Piedmont is a wine region located in northwest Italy. The name literally translates to “foothills”, due to the Alps framing its borders from the north, down to the southwest.
Along with Tuscany, Piedmont represents one of the most important wine regions in Italy and is the home of more DOCG wines than any other region in the Country.
In recent years, high-end Piedmont red wines, such as Barolo and Barbaresco, are steadily increasing in popularity and demand beyond the domestic market.
Signs of viticulture in northwest Italy go back to the Gauls’ invasion of Piedmont in the 4th century BC. The subsequent influences of the Etruscans were bourn out in the first examples of wine production in the area. Roman influence on viticulture soon took root, influencing both technique and efficiency. there was also a cultural impact, with Christianity elevating wine to that of a sacred beverage, which in turn encouraged consumption during the Middle Ages.
However, the fame of Piedmont as one of finest wine regions is actually fairly recent, connected to the House of Savoy and their ascent to power, becoming crowned Kings of Italy in the 19th century, an era known as “Risorgimento”, “resurgence”.
Wine had a direct influence on the politics of the era also, with a major revolt that was sparked by the decision of the Austrian government to double the tariffs of Piedmontese wines in Lombardy, Emilia and Veneto. In 1846, King Charles Albert of Sardinia, Duke of Savoy, addressed the wine growers of the region leading them to assail Austria. It was the beginning of a war that ended with the unification of the Country in 1861.
Meanwhile, important figures such as Giuseppe Garibaldi, a general and a patriot who fought in southern Italy against the Bourbons in Sicily, and Camillo Benso Count of Cavour, the first Prime Minister of Italy, were themselves deeply involved in the wine industry and gave key contributions to its development in the Piedmont region.
Garibaldi was a winemaker and a vineyard owner and he’s believed to have introduced the use of the Bordeaux mixture to the region in order to control the spread of oidium, a fungus that was threatening to ravage the area’s vineyards. Camillo Benso’s family were wealthy vineyards owners and he played a pivotal role in developing Piedmont’s wine industry and expertise, by favouring importation of French wine through trade agreements, as well as adopting many French viticultural techniques during his mandate as Minister of Agriculture of then Piedmont-Sardinia in 1850.
In 1980, Barolo was one of the first wines in Italy to receive DOCG status, shortly followed by Barbaresco. These two wines are produced 10 miles apart and today represent the excellence of northwest Italy viticulture, with the ambition of challenging French giants such as Bordeaux and Burgundy.
The name Piedmont (Foothills) is a pretty self-explanatory one for a region located at the bottom of the Alps. Due to its location, only 30% of Piedmont is suitable for viticulture and the vast majority of the vineyards are located in the south-eastern side of the region.
Despite the fact its latitude is similar to Bordeaux, the climate of Piedmont is actually continental and very similar to Burgundy due to its proximity to the mountains. Hence there are clear distinctions within seasons, with hot summers and cold winters exposing the grapes to the risk of frost.
There are over 42,000 hectares of vineyards in Piedmont, 95% of them being located within the southern provinces of Cuneo, Asti and Alessandria.
Wine production in Piedmont was around 2.6m hectolitres in 2016, with a slight predominance of red wines (53%). The absolute trend is showing a slowdown in production, however, and there are two important factors to consider.
The first one is the negative trend mainly relates to the lower value range of wines and the significant impact the financial crisis had on domestic consumption. Secondly, exports have steadily risen for the famous Piedmontese reds, increasing by 50% from 175m Euros in 2011 to 262m in 2017.
Regarding white wines, Piedmont’s dominant grape is without doubt Moscato, which is used for the production of sparkling wines, or “spumante”. Other significant white wines grapes in the region include Cortese, Chardonnay and Arneis.
For red wines, the main grape planted in Piedmont is Barbera, favoured by both locals and the domestic market in general.
Dolcetto and Nebbiolo follow closely behind, with the latter being considered the most prestigious variety in the region. Nebbiolo wines, such as Barolo and Barbaresco, are often privileged by collectors, storing them in their private cellars and drinking them several years later, allowing the grape to reach its full potential.
Piedmont offers a variety of wines across different colours, grapes and style, hence it would be unfair to define a unique set of features.
The jewels of the region are almost universally acknowledged as Barolo and Barbaresco. Both these wines are made from Nebbiolo, which offers a very unique combination of delicate colours and aromas, which are contrasted by aggressive and chewy tannins. This is particularly evident in Barolo, and its suitable for long-term ageing.
Gaja is an historical estate based in Barbaresco. Founded in 1859, it’s famous for having introduced grape varieties and winemaking techniques from abroad, in particular from Bordeaux and California, which has modernised Piedmont.
The Bartolo Mascarello estate was founded in 1918 and has continued to use traditional techniques in its wine making practices. The estate is located in the heart of Barolo village and the surface of the vineyard is spread over 5 hectares.
Bruno Rocca is a family-run wine estate located in the northwestern Barbaresco appellation. Rocca is an eminent producer of aromatic Barbaresco from the Nebbiolo varietal, a DOCG wine standing for “Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita”, the highest classification achievable in Italy.