Let’s get real: we all know the world is obsessed with Tuscany.
And I get it, it has priceless Renaissance art and architecture, gorgeous landscapes and a wonderful climate. It also knows how to market its vineyards and wine.
But there’s another region in Italy whose wine is just as noteworthy:
Located in the northwest of Italy, Piedmont is Italy’s second largest region and one of the most populated. It’s elegant, filled with old school glamour and a strong French vibe. Italy’s first dynastic family ruled from here, ultimately naming the region’s capital, Turin, as the country’s first-ever capital. It’s home to FIAT, the largest Egyptian Museum in the world and the Ivrea Orange Battle. Here you can explore the Gran Paradiso National Park or the beauty of Lago Maggiore.
Piedmont is well worth a tour for all that and more, but if it were up to me it’d be a wine tour. The region has some of the highest-quality wine in all of Italy and maybe even beyond. Home of the infamous Nebbiolo grape, rolling vineyards and excellent food, this is the wine region to try next! Because Piedmont reds are an Italian favorite and and its whites as ancient as winemaking itself. Because a bottle from this region is a sure bet of quality and taste.
When to Go
You can visit Piedmont any time of year. Turin is a bustling city with plenty to do whether it’s in the dead heat of August or the damp cold of January. There are castles and museums and sights to see throughout the region, but if you’re coming for the wine, autumn is the perfect time!
Plan a visit in mid-September through October when the harvest season starts and along with it food festivals of all types. Though most think of the grape harvest in September, the hardy Nebbiolo grape is late-ripening and is usually picked in late October. If you can’t come in Italy’s prime autumn months though don’t worry, though I don’t love November in Italy, this is one location that could work in November since there are still grapes being picked and it’s still prime time to taste Piedmont’s prized white truffles.
Where to Find the Wine
Most of the region’s vineyards are located in the southeast of the region in the Langhe, near to Alba, Bra and Asti, thanks to the area’s unique microclimate. Here the chill from the Alps meets the balm from the Mediterranean creating cold nights, foggy mornings and bright sunny days that the grapes love. Here you can find the rich Barbera wines and the soft Dolcetto.
The Langhe, Monferrato and Roero vineyards have been awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status for their beauty, agricultural methods and cultural patrimony. UNESCO even cites the wine-growing landscape as an “archetype of European vineyards.”
Though these are by far the most famous of Piedmont’s wine producing hills, the region’s wine doesn’t stop there. Beyond that there’s Monferrato Alto, Astigiano, the Tortonesi Hills and even some resistant grapes growing at the foothills of the Alps.
In a terrain that produces marvelous vegetables, pungent truffles and a passion to maintain quality and taste, is it any wonder that the wine production here is also fastidiously followed, cared for and celebrated?
What to Drink
For those just looking for names, here are some of Piedmont’s most notable wines:
Of course Barolo and Barbaresco are famous the world over, but these only account for about 3 percent of production. Out of 20 regions, Piedmont ranks 6th in highest production volume – there is so much more to taste!
Nebbiolo is perhaps the most celebrated variety of Piedmont. Its name comes from the Italian word for fog, nebbia, in a nod to the fog that permeates the vineyards in September through October, when the Nebbiolo grape is finally ready to be harvested. The wine is fair and floral in sight and smell but structured and somewhat aggressive in taste (my favorite) and ages remarkably well. The Nebbiolo grape is used to make a dozen or so different wine varieties that may vary in acidity and strength but are all connected by their high tannin level. These wines are best paired with rich, hearty Italian fare. Think fat, butter, meat and game. The heaviest hitters of the Nebbiolo family are without a doubt Barolo and Barbaresco, two rich, red wines with high price tags abroad.
Barolo is often called Italy’s “King of Wine and Wine of Kings.” Many claim it’s Italy’s best wine. Located just south of Alba, Barolo is made from 13 different towns but takes the name from just one. The vineyard landscapes of Langhe-Roero, the area where Barolo and Barbaresco are grown, along with Monferrato have even been granted UNESCO world Heritage Status, siting the winemaking landscape’s “great aesthetic qualities” that make it an “archetype of European vineyards.” Barolo itself has a strong alcohol content and as with all Nebbiolo wines, high levels of tannins. It’s a strong red wine that only gets better with age – a lot of age.
Others prefer a nice Barbaresco, made of the same delicious grapes but a bit more approachable for most drinkers. This is because it tends to be slightly less tannic and has a lighter taste thanks to the limestone soil it’s grown in. Grown on small DOC or DOCG vineyards and a crowd favorite, both wines are some of the most expensive Italian wines.
If you want to explore the Nebbiolo wine family more, look for names like: Nebbiolo d’Alba, Langhe Nebbiolo DOC, Roero DOCG, Ghemme DOCG, Gattinara DOCG or Albugnano DOC, among others, each with varying quantities of Nebbiolo grapes.
Barbera is the most planted variety and a classic with the locals. It’s an elegant, above average everyday wine. While Barolo is exaulted, Barbera is what fills glasses. It’s medium bodied with opulent fruit flavors, easier to drink and less expensive. There are four different Barbera varieties, each named after its geography: Alba, Colli Tortonesi, Asti and Monferrato, the latter two are the only DOCG Barberas of the region.
Dolcetto or “sweet one” isn’t in fact sweet, but it is a softer red in taste if not color. Low in acidity it’s a young wine and filled with fruity flavors like plums and raspberries. Piedmont’s tourism board has even named 2019 as the year of Dolcetto with various related wine tastings, tours, concerts and exhibitions. There are seven varieties based on geographical regions, but three DOCGs: Dogliani, Dolcetto di Ovada Superiore, and Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba.
A light wine with a strawberry taste, the most popular version is the Brachetto d’Acqui which is also slightly sparkling. A perfect aperitivo wine, it also happens to pair well with chocolate, another specialty of the region.
Fresia is a bit of a difficult red both to drink and to describe. Some love it, some hate it. It’s a light-colored and lightly sparkling wine with fruity notes and a mix of sweet and sour taste thanks to the presence of green tannins as well as red. Still, when done right it’s a sparkling red with the perfect balance of alcohol content, tannins and antioxidants that can stand up with the elegant wines of Piedmont. Drink: Freisa di Chieri DOC or Freisa d’Asti frizzante DOC
Sixty to 70 percent of Piedmont wine production is red, but then then there’s the Piedmont Moscato. A Moscato is a sweet wine famous for its flavors of peaches and orange blossom. It’s one of the oldest grape varieties in the world and produced in different places in the world, but one of the most popular Moscato wine styles comes from Piedmont’s Moscato d’Asti. Generally light bodied, sweet and slightly sparkling with an extremely low alcohol content, different wines vary in their sweetness level and delicacy. The Moscato d’Asti, for example, is a creamy spumante. There are three Piedmont Moscatos and two blended varieties: Asti DOCG, Loazzolo DOC, Strevi DOC (passito style), Colli Tortonesi Moscato DOC, Piemonte Moscato DOC.