Piemonte – the art of winemaking
Piemonte – meaning the foot of the mountains (Alpes) – is located in northern Italy is best known for its Barolo and Barbaresco wines made on the Nebbiolo grape. Despite that, these renowned blends only account for 3% of the Piemonte' total wine production.
Winemaking in Piemonte goes back more than 3000 years with both the Greeks and Romans helping to develop the viticulture in this part of Italy. Back then wine would mature in ceramic amphora sealed by a layer of olive oil to act as a seal to prevent oxidation.
Much has happened since then but in Piemonte it is always clear that today's winemakers stand on the shoulders of those that came before – and interestingly the ceramic amphora is beginning to find its way back into the making of high-quality wines, called “a mano” by local winemakers.
Obviously, the olive oil as seal to prevent oxidation is no longer used. But the ceramic amphora provides a neutral environment for wine to develop and mature. It is for this reason that craft winemakers practicing minimum intervention winemaking are returning to old practises and roots.
Not only Nebbiolo
The Nebbiolo and Barbera grapes account for almost two thirds of the vined land and total wine production in Piemonte. However, there are truly amazing Piemonte wines made on white grapes. You may have tried the crisp and floral Arneis from the hills of Roero – or the Asti Spumante that makes for a great welcome drink or for dessert pairing.
The reason why Piemonte – as few other regions in the world – master such a diverse portfolio of styles is because of its very unique climate in between the ice-cold Alps and the warm Mediterranean Sea. Mornings in Piemonte are foggy, but then as the sun rises higher, the clouds slowly evaporate and the grapes enjoy the rest of the day soaking up the sun.
The changes between morning, day and night temperatures – the “diurnal range” – encourage much of the magic. Hot days and cool nights are a recipe for aromatic grapes – making it possible for talented winemakers to craft wines that are both powerful and tannic, but also striking with red fruit flavours.
Because of the diverse range of grapes varieties and styles, no matter how long your menu, you can find a Piemonte wine that does the pairing trick, plate by plate. A food match made in heaven is local favourite Vitello Tonnato paired with a Nebbiolo-based red!
Come meet the winemaker, discover more from local producers in Piemonte here on WineJump.
Why Barbaresco is different from Barolo?
Barbaresco and Barolo neighbour each other. But the wines are considerably different in style. The reason for this has a lot to do with differences in soils and microclimate.
Soils in Barbaresco contain much more limestone than you find in the Barolo vineyards. Also, in Barbaresco there is less of a diurnal shift. Together this produces grapes that ripen sooner and with thinner skins compared to in the Barolo vineyards.
Thinner skins mean less tannin and brighter colour – and it is for this reason that Barbaresco wines are usually lighter tasting and less tannic than Barolo. It also means that Barbaresco wines can be enjoyed from a younger age than Barolo wine, some of which can take decades to reach their potential.
How the Spumante wines are made?
Spumante simply means “sparkling”. “Spumante” as such does not denote any particular style or grape. It can be any kind of wine as long as it sparkles: Prosecco, Lambrusco, Franciacorta, Trentodoc, and Asti Spumante.
Piemonte is famed for the Asti Spumante made from Moscato Bianco grapes (whereas for example Prosecco you should head off to the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia provinces, and for Lambrusco, you should head to Emilia-Romagna).
Unlike when making Champagne, where it is the second fermentation in bottles sealed with yeast that consumes the sugar and releases CO2 which then as a by-product creates the bubbles, Asti Spumante is made using what is called the “Charmat method”. This means that (similar to when making Champagne) the first fermentation happens in stainless steel tanks in order to create the base wine but the 2nd fermentation happens in sealed tanks rather than in bottles. And from there the sparkling wine is transferred to bottles while under pressure.
In addition, in Piemonte you find the Moscato d’Asti, essentially similar to Asti DOCG but with gentler bubbles, less alcohol and a sweeter taste. Don’t overlook the red Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG which can be released in many styles: still or sparkling, dry, off-dry or sweet.