In this current series on Italian wine regions, we are highlighting a single red and white wine that are most distinct to each wine region. In this third installment, we stop in Piemonte, which cups Valle D’Aosta to the south and east. It is one of the larger Italian wine regions, with five broad zones that span eight provinces.
The Piedmont region is very mountainous, with only 30% of its area amenable to viticulture. The mountains contribute to colder, drier conditions, and often lock in fog — explaining the ubiquitous name Nebbiolo (nebbia means fog) in many of her wines. Grapes are grown at higher elevations, typical throughout northern Italy, with reds appearing more on warmer slopes, and whites concentrated where the air tends to be cooler.
In our analysis of Piemonte, we bring you white Arneis and red Barbera.
Piemonte Wines: Arneis
In doing some research, I was very surprised to learn that Arneis was historically used as a blending grape to soften highly tannic red Nebbiolo-based wines. Wow! Sadly, in the last 30 or so years, wine makers moved away from this blending practice. So Arneis, which had always been a difficult grape to grow (its name comes from a word in Piedmontese dialect meaning “rascal”) all but disappeared. Luckily it didn’t, and with improved growing methods, it is making a comeback.
Arneis is crisp and floral, with a lot of pear and apricot notes. I recommend it as a nice alternative to Chardonnay. Pair it with a starter course, like a pear and walnut salad. You will likely find its varietal name, Arneis, on a wine label, but also look for words like Bianchetta or Bianchetto, combined with variations of “Alba”.
Piemonte Wines: Barbera
On the other end of the spectrum from the delicate, almost extinct Arneis, we bring you the robust Barbera, third most cultivated Italian grape behind Sangiovese and Montepulciano. In a previous article I wrote, I said that Barbera has two personas. On the one hand, it is the red table wine in just about every Italian restaurant around the world. On the other hand, it doesn’t get a lot of respect. Why? Well, probably because Barbera is strictly a food wine and not a sipping wine. Its high acidity makes it incredibly food friendly but also somewhat challenging to drink straight up. You really need food like a hearty tomato-based pasta dish to help sing Barbera’s praises.
I’d love to hear your experiences with Arneis and Barbera.