Piedmont Reds

Mark DeWolf | Wine Discovery

Piedmont may be in the shadow of the Alps but the sun is shining on its wine industry. Piedmont or Piemonte, as it’s known in Italy, is home to some of that country’s most revered wines as well as some of its least pretentious. The region is a veritable epicurean paradise as, in addition to a variety of wine styles, it is also famous for its truffles (both the precious type of mushroom dug out of the earth and chocolate), polenta, and risotto. Piedmont is home to spectacular vineyards and is also home to a rich tapestry of other agricultural commodities include rice paddies which dominate the wet and fertile glacial alluvial soils of the broad Po river valley that cuts through the region on its way across northern Italy to the Adriatic.

As for the vineyards, they are concentrated in two general areas: those to the north-east of the regional capital of Turin (Torino) — up in the Alpine foothills; and those to the south-east of the city centered around the wine towns of Alba and Asti amidst the Monferrato, Roero and Langhe Hills surrounding the Tanaro River. Most that are exported to Canada come from south-east of Turin. While the region makes loads of the frothy and bubbly Moscato D’Asti, a semi-sweet frizzante style white wine, in spirit this is red wine country. The vineyard land is dominated by three blue grapes responsible for making red wines: Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto.

The Red Grapes of Piedmont

Nebbiolo — While Nebbiolo isn’t the biggest volume producer in the region, it is its’most revered grape. It’s responsible for the famous wines of Barbaresco and Barolo but also an increasing number of varietal labelled wines such as Nebbiolo d’Alba. The grape is a bit finicky in the vineyard as it likes elevated slopes. The grape is late to flower, meaning spring frosts — occurring more often on lower slopes — are a risk and it also needs a long growing season. Accordingly, the grape is generally afforded a winery’s best vineyard sites, but it rewards with its complex personality. Nebbiolo makes lightly pigmented wines, rich in complex aromas ranging from cherry, violet and liquorice to tar and rose petal. Despite not being dark in colour, the wines are incredibly high in acid and tannin, making them great candidates to age but also fantastic partners to full-flavoured meat dishes such as Osso Buco.

Barbera Barbera ranks second in stature to Nebbiolo, but its wines are much more plentiful. The grape makes wines that are fruitier and softer — enhanced by some time spent aging in barrique — but still can be quite tangy, making them good food wines. Barbera is best paired with simpler, lighter foods such as mushroom-based dishes and tomato based pastas.

Dolcetto Dolcetto is the least pretentious of the red grapes of the region. The name translates to “the little sweet one.” The wines made from the grape aren’t sweet but they do boast fruity personas. They are best enjoyed young and go well with lighter, sweeter meats such as pork.

Next week: We’ll look at the wines of Veneto.

Occasions recommends: 

Briccotondo Barbera D’Alba, Italy, $19.99

Batasiolo Nebbiolo D’Alba, Italy, $18.99

Fontanafredda Barolo, Italy, $36.79

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