Piedmont lies at the foothills of the Alps in the Northwest of Italy and is arguably one of the two or three greatest wine producing areas in the world. Piedmont is home to Nebbiolo, the source of Barolo and Barbaresco, often called Italy’s Noble Grape. Barbera is actually the most abundantly grown grape there, and Dolcetto is also very common. Although known for red wines, three grapes grown give rise to magnificent white wines: Arneis, Cortese from the appellation of Gavi, and Moscato from the Asti region.
Piedmont wines are grown mostly on hillsides. Nebbiolo and Barbera are planted on the warmer south-facing slopes and Dolcetto and Moscato on the cooler slopes. The summer temperatures are similar to those in Bordeaux, but with less rainfall, and the winters are harsher. Fog is common and aids in the proper ripening of Nebbiolo (the grape’s name is from the Piedmontese nebbia, which means fog.)
Piedmont is the most strictly controlled region in Italy with eighty-four percent of its producers falling under DOC/DOCG designation. Despite this, the majority of producers are very small—often family run estates.
This grape is truly unique to Piedmont. In fact it essentially is found nowhere else in the world despite being one of its most cherished varietals. It grows in the hills of Langhe. The wine is called Barolo if the grapes are grown in the vineyards surrounding the small town of Barolo, and Barbaresco if grown near Barbaresco. Otherwise it's called Langhe Nebbiolo.
Barolo is produced southwest of the town of Alba, near the town of Barolo. The appellation is only five by seven miles in area and produces 500,000 cases annually of one of the world's most sought after wines. The clay and marl soils lessen the natural acidity of the grape and produce a big tannic age-worthy expression of the grape. Often requiring ten to twelve years to mature after release, these wines evolve into elegant medium-body wines with amazing power and depth.
Barabaresco, although only about ten miles from Barolo, has a more maritime climate and different soils. The wines produced there are slightly less tannic and more approachable, but still have all the elegance and grace of Barolos. This smaller area produces 200,000 cases per year.
This grape is planted all over Piedmont but grows best near the towns of Alba and Asti. It produces juicy, fruity, muscular wines with rich red fruit flavors and a nice acidity that makes them wonderful food wines.
Dolcetto is also grown everywhere in Piedmont and gives rise to light to medium body wines that are fresh, dry and slightly tannic with a wonderful spiciness. Probably the less consistent of the three, Dolcetto wines can be very good or quite insipid, but the good ones are awesome values and wonderful to drink. Dolcetto is meant to be drunk young, and is the every day drinking wine in Piedmont.
A Rising Star
Eugenio Bocchino and his wife Cinzia have farmed 5.5 hectares on their estate in LaMora since 1996. Eugenio is the winemaker and Cinzia biodynamically manages the vineyards. For their first vinification, they used an old restored wine press, four used barrels obtained by selling their only car, and Cinzia's parents’ garage. In 2001, they built a house and winery and are now producing amazing wines.
Bocchino Nebbiolo Roccabella: This vineyard is only a few hundred feet from the border of Barolo, and although the vines are young (fifteen years old), it is destined for fame. The wine is aged for only one year in wood and is a fresh and vibrant expression of, and perfect introduction to, the Nebbiolo grape. There are aromas of roses, red fruits and spice, with violets, blackberry, mint, and licorice on the palate. The tannins are soft but ample, and there is a fresh acidity. Dark and powerful yet elegant, this is an absolutely awesome wine for only $25.99.
Bocchino Vino Rosso del Popolo: This wine is made only occasionally by Bocchino and is one of the best new wines I've tried in the last two years. I always have a bottle or two at hand. It is a blend of Barbera and Nebbiolo grown by Bocchino and Dolcetto purchased from a friend. The Nebbiolo is aged for eight months in oak while the Barbera and Dolcetto are kept in stainless steel until they are blended. The wine melds the characteristics of all three. It’s bright with red and black fruits, spices, and a lively energy. The aromas are of fruit and flowers with light tannins on the finish. This wine is limited in production, and at $16.99 a bottle, get it while it lasts.
A Barbera Master
Fabrizio Iuli calls himself a “barberista” for his love, focus, and dedication to the Barbera grape. Located in Monferrato, home of many of Piedmont's top Barberas, the Iuli estate is organically farmed and his old vine vineyards have a strong core of limestone which adds a distinctive “terroir” to his wines.
Iuli Barbera del Monferrato Rossore is, in my mind, one of the best Barberas in the world. It is made from one hundred percent organically farmed fruit, some from his ancient plot known as Barabba. The wine has a nose of ripe fruit and chocolate followed by a palate packed with flavor, ripeness, and a beautiful balance of underlying acidity and tannin. It is aged one year in old French oak. Fabrizio calls this wine “Rossore” because “that's the color of your cheeks when you drink it”. A steal at $23.99.
The many great estates in this picturesque wine region all make great wines from these three very different grapes. Treat yourself to a bottle of Bocchino or Iuli soon.