Your Guide to Piemonte Wine

Your Guide to Piemonte Wine

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines


Vista of the hills and vineyards of Piemonte with snow capped mountains in the background

In the northwest corner of Italy, the snow-capped Alps descend toward the balmy Mediterranean in a series of lush green waves. These hills make up the wine region called Piemonte, which produces more of Italy’s coveted DOCG wines than any other growing area.

The majority of wines produced in Piemonte are relatively unknown, except for Barolo and Barbaresco—which make up just 3 percent of the region’s production. This obscurity has kept prices surprisingly low. Even though some of the world's cult estates are located in the region, experts say Piemontese wines still manage to represent extraordinary value for money.

That situation may be changing, however, as enthusiasm for Piemonte wine increases among investors and collectors. Industry watchers are saying that the recently released 2016 wines from Piemonte are “almost miraculously good,” with the demand for these wines rising dramatically in recent months.

What Is Piemonte Wine?

Piemonte (also known as as Piedmont) is a mostly rural area dotted with small villages and family-owned wineries. The region produces a stunning range of flavors, ranging from bold tannic reds to delicate peach-scented Moscatos.

Why is there so much diversity among Piemontese wines? It's because the region is a patchwork of 59 sub-regions, where over a dozen grape varieties are grown in different soils and microclimates.

The Piemonte Region and Terroir

Piemonte’s wineries spread from Genoa to Turin, in the corner of Italy that butts up against the French and Swiss borders.

The 59 subregions of Piemonte can be divided into five main zones:

  • Canavese: The area around Turin
  • Colline Novaresi: An area in Novara province
  • Coste della Sesia: Vercelli and its adjoining lands
  • Langhe: The hills surrounding Alba
  • Monferrato: The lands encompassing Asti and Alessandria

The unique features of the Piemonte terroir produce wildly divergent flavors. Two vineyards just 100 meters apart can produce very different wines, even if they grow the same species of grape and use the exact same methods and materials to produce their wines.

There are two main reasons for this: soil and weather.

Soils

Millions of years ago, the Mediterranean covered this part of Italy all the way to the Alps. As the sea gradually receded, it left behind soils that can be distinguished across geological eras. Some hillsides were left with sandier soils, while others became a rich mixture of silt and clay. If you were to travel around the province, you’d notice red and white soils alternating with sand and stone. The region's grapes love all the terroir of Piemonte, but each one gives a different character to the finished wine.

Climate

Piemonte is similar in latitude to the French Bordeaux region, but Piemonte has a much colder winter and a dryer overall climate because of the sheltering Alps. During the night, cold mountain air sinks into the valleys. When the warm Mediterranean breeze arrives in the morning, the lowlands fill with fog. Grapes can't ripen in the mist, so growers plant them on the hillsides above the valleys.

The south-facing slopes that bask in the warm air from the Mediterranean are perfect for sun-loving grapes like Nebbiolo or Barbera. The cooler hillsides that face toward the Alps are an ideal home for grapes that prefer crisp air, like Dolcetto or Moscato.

The Flavors of Piemonte

The diverse terroir and microclimates of Piemonte all have one thing in common: they produce outstanding wines. More wines from Piemonte are earning Italy’s top-tier DOCG classification than from any other wine region in the country. If you decide to go on a deep dive into the flavors of this region, you’ll want to explore both the legendary vintages and the best-kept secrets of Piemonte.

Red Wines of Piemonte

Nebbiolo and Barbera are by far the most famous grape varieties from the region, and there are quite a few wines made from each.

Nebbiolo

Widely acknowledged as the finest of Piemonte’s grapes, Nebbiolo is grown in clay-based soils all over the region. Nebbiolo gets its name from the Italian word for fog due to the fog that settles around the vineyards. Many of the DOCG and DOC wines of Piemonte contain Nebbiolo, from the renowned Barolo and Barbaresco labels to more obscure wines like Lessona, Carema, Boca, Fara, and Nebbiolo d’Alba.

Nebbiolo offers a unique “tar and roses” bouquet. It is one of the most tannic grapes in the world, which means Nebbiolo wines can be bitter when young, but they age beautifully.

Delight your palate with any of these wines made from Nebbiolo:

  • Barolo is known as the “king of wines and wine of kings,” with hints of ripe fruit, spices, licorice, and leather.
  • Barbaresco is a softer, more approachable Nebbiolo, often with notes of roses, cherry, and tobacco.
  • Nebbiolo d’Alba is a lesser-known choice with a medium body and a fruity bouquet.

Barbera

The most widely planted grape in Piemonte is Barbera, and it produces most of the everyday wines for the locals in the region. You’ll find this wine rich with berry flavors as well as notes of coffee, smoke, and spice. Barbera is much less tannic than Nebbiolo, so even very young wines made from Barbera are drinkable and delicious.

The best Barberas for your collection will come from one of these three subregions:

Other Piemonte Reds

These slightly less-popular wines are not always in stock. Check back periodically, or talk with one of our wine consultants to locate one of these rare treats.

  • Dolcetto: Soft, fruity, floral, with peppercorn and firm chocolatey tannins; lower in acid, so it is best drunk within five years after bottling
  • Brachetto: A sweeter, fruitier wine with notes of strawberry and orange peel; juicy on the palate
  • Freisa: People either love or hate this highly acidic wine that follows its light, fruity aromas with strong notes of sage, earth, and green olive

White Wines of Piemonte

Although they're not as famous as the reds, Piemonte produces some notable white wines as well.

  • Arneis: A perennial favorite, beloved for its fruity-fresh character and crisp acidity
  • Moscato: Piemonte’s Moscatos are known for their floral aromas and sweet notes of melon and pear
  • Chardonnay: Piemonte Chardonnays are worth tasting, as they’re quite different than the southern varieties

Treat Yourself to a Taste of Piemonte

If you’d like to explore the flavors of Piemonte for yourself, you’ll find some exquisite examples in our cellars. If you’d like professional assistance selecting an assortment of wines from JJ Buckley Fine Wines, contact us—we would be delighted to speak with you.