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Updated: Mar 21, 2018

Here we are, after few weeks of break, hopefully to allow you to try some of the outstanding Campania Wines. Today we are starting the new series about Piemonte.

Piemonte is one of the most iconic region in Italy for its wines. You must have heard about Barolo or Barbaresco which are the most representative wines of the region.

The wine folly introduces Piemonte in this way:

"If you’re trying to get a deeper understanding of Italian wine, Piedmont is one of the most useful wine regions to get to know. For one, Piedmont introduces us to a completely new set of wine grapes to taste and understand – from Nebbiolo to Cortese. Secondly, Piedmont (Piemonte) is one of the most famous regions in Italy (the other is Tuscany). And finally, Piedmont is located in the Po River Valley, which is home to ⅓ of the population of Italy (The Po River valley contains the major cities of Milan and Turin).

When wine geeks think of Piedmont, they immediately think of Barolo and Barbaresco, which are famous for their age-worthy Nebbiolo wines. In truth, however, Barolo and Barbaresco only account for 3% of Piedmont’s production, so there’s quite a bit more to uncover! Let’s get started with Piedmont wine."

In the Wine Bible Karen Mac Neil describes Piedmont in this way:

"Lying in a remote white amphitheater created by the Alps, Piedmont is Italy’s preeminent wine region.

Barolo and Barbaresco— two of the country’s most legendary and serious reds— are born here. (So is the world’s least serious sparkling wine, the playful spumante known as Asti.) If Italy is sometimes thought of as the cradle of Bacchanalian frivolity, you’d never know it in Piedmont.

Winemakers here are prudent and diligent about their work. Shake a Piedmontese vintner’s hand, and it’s the rough, heavy, calloused hand of someone who has worked forever in a vineyard. The winemaking style in Piedmont (as well as the culinary traditions of the region) has strong links to that of their closest neighbor, France.

Indeed, if Piedmont has an enological soul mate, it is not Tuscany, as one might expect, but France’s Burgundy.

In both regions, wine estates are meticulously cared for and mostly small (the average vineyard estate in Piedmont is 3 to 5 acres/ 1.2 to 2 hectares). The wine traditions of both were firmly molded by centuries of monastic (Benedictine) rule. Most important of all, Piedmont and Burgundy share the philosophic belief that great wine is the progeny of a single, perfectly adapted grape variety (nebbiolo in Piedmont; pinot noir in Burgundy). This is in complete opposition to most of the rest of Italy, and indeed most of France, where wines tend to be made from a blend of grapes. It’s difficult to describe just how esteemed Piedmont’s leading wines Barolo and Barbaresco are, not just in Piedmont, but in Italy as a whole.

At their best, these wines are supremely complex and riveting. But Barolo and Barbaresco are also lauded because nebbiolo, one of the world’s most site-specific grape varieties, is, in terms of viticulture and winemaking, one of the most difficult to master. Indeed only 8 percent of all plantings in Piedmont are nebbiolo.

Yet no place in the world has more nebbiolo than this one place, and no place in the world has had more success with this complicated, demanding, challenging grape.

Piedmont, meaning “foot of the mountain,” is the largest region of the Italian mainland. As its name suggests, Piedmont is comprised of mountains and rolling foothills. Since much of this land is too steep or too cold for vines, Piedmont, despite its size, is not Italy’s leading producer of wine. If only fine wines are considered, however, it excels. More than 15 percent of all the DOC and DOCG wines in Italy are made here. (This is more than any other region except for Tuscany.) Indeed, 84 percent of all the wines made in Piedmont are either DOC or DOCG. Nearly all of Piedmont’s best vineyards are located in the eastern and southern parts of the region, where it is warmer than in the more Alpine northern part.

Piedmont, more so than even Tuscany, is the wine-lover’s mecca. It is still a farmstead wine culture compared to more developed wine regions such as Tuscany. What sets Piemontese towns such as Alba and Asti apart is that people go there almost exclusively for the wine and food. Their scents alone are enough to draw you in, like some cartoon character being pulled along by the vapors of a pie warming on the windowsill. In the Langhe hills it’s the aromas— of truffles, mushrooms, hazelnuts, coffee, and of course, Barolo and Barbaresco wine— that sweep people off their feet.

The wealth of distinctive, native varieties in conjunction with the wide diversity of terroir, has given rise to a wide range of first rate wines. Even those that are produced in limited quantities and made from lesser known

grapes, such as Ruche', Pelaverga and Grignolino. represent some of the most characterful and interesting wines of Piemonte today. Although considered a Red wine country, Arneis, Erbaluce and Timorasso as white wines are emerging from the shadows.

Piedmont is notably considered a conservative and traditional region when it comes to wine. Not inclined to follow fashion and market trends. This is made evident by the insignificant presence of International varieties ( Cabernets, Merlot, Syrah, etc) as well as the fierce opposition to modern winemaking techniq

ues found in some of the most traditional growing areas.

The concentration of vineyards and wineries in Piedmont is remarkable. The entire surface area of the village of Barbaresco, one of three adjacent communes that comprise the Barbaresco DOCG, is about seventeen hundred acres, of which roughly twelve hundred are planted to vineyards. There are more than eight hundred bottlers of Barolo and Barbaresco wine in Piedmont, each of them squeezing a relatively tiny amount of wine from their (mostly small) vineyards. Based on figures compiled by Italy’s Ministry of Agriculture, the average size of a Barolo/ Barbaresco vineyard is about five acres, with an average annual production of about ten thousand bottles. That is minuscule by today’s standards. There are scores of individual wineries throughout Italy that produce more than the Barolo and Barbaresco zones combined, and then some.

Why is Wine Better From the Hills in Piedmont? There are two major features affecting the weather in Piedmont: the ice cold Alps and the warm Mediterranean. The tug-of-war (a.k.a. Diurnal) temperature variation makes the whole area fill up with morning fog that slowly burns off during the day. This means the land higher up on the hills gets more sun. More sun = happy grapes = good wine. There are good wines to be found north of the Apennines in the foothills of the Alps. But since this area (around Gattinara) is much cooler, expect much lighter tasting, higher acid wines.

Hills account for 30% of the total area and are home of the majority of Piemonte's wine growing district. The vineyards are planted on the slopes at elevations between 500-1300 feet.

Monferrato is the largest network of Hills and it is found between Asti and Alessandria. Other important clusters are Langhe and Roero in the province of Cuneo. Very important are also the hills of Novara and Vercelli , further North in the Region.

What will follow in the next few blogs is just a thumbnail sketch to get you started on what may become— as it has for many Italophiles— a lifelong obsession.

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