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04 Jul 2024 | Randy Kemner


Pied Mont, Foot of the Mountain—the base of the Italian Alps in this case—is the province where I would argue Italy’s most elegant and beautiful wines are grown.   From Switzerland and the mountains, stretching south past Turin, Asti and Alba, to the little strip of Ligurian shoreline that connects France to Genoa along the Mediterranean, Piedmont is dotted with hilltop villages as picturesque as any you will ever see, blanketed by immaculately manicured vineyards draping the hillsides below.

Some of Italy’s most beloved wines come from Piedmont, the most celebrated made from the Nebbiolo grape, named for the common fog of the region.  It provides the material for wines from Langhe, Alba, Roero, Gattinara, Barbaresco and the wine of kings, Barolo.



What makes the Nebbiolo majestic?  Admittedly, young versions often have astringent tannins that require Fontina, Reggiano di Parma, prosciutto and salami to absorb them.  But when those tannins are tamed with age or a skillful winemaker, look out!  The rose-petal/cherry-licorice aromas will capture you like no other wine on the planet except the Pinot Noirs of Burgundy.  When I mentioned to French wine importer Michael Sullivan that I saw a lot of empty Burgundy bottles in Barolo cellars, he told me you will find empty bottles of Barolo in Burgundy cellars.  There is an affinity between the wines of both regions, and they seduce you through the nostrils first. 

If you are lucky enough to spend an entire evening exploring Nebbiolos at one of our wine tastings, you may never be the same.


There are other wine grapes and appellations of note in Piedmont, also.  The Dolcetto, (if you cut a Barolo producer, he bleeds Dolcetto), is Piedmont’s sort-of functional Beaujolais, a darker, more penetrating wine sometimes with licorice notes which serves as the region’s vino da tavola, at least on better tavolas (tavoli?).  One appellation—Dogliani—is given entirely to the variety.  Want a red wine and don’t know which to choose?  Dolcetto will more often do the food trick.

Barbera is the third major red wine grape of Piedmont and it is variety I wish we’d embrace more in California. (When Italian winemakers were running the show—Pedroncelli, Sebastiani, Mondavi, Seghesio and the rest—Barbera was an indispensable presence on Italian-American tables.  The old Louis Martini Barberas of the sixties and seventies, delightfully fruity when young, were still pulling their weight after thirty years in bottle. But I digress…)  Barberas from Asti are more energetic than their counterparts from Alba, the latter which in my experience provide more depth, and in some cases take to barriques (60 gallon French oak barrels, sometimes newer) quite well, and in the right hands, like Corregio’s Marun, make surprisingly compelling, complex nearly aspirational wines.

The traditional white wine of Piedmont is Gavi, a wine that is beginning to see a resurgence in popularity.  Made primarily from Cortese, it is a firmly structured wine that has alternating flavors and aromas of minerals, citrus, and pit fruit.  Every time I drink Gavi it is so delicious I wonder why I’m not drinking more of it.

Speaking of deliciousness, if there is a prettier wine than Moscato d’Asti, I’ve yet to discover it.  People who eat Ben and Jerry’s from the carton will tell me that Moscato d’Asti is “too sweet” for them, for which I have an answer, “Is a ripe strawberry too sweet for you?” and their reply is “It’s just not the same,” and I check out of my argument.

Moscato d’Asti, with its floral perfume, its 5.5% alcohol by volume (about a third of a Paso Robles Zinfandel), its ever-so-slight pétillance tickling your tongue, and delicious lemon-lime sweetness, has been described as the closest thing in wine to the taste of fresh grapes.  And who doesn’t like the taste of fresh grapes?  Even if “it’s just not the same.”  Pour yourself a glass of Moscato any summer afternoon and enjoy your life.

In the 1980s, Barolo producer Bruno Giacosa and a handful of other producers revived a nearly extinct white grape called Arneis, and today it is a very popular dry white wine in Piedmont.  Look for Arneis from Roero from excellent producers like Almondo and Matteo Corregia.

From time to time you may encounter the dry white variety Erbaluce in northern Piedmont, the charming red Grignolino, Brachetto, a wild strawberry-scented red wine that makes an intriguing dry wine and a spectacular frothy sweet wine counterpart to Moscato d’Asti.  Freisa, another local Piedmont specialty, makes delicious Braccheto-like dry and sweet wines, even though we rarely see them anymore in our part of the world.  Other varieties are Malvasia, Bonarda, Chardonnay, Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) and a slew of indigenous varieties we’ve never heard of, but one day could be the next Arneis. 

Any opportunity you can get to explore the wines of Piedmont, say at a wine tasting at The Wine Country, take full advantage of the situation.  At the very least, you’ll discover vibrant wines that shimmer with life.  At most, you just may discover your latest passions in your wine journey.


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