, in the far north-west of Italy, enjoys an unrivaled seat among the world’s very finest wine regions. It is the home of more DOCG wines than any other Italian region, among them such well-known and respected names as Barolo, Barbaresco, and Barbera d’Asti. Although famous for its austere, tannic red wines made from Nebbiolo, Piedmont’s greatest success story in the past decade has been sweet, white, sparkling Moscato d’Asti.
Piedmont, or Piemonte in Italian, means the foot of the Mountains. Lying at the base of the Alps, this name fits quite well. Piedmont has a cool continental climate with a hot growing season and often very foggy conditions. The great Nebbiolo wines of Piedmont are named for his fog, or nebbia. The cuisine of the region is often rich and creamy with lots of meat, risotto, and most famously, white truffles (tartuffi bianchi).
Piedmont produces more wine than any other Italian region and makes the highest percentage of quality wines in Italy. Piedmont is home to some of the most robust, long-lived wines in the world, many of which are indigenous to Piedmont and rarely excel anywhere else in the world. In particular, the wines of Barolo and Barbaresco are two of Italy’s best. Like fine Bordeaux, these Nebbiolo wines take years of aging before they can be drunk. When they are young, they are viciously tannic, but with proper cellaring, they become great.
Piedmont produces such good wine that the region’s close historical relationship with France should come as no great surprise. Indeed, the character of a powerful Barolo is similar to that of a red Burgundy wine.
Celtic tribes were the first inhabitants of Piedmont, but were quickly conquered by the Romans. The mighty empire brought viticulture to the region, and it flourished until the fall of Rome. Following this collapse, Piedmont suffered under the invasion of eastern marauders and then spent many years under the rule of the French Savoy family. This feudal family controlled the region almost unilaterally, with a brief interlude during Napoleon’s empire, until the end of the Second World War.
The region is an industrial center as well with the automobile company, Fiat, headquartered in Turin.
Pressing up against France and Switzerland, Piedmont is located in the Northwestern corner of Italy.
Severe winters and warm summers characterize the region, and frequent mountain fogs add an additional dimension of complexity. Hail is not unusual, and can damage harvests during the long ripening period of many of Piedmonts grapes.
Vineyards grow predominantly along moderately steep hillsides, though some have spread into the river valleys below.
Soil is composed largely of calcium-rich marl, sand, and clay, but the actual composition varies extensively.
Barbera:Rich and flavorful, these wines require less aging than Nebbiolos.
Moscato:Used mostly to make Spumante or Frizzante, which can be luscious and sweet, or more on the dry side. The best of Piedmont’s white wines are made from Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, the highest quality grape in the Muscat family. One of the most important of these wines is the sparkling Asti DOCG, which is naturally sparkling and slightly sweet with a low level of alcohol. Another similar wine is the delicious, slightly sparkling Moscato d’Asti DOCG. Moscato d’Asti averages about 5% alcohol and usually has a distinct “grapey” aroma in its youth.
Nebbiolo:Rich and smoky in Barolo, elegant and feminine in Barbaresco. Aging is required for the traditionally made Nebbiolos. Barolo producers are divided into two camps – those who vinify in the traditional manner and those who use modern techniques. Traditionally, the wine was left in contact with the skins for long periods of time during fermentation, and aged in large oak or chestnut casks for years. These traditional-style Barolos are complex and earthy with flavors of tar, truffle, violets, tobacco, prunes, and smoke. In the modern style, winemakers focus their efforts on softening the Nebbiolo grape’s harsh tannins and on extracting the maximum color. The main difference though is that in the modern style, wines are aged in small, new oak barriques for little longer than the required two years. In this style, the wines tend to be softer with a vanilla character and are generally ready to drink years earlier than the wines made in the traditional style.
Dolcetto:Wines made from the Dolcetto grape are smooth and quaffable, but should generally be consumed when young.