Birthplace of the unification movement that lead to making Italy "one nation” in 1861, Piedmont (Piemonte) is one of Italy’s largest regions & richest in historical heritage.
It is the region where the noble House of Savoy provided the nascent nation with its first prime minister and its dynastic royal family.
Piemonte is located in the north-west of Italy, close to France & capped by the Alps in the north. This is why the “feel” and the culture are more French-like matching the dialect spoken by the locals. Not to speak of the style of its regal palazzi unique to the region.
Walking around in Turin, which was Italy’s capital for a short period of time right after the unification, will remind you of Paris, with the elegant cafes filled with torinesi (as the people of Turin are referred to). Here the locals enjoy a hot chocolate or drink aperitivos after which they stroll around the city’s big piazzas with regal monuments.
But if history & art is not your thing, no worries: Piemonte is known to be as a food heaven. Indeed, it’s not by chance that Piemonte was where Slow Food movement was born.
From white truffles, to amazing cheeses, from premium artisanal chocolate to traditional or hip restaurants, there is no chance to get bored (or go hungry).
A trip to Piemonte will upgrade your food & wine knowledge of Italy to the next level: a real adventure for your taste buds.
Castello Grinzane Cavour houses an interesting museum and a delightful wine shop
The name, Piemonte, literally means “at the foot of the mountains”.
And this is evident in the geography. North of Turin we find the Alps and its cool air and to the South, the warm Mediterranean Sea.
You’ll arrive in the wine region “Le Langhe” (the name of the hills around the town of Alba) and this is where we find Piemonte’s finest wines.
The area benefits from the combined influences of the approximate Alps and the Sea providing warmer diurnal temperatures with lots of sunshine high up on the hills, milder seasons throughout the year & a characteristic morning fog that gives the name to Piemonte’s most famous grape varietal: Nebbiolo (nebbia=fog).
Piemonte has the most DOCG & DOC wine regions in Italy
Flying over Barolo...
Top 5 Grape Varieties of Piemonte
This grape is considered the greatest wine from Piedmont.
The Nebbiolo grape alone makes up 13 DOC or DOCG-certified wines. This grape is so site sensitive that the differences between one tiny town and the next are surprising.
Nebbiolo is a high tannin & high acidity grape with red cherry and violet/rose flavors, that favors a clay-like terroir.
When you taste a Nebbiolo wine, you can feel the grippy tannin feel towards the front of your mouth & a juicy, slightly bitter finish.
Generally speaking, Nebbiolo wines reach their peak around 10-15 years of age and at that point of their life have subtle notes of spice, violet, cherry, and fig.
There are many subregions in Piedmont that make wines from Nebbiolo and consequently, there are a few stylistic differences to understand.
Barolo is a picturesque village located southwest of the city of Alba (famous for white truffles) from which this DOCG has taken its name. The vineyards with Barolo DOCG status are generally on the southern-facing hills.
Nebbiolo grapes grown in Barolo makes wines of a pale brick red color with a bold yet elegant mouthfeel, with powerful tannins, and a sturdy alcohol content (13% minimum). The wines of Barolo are aged for at least 18 months in barrels and are released after a total of 3 years minimum.
There are eleven different communes of Barolo with two different main styles (based on the soil type: limestone vs. sandstone), and on the kind of barrels chosen for the aging: traditional large “botti” vs. smaller French oak barrels (barrique or tonneaux).
Located east of Alba, the Barbaresco DOCG is considered Barolo’s little brother: The soils in Barbaresco are mostly limestone-based, which means tannins are less aggressive: this makes Barbaresco a lighter, more approachable & satisfying wine, wonderful paired with local food.
Want to explore the Nebbiolo world even more? Great! Barolo and Barberesco (which both sell for premium prices) are not the only Nebbiolo wines available. You can find excellent Nebbiolo-based wines from all around Piedmont and usually at very reasonable prices.
Look for Langhe Nebbiolo DOC which even overlaps the Barolo and Barbaresco regions. It is a larger area that includes wines made from lesser-known sites, or even declassified DOCG wines.
The most planted and one of the most loved grapes of Piedmont is called Barbera.
Most probably, people in Piemonte will say that Barolo or Barbaresco are their favorite wines but it is Barbera that most often fills their glasses.
Barbera is a great value, laid-back Italian wine. It is meant to be drunk young because it is juicy and fruit-driven. A good Barbera is rich in flavor, has very little tannin, and has characteristic notes of strawberry and sour cherry that make it perfect to be paired with just about anything.
There are quite a few DOC & DOCG wines dedicated to this great grape of Piemonte.
Despite its name (Dolcetto indeed means "sweet one"), the wines made with Dolcetto grapes are not sweet at all. They tend to be very dark in color with bold flavors of blackberry & licorice.
The wines are not meant to be aged; they have low acidity but offer plenty of mouth-drying tannins.
Many producers in Piedmont are starting to make Dolcetto in a fruit-forward style, attempting to enhance its dark fruit character, similar to Merlot wines.
Even if Piemonte is famous as a red wine-producing region, some white grapes are worth mentioning as an integral part of the viticultural history in this part of Italy.
One of them is Moscato; this is an aromatic grape that makes wines perfect for parties & celebrations.
Moscato Bianco is an ancient grape with intense aromas of roses & citrus. There are two main styles (under one DOCG) found in Piedmont:
• Asti Spumante: a fully sparkling (“Spumante”) wine that’s sweet with around 9% alcohol.
• Moscato d’Asti: a barely bubbly (‘Frizzante’) wine that’s very sweet with just around 5% alcohol.
Gavi is the name of a little town in the southeastern part of Piedmont; this area has got perfect climate & terroir to grow the Cortese grapes that are Gavi DOCG’s wines grape varietal.
Wines are made in a dry style and are known for their lemon-like citrus flavors and mouth-watering acidity. Cortese has the same refreshing quality as some good Pinot Grigio and Chablis wines.
Nowadays you can find some producers making “Gavi Metodo Classico”, a really good option if you are a "Blanc de Blanc” Champagne lover!
Even if famous for its reds, Piemonte has great white grapes as well (Arneis in the picture)
Top 5 foods of Piemonte you should try
Rich culture, traditional heritage, French influence & amazing climatic diversity: this explains why Piemontese cuisine is elegant, elaborate, flavorful & rich.
Here are the not-to-be-missed food specialties you have to try while traveling to Piemonte.
Fresh pasta born in the countryside, "tajarin” has spread throughout the Piedmont region since the 15th century, when the first accounts mention this handmade pasta. Originally considered the party dish to be consumed with family during Sunday lunch or Christmas, it’s now a symbol of Langhe’s cuisine. They are a sort of long & thin tagliatelle, known for their deep golden yellow color due to the use of plenty of egg yolks. This tasty fresh pasta is usually served with a delicious meat sauce.
RAVIOLI DEL PLIN
The Ravioli del Plin are a traditional dish of stuffed fresh pasta, one of the most famous typical specialties of Piemonte. The fresh homemade pasta squares are filled with a combination of beef and cabbage, are smaller than the usually square ravioli and in the past, they were the typical dish of Sunday lunch. They are called ‘plin’ because this is the sound they make when they fall into the boiling water pot.
Bagna Cauda is a typical dish of the grape harvest period as colder weather approaches. However, for its convivial aim, it is well appreciated in every period of the year to dip cooked or uncooked seasonal vegetables in.
Bagna Cauda is a flavorful sauce prepared with a few and simple ingredients, unique for its long preparation and the slow cooking which will melt garlic, extra virgin olive oil and anchovies into a thick sauce. Sometimes, in addition to the three basic ingredients, there could be butter, cream, milk and grinded hazelnuts (also grow in Piemonte), to make it creamier, softening the strong taste of garlic and anchovies.
TARTUFO BIANCO di ALBA
Found in the hills around the Piedmont town of Alba, white truffles are typically only found during the months of October through to December.
This luxurious Italian specialty gives off a strong, earth-like & garlicky aroma. The white truffle is typically grated over pasta or on top of other dishes such as meat tartare (also typical for Piemonte’s cuisine) or fried eggs. Alba is also home of the most famous Truffle Fair that takes place every October/November.
What’s the best way to end a fulfilling Piemontese lunch or dinner? Of course, the answer is Bonet! Bonet is a Piemontese dessert similar to a crème caramel but with the addition of rum, cocoa, and amaretti biscuits, a power-load of extra calories to face the cold winter months in Northern Italy.
Piemonte's has a great tradition of cheese making
Winery in the area of Barbaresco
Piemonte counts 19 DOCG wiines
Are you a wine lover and want to visit Piemonte and learn more about its wines, foods, and culture?
Join Grape Tours for a small group escorted tour - we organize a 4-night trip in Alba visiting, Barolo, Barbaresco, Roero & Monferrato to learn all about the fascinating wines of Le Langhe!
by Ilaria Miele & Rebecca Christophersen Gouttenoire