Piedmont Wine Region
Dec 07,2023 | Magnum Opus Wines
The name of the region has medieval Latin origins. "ad pedem montium" meaning "at the foot of the mountains".
Piedmont wine region, dominated by medieval castles, is a classic red wine country with around 90% red vines.
Piemonte vineyards, about 45 000 hectares, is known for high quality and produces more DOCG wines than any other Italian region.
With Barolo and Barbaresco, both of which are made from the noble Nebbiolo variety, Piedmont has 2 wines that enjoy an excellent international reputation.
Surprisingly, Barolo and Barbaresco only account for 3% of Piedmont’s production, so there’s quite a bit more to uncover!
Look for Langhe Nebbiolo; it’s a region that contains both Barolo and Barbaresco, but includes wines made from “declassified” sites. They are lighter and less tannic, with similarities to Pinot Noir.
The following sub-regions also produce Nebbiolo, typically in this lighter style: Albugnano, Carema, Fara, Ghemme, Gattinara, Lessona, Nebbiolo d’Alba, Roero Rosso, Sizzano...
Barbera, which is produced in the entire hill area, as well as the white wines Arneis and Gavi, also contribute to the high-quality image of this cultivation area.
The white grape variety Moscato Giallo is vinified into the sparkling and sweet Moscato d’Asti and is often drunk by the Piedmontese as a dessert wine.
Besides, the area also has a lot to offer for gourmets: the rare white truffle grows in the cold earth of the Langhe region, as the hills around the city of Alba are called. The local Nebbiolo grape is the ideal partner for this noble tuber.
The Barolo 1700 hectares can be broadly divided into 2 valleys. There are 11 different communes of Barolo with 2 different main taste styles (based on the soil type: limestone vs. sandstone).
The Serralunga Valley to the east includes the communes of Castiglione Falletto, Monforte d'Alba and Serralunga d'Alba. Planted with soils higher in sandstone, iron, phosphorus and potassium, the wines of Serralunga Valley tend to be austere and powerful and require significant ageing (at least 12–15 years) to develop.
The Central Valley to the west includes the communes of Barolo and La Morra with soils higher in clay, limestone, manganese and magnesium oxide. This region tends to produce wines with more perfumed aromas and velvety textures. These wines tend to be less tannic and full-bodied than those from the Serralunga Valley and can require less ageing (8 to 10 years).
The most widely planted and productive region of the Barolo zone is La Morra, which is responsible for nearly a third of all wine labelled as Barolo and produces twice as much wine as the next leading zone of Serralunga d'Alba.
Annual production of Barolo is around 10 million bottles.
In the 1970s and 1980s, trends in the worldwide market favoured fruitier, less tannic wines that could be consumed at a younger age. A group of Barolo producers, led by the house of Ceretto, Paolo Cordero di Montezemolo, Elio Altare, and Renato Ratti, started making more modern, international styles of Barolos by using shorter periods for maceration (days as opposed to weeks) and fermentation (usually 48–72 hours or at most 8–10 days), less time ageing in new small oak barrels and an extended period of bottle ageing prior to release. By using modern technology, including specialized tanks that allow the wine to be pumped out from underneath the cap of skins and then pumped over, they found ways to maximize colour extraction and minimize harsh tannins. The so-called Modernist vs Traditionalist Barolo Wars.
While the color of the wine is a pale brick red, it has a bold mouth feel with rigid tannin and slightly higher alcohol content (13% minimum). The wines of Barolo are aged for at least 18 months in barrel and are released after a total of 3+ years.
Riserva level Barolo are aged for a minimum of 5 years.
Vigna on a label indicates a single vineyard wine. 170 vineyards in 11 villages have been identified as historical.
- Barbaresco is produced in the Piedmont region in an area of the Langhe immediately to the east of Alba and specifically in the communes of Barbaresco, Treiso and Neive plus that area of the frazione San Rocco Seno d'Elvio which now belongs to the commune of Alba.
- The vineyards around the town of Barbaresco make up for 45% of Barbaresco production with many of the area's largest wineries located in town. Wines from this area tend to be relatively light in color but well structured and aromatic.
- In Neive, the Nebbiolo grape is 4th in plantings behind the cultivation of Barbera, Dolcetto and Moscato but this region is known for making some of the most powerful and tannic expressions of Barbaresco. The area is also home to the highly esteemed Nebbiolo vineyards of Santo Stefano and Bricco di Neivewhose names are starting to appear on some single-vineyard bottlings. Located east of Barbaresco, Neive is responsible for 31% of Barbaresco's production.
- Treiso is located south of Barbaresco, with vineyards on the highest hilltop sites in the area, Treiso wines tend to be the lightest in body and are principally known for their finesse. A smaller area, Treiso accounts for 20% of the Barbaresco zone's production.
- Although it was already well known for the quality of its Nebbiolo grapes, the widely accepted birthdate of Barbaresco is 1894, when Cantina Sociale di Barbaresco was founded, as before that date Nebbiolo grapes from the Barbaresco area were mostly sold to Barolo producers.
- By the late 1960s, the Gaja and Bruno Giacosa wineries began to market Barbaresco internationally with some success. The Produttori cooperative became one of the most respected cellars in Italy and inspired more landholders in Barbaresco to return to their vineyards and to make quality wine.
- It was granted DOC status in 1966 and DOCG in 1980. Just like in Barolo, Barbaresco awards DOCG status to vineyards on the best south-facing slopes.
- Barbaresco vineyard is around 677 hectares and annual production is approximately 4.5 million bottles.
DOCG regulations stipulate that Barbaresco wines must be aged for a minimum of 2 years (at least 9 months in wooden barrels) prior to release and aged for at least 4 years to be considered a riserva.
The wines must have a minimum 12.5% alcohol level though most wines are closer to 13.5%.
Well-made examples of Barbaresco wines are expected to be aged at least 5 to 10 years after vintage before they are consumed, as they are extremely tannic and tight in their youth, and some continue to drink well even after 20 years.
The typical style of a Barbaresco has bouquets of roses or violets with flavor notes of cherry, truffles, fennel and licorice. As the wine ages, it can develop smoky notes and more earthy and animal flavors like leather and tar.
How does Barbaresco compare to Barolo?
Both appellations live very close to each other on the Langhe hills, but there are there are 2 main differences. In Barbaresco, the hills are 50 meters lower than in Barolo, and Nebbiolo grapes are planted on south-facing slopes, between 150-350 meters for optimal ripeness (the cooler, north-facing slopes are used for white grapes). Barbaresco is slightly warmer than Barolo, because its hills are closer to the Tanaro river, and Nebbiolo here ripens seven days earlier.
The soils in Barbaresco are mostly limestone-based soils, which means less tannin (like La Morra and
Barolo communes). The climate has less of a diurnal shift, which produces grapes that ripen sooner but have thinner skins. This means Barbaresco tends to have less tannin, color, and phenolics (a.k.a. aroma compounds). Thus, Barbaresco wines are usually lighter tasting and less tannic than Barolo.
Barbera is the most planted red grape variety in Piedmont and it’s a little less finicky than Nebbiolo. Barbera wines from Piedmont are dark in color and taste of black cherry, anise, and dried herbs.
Many Piemontese will assert their favorite wine is Barolo, but Barbera (both d’Asti and d’Alba) is the wine that most often fills their glasses. It is versatile, laid-back, satisfyingly robust, pairs with just about anything – and is less expensive.
Just like with Nebbiolo, there are some clues to finding good Barbera wines.
First, there are only two DOCGs for Barbera: Barbera d’Asti and Barbera del Monferrato Superiore. The DOCG wines have more regulations “Superiore” labeled wines which include longer aging and a higher minimum alcohol content.
Dolcetto is a bit of a misnomer because the word means “little sweet one”: Dolcetto is neither sweet nor “little.” The wines made with Dolcetto grapes are very dark in color with flavors of blackberry, licorice, and tar. The wines are not known to age well because they have low acidity, but offer plenty of mouth-drying tannin.
Tip: ‘Vigna’ for Dolcetto, usually means that the wine is aged about 20 months.
There are 3 DOCGs that make quality Dolcetto wine: Dogliani, Dolcetto di Ovada Superiore, and Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba. Just like with Barbera, pay attention to the words “Superiore”.
Most of the “Superiore” level Dolcetto wines have 13% alcohol and also have been aged longer, which helps smooth out the tannins.
Most people don’t realize that Moscato d’Asti comes from the same region as Barolo. Moscato Bianco is a very ancient grape with intense aromas of roses, mandarin orange, cotton candy, and lychee. There are two main styles found in Piedmont:
Asti Spumante: a fully bubbly sparkling (“Spumante”) wine that’s sweet with about 9% alcohol.
Moscato d’Asti: a barely bubbly (‘Frizzante’) wine that’s very sweet with about 5% alcohol.
Perhaps more famous than the variety name of Cortese is the wine called “Gave,” which is the name of the town in the southeast part of Piedmont. Gavi wines are made in a dry style and are known for their lemon-like citrus flavors and tingly acidity. Cortese has the same mouth-zapping refreshing quality as some Pinot Grigio and Chablis wines.
A New Style of “Blanc de Blancs?” Love Blanc de Blancs Champagne? Many producers make a “Metodo Classico” Gavi, which is in the same style.
The white wine of Roero DOCG, Arneis is a medium-bodied wine that often has bitter almond notes on the finish. These wines are fresh and grassy and somewhat similar to the Sauvignon Blanc in white Bordeaux.
We sincerely hope that you found this wine blog interesting, and if you are looking for good Italian wines, please head over here: https://www.magnumopuswines.com/collections/italy