Piedmont as a wine region
Piedmont is one of the most important wine-growing regions in Italy and in the world.
Piedmont has acquired this reputation in recent decades primarily through its impressive Barolo and Barbaresco wines. But Piedmont also stands for most of Italy's native grape varieties, which often date back to Roman times, and which are of great importance simply because of their uniqueness. Piedmont also has a very important production of sparkling wine, which is growing every year. It is no coincidence that the first sparkling wines made using the champagne method came from Piedmont. The Moscato D'Asti is also known worldwide and is produced both as a sparkling and sweet-tasting sparkling wine and as an aromatic dessert wine. The range of wines is completed by a number of excellent white wines, with the wines from the Gavi and Roero regions being among the best known.
There are seven different provinces in Piedmont, and each of these provinces is authorized for viticulture. This resulted in four growing areas in which 18 DOCG and 42 DOC wines are produced. Compared to the German wine law, the DOCG classification would include the predicate wines, while the DOC classification would include the quality wines.
These seven provinces have been grouped into four wine-growing regions:
The four production areas are: Le Langhe, Il Monferrato, L'Astigiano and Il Nord.
What makes the Langhe so special as a growing area?
The most important wine-growing region in Piedmont is the Langhe. The noble Barolo and Barbaresco wines come from this area. The importance of the Langhe is due to its geographical location, the climate suitable for viticulture and the rich subsoil. Of course, not to be forgotten in this interaction are the down-to-earth winegrowers, who process the fears of the earth with great passion and competence. The wines of the Langhe are characterized by a strong personality, great character and long aging potential, but their particularity lies in the variety of wines made from native grape varieties.
The Langhe is located in the southwestern part of Piedmont, bordered by the Maritime Alps to the north and the Ligurian Apennines to the west. Just a few kilometers from the town of Alba, world famous for its annual truffle market.
The name comes from the Celts and means “headlands” and refers to the elongated hills between which many deep and narrow valleys have formed over time.
The Langhe is crossed by the Tanaro River, which divides it into two areas. The area north of the river is called Roero and the area south of the river is called Langhe. Due to the different soil conditions and microclimatic conditions, different wines are also produced in these two areas. In the Langhe, the great wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco are produced, while in Roero, in addition to red wines, sparkling wines and white wines such as the well-known Roero Arneis are produced.
In the wine-growing regions of Piedmont, a temperate continental climate generally determines the weather. This is determined by clearly defined seasons with hot summers and cold, often snowy winters. This climate enables the grapes to develop extremely fine and intense aromas. The presence of hills and valleys also creates different microclimatic conditions that can have a decisive impact on the development of the berries. The usually large temperature difference between day and night during the ripening period has proven to be particularly important for the concentration of the aromas in the berry skins. This allows all components to mature optimally, which can then lead to long-lasting wines with a large body, fine structure and good balance.
Moreover, the mountain ranges that delimit the Langhe have proved to be very useful and natural allies for winegrowers. The cold air currents from the north are moderated by the Maritime Alps during the cold season and then mix with the warmer currents coming from the Ligurian coast. Conversely, during the summer, the cooler air currents from Liguria have a very positive influence on the development of the vines.
These climatic and microclimatic conditions in the Langhe are a decisive factor in the quality of the wines produced. The wines of each vintage are classified differently and each vintage leaves its specific characteristics that cannot be repeated.
The soil conditions
The composition of the soil was created by the retreat of the Padan Sea. This process began 15 million years ago in the Miocene (Upper Tertiary) and lasted for several epochs. What remains is a breeding ground that today consists of alternating layers and is particularly suitable for viticulture. These layers consist mainly of clay, calcareous and bluish marl, tuff, quartz, sand and sulphurous gypsum soil. From a geological point of view, the different zones in the Langhe are not easy to separate. Overlapping occurs and the mixed soils allow the roots of the vines to penetrate different geological strata and bring out characteristics from all of them. The alternation of these layers also means that the vines give the wine a great deal of delicacy, structure and elegance. The calcareous, loamy soils that predominate in the Langhe create full-bodied red wines. on the other hand, the soft sandy soils of the Roeros are more suitable for the cultivation of white grape varieties and give the wines their fruitiness.
The classification of Piedmont wines
According to EU law, the wine label must show the consumer the quality level and classification of the wine. This information is intended to help the consumer to understand where the wine comes from, what its quality is and also how compliance with the regulations is checked. However, since each EU country has its own wine laws, the regulations can also be very different, which can make understanding difficult for the consumer.
In the following paragraphs we would like to give you an overview of the classification of wines in Piedmont. We refrain from going into detail because the set of rules is very complicated and has many exceptions. If you want to know more about this topic, feel free to contact us at info@babarolo.
Basically, there are only two classifications on the wine label in Piedmont:
DOC (Denominazione Origine Controllata)
DOCG (Denominazione Origine Controllata Garantita)
These designations mean that the wines are classified based on their origin or provenance, and that this information is controlled and even guaranteed in the case of DOCG classification. Above all, this means a quality classification. Compared to the German wine law, the DOC designation would cover quality wines, while the DOCG designation would refer to Prädikatswein.
Barolo and Barbaresco wines, the great growths of Piedmont, are all classified as DOCG wines and are subject to even stricter regulations than DOC wines. But the DOC wines also meet very high quality standards, and the differences between these two designations have become smaller in recent years.
All grape varieties grown in Piedmont have a defined growing area and all growing areas are in turn classified as either DOC or DOCG areas. There are 18 DOCG and 42 DOC areas and no other region in Italy has so many wines of the highest quality.
In principle, the winegrowers in Piedmont can determine the classification of their wines themselves. It always depends on the growing area in which your vineyards are located. However, they must meet strict regulations and conditions in order to receive the appropriate classification. This also means that some winegrowers deliberately classify their wines lower in order to circumvent the strict regulations. This is a big difference to the practices in Germany, where, for example, a quality wine is also classified and marketed as a quality wine.
Another special feature in Piedmont is the designation Superiore or Riserva. For Barolo or Barbaresco wines you can find the designation Riserva on the label and for Barbera and Dolcetto wines the designation Superiore. This means that the corresponding wines must have a longer minimum storage period or a higher alcohol content in order to be able to list Riserva or Superiore on the label the banderole at the top of the bottle neck says DOC or DOCG.
The autochthonous grape varieties
Indigenous grape varieties have been cultivated in Piedmont for centuries and to this day the life of winegrowers revolves around these ancient grape varieties.They represent an essential part of the local agriculture and economy and are a distinctive expression of this terroir. The soil, the climate and the autochthonous grape varieties in combination are responsible for the important wine culture of Piedmont.
Not least because of this, the entire area of the Langhe, Roeros and Monferratos was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2014.
The classic grape varieties Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto, Moscato and Roero Arneis have found their home in southern Piedmont. Grown elsewhere, the results are less significant because these grape varieties need the very conditions that prevail in the Langhe and Roero. The changing layers of clay, limestone, marl and sand combined with the temperate continental climate are unique in the world and create the conditions for the grapes to reach their optimal potential.
The wines from Piedmont stand out from the global wine world because they have an unmistakable territorial identity. The traditional winemaking from only one native grape variety gives the wines a strong personality and emphasizes the typicality of the grape variety. Only in the last few decades have winegrowers started planting “international” grape varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Pino Noir are mostly used for Cuvees or Spumante. Only white grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc and occasionally Riesling are produced as single varieties.