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A guide to Piedmont wines from Italy

About The Piedmont wine region

Piedmont, or Piemonte in Italian, is located in the north west of Italy, south of the Alps and adjacent to France and Switzerland. Turin is the capital of the region, but the towns/cities of Alba and Asti are the areas most associated with wine production. 

The region has a wonderful quality and diversity of wines, with 59 sub-regions, and its vineyards are considered some of the most beautiful anywhere on the planet. The best known Piedmont wines are Barolo and Barbaresco made from the Nebbiolo grape. People often think of expensive aged Barolos, but Piedmont also produces some of the best value for money wines in Europe.

Among Italy’s thirty or so core wine regions, Piedmont is placed at number six for quantity of wine production. It is famous for  its premium standard and quality and produces more DOCG (Denominazione di origine controllata e garantita), the top wine categorisation of Italy, certified wines than any other region.  

  • Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG)means that the wine producers followed the strictest regulations possible to make that wine. The wine was tested a committee that then guarantees the geographic authenticity of the wine and its quality. 
  • Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC):  The rules governing quality and authenticity are still very strict, but less than those for DOCG status. 

85% of all the area's wine production by volume falls under a DOCG designation and there are 42 Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) areas and 17 Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) areas. Unlike Tuscany, the area has no Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) classification, the highest level of Italian wine classification.

 Geographically the area is bordered by the Alps to the north and the Liguria region forms its southern border along the Apennines. In addition to the mountains, the Po Valley consumes a large area of available land-leaving only 30% of the region suitable for vineyard plantings. The valley and the mountains help produce fog.

There are two key features that impact the weather in Piedmont, the snowy Alps and the hot Mediterranean. The Diurnal temperature changing can cause the entire area to be covered with the dawn fog that gradually fades out as the sun rises and day starts. The Nebbiolo grape gets it name from the Piedmontese word La nebbia meaning "fog". As the vineyard rises up the hills, here there is more exposure to the sun which means more production of grapes and hence higher quality & quantity of the wine. 

Although the winemaking regions of the Piedmont and Bordeaux are very close in latitude, only the summertime temperatures are similar: the Piedmont wine region has a colder, continental winter climate, and significantly lower rainfall due to the rain shadow effect of the Alps. Vineyards are typically planted on hillsides at altitudes between 490–1150 ft (150-400 metres). The warmer south facing slopes are mainly used for Nebbiolo or Barbera grapes. while the cooler sites are planted with Dolcetto or Moscato.

Sub-regions of Piedmont

Barolo, Piedmont

The majority of the Piedmont's wine production is around the Southern town of Alba (in Cuneo), Asti and Alessandria. 

The Piemonte wine region is divided into five broad zones.

  • Canavese - includes the areas around Turin such as Carema and Caluso
  • Colline Novaresi - in the province of Novara
  • Coste della Sesia - includes the area around Vercelli
  • Langhe - includes the hill country around the city of Alba and the Roero.
  • Monferrato - includes the areas around Asti and Alessandria

DOCG wine areas

The 17 DOCG wines in Piedmont are:

  • Alta Langa, Asti, Barbaresco, Barbera d'Asti, Barbera del Monferrato Superiore, Barolo, Brachetto d'Acqui, also called Acqui, Cortese di Gavi (Gavi), Dolcetto di Dogliani Superiore (Dogliani), Dolcetto di Ovada Superiore (Ovada), Dolcetto di Diano d'Alba (Diano d'Alba), Erbaluce di Caluso (Caluso), Gattinara, Ghemme, Nizza Roero (Arneis), Castagnole Monferrato

Permitted grapes in Piedmont made wines

Though Nebbiolo and Dolcetto are produced in significant quantities, Barbera is the most widely planted grape in the region for red wines. Moscato is the most widely used grape in white and sparkling wines. The Cortese grape is planted in Gavi.

Some varietal style wines are made in the Piedmont region with the name of the grape and town both appearing on the label. Some DOC examples include Barbera d'Alba, Barbera d'Asti, and Dolcetto di Dogliani made entirely from the Barbera and Dolcetto grape respectively.

Wine made on the Barbera grape is often fruity and delicate with less tannin than wine made from the Nebbiolo grape and can be drunk younger. Dolcetto wines on the other hand is not as the name indicates sweet (dolce is Italian for sweet) but the name refers to the relative sweetness when the grape is eaten straight off the vine . The grape gives fresh and dry red wines with some tannin which are ideally drunk with food and are rarely aged apart from some sub regions within piedmont.

Dolcetto di Dogliani, and Dolcetto di Dogliani Superiore are produced using the Dolcetto grape and sold under the name Dogliani. The DOCG wines are made within a more limited zone than the DOC and the yield of grapes is restricted and the wines must be aged for at least one year. The vineyards are located in the hilly areas within the boundaries of the communes of Bastia Mondovì, Belvedere, Langhe, Cigliè, Clavesana, Dogliani, Farigliano, Monchiero and Rocca Cigliè, plus parts of the communes of Cissone and Somano.

Another key grape in Tuscany is the white and sparkling wine grape, Moscato. The sparkling wines are low in alcohol (5-7%) and the most recognised example is the famous Asti Spumante. The majority of the area's winemaking using this grape take places in the provinces of Cuneo, Asti and Alessandria. 

Nebbiolo

While the production of Nebbiolo wine is less than Barbera, this grape makes some of the greatest wines of Piedmont and is most well known in Barolo wines. Nebbiolo is a high tannin grape with red cherry, tar, spice, fig and rose flavours.  There are many subregions in Piedmont that make Nebbiolo wine and many stylistic differences to understand.Terroir is critical as for example Barolo from different areas grown on sandstone, limestone or marl can have very different characteristics.

When you taste a Nebbiolo wine, you can feel the grippy tannin towards the front of your mouth. At its best, a Piedmont Nebbiolo wine is enjoyed after 10-15 years of ageing.

The Nebbiolo grape alone makes up 13 DOC or DOCG certified wines, and the differences between one area and another can be surprisingly substantial.

Moscato bianco

The Moscato bianco grape produces the DOCG sparkling white wine Moscato d'Asti as well as Asti white wine. The grape is named because of its earthy, musky aromas. It is produced mainly in the provinces of Asti, Alessandria and Cuneo.

Moscato d’Asti is made in the frizzante style and the wine is sweet,has only 5% alcohol and Italians most often drink it with dessert. It was historically the wine that winemakers made for themselves and their vineyard workers. The wine could be drunk at noon with the mid-day meal and since it was low in alcohol it would not impair the afternoon work. In the evening, the wine traditionally has been drink during  the long, multi-course evening meals in Piedmont as a digestif together with dessert.

By law, Moscato D’Asti can only contain a maximum of 5.5% alcohol so the fermentation process is halted leaving much of the natural sugars remaining in the wine by cooling the grape must dramatically. No secondary fermentation is allowed in the bottle and immediately before bottling the wine is filtered to give it a distinctive colour. 

Notable wine producing areas of Piedmont

Barolo

Barolo is a small wine region, only 35 square miles in total, producing about 500,000 cases of wine each year and is located southwest of the city of Alba in the hills of the Langhe. The Tanaro river, to the north,  helps to lessen the region's high summer temperatures. In 1980, the wines of Piedmont's Barolo region became one of the first Italian wines to receive DOCG status and the requirements are very exacting. 

For example, Barolo DOCG vineyards must haves:

  • soil: clayey, calcareous and any combination thereof and exclusively hilly (categorically excluded: damp, flat and insufficiently sunny terrain)
  • altitude: not less than 170 metres and not more than 540 metres
  • exposure: suitable for ensuring proper maturation and giving grape and wine derivatives specific quality characteristics, but excluding new plants, 45 ° to + 45 ° angle from the North
  • plant density: not less than 3,500 vines per hectare
  • breeding and pruning systems: traditional one,  pruning: Guyot
  • Alcohol content min: Barolo and Barolo Reserve 12.50%  

The wines from the area Barolo are produced from the Nebbiolo grape and are big, expressive and tannic in their character. Great Barolo is characterised by acidity and balanced tannins which gives the wine such great ageing potential.

While the colour 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 Barolos are aged for a minimum of 5 years but the best have at least 10 years in barrel. 

Barolo communes:

  • La Morra, Monforte d'Alba, Serralunga D'alba, Barollo, Novello, Castiglione Falletto, Verduno, Grinzane Cavour, Roddi, Diano D'alba, Chirasco

There are eleven different communes of Barolo with two different main taste styles (based on the soil type: limestone vs. sandstone). The two communes that are lighter and more elegant in style are La Morra and Barolo with limestone-based soils. The communes of Serralunga d’Alba, Monforte d’Alba, and Castiglione Falletto produce wines which are generally speaking bigger and bolder due to their sandstone soils or mixed soils with marl/clay.

Five communities produce nearly 90% of the area's wine:

  • Barolo, Castiglione Falletto, La Morra, Monforte d'Alba, Serralunga d'Alba

Wines from the Central Valley of La Morra and Barolo tend to be very perfumed and velvety with less tannins than other Barolos.

The La Morra area is the highest part of Barolo, around 400 metres to 480m above sea level and it can be clearly seen from the valley due to the large number of radio/TV masts nearby. It’s a wine that does very well in hot years, because the grapes remain in a cool environment due to the altitude. The wines have a deep red colour and spicy and cherry aromas but with gentler tannic structure, seeming smooth in the mouth because of the different soils. So they tend to produce wines that can be drunk younger.

The soil of the Central Valley itself is more clay based with increased levels of magnesium oxide and manganese. The wines from the Serralunga Valley are more full bodied and tannic and require aging of 12–15 years before they hit their peak. The soil of the Serralunga is heavy in sand, iron, limestone, phosphorus and potassium. For example, the Monforte d’Alba area has big but tannic wines but there are subtle differences between both producers and vineyards. 

Wines from the centre of Barolo where the soils on the right meet the soils on the left can produce the most balanced wines.

Best Barolo Vintages: 2001 and 2010, Very Good: 2005, 2008

Barbaresco

Barbaresco is located northeast of the city of Alba and uses the same Nebbiolo grape as Barolo wines but but the slightly greater maritime influence of the Tanaro river means the wines are noticeably different in style. Just like in Barolo, Barbaresco awards DOCG status to vineyards on the best south-facing slopes.

The soils in the Barbaresco zone are more uniform across the region which tends to produce a more consistent profile with the wines than what can be achieved across the more diverse areas of Barolo.

The Barbaresco DOCG regulation dictates that wines from the area must have at least two years aging in oak with minimum alcohol content of 12.5%. For riservas wines the requirement is for four years minimum aging.

Barbaresco communes:

  • Barbaresco, Treiso, Neive, San Rocco (the majority in the first three)

The following sub-regions of Piedmont also produce Nebbiolo, typically in a lighter style:

  • Albugnano, Carema, Fara*, Ghemme*, Gattinara*, Langhe Nebbiolo, Lessona*, Nebbiolo d’Alba, Roero Rosso, Sizzano*

*Nebbiolo is known as Spanna in these areas

Barbaresco vs. Barolo wines

The soils in Barbaresco are mostly limestone-based soils, which means less tannin (like La Morra and Barolo). The climate has less of a diurnal temperature variation, which produces grapes that ripen sooner but have thinner skins so wines generally have lower tannins, a lighter colour, and higher aromatics. Thus, Barbaresco wines tend to be more approachable in their youth compared to Barolo to many drinkers.

    Recommended Piedmont wines

    $$$ = $100+, $$ = $50-100 $ = $0-50

    Aldo Conterno, Romirasco, Barolo

    One of the most famous Barolo crus from the lightest soil. Classically structured but atypically lighter-styled. Red berries, violets, roses and lots of silk.

    Price: $$$

    Ceretto, Bricco Rocche, Barolo

    Arguably, Castiglione Falletto is home to the most balanced Barolos of all. Archetypal, suave and smooth. Richly flavoured red cherry and minerals, tobacco and spices.

    Price: $$

    Bruno Giacosa, Azienda Agricola, Asili, Barbaresco

    Italy’s best winemaker? Barbaresco’s best vineyard? 

    From the village Neive in the Langhe region, Bruno Giacosa (the "Genius of Neive") produces a number of world-famous Barbaresco and Barolo wines, as well as bottlings of Arneis, Barbera, Dolcetto and a sparkling wine.  Giacosa has a reputation for perfectionism and he only produces his red label Riserva wines from the vintages he deems worthy . A perfectionist and craftsman to the core. These truly are some of the most sensational Barolos and Barbarescos you can buy.

    Price: $$$

    Roberto Voerzio, La Morra

    Roberto Voerzio Barolo

    Wines of unquestionable concentration and harmonious balance which are still approachable, packed with ripe fruit and floral notes. But added structure and big tannins showcase the Nebbiolo grape.These are powerful, concentrated, age potential Barolos that need time. “Barolo really starts to express itself after 10 years,” says Voerzio.

    Roberto Voerzio is a ground breaking wine maker, challenging conventions in the winery and combining old and new methods. Roberto’s policy is never more than 30 days on skins – a far cry from the old days when several months weren't uncommon. He established his company only in 1986, having split from his brother and father – also Barolo winemakers. Fanatical in the insistence upon extraordinarily low yields, high density plantings and 2-4 clusters of grapes per vine. These are rare wines that consistently rank among the best the Piedmont offers, and Voerzio is a true Nebbiolo legend. 

    There is no sulfur added pre-fermentation, and the wines never have more than 100 mg/litre of total sulfur dioxide (the law allows 150).

    Price: $$$

    Angelo Gaja, Langhe

    gaja barbaresco

    Gaja is most well-known for his Barbarescos, though the three most sought-after wines, Costa Russi, Sori Tildin and Sori San Lorenzo have recently been reclassified from Barbaresco DOCG to Langhe DOC, giving Gaja more flexibility in the winemaking process. Strikingly profound and built to live for decades, Gaja's wines display opulence and elegance unmatched elsewhere in Italy.

    Angelo Gaja is the biggest name in Italian wine. The Gaja winery was founded by Giovanni Gaja in 1859 and has been owned and operated by four generations of the Gaja family, with Angelo Gaja running the operation since the 1960s. Angelo has been a pioneering moderniser ofBarbaresco and Barolo wines, having pioneered the use of controlled-temperature fermentation (for reducing oxidation) and small-cask aging (to stabilise colour and preserve fruitiness).  For wine collectors considering Italian wines from Piedmont, Gaja should be the one of the top names on the list. 

    Price: $$$

    Mario Marengo, Brunate, Barolo

    Brunate makes the most intensely perfumed and balanced Barolo of all. Plenty of floral finesse and energy.

    Price: $

    Paolo Scavino, Monvigliero, Barolo

    Verduno gives tough-as-nails Barolo; Monvigliero is the one true grand cru. Stylish and pure, almost opulent. Great length.

    Established in 1921 in Castiglione Falletto, one of the historic Langhe townships, this estate is now in its third generation. The estate creates exceptional Barolos, Barberas, and Dolcettos. The Bric del Fiasc Barolo is the flagship of the winery, from a vineyard that always produced the best Nebbiolo fruit. In 1978, this fruit was vinified on its own for the first time.

    Price: $$

    Cogno, Ravera, Barolo

    Novello didn’t exist before Cogno arrived; today, it’s a hubbub of activity. Ravera is the best site. Typically juicy, full-bodied. Robust.

    Price: $

    Pio Cesare, Il Bricco, Barbaresco

    Cool-climate Barbaresco, from the crooked crags at 500m. Pure red berries and mineral brightness on a never-ending finish.

    Price: $$

    Renato Ratti, Rocche, Barolo

    Rocche dell’Annunziata is one of the top five Barolo vineyards. Amazing balance and grace. Intense and lively finish.

    Price: $

    Oddero, Vignarionda, Barolo

    Along with Brunate, the best Barolo vineyard of all. Traditionally made, with tough tannins: remarkable depth of spicy red berries and roses. Precise and mineral; this will age longer, and better, than you or I.

    Price: ?

    Chiarlo, Cerequio, Barolo

    Almost atypical La Morra: much bigger and creamier than the usually lighter-styled wines from this hamlet. Rich and fleshy, and made from vines growing close by Michele Chiarlo’s new luxury resort that overlooks this famous cru.

    Price: $$

    Damilano, Cannubi, Barolo

    Sitting where the Tortonian and Serravalian soils meet, these wines potentially offer the best of both worlds. Lacks stuffing, but pure and fresh: a more floral and fragrant Barolo.

    Price: $

    Giorgio Scarzello, Vigna Merenda, Barolo

    Vigna Merenda is part of Sarmassa, along with Cannubi the only other true grand cru in the Barolo commune. Sarmassa gives bigger, meatier wines, with hints of earth and tar. Weighty and concentrated but with acidity to balance the richness.
    Price:$$

    Produttori di Barbaresco, Rabajà, Barbaresco

    Along with Asili and Santo Stefano, Rabajà is Barbaresco’s best vineyard. Bigger, fleshier but less mineral wines than the more aristocratic Asili. Has energy, spice and lift.
    Price: $

    Cantina Vietti, Masseria, Barbaresco

    Vietti makes incredible Barolo, but also standout Barbaresco too. Typical Neive style: powerful, invigorating and chewy. A richer, earthier style than wines produced in Treiso or Barbaresco.

    Decades of experience as vineyard tenders in Barolo gave the Vietti family the essential background when they decided to go into the winemaking in the early 1900s.  Today they aim to showcase Barolo's diverse terroir. The wines' finesse comes with depth and complexity; Vietti firmly adheres to the classic style of Piedmont winemaking.
    Price: $$

    Domenico Clerico, Monforte d'Alba

    Domenico Clerico Arte

    Domenico Clerico creates wines that are big and fruity, but never overdone.The result is wines that are attractive in their youth but gain in elegance, depth and texture as they evolve. 

    This small estate in Monforte d'Alba is mainly known for its Barolo, but also produces great great Barbera, Dolcetto plus an amazing blend called Arte (Nebbiolo and Barbera). At the forefront of the movement to modernise winemaking in Barolo.

    Price: $$

    La Spinetta, Campé, Barolo.

    La spinetta barolo

    he wines are easy drinking and approachable and designed to be enjoyed with food, and all of the wines are produced from 100% estate grown fruit

    Founded in 1977 by Lidia and Pin Rivetti, La Spinetta has grown from a small Piedmont producer of Moscato into a  major producer of Barbera, Barbaresco, and Barolo. La Spinetta is now run by Pin's three sons - Carlo, Bruno, and Giorgio. Along with their original holdings in Piedmont, the winery now produces wines in Tuscany. 

    Price: $$ 

    Azienda Agricola Silvio Grasso, La Morra

    Azienda Agricola Silvio Grasso, La Morra

    Sophisticated, modern Barolos, notable for avoiding excessive wood aromas. Dolcetto and Barbera also show lushness, pure flavours and ripeness, with superb purity of flavours and aroma. The "Peirass" is an elegant, ripe Nebbiolo without extended wood aging. 

    The Grasso family has been producing wine since 1927, but Federico Grasso only started bottling in 1980 and they prefers to use large barrels rather than barriques for maturation, and uses less than 30% new wood even on his single-vineyard bottling to minimise woody aromas.

    The estate is managed by Federico Grasso who supervises all work in the vineyards and in the cellar. The enthusiasm of Federico is expressed in quite a large range of wines in order to enhance the different characteristics of the "terroir" and of historical crus of La Morra such as Luciani, Manzoni and Giachini. 

    Price: $

    Borgogno, Barolo

    Borgogno barolo

    The Borgogno Barolo Classico is a blend of the hillside estates (Liste, San Pietro delle Viole, Cannubi, Cannubi Boschis and Brunate) giving balance with powerful harmony expected from world-class Barolo. 

    Borgogno was officially "started" in 1848, though documents show that  the estate has been around since 1761, being served at the celebration for the unification of Italy in 1867.  It is now now famous for consistent premium quality and traditional Barolo winemaking. 

    Price: $$

    Mascarello, Castiglione Falletto

    Mascarello, Castiglione Falletto

    For over a century and a half, the Mascarello family has been producing quality wine in the Piedmont region. The Monprivato vineyard (located in the village of Castiglione Falletto) is the estate's top location and is only created in the best of vintages. 

    Price: $$

    Azienda Agricola Barale Fratelli, Langhe

    Barale Fratelli barolo

    Wines rich in elegant tannins of ripe fruit.

    The Azienda Agricola Barale traces its roots all the way back to 1870 when Barolo wine had just appeared on the scene in the Langhe, promoted by the Marchesi Falletti and Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour. Today Sergio Barale and daughters Eleonora and Gloria carry on the centuries old family tradition. The vinification and aging processes adopted are aimed at producing balanced wines in which the characteristics of the grape variety and region of origin prevail. Organic practices are used in the vineyards.

    Price: $

    Others:

    Pio Cesare, Classico, Barolo 2011

    Ceretto, Barolo 2011

    GD Vajra, Bricco delle Viole, Barolo 2011

    Gianni Gagliardo, Serre, Barolo 2011

    Poderi Colla, Bussia, Barolo 2011

    Michele Chiarlo, Cerequio, Barolo 2011

    Gianpiero Marrone, Pichemej, Barolo 2011

    Diego Conterno, Barolo 2010

    Fontanafredda, Vigna La Rosa, Barolo 2010