Piedmont / Piemonte
In quality terms, Piedmont (Piemonte) is the heart of Italian winemaking. There is no IGT wine classification here. So, unless entirely declassified (for example, to ‘Vino Rosso’ or ‘Vino Bianco’), wines are all DOC and DOCG. And there are more of these in Piemonte than in any other Italian region.
The region’s name means ‘the foot of the mountains’. But as Gianni Oliva points out in his Storia del Piemonte (EBI, 2016), that’s a bit of a daft handle. For the region has high peaks and flood planes and rivers and rolling hills. So, very little of it is actually the foot of the mountain.
But if you’ve ever stood on the western edge of the Langhe and seen the arc of the Alpine chain, you will understand what the Piemontesi are getting at. Though the mountains may be 30km away, you really do feel as though you’re standing at their feet.
These mountains, many of which top out above 3000m, are the key topographical feature of the region. They include the Ligurian Appenines to the south, and the coastal Maritime Alps, then continue along the French and Swiss borders to the west and north.
They protect the growing areas from inclement weather, and also make what is termed a Continental climate. This is where an absence of coastal influence creates a large difference in day/night and summer/winter temperatures. As a result, wines have higher acidity, which can make for freshness, structure, complexity and ageworthiness.
Piedmont is split in half by the River Po, which has its source in the western Alps and exits through its giant flood plain into Lombardy on its way to the Adriatic.
Within this plain are higher areas of rolling hills, which is where many of the vineyards are planted.
The grapes and wines of Piedmont
The majority (60%) of Piedmont’s production is red wine. The most famous grapes are Barbera, Dolcetto and Nebbiolo. In terms of white grapes we find Cortese (for Gavi), Moscato, and, increasingly, Timorasso, Erbaluce and Arneis.