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Aldo Conterno 1998 Quartetto Langhe Rosso 1997
Set upon a backdrop of the visually stunning Alps, the enchanting and rolling hills of Piedmont are the source of some of the country’s longest-lived and most sought-after wines. Vineyards cover a great majority of the land area—especially in Barolo—with the most prized sites at the top hilltops or on south-facing slopes where sunlight exposure is maximized. Piedmont has a continental climate with hot, humid summers leading to cold winters and precipitation year-round. The reliable autumnal fog provides a cooling effect, especially beneficial for Nebbiolo, Piedmont’s most prestigious variety.
In fact, Nebbiolo is named exactly for the arrival of this pre-harvest fog (called “nebbia” in Italian), which prolongs cluster hang time and allows full phenolic balance and ripeness. Harvest of Nebbiolo is last among Piedmont's varieties, occurring sometime in October. This grape is responsible for the exalted wines of Barbaresco and Barolo, known for their ageability, firm tannins and hallmark aromas of tar and roses. Nebbiolo wines, despite their pale hue, pack a pleasing punch of flavor and structure; the best examples can require about a decade’s wait before they become approachable. Barbaresco tends to be more elegant in style while Barolo is more powerful. Across the Tanaro River, the Roero region, and farther north, the regions of Gattinara and Ghemme, also produce excellent quality Nebbiolo.
Easy-going Barbera is the most planted grape in Piedmont, beloved for its trademark high acidity, low tannin and juicy red fruit. Dolcetto, Piedmont’s other important red grape, is usually ready within a couple of years of release.
White wines, while less ubiquitous here, should not be missed. Key varieties include Arneis, Cortese, Timorasso, Erbaluce and the sweet, charming Muscat, responsible for the brilliantly recognizable, Moscato d'Asti.
With hundreds of red grape varieties to choose from, winemakers have the freedom to create a virtually endless assortment of blended wines. In many European regions, strict laws are in place determining the set of varieties that may be used, but in the New World, experimentation is permitted and encouraged. Blending can be utilized to enhance balance or create complexity, lending different layers of flavors and aromas. For example, a variety that creates a fruity and full-bodied wine would do well combined with one that is naturally high in acidity and tannins. Sometimes small amounts of a particular variety are added to boost color or aromatics. Blending can take place before or after fermentation, with the latter, more popular option giving more control to the winemaker over the final qualities of the wine.