Over the past 40 years (!), Geek has had the extraordinarily good fortune to have visited many (most) of the wine world’s classic regions. In addition to producing some amazing wines, most of these places are incredibly beautiful as well: think Tuscany, Alto Adige, Provence, New Zealand, South Africa, Napa, the Sonoma Coast to name the obvious ones. So, when Geek is asked ‘what is the most beautiful wine region?’, it’s not an easy answer: they are all beautiful in different ways. But when Geek is asked ‘what is your favorite wine region to visit?’, that’s easy: Piedmont in northwest Italy. Indeed, we were just there for our 12th or 13th visit; more visited by Geek than any other region than Napa Valley.
Piedmont (foot of the mountains) is one of Italy’s 20 regions, and is located in the northwest corner of Italy (as the name implies) at the base of the Alps, bordering France & Switzerland. Almost surrounded by the looming Alps, its beauty is undeniable: standing in the Langhe, the vistas are incredible; go to the shores of Lake Maggiore (part of Italy’s ‘Lake District’) and one’s main thought is typically ‘how can I afford to move here?’ ; the city of Turin (Torino), is Piedmont’s capital and is extraordinary— there is a reason the House of Savoy (a famous Royal dynasty for centuries) moved their base here from eastern France in the 16th century—it’s a beautiful, classy city.
But of course, it is the food & wine that has caused this region to capture our heart. White truffles of Alba are unique and one of nature’s gifts to mankind; Piedmontese Cattle produce a unique, sought after type of beef (and the cattle are now raised around the world); and a cornucopia of unique & wonderful cheeses hail from here. Then there are the wines. Piedmont is not the largest volume producer of DOC level wine in Italy, but it is the region with the most DOC’s and DOCG’s in the country—that says something. Among the large handful of great wines, Barolo and Barbaresco are at the top of the heap. These two appellations account for less than 10% of the wine produced in Piedmont, but they deservedly get 90% of the press and interest. A brief over- view of the most important zones is below.
*The Langhe: so named by the ancient Romans for the ‘long hills’. Striking scenery, elevations up to 2500 feet ASL. Nebbiolo is King here, used for Barolo, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo d’Alba, Nebbiolo Langhe. Dolcet to also thrives here, typically on sites that aren’t suited to Nebbiolo. Ditto Barbera which is seen mostly as Barbera d’Alba. For whites, Arneis is the lead dog for the area’s whites, but lots of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc planted over the last decade. Langhe Bianco is a very hot category currently, with fresh, acid-laced wines coming from a single varietal or a blend of any of the authorized varietals, which includes the above, plus Nascetta, Riesling, and Favorita.
*Roero: to the north & west of le Langhe, so close that many consider it to be part of the Langhe, but technically is not. Very different soils (mostly sand) and different climatically as well. Long considered the ‘value’ source for Nebbiolo in the area—typically sold as Nebbiolo d’Alba. More recently, it is now acknowledged to be the best source for Arneis, an increasingly important white varietal. Try the Ceretto Arneis ‘Blange’ in our book and you’ll see why.
*Monferrato: east and north of the Langhe, much of the zone surrounds the city of Asti. And yes, Moscato is the most widely planted varietal here—of course Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti are delicious and important to the region as a whole. But Barbera does great here: Barbera d’Asti generally has an edge over Barbera d’Alba and if labeled as a Nizza, it is Barbera at its best—or at least at its richest and most complex.
*Alto Piemonte: two hours north of the Lange, nestled in the shadows of the Swiss Alps. Alto Piemonte wine is catnip for Somms, mostly due to their piercing acidity and floral aromatics. Nebbiolo rules here as well, though with a very different personality than versions from the Langhe. Unlike Barolo/Barbaresco, these wines are not 100% Nebbiolo, but are typically blended with Vespolina or Bonarda; again, very different soils and climate up here. The numerous appellations are all village names such as Gattinara, Lessona, Boca, and Ghemme to name a few. Interestingly, this is where much of Italy’s Arborio and Carnaroli rice is grown (yes, there is a village named Arborio!). Also of note: prior to the devastation of Phylloxera, this area was a sea of vines and its wines were much more important than those of the Langhe. It almost went entirely dark, but over the past decade or so, several influential Italian vintners resurrected it, and things are looking rosy there.