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Piedmont Wine Region

(Peed · maant)

Called “Piemonte” (pee-ay-MONT-ay) in Italy, which translates to “at the foot of the mountains, Piedmont is one of the country’s most venerated regions for wine production. An area of about 9,800 square miles located in the northwest of Italy, Piedmont is home to five sub-regions that produce distinctive, appellation wines. The two best known wines are made from the Nebbiolo grape and are named after the villages of Barolo and Barbaresco. But it’s not only all about the reds here: Piedmont’s white wines have a respectable pedigree and are growing in popularity due to revivals of ancient grapes. 

History of Piedmont

Historically part of the Kingdom of Savoy, Piedmont was instrumental in steering Italy’s Risorgimento (“rising again”), the 19th-century social and political movement that unified the Italian states into the single kingdom of Italy in 1861. Its alliance with France during the upheaval was politically strategic and French influences are still felt today in Piemontese culture, gastronomy and wine. Because of this, the region is often compared to Burgundy.

Nebbiolo, Piedmont’s most famous grape, is native to the region. Its first recorded reference dates to 1268. Later references include a 1402 order from the town of La Morra, located in the Barolo region, punishing anyone caught damaging Nebbiolo vines. In 1799, Count Giuseppe Nuvolone-Pergamo, the deputy director of the Agrarian Society of Turin, who is credited with creating the first definitive list of Piedmont’s wine grape varieties, included the grape and its subtypes on his master list.

Fast forward to the mid-20th century when Barolo and Barbaresco are awarded Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) status in 1966, elevated to Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) in 1980. In 2014, UNESCO designated the vineyards of Langhe-Roero and Monferrato a World Heritage Site.


Geography and Climate of Piedmont

Sharing borders with France and Switzerland, Piedmont is nearly encircled by mountains: less than 5% of the region can be classified as flat and vineyards can be found at elevations from 490 to 1,150 feet. The sunny south-facing sites are planted with Nebbiolo; Dolcetto, a black grape, is favored on the cooler sites; and Barbera is found throughout.

Piedmont has chilly nights, foggy mornings (“nebbia” means fog) and long, warm days. This climate contributes to the acidity, freshness and fruit quality of its wines. Though vineyards extend to the Lake Maggiore area, on the border between Italy and Switzerland, most of the best-known, high-quality vineyards are in the communes of Asti, Alessandria and Cuneo, the latter of which is home to the UNESCO-recognized Langhe and the Monferrato vineyards.


Grapes of Piedmont

Piedmont is rich in indigenous grapes, like Nebbiolo. The varietal is the foundation of the revered Barolo and Barbaresco, producing full-bodied, elegant and ethereal wines capable of long aging. If Nebbiolo is the glamorous, brooding older sister, Barbera is the enchanting sibling capable of instant charm and is the basis for many approachable wines. Dolcetto, Roero and Grignolino are also in the cadre of notable reds.

Whites, too, have a place here. Several of them have been revived after near extinction: Arneis, grown primarily in Roero and Langhe; Timorasso, an ancient grape that has enjoyed a revival in the Derthona subzone; and Nascetta, which is cultivated in Langhe. Other whites include Cortese, the grape in Gavi, in the southeastern area; Favorita, the local name for Vermentino; and Moscato Bianco, from the Asti region.


Wine Production in Piedmont

Piedmont’s diverse wine styles mean there is no uniform method of production. But with most wines falling under a DOC or DOCG label, there are rules about which grapes may be used, how and where they are grown, yields and aging requirements in both barrel and bottle to qualify. Some—such as Nebbiolo d’Alba, Barbera d’Asti and Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba—are labelled varietally, reflecting Piedmont’s strong identity as a region of indigenous grapes. Blended wines are on the rise, especially Nebbiolo with Barbera, Merlot, Cabernet or Syrah.


Classification of Wine in Piedmont

Piedmont is the only region in Italy that does not allow production of Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) wine. More than 75% of production is devoted to DOC and DOCG wines, of which there are 41 and 19, respectively.


Famous Wines of Piedmont

Many venerated producers have not only stayed the course in making their signature wines but have played major roles in reviving the grapes at risk of extinction: Bruno Giacosa and Alfredo Currado, of Vetti, resurrected Arneis; Elvio Cogno brought back Nascetta; and Walter Massa is considered the modern godfather of Timorasso.

Piedmont has a wealth of quality producers, and some of the iconic estates include: Bruno Giacosa, Borgogno, Ceretto, GB Burlotto, GD Vajra, Fontanafredda, Gaja, Giacomo Conterno,  Michele Chiarlo, Oddero, Paolo Scavino, Pio Cesare, Produttori del Barbaresco, Ratti, Roagna and Vietti.


Fun Facts About Piedmont

Known for its hazelnuts, white truffles and wine, Alba was named a UNESCO “City of Creative Gastronomy” in 2017.

Pastry maker Pietro Ferrero founded The Ferrero Group, the confectionary brand, in Alba in 1946. To stretch out his supply of chocolate, he added hazelnuts to the mix and called it “Super Crema.” Some 20 years later, it became the basis for Nutella.

The town of Carmagnola, about 20 miles south of Turin, is the site of a 10-day festival dedicated to peppers. In 2010, the town entered into the Guinness Book of World Records for making the largest peperonata—an Italian pepper stew—ever made. Weighing 2,633 pounds, it beat the previous record of 1,102 pounds.

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