Iconic Wines of the Piedmont Region of Italy
Every time we visit the Piedmont region of Italy, I am struck by how many outstanding indigenous grapes they have that are cultivated practically nowhere else in the world. The outstanding wines they produce are one of the reasons we keep returning to this relatively untouristed part of Italy again and again. Here is a primer on some of the wonderful wines you can find there.
Barolo DOCG and Barbaresco DOCG are the undisputed king and queen of the region. Both are made with the Nebbiolo grape which packs cherry flavors, ample tannins and acidity, and a certain earthiness that make these wines perfect for aging for decades. As they get older the clear red color takes on an orange or brown tinge, the tannins smooth down, and wonderful tertiary flavors of leather, licorice, and spice emerge. These wines pair wonderfully with braised meat dishes and rich pasta.
Neighboring these two appellations is the Roero region which makes its own Roero DCOG with the same Nebbiolo grape. One of our favorite things to do when we visit the area is to pop into our favorite enoteca and do a side by side tasting of wines from all three DOCGs.
Other Nebbiolo wines from Piedmont include Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC and Langhe Nebbiolo DOC which are more affordable and a great introduction to the grape. Farther north in Piedmont are Gattinara DOCG and Ghemme DOCG which have their own unique tasting profiles due to their terroir.
Barbera is the “everyday” wine of the region and can often be a great value. Fresh fruity flavors with some spice and minerality make this an easy crowd pleaser. It is one of my favorite wines to bring to a dinner party because its soft tannins and crisp acidity make it pair well with a wide array of dishes. Historically this is the wine the working class drank with their Bagna Cauda, a regional anchovy and garlic dip served with bread and vegetables.
Some of the more popular wines made with this grape include Barbera d’Asti DOCG, Barbera d’Alba DOC, and Barbera del Monferrato DOC.
Completing the trifecta world class grapes in the region is Dolcetto. Meaning “little sweet one,” Dolcetto imbues its wines with soft red and black fruits with low levels of acidity but strong tannins. Because of these tannins the newest releases can seem a bit harsh and are better a year or two after release. The wine pairs well with rich meat dishes, sausage, and pizza.
Dolcetto d’Alba, Dolcetto d’Asti, and Langhe Dolcetto produce worthy exaples but perhaps the best expression of the grape can be found in Dogliani DOCG. Just to the south of Barolo, Dogliani is the true home to this outstanding grape. These wines tend to be fuller bodied with floral notes and hints of chocolate, coffee, and black fruits.
While these are the most well-known wines in the area there are several others that are harder to find outside Piedmont that are worth searching for. Grignolino is a light bodied wine that is often compared to Pinot Noir or Beaujolais. It is meant to be drunk young and its acidity makes it a great food wine.
Ruché is a red wine from the Monferrato area that has a reputation of being a little wild. It is light-bodied but can be quite tannic and peppery. It is just now gaining some recognition outside the region it is grown.
Freisa is a wine with strong red berry flavors and high levels of acid and tannins. The wine can be so bitter that makers sometimes leave a little residual sugar to balance it. It is also sometimes made in a semi-sparkling style. Grignolino, Ruché, Freisa, and others are gaining popularity as producers embrace and experiment with indigenous grapes.
While Piedmont is often synonymous with the famous red wines mentioned above, the region also produces some notable white wines. Perhaps the most well-known is Gavi DOCG made with the Cortese grape in the southeast part of Piedmont. These are very crisp wines with citrus and green apple flavors with some herbaceous notes.
Roero Arneis DOCG is another fresh white wine that often has flavors of stone fruit and pear, almond or hazelnut, and grassy notes. It is a great summer wine and pairs well with fish, chicken, and lighter pasta dishes.
Favorita is a grape related to Vermentino grown in Liguria. It was sometimes used as a blending grape to combat the harsh tannins found in Nebbiolo but more and more producers are making varietal versions with this native grape.
Nascetta is still a little-known wine even in Piedmont. Grown primarily around the village of Novello, just a handful of producers are currently making wine with this local grape. However, the grape produces wine with intense floral notes and fresh fruit flavors that ages well. This is a wine on the rise.
As with any many important wine producing region, Piedmont has its share of wonderful sparkling wines. While Moscato Bianco (Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains) is widely grown around the world, what they do with it in Asti is something special. Asti Spumante (fully sparkling) and Moscato d’Asti (frizzante or semi sparkling) are both sweet wines that are highly aromatic with hints of citrus and even tropical fruits. While there are still wines made with this grape, the sparkling offerings are the stars here.
Alta Langa DOCG is a region higher up in the hills to the east of Barolo and Alba. These are Metodo Classico sparkling wines made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in both white and rosé versions. These are serious wines but still hard to find outside the region.
There are other sparkling wines to be found by the intrepid traveler. Gavi makes a sparkling wine with the Cortese grape and I am aware of at least one producer that makes a blanc de noir from Nebbiolo grapes that are pruned from the tips of bunches prior to the Barolo harvest.
For wine lovers Piedmont is wonderland of varietals and terroirs to discover. The food is equally good and the landscape is gorgeous surrounded by the Alps. If you are looking for your next wine vacation, you can’t go wrong in the Piedmont region of Italy.
This article is brought to you by Greg Ball – Greg is co-founder and partner of Euro Travel Coach (ETC), which crafts custom European vacations for independent travelers and leads small group tours to Europe. In his previous life he taught Woodwinds and Jazz at the university level for 30 years. As a professor he took his bands to England, Ireland, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, and England. Since “retiring” he and his wife/ETC co-founder Betsy travel Europe nine months out of the year. Together they have visited over 40 countries and counting! He loves cooking, hiking, listening and playing music, and wine and holds a Level 3 certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust.
If you are interested in a trip to Piedmont or another great European wine region, consider letting Euro Travel Coach create a custom itinerary for you.