Aerial View of Langhe

Piemonte encompasses the majority of Italy’s northwest and is the country’s second largest wine region after Sicily. This region is a rich source of high-quality and atypical wines made from over 20 different, often unique grape varietals. These vines are exclusively grown on hillsides, and the vineyard area exceeds 45 000 hectares.

Torino is the capital city of the region and its principal industrial and financial center. The districts of Novara, Vercelli, Asti, Alessandria, and Cuneo encompass the majority of the region’s winegrowing areas. The Piemonte region boasts vinous inlfuence over the world of wine, not only because of the great and distinguished wines it produces, but also because of the variety and amount of wine available to consumers.

Piemonte location

Piemonte means ‘at the foot of the mountain’. The region is appropriately titled. It is bordered by mountains on all three sides. The Ligurian Apennines and the Maritime Alps divide the territory from Liguria and France to the south. The Alps stretch from France to the west to Valle d’Aosta and Switzerland in the north. The regions of Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna are to the east. Piemonte is totally landlocked. In exchange, on a clear day, the mountains offer stunning snow-capped beauty.

The importance of Wine Quality in Piemonte

Barabresco one of the best appellation in Piemonte

Piemonte is Italy’s top producer of DOCG and DOC wines. In Piemonte, no wine can be bottled as PGI. This has far-reaching implications. Thus, Piemonte distinguishes itself as a quality winegrowing region because all of its vines are DOC/DOCG.

Piemonte’s appellations consistently provide some of Italy’s lowest average yields. Piemonte was also the first area in Italy to emphasize the importance of wines single-vineyard wines and the distinctiveness of each individual site. Piemonte consistently a great deal of wine competition medals every year along with the other greatest wine regions (Burgundy, Bordeaux…). Toscana is likely the only Italian wine area that can compete with Piemonte in terms of wine awards.

The superior quality of Barolo and Barbaresco over other wines made in the region cannot be questioned. However, in recent decades, producers have made significant efforts to improve the quality of Barbera and Dolcetto wines. The end result is high-quality bottlings made from grapes that were previously thought to produce only simple, rustic wines.

The Power of Wine Tradition in Piemonte

Piemonte a land of tradition and historic heritage

Piemonte is widely regarded as a conservative and traditional wine-producing region. It is generally not inclined to follow the rapidly obsolete fads and market trends that have eroded the majority of old world wine vineyards’ identities. This is shown by the low prevalence of international grape varieties, as well as the strong hostility to contemporary winemaking techniques. Much of this attitude stems from the deep sense of history and tradition that this land embodies. For generations, winemakers have learned to respect the indigeneous grape varieties and the unique Piemonte’s terroirs.

The Piemonte Wines and the Cucina Piemontese

In Piemonte, the profusion of wines and different wine styles is inextricably linked to the tremendous richness of Cucina Piemontese (the local cooking legacy), which is regarded as among the greatest in the country. Piemonte’s food-friendly wines are an ideal complement to the earthy flavors of regional cuisine. In fact, cuisine and wine are practically inextricably linked in Piemonte. Their combination is a key draw for visitors, and the region responds to this by having one of Italy’s highest-profile infrastructures for wine and cuisine tourism.

Piemonte’s wealth: its numerous indigeneous grape varieties

The abundance of diverse native varieties, combined with the great diversity of terroirs, has resulted in a wide range of excellent wines. Even those produced in restricted amounts and made from lesser-known red grape varietals, such as Ruchè, Pelaverga, and Grignolino, are among the most distinctive and interesting wines in Piemonte today. They clearly add to the region’s rich and varied heritage.

White grape varieties contribute to this diversity, however their spotlight is not as prominent as local red grape types. Apart from Gavi white wines and Asti’s sparkling wines, Piemonte is still primarily thought of as a red wine region, despite the fact that some white grape varieties such as Arneis, Erbaluce, and Timorasso are gaining popularity.

Piemonte Topography

Typical Piemonte Hillsides

Piemonte’s landscape can be roughly defined as three concentric topographical rings. The Alpine-Apennine mountain ranges form the exterior rim, which is the widest. This rim is thickest in the south, west, and north, while the eastern section loses place to a plain.

The middle band is a mountainous zone that surrounds an internal plain. Mountains account approximately 43% of the overall territory. The majority of these summits are in the region’s west and north, including some of the highest massifs in the Alps, such as Gran Paradiso and Monte Rosa.

These mountains create an arc that extends from the Ligurian Apennines and Maritime Alps, located between France and Italy, to the northern Alps around Lake Maggiore. For the most part, Piemonte’s western border lacks the intermediary series of mountains or Prealps that typically connects the Alps to the plain. In this situation, high-elevation mountains slope right into the plain.

Hills cover 30% of the total area and are home to the vast bulk of Piemonte’s winegrowing districts. Vineyards are grown on slopes ranging in elevation from 150 to 400 feet.Because these hills receive sun exposure from all directions, different grapes with varying ripening requirements are planted on each aspect.

The hills are grouped together in named clusters:

  • Montferrato is the largest network hills and is found within the provinces of Asti and Alessandria
  • Langhe and Roero are located in the province of Cuneo
  • The Colli Tortonesi are located in the province of Alessandria
  • The hills of Vercelli and Novara are located in the provinces of the same names

The flat plains make up only roughly 27% of Piemonte’s overall land area. Surprisingly, the plains are located to the east of the Piemonte region, rather than in its center. It corresponds to the top portion of the enormous Po Valley (Pianura Padana), which runs from Piemonte through Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna to Veneto. The plain is deemed too flat and fertile to produce vines; rice is the main crop there. It is worth noting that Novara and Vercelli are the key rice farming centers, particularly for Arborio rice.

The Po River springs in Piemonte’s western Alps and divides the region in the center as it flows east. It has several major tributaries. Ticino, Dora Baltea, Sesia, and Dora Riparia spring in the northern and western Alps and flow south into the Po, whereas Bormida and Tanaro rise in the Ligurian Apennines and flow north before emptying into the Po.

Piemonte Climate

Fog over Monferrato

Although Piemonte’s climate can be largely classified as continental, the region’s diverse geographical and topographical features provide distinct macro and meso climates that deviate from the norm.

During the winter, snow is very common. Fog is also fairly prevalent, particularly in the autumn and winter. Hail is a problem in late summer and early autumn. In some locations, such as Langhe and Monferrato, hail cannons are used to disrupt the production of hailstones, which can damage vineyards and destroy a major amount of the crop.

Because of the impact and closeness of the Ligurian Sea, the southern portion of Piemonte along the Ligurian border has an average annual temperature of 13°C, while it is 12°C in most of the grape growing zones that are located more inland. There is a significant diurnal (and seasonal) temperature variation, particularly in the hills and on the plain. During the summer, the plain becomes rather hot and muggy, whereas the hills typically benefit from increased air circulation, which, along with higher altitude, results in significantly milder weather, both during the day and night.

Rainfall is limited due to the rain shadow effect created by the Alps and Apennines. The Monferrato region and the eastern section of the province of Cuneo have the lowest annual average rainfall amounts. This dry mesoclimate is found in the vast, central region of Piemonte. The rainiest areas are in the north and south.

Overview of Piemonte’s wine production

Over 60% of Piemonte’s entire wine production is red. Moscato Bianco’s sparkling wines account for the vast majority of remaining white wine output. Almost 90% of Piemonte’s wine production is DOC or DOCG.

It should be mentioned that Piemonte produces no PGI wine, but a limited amount of generic wine.

The vast majority of wines produced in Piemonte are single varietal. Although some of the most notable wines are named after a village, many wines are named for a grape variety as well as the village or producing zone.

Vineyards are primarily situated in the region’s south and east, with Asti and Alba serving as production hubs. The hills of Langhe and Monferrato have the most extensively cultivated areas.

The typical vineyard property is fairly small, and the majority of vineyards are family-owned. A vast number of farms sell their grapes to larger wine producers and cooperatives, particularly for Asti sparkling wines.

Piemonte grape varieties

Piedmont is well known for Nebbiolo, Barbera and Moscato Bianco, but it is also home to a wealth of other lesser-known native grape varieties that people greatly appreciate.

Although Piedmont is rich in diversity, only four grape varieties account for more than 70% of the total plantings (in order of importance from most planted to least planted): Barbera, Moscato Bianco, Dolcetto and Nebbiolo.

It is worth noting that in the 1980s, many Piemonte vignerons saw the trend of growing international grapes as a loss of local character. Even though most of these international grape varieties had been in the region for some time prior to the phylloxera crisis (many were first planted in the first half of the nineteenth century), most growers decided to replant indigeneous grape types following the phylloxera crisis.

Today, international grape varieties account for less than 4% of total local plantings, with Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Nero (a local clone of the Burgundy Pinot Noir grape variety) leading the way.

1/ Piemonte Red Grape Varieties

Red grape varieties such as Freisa, Brachetto and Grignolino represent a modest share of total plantings, but they enjoy a well-deserved reputation. Other lesser-known but idiosyncratic red varieties include Ruchè, Croatina, Neretta Cuneese, Malvasia di Casorzo, Malvasia di Schierano, Vespolina and Uva Rara.

The grapes grown in Piedmont are predominantly red. Red grape varieties represent two thirds of the total vineyard area.

Barbera is the most extensively planted grape variety. It is considered one of Piemonte’s historic varieties and is grown across the region, with a concentration in Asti and Alessandria.

Dolcetto is also frequently planted. It is grown in Langhe, the southern hills of Monferrato, and in the districts surrounding Acqui Terme, Tortona, and Ovada. This grape variety has four DOCs and three DOCGs specifically dedicated to the Dolcetto grape variety.

Nebbiolo has the best reputation of all Piedmont grape varieties. The majority of plantations are centered on the famous Barolo and Barbaresco appellations. It is also the predominant grape variety of Ghemme, Gattinara, Carema, Roero, Langhe Nebbiolo and Nebbiolo d’Alba.

2/ Piemonte White Grape Varieties

Moscato Bianco is the second-most planted grape variety overall, owing to the popularity of the Asti DOCG.

Cortese is another widely cultivated white grape that bears the distinctive label GAVI DOCG.

Although the Arneis and Erbaluce grape types represent for a modest number of plantings, their growing importance and reputation have helped them achieve DOCG classification in specific places.

The other minor white grape varietals of the region are Timorasso and Favorita (sometimes known as Vermentino abroad).

Main characteristics of Nebbiolo based wines

Classic Nebbiolo-based wines are pale ruby/garnet in color, becoming orange with bottle age. The nose reveals powerful and distinct smells of red cherry, rose, violet, tar, licorice, and underbush.

As the wines mature, they become more complex, with refined scents of dried red fruit, withered rose petals, sweet spices, leather, and truffles. Structurally, the wines have high amounts of acid, tannin, alcohol, and extract, implying increased life. The best Nebbiolos may mix scent and finesse within this strong framework.

It is to be noted that Barolo DOCG wines must be created entirely from Nebbiolo (although several attempts to incorporate other grape varieties were undertaken; see the Barolo Epic Battle for details).

It is also to be noted that Valtellina is home of the Lombard Nebbiolos.

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