Nestled at the foot of the Western Alps, Piedmont (or Piemonte to the locals) is regarded as one of the world’s finest wine regions, arguably second in Italy only to Tuscany. It is a land of castles, vineyards and romantic hills shrouded in mist, home to more DOCG wines than any other Italian region and also more viticulturally advanced, thanks to the sophisticated oenology that arrived in the area after its mountain defences were repeatedly breached by the Romans, and then the French.
The tug-of-war between the ice cold Alps and the warm Mediterranean weather creates a continental climate with varied growing conditions. Wines produced in the foothills of the Alps are often much lighter-tasting and acidic compared to their full-bodied, fruity counterparts created in the Apennines, but both are highly acclaimed.
Piedmont’s principle grape, Nebbiolo, is responsible for the well-known and respected Barolo and Barbaresco wines, both offering smooth, flavoursome complexities that demand to be enjoyed with food. Indeed, the whole area is something of a gastronomic wonderland: Piedmont is home to the famous white truffle and was the starting place for the now internationally-famous ‘slow food movement’. Perhaps this is why the area is often called the ‘Burgundy of Italy’. Elsewhere, Piedmont’s Dolcetto makes for a light, easy-drinking red for everyday enjoyment, with or without food.
While the region is well-known for its reds, its white offerings are also well-lauded by critics (white wine production here has increased by 300% over the last 30 years). The ancient grape Moscato Bianco grows abundantly here, and is the driving force behind the sparkling Asti Spumante and exceptionally sweet Moscato d’Asti, while Gavi, the white enthusiast’s wine of choice from Piedmont, does very well, offering lemon-like citrus flavours and fresh acidity that rivals some Pinot Grigio and Chablis wines.
Winemaking in the region is astonishingly artisan and boutique, with its many small-scale family wineries producing wine on an-almost microscopic and obsessively precise level – an endeavour which has earned the region four DOCG areas, 46 different DOCs and the honour of boasting that no less than 40% of all its wine is produced at DOC/G level. Yet the area’s vineyards cover 7,000 hectares, producing some 32,700,000 hectoliters of wine per year, indicating just how many exacting producers exist in the region, all tirelessly fortifying its reputation for quality.
As such, Piedmont offers real diversity for collectors and connoisseurs. Barolo – the ‘King’ of the region’s wine – can easily command several hundred pounds per bottle, if not a great deal more (Giacomo Conterno’s Barolo Riserva Monfortino is a popular choice, particularly the 2004 vintage which earned a perfect 100-point score from critic Robert Parker). But even the more affordable Barolos offer fantastic value. Pio Cesare’s Barolo, for example, comes with a much smaller price tag yet consistently enjoys high rankings from critics.
The same applies to the region’s white wines, in particular its Astis. Such is the focus on quality here that it’s very difficult to find a poor offering, no matter how low the price. This, coupled with Piedmont’s unprecedented run of great vintages since the mid-90s, and its wines’ versatility when it comes to cellaring, is no doubt this is why Piedmont consistently gets the nod from the wine investment world.