Sunday, 4 March 2012

Piedmont - Kingdom of Nebbiolo

Piedmont - Kingdom of Nebbiolo

Piedmont lies at the feet of two of Italy's largest mountain ranges, the Alps and the Apennines, the name Piedmont itself is derived from the Italian for "foot of the mountains". Wine has been grown in Piedmont for hundreds of years, but it was the rise of a native regional grape variety in the 19th century that put Piedmont on the world wine map due to the production of one of Italy's finest wines. Piedmont's climate of very hot warm summers and continental winds filtering between the mountain ranges making it an ideal region for red wine making. Wine is grown in almost every part of Piedmont, the hilly countryside lends itself ideal to grape growing, the southern half of Piedmont has more the 13,000 acres of vineyard, with over 60% of this designated for the production of quality red wines.

The most widely planted grape variety in Piedmont is the red Barbera grape, this wine which was the centre of Italy's biggest wine scandal in the 1980s is now reborn as one of Italy's quality wines (I will blog on Barbera next). However, the true stars of Piedmont wines are the Nebbiolo wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, both of which are produced on the rolling hills of Langa and Langhe, right next door to capital of the Italian truffle world Alba. It could be said that the rise of Nebbiolo in 19th century marked the return of Italian quality wine production as a whole and also Piedmont return to the heights of a quality wine producing region.

"The King of Wines and The Wine
of Kings"

Probably the figurehead of Piedmont and Nebbiolo wines is Barolo, over the years Barolo has been described as the king of wines and the wine of kings and was also a favourite of the House of Savoy, French oenologist Oudert discovered bottles of Barolo and Nebbiolo wine in the Savoy house cellar at the castle of the Marchesa Giuletta Falletti.  Barolo is a strong elegant wine, known for its hints of truffle, tar and spice when mature. Nebbiolo from Barolo and it's surrounding villages used to be made sweet, but thankfully now is made in a tannin rich, full bodied red wine wine, which accompanies the food of the area fantastically. In the early 1980's some young Piedmont winegrowers took it upon themselves to change the face of Barolo, they changed the way it was vinified, the way it was matured and the way it was marketed, this saw a much needed revival in Barolo, which had previously been associated with mediocre table and quaffing wines, to the quality that we associate with Barolo today.

"The softer, darker cousin from
the other side of town"

At the other side of the town of Alba, comes Barbaresco, a softer, more rounded yet more elegant wine than the brashy showstopper Barolo. Barbaresco was once the more favoured of the two wines, yet fell from grace in the way so many Italian wines did when the need for quantity over took the need for quality. Similar to its cousin Barolo, it is only in recent years Barbaresco has seen a rebirth as a quality wine. A handful of growers around Alba have single handedly restored this amazing wine to its former greatness.

"Nebbiolo - A Piedmont Family"

There are many other great Nebbiolo wines produced in Piedmont, all snapping at the heals of their bigger brothers Barolo and Barbaresco to strive for quality and success. The villages around Asti are now producing some good quality wines, all of which at a more consumer friendly price bracket than Barolo and Barbera. Nebbiolo d'Alba and the deep up and coming red of Roero are making leaps in quality, yet still not made the leap into the spotlight of its bigger brothers. The wines of the Northern Piedmont, Gattinara and Ghemme, are a unfortunately said to be beyond hope, they suffered the same fate as Barbaresco, but unlike Barbaresco their phoenix never rose fom th ashes of their destroyed reputation. Even the a lifeline of their recent successful application of DOCG status could not resurect this struggling region. Thorughout Piedmont Nebbiolo is used in 14 DOC wines, which despite leaps and bounds in quality, still stand well and truely in the shaddow of Barolo and Barbaresco. Many of these wines are traditional and have been produced in the region for hundreds of years, names such as Boca, Bramaterra and Fara still have local significance but rarely see the any success except in the region. New labels like Langhe, Monferrato and Piemote are among the former table wines, which now are standing in the wings waiting for their big break, but unfortunately many of these wines are now blended with Barbera in an attempt to make them more consumer friendly.

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