Moving along the Alps and into Italy, is one of the most important wine regions of the country: Piedmont. Named after the Alps, which it lies “at the foot” of, Piedmont is home to Barolo, Barbaresco, Asti, and many more.
Piedmont: An Overview
One of Italy’s northernmost provinces, Piedmont is across the border from neigbouring Provence in France. Here, years and years of history and culture merge together and house arguably the most important wine region in Italy.
Piedmont is home to the most DOCG appellations (Italy’s highest controlled appellation title) than any other province. It’s small scale production, focus on quality, and small and variable vineyards have led to many comparisons to France’s Burgundy. The incredible diversity and attention to detail in places like Barolo is dizzying and, if you have to study it, a complete pain in the ass.
But, Piedmont is much more than just the home of a few Nebbiolo based wines: in the last decade, there has been a ton of interest in the farmer’s sweet stand by wines made from Moscato. There are even rumours that a rapper may have written a few lines about Moscato d’Asti.
From sweet, dry, still, sparkling, red and white, Piedmont has it all. It’s great wine making climate is moderated by its high altitude at the foot of the Alps, along with coverage from rain, warm winds off the Mediterranean, and fantastic soils.
While a look at the different vineyards and “crus” of Barolo just by itself can easily make your head spin, deep your feet into the area by learning about some of the areas less known but still common.
Barbera d’Asti DOCG
This popular DOCG appellation is a source of many fresh and fruit forward red wines. Made from mostly the Barbera grape, the wines are much different than the Nebbiolo based wines of Barolo and Barbaresco.
With altitudes ranging from 300-1000ft, these grapes are ripened to perfection in the hilly province of Asti. Here, the signature fresh red fruit flavours develop without losing their trademark high acidity. If there are any comparisons to be made, they would be with the bright and fresh reds from Beaujolais.
Medium bodied, with low tannins and high acidity, you will find plenty of strawberry, cherry, field berry, and mild spice in these wines. Better examples will have some brief oak ageing to give another layer of flavour to them, but the majority will be easy drinking and simple.
Dolcetto d’Alba DOC
Another red wine appellation crafted from a secondary grape, this time using Dolcetto as the basis of the wines. While the name of the grape translates as “little sweet one” in Italian, the sweetness refers to the fruit and not final sugar levels of the wine.
While some of the vineyards in Alba cross over into both Barolo and Barbaresco territory, these wines are also completely different. Where Barbera is known for its high acid, Dolcetto is quite low. The wines are also very tannic, which makes it a bit tricky to make.
Because of the naturally dark colour of the grape skins, skin contact is limited, which also keeps tannins low. This creates a better structured wine, that is easier to drink when released.
The final wines will be quite dark, with medium tannins and low acid. In Dolcetto based wines, you can find flavours of licorice, black cherry, spice, and bitter almonds.
Gavi di Gavi DOCG
The most popular dry white wines of Piedmont, Gavi di Gavi is made from the Cortese grape. While this area is definitely part of Piedmont, its closeness with the Mediterranean border region of Liguria puts it more in that style category.
These Cortese grapes are grown in mineral rich soils, making a very crisp and stony flavoured wines. You might even think of them as Italian Chablis, as they flavours match up and are equally good with local seafood.
These wines offer great value, and should be your choice over mass produced Pinot Grigio from the Veneto any day. The wines will be light to medium bodied, with crisp acidity, and flavours of white flowers, almonds, citrus, and apples.
Moscato d’Asti DOCG
Who would have thought this humble wine, drank by farmers at lunch to kick back without getting too buzzed, would go on to be sung about in rap songs in the 2000s? Today there is hardly a hotter grape out there than Moscato, due to its fresh and fragrant flavours.
Grown all over the Mediterranean (all over the world really), the top clone of Moscato is used in d’Asti wines. Here, it is made into a low alcohol, fizzy, and slightly sweet white wine that is hard to dislike.
Not to be confused with Asti, the full on sparkling wines made from the same Moscato grapes, these wines only clock in at around 5% alcohol and have a similar crackle to them that will remind you of a nice Vinho Verde. You’ll enjoy Moscato d’Asti’s fresh floral, spice, peach and apricot flavours all the same.
And finally, the big Daddy’s. Barolo and Barbaresco are the top appellations for Nebbiolo wines in the Piedmont province, and they do not disappoint. All the comparisons to Burgundy in France only show how obsessive and nuts some of these wine makers can be.
Maps showing all of the different villages, vineyards, “Crus”, soil variations, altitude, and anything and everything else can drive you wild. Fortunately, none of that is really important for now. To get a good primer on these two areas, there are only a few things you should know.
These wines are made for the cellar: after a few years of ageing in neutral oak casks and then in bottle, Barolo and Barbaresco are released for sale. Quickly snatched up by wine geeks, restaurants, and employees looking for a gift for their boss, these wines need some time to age and really show their true colours. Some of the best examples can age for decades and decades, making them some of the longest lived wines of Italy.
With their signature super high acid and tannins, these wines will show flavours of earth, tar, roses, sour red fruit, and truffles. If you don’t have the patience to wait 10 or so years, be sure to serve with Fred Flinstone sized steaks grilled medium rare. For a more thorough read on the wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, check out this article of mine here.
Piedmont Wine and Food Pairing
The good thing about Piedmont is that they are equally famous for their incredible food as they are for their show stopper wines. Have a look below for some great pairings for the many wines of Piedmont.
This savoury and salty dip is best served with raw vegetables of any kind. Anchovies, garlic, and olive oil make it a kind of Italian aioli, that can also be spread over grilled fish or even white meats. For full effect serve with Barbera d’Asti or even Roero Arneis, another white wine from Piedmont.
A classic Northern Italian dish, Osso Bucco is originally from neighbouring Lombardy to the east. Here, veal shanks are braised with stock and red wine along with vegetables for hours. You need a big boy wine here, and a Barolo or Barbaresco will set you straight for the high fat and protein.
Just as Gavi wines are right on the border with Liguria, why not serve it with another coastal standard? Basil, olive oil, garlic and some parmesan are mixed together for a fresh sauce that’s a great match to light pasta. The green notes of the pesto sauce really bring out the wine’s fresh herb flavours, and the high acid washes it all down.
Peaches and Cream
For dessert, don’t complicate it – grab some fresh peaches and slice them up and serve with sweet cream. Pop open a Moscato d’Asti, and watch the sparks fly. A natural match due to the peach and apricot flavours in the Moscato too.