About Piemonte (Piedmont)
The Piemonte wine region, particularly in the Langhe sub region, is the land of castles, vineyards and romantic hills shrouded in mist. The Alps hover over this lovely wine area and the region's names in fact makes reference to this (Piemonte means "at the foot of the mountain"). In autumn, thick fog hovers on the brightly colored hills (the red and orange vines actually "glow" with the reflection of the snow capped Alps) and you can just make out the castle tops and hill topped villages poking out at the top. Piemonte is located right in the northwest corner of Italy, with Switzerland to the north, France just west and the beautiful Mediterranean coast line and fishing villages of Liguria only an hour and a half south.
The geography of Piemonte is over 40% mountainous, along with extensive areas of hills (30%) and plains (26%). Piemonte is surrounded on three sides by the Alps, including Monviso, where the Po rises, and Monte Rosa.
Piemonte is the second largest of Italy's 20 regions, after Sicily. The countryside is very varied: one passes from the rugged peaks of the massifs of Monte Rosa and of the Gran Paradiso National Park, to the damp rice paddies of the Vercellese and Novarese; from the gentle hillsides of the Langhe and of Monferrato to the plains.
The three best areas in Piemonte (for scenery and quality of wines) are the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato sub regions. The principal city in Piemonte is Turin, a beautiful cosmopolitan city known for design, fashion, the home of FIAT and its superb chocolate makers. The principal wine towns of Piemonte are Alba, Asti and Alessandria.
Piemonte is often called the "Burgundy of Italy", as it is most famous for its boutique wines and outstanding gastronomy (Piemonte is home to the famous white truffle). In fact, the region attracts gourmet travellers from all over the world who go there to eat and enjoy fine wine. This type of traveller has been coined a "Gastronaut", and Piemonte is firmly on the Gastro-map.
Winemaking in Piemonte is amazingly artisan and boutique. Production is microscopic, especially for the top wines, and most wineries are family owned. Vineyards tend to be very small and neatly kept. Entire villages are dedicated to wine production and wine is a part of daily life. The harvest festivals in Piemonte are major events in every town and village, and nearly everyone participates in the local festivities. The wine towns of Alba and Asti are the main centres of the wine production area. Alba holds the annual Truffle festival (which attracts chefs from all over the world) and Asti holds the medieval "Palio" festival, a lively event, second only to the Palio of Siena..
The superstar wines from the region are the DOCG Barolo and Barbaresco wines (named after the villages themselves where these vineyards lie), both tremendously rich red wines made with the native Nebbiolo grape. Piemonte is also home to many other native grape varietals such as Dolcetto and Barbera (2 of the best red grapes, after the Nebbiolo) and Cortese (a white varietal used to make the deliciously fresh Gavi di Gavi wines) and another native white called Arneis, known for being highly perfumed and delicate.
In the south of Piemonte, where the Maritime Alps and Ligurian Apennines form a stunning backdrop to the hills, lie two areas where vines have been grown since time immemorial: the Langhe and the Roero. Between them runs the river Tanaro, which acts as a natural boundary as well as separating the two areas geologically. Hills dominate the scenery on both the right and left banks of the river, but each side is distinguished by precise, specific features. All around, the mountains rise up like a bulwark defending this spectacular amphitheatre of hills, safeguarding the vines so they can continue, year after year, to offer up their highly prized fruit.
Divided by the river Tanaro, both the Langhe and the Roero have geological origins dating back to the Tertiary Period. The Roero is the younger of the two, formed in Pliocene times. This is reflected in the properties of its soil, which is calcareous and clayey, often with layers of sand making it softer and less compact. The Langhe hills, on the other hand, date back to the earlier Miocene era, and while the soil is calcareous and clayey here too, it is heavier and firmer. These subtle differences in origin and formation are reflected in the grapes and in the wines: those grown on the hills of the Langhe are generally more structured and longer-lasting, whereas the wines from the Roero tend to be more balanced and elegant.
Experts define the climate that accompanies the annual cycle of the vine on the hills of the Langhe and Roero as cold and temperate. Each year though, the mix of atmospheric conditions is different, and this is what makes the characteristics of each vintage quite unique. Winters are generally hard and cold, often with heavy snowfalls; spring and autumn are changeable, with the weather subject to sudden variations; the summers are hot and often dry, with the vines reaping benefit from the providential refreshing storms, providing they are not accompanied by hail. These very particular soil and weather conditions, in one of the finest microclimates in the world, have a marked effect on the properties of the grapes, producing unique wines which are elegant and well-balanced with great structure, yet highly drinkable.