Piedmont, Italy’s westernmost region with borders on Switzerland and France, is hemmed in by the Alps and the Apennines, which explain why its name means foot of the mountain.
Though it ranks only seventh among the regions in total production, Piedmont is considered a giant of Italian wine in every other way.Piedmont boast over 50 DOC-DOCG zones with no IGT appellation whatsoever, it’s Italy’s wine-region with the largest percentage of geographically-classified wines.
For craftsmanship, respect for tradition and devotion to native grapes in their historical habitats, the Piedmontese have no rivals in Italy.The climate is rigid by Italian standards, with distinct changes of season. Winters are cold with plenty of snow. Summers are for the most part hot and dry.
Spring and fall are temperate to cool with fog normal at harvest time. A majority of the region’s vineyards are located in the Langhe and Monferrato hills, which are connected to the Apennines in the southeast. But a second group of distinctive Nebbiolo-driven wines are also grown along the Alpine foothills in the north-eastern corner of the region, between Lake Maggiore and Valle d’Aosta.
The focal point of premium wine & food production lies in Alba, picturesque town on the Tanaro river. In the nearby Langhe hills, Barolo Docg (“king of wines and wine of kings”, as the saying goes) is produced at the rate of about 6 million bottles, whereas its younger brother Barbaresco Docg rarely reaches 2.5 million bottles.
Both come from the native Nebbiolo variety, which yields complex, richly perfumed reds capable of evolving for several decades from such fine vintages as 2001, 1999, 1996, 1990, 1989, 1985, 1982, 1978, 1974, 1971, 1970, 1967, 1964, 1952, 1947, 1945, 1942.
The Alba / Langa wine-growing area is also renowned for the fruity, supple Dolcetto varietal wine (at times mistakenly compared to Beaujolais, it comes under a variety of local appellations such as Alba, Dogliani, Diano d’Alba, Ovada), for the hearty, tasty and sometimes attention-demanding Barbera d’Alba and last but not least, for the lovely, crispy white wine Arneis from the Roero hills.
Piedmontese drink more red wine than white, and about half of the red is Barbera, which can be vinified unoaked, fruity and fizzy in the Asti region. Two other red wines that have recently recovered after decades of decline and oblivion are the spicy, floral rosé-look-alike Grignolino and the uber-floral, sauvage red-berry Freisa (recently proved to be Nebbiolo’s genetic ancestor).
Piedmont is also a leading producer worldwide of low-alcohol, aromatic, off-dry sparkling wines through the classic charmat method: foremost among them is Asti Spumante Docg, the world’s most popular sweet bubbly wine, and its little, lighter brother Moscato d’Asti Docg.
The market for this fragrant white is actually larger abroad than in Italy. A second favourite in the typology is the crimson-tinged Brachetto from Acqui, featuring an endearingly fragrant, sweet floral bouquet.