Diving deeper into the world of wine should be easy, exciting, and fun. We’ve created our ‘5 Minutes in…’ series with the goal of bringing it back to the basics – in other words, we’re honing in on the core fundamental facts you need to know about various winegrowing regions/appellations. Today, we’re focusing on Piedmont, Italy’s crown jewel of the north. Known for rich truffles, handmade pastas, and delicious wine as far as the eye can see, we can’t think of a better place for Italian food and wine lovers to head first.
History + Today
Piedmont’s legacy for making delicious wine runs deep. In ancient times, the region was referred to as Oenotrua, which means ‘land of the vines.’ Here, locals made Greek-inspired sweet wines from dried grapes, and post-Roman occupancy, eventually mastered the art of trellising. By the mid-19th century, Piedmont’s influential role in Italian viticulture and vinification only grew stronger, thanks to its incorporation of French-inspired techniques.
Today, Piedmont is still one of the most highly regarded winemaking regions in the world. The region is best known for its Barolo and Barbaresco production, both of which are crafted from Nebbiolo. Other popular Piedmontese varieties include Barbera, Dolcetto, and Msocato, the latter of which is generally lightly sparkling and pleasantly sweet. Piedmont is often compared to the likes of Burgundy, as its emphasis on single-vineyards and monovarietal bottlings is similar.
Piedmont is located in northwestern Italy, specifically at the foothills of the Alps where the borders with France and Switzerland begin. The region is largely characterized by rugged, mountainous terrain. These countless hills and valleys create large amounts of fog, which helps Nebbiolo (whose name derives from the Italian word for fog) ripen. Piedmont experiences an overall continental climate and has a relatively low annual rainfall due to the rain shadow effect from the Alps. Most of Piedmont’s viticulture is based in the southern portion of the region and is centered around Cuneo and Asti.
Piedmont’s five major winemaking zones are Canavese, Colline Novaresi, Coste della Sesia, Langhe, and Monferrato. The region is home to 42 DOCs and 18 DOCGs, making it the largest regional producer of Italian DOCG wine. There are no IGT (equivalent of French Vin de Pays) designations in the region.
Although Barbera is the most widely cultivated grape variety, Piedmont is best known for its rustic Nebbiolo, which is the backbone to the renowned wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. These wines are rich, rustic, and ideal for laying down in the cellar for the long haul. Dolcetto, which translates to ‘little sweet one’ (although the wines are ironically not sweet) is also a major player in the region’s red winemaking game, too. Nebbiolo-based wines are characterized by bright acid, structured backbone, and abundant gritty tannins, which can often make them a bit austere in their youth. However, these characteristics make them ideal for sipping chilled alongside hearty regional dishes. Barbera and Dolcetto-based wines tend to be more fruit-driven and less tannic, making them more approachable in their youth and perfect for sipping along pizza, pasta, and other Sunday Supper favorites.
The most popular white wine from Piedmont is Moscato, which is most often vinified slightly sparkling and with noticeable amounts of residual sugar. Cortese (Gavi) has also garnered decent traction on the international market, and Arneis continues to climb in popularity as well. International varieties (Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah, etc.) are also cultivated in the region, though in Piedmont, native varieties tend to be more popular.
5 Key Takeaway Points
- Piedmont is located in northwestern Italy and is one of the country’s longstanding regional producers of fine wine.
- Piedmont is home to 42 DOCs and 18 DOCGs, making it the highest producer of top quality wine in Italy.
- Barbera is the most widely planted variety in Italy, though the region is best known for its rustic Nebbiolo cuvées, with Barolo and Barbaresco being the cream of the crop.
- Piedmont’s most important white wine is Moscato. Other significant local varieties include Arneis and Cortese (Gavi).
- Piedmont’s viticulture is centered around the provinces of Cuneo and Asti.