Piedmont

Explore the home of Barolo and Barbaresco, and discover the winemakers and Piedmont wine in our Wine Club


Introduction to Piedmont

Barolo, giving the region and Piedmont wine much of its fame, will make anyone fall in love. It is home to some of the most romantic, picturesque panoramas of vines which look like a seamlessly woven tapestry, where not a single stitch has been missed.

Piedmont literally translates to the foot of the mountains, the Alps specifically, and the panoramas and 360 degree views are breathtaking in this zone. When it's foggy, as often happens, the hilltop watchtowers and castles emerge like little islands in the clouds.

Every square inch is covered with vines in this land, where a hectare will set you back well over a million dollars these days - one of the only places in the world where vines yield more money than construction of buildings.

Green hills full of vines for making Piedmont wine
PIEDMONT  WINE TRADITION

Most famous grapes:

Red - Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto
White - Arneis, Moscato, Timorasso

Most famous regions:

Barolo, Barbaresco, Gattinara, Asti, Roero, Monferrato, Tortona



You may also be interested in our dedicated guide to Barolo:
Tasting and Buying the Best Red of Italy

History of Barolo

With a history of more than 2,500 years, we'll stick to the more famous versions of Barolo, like 1268, when we find the first written notes stored in the castle of Rivoli, of “Nibiol", which starts to put Nebbiolo and this zone on the map. Through the Renaissance, this grape will grow in extensively in popularity.

The word "Barol" is put on the map in 1751 (also when the first cru of Barolo is named - Cannubi) when a group of diplomats send barrels of wine named as such, which makes such an impact that it inspires Thomas Jefferson to make beautiful notes in his diary, albeit for a wine which at that time was sweet and sparkling and not the one we are familiar with today.

The French Influence 

The "modern" Barolo we consume today - modern simply meaning dry, red wine - was born around 1830, and the credit is very likely due to the Marquis Falletti's marriage to Juliette Colbert or the Marquesa del Barolo, Louis Oudart and Count Camillo Benso di Cavour. Marquis Carlo Tancredi Falletti married a French noblewoman whose palate had been refined by the best (and dry wines) of France, meaning Bordeaux and Burgundy. With the passing of her husband, she inherited the vineyards and invited Louis Oudart, famous French enologist, to refine the wines to her liking. Even the Count of Cavour had asked Oudart to assist in winemaking for his family estates, and from this point the French traditions and culture forever permeated the area, blending two exceptional heritages.

The cliché phrase of a 'Wine for the Kings and King of the Wines' has been attached to this wine and often gives the assumption that Barolo is the king and Barbaresco is the queen, or less powerful and lighter than Barolo. Fortunately this concept is not being spoken about as much anymore (in fact most winemakers in the area roll their eyes when asked about it), as it is well-known that there are plenty of Barbarescos which are more powerful than Barolos (think Gaja for example). This is especially the case with wines which come from the north of Barolo, where you find more of a presence of sandstone versus the famous blue marl clay, which tends to make for more powerful, austere wines.

Barolo vs. Barbaresco

Barolo and Barbaresco DOCG are both made from 100% Nebbiolo. Both zones are south of Alba, separated by about 10km, yet ironically some Barolo are more similar to Barbaresco than two Barolo are to each other. This is due to the immensity of varying soil compositions and microclimates in the region - often which is composed by varying percentages of calcareous blue marl clay and sandstone. Barolo can be generalized to be slightly more powerful and tannic than Barbaresco, but you can find plenty of exceptions to this rule, like Gaja for example.

 

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Barolo - Composed of 11 communes and some 181 or so different cru, in a mere 5 by 7 mile area, it's hard to sum up Barolo without getting out a microscope.

Barolo is most defined by its ancient marine soils which emerged after a massive landslide:  Tortonian and Helvetican. The Tortonian soils dominate most of Barolo and La Morra, and tend to produce more elegant, fragrant and slightly more ready-to-drink wines. While the Helvetian soils found predominately in Castiglione Falletto, Monforte d'Alba and Serralunga d'Alba, tend to produce the more austere, tannic, powerful, and deep colored wines which often require 10-15 years of aging to be properly enjoyed. Of course there are always exceptions like Parafada, which even though it's found in Serralunga d'Alba, tends to produce much more light and elegant wines respective of some cru just hundreds of meters away like San Bernardo, which is one of the most powerful expressions of Barolo.

Often these wines should not be consumed for a minimum of 7 years after harvest, and can be cellared for upwards of 20 to 30+ years, but recently many winemakers acknowledge the fact that times are changing, even climatically, and wines should also be more approachable in their youth (without destroying the traditions of 35 day macerations and large format botti aging).

 

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Barbaresco
- About 1/3 the size and slightly more east of Barolo, Barbaresco is comprised of 3 main towns: Barbaresco, Neive and Treiso, and of 66 MGA, or mentioned geographical areas - crus, if you will.

While Barolo must age for 38 months minimum, Barbaresco only requires 24 months, which make this one of the more obvious differences between the wines. These wines can sometimes retain a bit more of their fruit character, feel somewhat lighter, and be more approachable in their youth compared to Barolo.

Both wines have immense aging abilities, respective of other wines, and often require patience to be appreciated. Pairing the wines with protein, especially in their youth, is critical to soften the tannins - like with aged Parmigiano Reggiano, steak, beef dishes, or truffle risotto.

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Other important areas in Piedmont:

Gattinara - About two hours north of Barolo lies Gattinara, just south of the Alps, where locally Nebbiolo is referred to as Spanna. Here you'll find much different terroir giving a different expression to the Nebbiolo with cooler temperatures and even rocky, volcanic soil. Lighter than its southern counterparts, it still boasts strong tannins and often can be cellared for 15+ years. Two artisans making exceptional wines are Antionolo and Antoniotti.

Tortona - Most associate Piedmont wine with red wines although Timorasso, thanks to Walter Massa and a community of some 25 winemakers who worked together to promote their territory, this white grape is making a name for itself - and it's beautifully structured and full, meaning even these wines can be cellared up to 15 years. If you pass through the area or find the wines of La Colombera, do yourself a favor and stop by to meet Elisa (and you'll see that she never stops smiling - she's referred to as the Queen of Timorasso by her colleagues). The wines are outstanding and age incredibly well!

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Asti - Sure this zone is associated with teenage years of drinking, cloying sweetness, and horrendous hangovers, but Asti is an immense zone making more than just cheap sparkling wines. Some Moscato d'Asti like Bera Vittorio & Figli or Cascina Galletto is a stunning pairing with tiramisu, and you'll even find Dolcetto and Barbera d'Asti here as well.


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While there are other important regions, we'll just mention that Monferrato makes beautiful wines from Freisa, Barbera and Dolcetto, and in Roero you'll find beautiful expressions of Arneis, a white grape which grows well in the sandy soils there, and even some press on to work on Nebbiolo, even if it gets completely overshadowed by its neighbors on the other side of the River, Barolo and Barbaresco.


Looking for more vineyards and wineries in Piedmont? Meet all of our Piedmont wine makers here:



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Piedmont Food & Cuisine

The immensity of food culture cannot be properly summed up here, but there's just enough in this guide to get the taste buds dancing and set the stage for a future organoleptic epiphany when you visit.

Local Cheeses - A few traditional cheeses standing out in this region are the Montebore, made from raw cow and sheep's milk and one of the most quintessential pairings to Timorasso, Castelmagno, made in the mountain pastures and often used in risotto or gnocchi, and Robiola del Roccaverano, which is made of a mix of goat, sheep and cow's milk, only available in the winter when goats are producing milk, soft and firm and ideal to compliment Arneis or other acidic white wines.

Pastas - Tajarin al ragu, or with the famous white truffles of Alba which cost their weight in gold (literally) is a dish I eat 5 times in 5 days when in Piedmont. One must be oblivious to the fact that 40 egg yolks are used per kilo of pasta, otherwise, it would be incomprehensible to consume (or bring your Lipitor). Ironically, this pasta is so delicate and angelic that you never feel heavy after it, even if the famous salsiccia di Bra is used in the ragù. The other dish is Agnolotti del plin made with folded, flattened pasta and stuffed with roasted meats, decadently dressed with butter and sage (other versions exist). I often say "how do people not get tired of eating the same traditional foods?" but I could easily eat these plates every night of the week for years with no trouble - they're exquisitely delicious!

Meats - Fassona, the famous Piemontese beef, will commonly be found as beef tartare or vitello tonnato - thin slices of veal served chilled with a tuna-flavored mayonnaise sauce, which may sound like an odd coupling but is stunningly elegant.

Last to mention are the famous hazelnuts which grow in lower elevations not suitable for the vines, in an ideal terroir with perfect temperatures, on the low part of the slopes which help drain the soils. Yes, this is the home of the famous Nutella, but try the more artisan hazelnut spreads when you are in this zone!


Love Barolo and Barbaresco? We always include a couple in our Wine Club 2 collections. Explore our Piedmont wine profiles from past and current Wine Club selections:



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Our recommendations in Piedmont



Artisan Wineries in Piedmont

When visiting winemakers it's best to have an appointment, as open tasting rooms are rare at artisan winemakers in Italy. For travel purposes, you'll want to have a car here but consider an electric bike to go between wineries too. Here are some of our favorite artisans from each zone:

landscape photo of blue skies and green hills covered in vines

Restaurants in Barolo/Piedmont we enjoy:

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Alba


Castiglione Falletto

  • Le Torri (book for the outdoor terrace - photo)

La Morra

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Monchiero

Serralunga d'Alba


Monforte d'Alba

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Treiso (Barbaresco)

Dogliani


Other ideas for what to do:


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Where to stay:

  • Il Boscareto - nice spa and outdoor relaxing areas
  • Relais Casa Sobrero in Castiglione Falletto
  • Villa San Lorenzo - if you need multiple rooms, our dear friends Clay and Erica have an incredible villa with a pool (pictured below) and immaculate views, plus they are two of the sweetest people and experts in the area.

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Watch the women sommeliers of Rimessa Roscioli in Barolo Girls
, launched with Italy's famous newspaper la Repubblica, exploring the idea of how to communicate what is important and moving in wine:

 

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