Piedmont is bordered by the majestic Alps of Switzerland in the North and France to the west. (Piemonte in Italian means ‘foot of the mountains.’) It also is known as Italy’s food capital with rich and decadent dishes made with cream sauces, egg-y pastas and fresh truffles. And with good food, you should expect good wine.
Ever had a Barolo or Barbaresco? These are two of Piedmont’s most acclaimed wine appellations, both made from the same nebbiolo grape. Nebbiolo has high tannins and high acidity, a structured wine that will age well. Barolo packs a powerful punch, with notes of leather, rose petals, tar and aggressive tannins. Some wine enthusiasts consider Barolo to be the masculine version of Nebbiolo; Barbaresco, the feminine.
Let’s meander to the town of Alba, which is surrounded by the hillsides of Barolo and Barbaresco—the site of some of the best meals and experiences I have enjoyed in my lifetime. The world’s most sought-after white truffles can be found nestled under the shady hazelnut trees. The wines are big and demand big-food flavors to be appreciated. Juicy roasts, earthy risotto and fresh truffles with pasta are the perfect accompaniment.
Piedmont and the Burgundy region in France share similarities: They are very vineyard/site specific, and believe in a single grape varietal to showcase the ‘terroir.’ The hillsides and best vineyards of Piedmont have the southern exposure to gain the maximum amount of sunshine. While they wait for the bigger wines to age, they grow barbera and dolcetto from the larger appellation of Lange. These wines serve as everyday drinking wine and require only about six to 10 months to age. Barbera, the area’s most planted grape, is high in acidity and drinks best with food. Dolcetto is lower acidity, softer and is more palatable as a daily wine.
Though often overshadowed by Barolo and Barbaresco, Gattinara and Ghemme are two other notable wine appellations known for nebbiolo. Nebbiolo makes up the majority of the blends, both producing robust, full-bodied wines, but usually not as complex.
The Piedmont region hosts a variety of noteworthy whites: The cortese grape is known for Gavi, a dry, crisp white with citrus and mineral notes. It is best suited with seafood as Gavi is situated near the Ligurian coast. A newcomer to the U.S. wine scene is arneis and it’s making good progress among avid wine lovers. From the hills of Roero, arneis is dry and lively, semi full-bodied with nice fruit aromatics.
Piedmont is a mecca for food and wine enthusiasts, but tasting its wines is the next best thing to being there. Just like its magnificent fruit-bearing hillsides, the wines of Piedmont will make your palate come alive.
To decant or not to decant? If you have an older wine that has sediments, decant. (We don’t drink coffee with coffee grounds, right?) Also decant if a young wine is tannic to help aerate the wine. If in doubt, always decant or aerate.
Barolo or Barbaresco can be pricey, but worth every drop. Make sure to decant and serve with food. Barbera is more of an everyday wine, so try it with your next meal. Don’t overlook the whites. Spring is the perfect time to try my favorite white from Piedmont, arneis.
Stanley Browne is a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, a Certified Specialist of Wine by the Society of Wine Educators, and the owner of Robust Wine Bar in Webster Groves. He is a 30-year veteran of the restaurant, hospitality and wine industry.