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 red 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 wine varieties, occurring sometime in October. This grape is responsible for the exalted Piedmont 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 Piedmont wine varieties include Arneis, Cortese, Timorasso, Erbaluce and the sweet, charming Muscat, responsible for the brilliantly recognizable, Moscato d'Asti.
First recorded in the early 17th century in the province of Alessandria in SE Piedmont, Cortese today is most highly regarded from Gavi where soils are limestone-rich. It also grows well in the surrounding zones, namely Monferrato and Colli Tortonesi. Somm Secret—Because of its freshness and chalky minerality, this white wine commonly populates the fish restaurants’ wine lists of the Ligurian coast so practically owes more allegiance to this neighboring region than its home.