Piemonte (Piedmont in English) is one of Italy’s 20 administrative regions. It is among the most important areas of quality wine production in Italy. The first historical notes on grape growing can be traced back to ancient Rome: documents written by Pliny the Elder already spoke about a “spinea grape”, which is probably the origin of the name “spanna”, the name used for Nebbiolo in Upper Piedmont or the north-eastern section of the region.
The key moment in the development of wine in Piedmont took place in the nineteenth century thanks to the contributions of four personalities: Marchesa Colbert Falletti di Barolo, the oenologist Louis Oudart, Count Camillo Benso di Cavour and the Gen. Francesco Staglieno (Director of Winemaking at the Pollenzo Agency owned by the Savoy Royal Family). Their studies greatly improved the production of their wines and the Piedmontese vines; until then Barolo was often a fizzy, sweet wine mainly as the result of poor hygiene and lack of attention in the cellars.
Piemonte’s finest wines come from the Langhe, a group of hills in southern Piemonte in Cuneo province’s north east. The focal point in the Lower Langhe (‘bassa Langhe‘) is the city of Alba, which lies in an amphitheatre of hills with the River Tanaro forming the city’s northwestern flank.
Terroir: Piedmont’s surface has 26% plains, 31% hills, and 43% mountainous terrain. More than 90% of the region’s wine production occurs in the hilly areas, with modern vine-training systems such as Guyot. The vineyards are mostly red grapes, with some noteworthy native and international white grapes grown as well. The hills around Turin consist of porphyr and granite while the most fertile soils are those of the hills of the Langhe and Monferrato, composed of marl, sandstone and chalk. The climate is continental with high temperature ranges, cold winters and hot summers; rainfall is constant. An important feature is the considerable moisture which gives rise to the fog in hilly areas. The wine-growing areas of greatest importance are: the hills of Novara and Vercelli (Northern Pied- mont) with the ‘Northern’ Nebbiolos; the Monferrato that includes the “Astigiano” (well-known for Moscato d’Asti, among other wines) and “Casalese” (known for Freisa and Grignolino) and some very interesting sweet wine such as Loazzolo; the area of the Langhe and Roero, where we find the Nebbiolo wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, but also high quality Dolcetto, Barbera and more.
DOC & DOCG denominations
Asti area (‘Astigiano’): DOCGs | Asti DOCG. | Barbera d’Asti DOCG. | Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG or Acqui DOCG. | Nizza DOCG. | Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG. DOCs | Albugnano DOC. | Calosso DOC. | Cisterna d’Asti DOC. | Dolcetto d’Asti DOC. | Freisa d’Asti DOC. | Grignolino d’Asti DOC. | Loazzolo DOC. | Malvasia di Casorzo d’Asti DOC or Malvasia di Casorzo DOC or Casorzo DOC. | Malvasia di Castelnuovo Don Bosco DOC. | Terre Alfieri DOC.
Langhe area: DOCG: Alta Langa DOCG. | Barbaresco DOCG. | Barolo DOCG. | Dogliani DOCG. | Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba or Diano d’Alba DOCG. | Dolcetto di Ovada Superiore or Ovada DOCG. | Roero DOCG. | Roero Arneis DOCG. | Roero Riserva DOCG. | DOC | Alba DOC. | Barbera d’Alba DOC. | Dolcetto d’Alba DOC. | Dolcetto di Ovada DOC. | Langhe DOC. | Langhe DOC Nascetta del Comune di Novello. | Langhe DOC Nebbiolo. | Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC. | Verduno Pelaverga DOC.
Monferrato: DOCGs: Barbera del Monferrato Superiore DOCG. | Gavi or Cortese di Gavi DOCG. | DOCs | Barbera del Monferrato DOC. | Colli Tortonesi DOC. | Cortese del Alto Monferrato DOC. | Dolcetto d’Acqui DOC. | Gabiano DOC. | Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese DOC. | Monferrato DOC. | Piemonte DOC (in the areas of Alessandria, Asti, Cuneo). | Piemonte DOC Brachetto. | Piemonte DOC Albarossa. | Rubino di Cantavenna DOC. | Strevi DOC.
North Piemonte: DOCGs | Erbaluce di Caluso or Caluso DOCG. | Gattinara DOCG. | Ghemme DOCG. | DOCs | Boca DOC. | Bramaterra DOC. | Canavese DOC. | Carema DOC. | Collina Torinese DOC. | Colline Novaresi DOC. | Colline Saluzzesi DOC. | Coste della Sesia DOC. | Fara DOC. | Freisa di Chieri DOC. | Lessona DOC. | Pinerolese DOC. | Sizzano DOC. | Valli Ossolane DOC. | Valsusa DOC.
Grape varieties: Piedmont is especially rich in native grapes. Among the most cultivated white grapes are Chardonnay and Moscato Bianco and then the autochthonous Arneis, Cortese, Favorita and Erbaluce amongst many more. In addition to Nebbiolo, there are many red grape varieties grown such as Barbera, Dolcetto, Freisa, Grignolino, Brachetto but also other varieties that once risked extinction but are having an important comeback such as Avanà, Ruche, Pelaverga Grosso and Pelaverga Piccolo, Malvasia di Schierano and Malvasia di Casorzo amongst others.
Wine production: About 3 million hl. Over 45% is DOC and DOCG wines against the Italian average of around 15%.
Gastronomy: Breadsticks (grissini) were first produced in Turin in the C17th. | Chestnuts are very traditional in Piemonte. | Truffles White truffles come from Alba, which can be shaved over risotto, polenta and pasta, or even submerged in fonduta, a fondue made with Fontina cheese. | Vegetables Cardoon, an edible thistle related to the artichoke, has its own dedicated dip called bagna cauda (‘warm bath’) based on garlic and anchovies which can be served with other vegetables or pasta. | Vermouth This was first produced in Turin in the C18th.
Italian Wine Unplugged (Positive Press, 2017), p.508.