Benvenuti a Piemonte. This Piedmont Wine Guide takes you on an exploration of land and grape.
Piedmont is one of Italy’s best-kept secrets with its rural charm, breathtaking beauty, amazing food and endless selection of incredible wine. The region is best known for its three Bs: Barolo, Barbaresco, and Barbera. But, it also offers fascinating whites, unique indigenous reds and a growing sparkling selection.
Start your Piedmont wine journey with this introduction to the area’s culture, tradition, and passion. Cheers – or, as they say in Piedmont, cin cin!
Barolo and Barbaresco are two wine zones in what is known as the Langhe, a territory located in southern Piedmont. The Barolo zone is made up of 11 communes: Barolo, La Morra, Cherasco, Verduno, Novello, Roddi, Castiglione Falletto, Monforte d’Alba, Serralunga d’Alba, Diano d’Alba, and Grinzane Cavour.
The prized Barolo wine is made from 100 percent of the Nebbiolo grape, derived from the Italian word, nebbia, or fog, which settles over the region in the autumn.
Barolo DOGC Requirements: 100% Nebbiolo with 38 months minimum aging, including 18 months in wood; Barolo Riserva requires 62 months minimum aging, 18 months in wood.
Ettore Germano is perched high above Barolo’s famed Cerretta vineyards in Serralunga d’Alba. The Germano family has grown grapes here since 1856. Until the late 1980s they produced only small amounts of wine, primarily for personal consumption. They sold most of their grapes to producers, a fairly standard practice for the times. When today’s winemaker, Sergio Germano, completed enology school he began buying small vineyard plots around the Langhe as well as in the then-new Alta Langa DOC (now DOCG) with plans to focus on winemaking.
Tasting Notes: Today, Ettore Germano offers 15 different wines, from traditional Dolcetto, Barbera, Langhe Nebbiolo, and Barolo to Chardonnay, Riesling, and sparkling. He was one of the first producers in the area to release a Riesling, Hérzu. He also does a white Nascetta, labelled Langhe Bianco. Nascetta is an indigenous grape that was almost completely snuffed out in the 20th Century when its vines were grafted over in favour of more profitable, higher yielding varieties. While not many are found today, Ettore Germano arguably puts out one of the best Nascetta wines in the Langhe.
A visit to Cascina Fontana feels like an appointment with the past. As is typical for the region, the teeny cantina makes use of every bit of space with the traditional large Slovenian oak botti stacked on top each other. Today, most of their barrels are Slovenian oak, but they still have one chestnut barrel. Early on, producers made wine using large chestnut barrels due to the abundance of chestnut trees in the area.
Tasting Notes: Cascina Fontana focuses on the reds of the region with Dolcetto, Barbera, Langhe Nebbiolo, and Barolo. Traditionally Barolo wines were blends of different Barolo vineyards. As the region has gained notoriety many producers have started making single-vineyard Barolo wines to capitalise on famous crus like Cannubi and Vigna Rionda. Cascina Fontana is one of the few producers maintaining the tradition of vineyard blending.
Barbaresco is roughly 25 km from Barolo. So, keep travel time in mind if you plan a wine adventure in the Langhe. There can be anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes of drive time between producers and areas.
Barbaresco is made up of four winemaking villages: Barbaresco, Neive, Treiso, and San Rocco Seno d’Elvio. It is often considered the more elegant of the aged Nebbiolo with softer, more palate-pleasing tannins that make it approachable earlier.
Barbaresco DOGC Requirements: 100% Nebbiolo with 26 months minimum aging, including 9 months in wood; Barbaresco Riserva requires 50 months minimum aging, 9 months in wood.
3. Ca’ del Baio
Ca’ del Baio is a Barbaresco favourite all over the world. A winery visit only endears it more to patrons. The family home and winery sits on the valley floor of the Treiso vineyards in the Barbaresco zone. Today this fourth generation Barbaresco producer remains a family affair, run by father Giulio, who shakes hands with nearly every guest that visits his property. His supporting cast includes his wife Luciana and their three daughters: Paola, Valentina, and Federica. The parents encouraged their daughters to explore other vocations and only work there if it’s what they truly want to do. After stints outside of wine each returned to make their place in the family business.
Tasting Notes: The winery offers a full portfolio of regional wines, including Langhe Chardonnay, Dolcetto, Barbera, Langhe Nebbiolo, four Barbaresco, and Moscato d’Asti. In 2011 they made their first Riesling, a varietal that is atypical to the region. The project was born from the family’s love for the grape. Make sure to also try the Bric di Baio Langhe Nebbiolo. It is a true ‘Baby Barbaresco’, meaning that its power and structure is reminiscent of a young Barbaresco (in Barolo you will hear ‘Baby Barolo’). Generally Langhe Nebbiolo of this caliber comes from a Nebbiolo vineyard that is either too young to produce Barbaresco, or is in a Barbaresco position, but the winemaker wants to keep it as Nebbiolo. These wines are fantastic because they cost less – shorter aging means lower overhead for the producer – and they have the complexity of a Barbaresco, but can be consumed younger.
Our next stop is located just a stone’s throw from the charming village of Barbaresco with the landmark Tower of Barbaresco visible from the winery. Winemaker Renato Vacca is another fourth generation Barbaresco producer who is as much a grower as he is a winemaker.
The humble and generous Vacca tells of his great grandfather working the land 70 years ago, planting some of the same vines he tends today. The family continues to work the vineyards together from pruning to harvest. They take great pride in their land, never using chemical fertilisers.
Tasting Notes: At Cantina del Pino you will taste only red: Dolcetto, Barbera, and Barbaresco. He makes three Barbaresco – two are single vineyard from the esteemed Ovello and Albesani crus. The average age of Cantina del Pino’s vines are 40 years old, ranging from 35 to 70 years old. The vine age gives the wine a depth and complexity you don’t find in wines produced from younger vines.
The town of Canelli is celebrated for its sparkling wines of Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti. Its storied history dates back to the 17th century when it first began constructing its “Underground Cathedral” cellars for wine storage. Built over calcareous tuff, the expansive cellars under Canelli serves as a natural thermal insulator maintaining a constant temperature of 12 to 14 degrees C (54-57 F), ideal temperature for wine aging.
A visit to Canelli is best started at Contratto, the maker of Italy’s first vintage-dated sparkling wine in 1919. Fast-forward to 2014 and it made history again when its 130-year old underground cathedral wine cellar was included in the region’s UNESCO designation. The 5,000 square meter space holds up to 3 million bottles of sparkling wines.
Tasting Notes: A tour includes a walk through the Liberty-style house and the vast cellars. The tasting features various sparkling wines as well as reds from Giorgio Rivetti’s La Spinetta winery in Barbaresco. The Rivetti family purchased the winery in 2011 and in recent years revived the estate’s once popular Vermouth recipe. Also available during the tasting.
Want to continue reading? Find Part 2 here!
This article was written by Valerie Quintanilla, an American wine, travel, and marketing consultant living in The Langhe, and the brains behind Girls Gotta Drink.