimum of 20 months (beginning November 1st), at least six in wood. Roero Nebbiolo Riserva must age for a minimum of 32 months (beginning November 1st) and also spend at least six months in wood.

DOLCETTO di DOGLIANI SUPERIORE and DOGLIANI

A delightful red produced in and around the commune of Dogliani from Dolcetto grapes. This wine is deep ruby with violet reflections and well-balanced with a moderate acidity.

The wine must be aged at least one year (as of October 15th of the year of harvest) and cannot be sold until November 1st of the year following the harvest.

BARBERA d’ASTI

Barbera d’Asti is born of at least 85% Barbera grown in and around the town of Asti. Up to 15% Freisa, Grignolino and/or Dolcetto may be blended. The wine must age until March 1st of the year following the harvest.

Barbera d’Asti can be designated Superiore if it is aged for at least one year with a minimum six months in wood and achieves an alcohol of 12.5%. This aging begins as of January 1st following the harvest. Barbera d’Asti Superiore with the designations Tinella or Colli Astiani must age a minimum of 24 months beginning October 1st.

The wine is brilliant ruby red with garnet reflections as the wine ages. The wine is dry and fruity with a harmonious taste.

BARBERA del MONFERRATO SUPERIORE

A delicious red born from at least 85% Barbera grapes grown in and around the Monferrato hills. Up to 15% of Freisa, Grignolino and/or Dolcetto may be included. The Superiore must age for a minimum of one year (at least six months in wood) to be entitled to the designation superiore.

The wine is ruby red and with a medium body and vivacious character.

DOLCETTO di OVADA SUPERIORE or OVADA

A lovely red produced from Dolcetto grapes grown in and around the town of Ovada. In order to be called Superiore, the wine must achieve an alcohol content of at least 12.5% and age for a minimum of one year beginning November 1st of the year of the harvest. If a vineyard designation is used, the wine must age for a minimum of 20 months beginning November 1st. If the term Riserva is used, the wine must age at least 24 months (minimum 6 in wood).

The wine is intense ruby in color with hints of almonds in the finish.

ERBALUCE di CALUSO

A luscious white produced with 100% Erbaluce. The wine may be produced as still, sparkling or passito versions. Passito must be aged for 36 months beginning November 1st following the harvest. A Passito Riserva version requires a minimum of 48 months of aging. Erbaluce may be dry, fresh and fruity with a minerally character or rich, sweet and unctuous when produced with partially dried grapes in the passito style.

RUCHE’ di CASTAGNOLE MONFERRATO

This delightful red is produced with a minimum of 90% Ruche, with the addition of no more than 10% Barbera and/or Brachetto. Ruche’ is usually medium-bodied with hints of flowers, wild berries and a touch of pepper. The wine usually has a nice vein of acidity and soft tannins

DOLCETTO di DIANO d’ALBA

Lovely red produced with 100% Dolcetto grown in the delimited Diano d’Alba zone. The wine has bright fruit with a hint of almond in the finish. The wine must age until November 1st of the year following the harvest.

ALTA LANGA

Alta Langa is an incredible red, white or rose` sparkler that is produced with Pinot Nero and/or Chardonnay; 90% and no more than 10% other local non aromatic varietals. The wine is required to age for a minimum of 30 months.

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