The Grapevine – The Big Reds of Piedmont

Some of Italy’s best red wines are produced in Piedmont.  Most of the regions grapes are grown on the hillsides of small family estates.  This mountainous and landlocked region is known for big bold red wines.

Piedmont, in Italian means at the foot of the mountain.  This region located in the northwestern corner of Italy was originally inhabited by Celtic tribes, and later overthrown by the Romans.  Hannibal destroyed the Celtic capital of Taurasia, the Romans then rebuilt the city in the same location.  Today that city is known as Turin.

Piedmont was one of the first Italian regions to embrace the industrial revolution, home to Italian automotive giant Fiat which was founded there in 1899.  Vermouth was also first introduced in Piedmont, the classic American martini cocktail takes its name from the best known Italian producer of dry vermouth, Martini & Rossi.

There are 46 different DOC and four DOCG areas within Piedmont, these are the Italian wine laws established as quality control standards.  There are three main grape varietals grown in Piedmont; the Dolcetto, Barbera, and the Nebbiolo.  The grapes from this region are used to produce many different styles of wines such as Barbera, Barolo, Barbaresco, Dolcetto, Grignolino, Nebbiolo, Malvasia and Asti Spumante.

Typical of Old World winemaking the wines of Piedmont are perfect complements to the indigenous foods of the region.  Hearty dishes featuring white truffles, fonduta, a Swiss cheese fondue, pastas, meats, rice, and vegetables are main staples of the Piedmonts diet.

Nebbiolo is the main focus of grape growing within the Piedmont region and is the main varietal of the famed Barolo, Barbaresco and Gattinara wines.  The derivative word nebbia which means fog is how Nebbiolo received its name.  The Nebbiolo grape develops native yeast that appears as a velvety, whitish coating on the grape skins.  The terroir of the Nebbiolo experiences heavy morning fog and humidity providing ideal growing conditions for this well known grape of Piedmont.

Barolo and Barbaresco are the real power house wines produced in this region though, both are made from the Nebbiolo grape but are stylistically different and must adhere to D.O.C.G. requirements.  The Barbaresco wine and Barolo must both have a minimum of 12.5% alcohol.  Babaresco is lighter in body and requires two years of aging, one in wood, while the Riserva must have four years of aging.  Barbaresco is an elegant drinking wine.

The Barolo style of wine is much heartier than its Nebbiolo counterpart the Barbaresco.  Barolo wine must be aged at least three years with two of those years in wood.  As a Riserva designated wine Barolo must have five years of aging.  The Barolo style of wine is fuller bodied than a Barbaresco delivering more complexity and flavor to the nose and palate.  The Italian’s do not produce large quantities of either of these Nebbiolo wines, the quantity amounts to a similar production by a mid-sized California winery.

Many of the wines from this region need five to ten years of aging depending on the wine, wine style, and producer.  Recognizing the world of instant gratification we now live in, the winemakers of Piedmont are beginning to produce wines that can be enjoyed at a younger age.

Here is a great tip from WineGuyMike.  The best way to experience the wines of Piedmont; start with the lighter style wines like the Barbera and Dolcetto, next move on to a fuller body Barbaresco.  This will then prepare you for the powerful Barolo.  The late great vintner Renato Ratti believed that once you have experienced a great Barolo wine you have arrived as a wine drinker.

For a complete review of wines from this region visit and click on Corridor.

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