Piedmont is the home of cult wines Barolo and Barbaresco, which are both pressed from Nebbiolo grapes. A modern variant of Barolo vinification has given this wine an even greater fan base. Piedmont is also a Mecca for all truffle connoisseurs. The harvest always begins in October.
History and geography
The ancient Romans drank wine from Piedmont, the land "at the foot of the mountain". Its many medieval castles are particularly impressive. Historically, Piedmont is one of Italy's richest regions.
The hilly landscape lies like a huge valley between the foothills of the Alps in the south and the Apennines in the east. The vineyards are all on slopes facing south-west and east.
The cool climate allows the grapes to ripen slowly, making them very aromatic. Volcanic tuff (tufo) predominates, and limestone soils are also abundant.
Different soils in the Piedmont wine region
For one thing, the region has soils with a high proportion of loam and lime, which make for very aromatic wines. Soils with a high proportion of sand are ideal for the grapes from which Barolo is made. The grapes from which Barbera wine is made grow particularly well on sandy soils with an even higher lime content.Limestone soil is also best for Nebbiolo vines. Nebbiolo is very demanding in terms of growing conditions, making it one of the most important grape varieties in Piedmont. Nebbiolo grapes are crucial to viticulture and product quality.
The fact that Piedmont produces both red and white wines testifies to the diversity of this wine region. In terms of taste, some Piedmont wines could not be more different from each other – but their quality is never less than impressive. Since many of the grape varieties are found only in Piedmont's vineyards, furthermore, their flavours are unique. Piedmont wines: 85% of production is red. The powerful Barolo is often considered the best wine in Italy. Barbaresco is lighter, fruitier and matures faster. The somewhat misjudged wines Barbera d'Alba and Barbera d'Asti are robust, rather lighter and are rarely laid down – while Dolcetto d'Alba, Dolcetto d'Asti and Grignolino are even lighter still. Freisa wines are reds: sweet, sparkling and light. Asti Spumante – sparkling, flowery, sweet-tasting – is Piedmont's export star. Dry white wines come mainly from the Piedmont village of Gavi, while vermouth is a Turin speciality.The north-west of Italy has a reputation for producing many fine wines. It is red wines, first and foremost – especially those pressed from the Nebbiolo grape – that have helped the region around Turin and the wine-growing region of Piedmont to achieve worldwide recognition. Wines pressed from the Nebbiolo grape include Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera and Roero. The Arneis and Cortese di Gavi white wines are also products of Piedmont's viticulture.The Nebbiolo d'Alba, Barolo and Barbaresco wines produced from the Nebbiolo grape are of particularly high quality, but other reds – Cortese, Grignolino d'Asti and Dolcetto d'Alba – which are in great demand far beyond the borders of the wine-growing region of Piedmont, need not fear comparison with them. And as for white wine drinkers, for many of them there is nothing like a glass of chilled Asti Spumante.
Time shapes wine quality
Most of the wine-growing region of Piedmont is planted with red Nebbiolo grapes, which are mainly pressed to make Barolo – a rather lighter red wine, rich in tannins, with a deep, powerful aroma. It needs about ten years of ageing to acquire its typical spiciness before it is ready to drink. Barbaresco is similar to Barolo, but rather lighter – needing only a little more than two years' ageing to mature. The Barbera d'Alba and Dolcetto d'Alba wines are fruitier.The grapes ripen slowly, which is due to the environment: they get enough hours of sunshine, but the surrounding mountains protect them from getting too much. Cold breezes make sure the vines are sufficiently cooled. The ratio of sunshine to shade gives a region's vines a very special, distinctive note.
Popular wines from Piedmont
The main grape variety is Nebbiolo, from which Barolo, Barbaresco and Gattinara (under the name Spanna) are produced. Other red wines often bear the name of the grape variety combined with their places of origin: Barbera d'Alba, Dolcetto d'Asti etc. Two relatively new wines are the red and white Roero Arneis.
Vineyard area and production volume: about 62 000 hectares, producing some 3 million hectolitres of wine annually – about 20 per cent of it DOC or DOCG.