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PIEDMONT’S WINE COUNTRY

It’s hard to know where to begin when you have 800 producers in Piedmont. There is more text written about Piedmont than any other wine region of Italy. Here is some more background information on Piedmont’s wine country. We are not in the publishing business but a little background is always helpful.

Just outside Turin 40 miles to the southeast, there is spectacular scenery in the Langhe Region with undulating vineyards associated with Nebbiolo-based wines such as Barolo & Barbaresco. The Nebbiolo Grape is probably indigenous to Piedmont, although some research has shown it may have had its origins from Lombardy. Today, only 6% of the vines in Piedmont are Nebbiolo. The harvest of the late ripening Nebbiolo Grape takes place in early to mid-October. We can find documentation talking about this grape from the 14 Century.

In 1879 that Lorenzo Fantini defines Barolo as King of Wines, a title the wine has kept ever since. So many famous names that are just, that famous names sometimes the wines more than questionable. There are traditionalists, Modernists, Purists, Multinationals and farmers with 1 hectare.  One of the worries at this very moment is the fact that Barolo Production has increased from 6 to 12 million bottles a year in the space of 10 years but the amount of land has stayed the same. Well as you can imagine it is not really such a good idea as this excess has come from vineyards with bad exposure or the vineyards are too high or too low to produce balanced wines. Couple this with some of the other things going on right now with the shift in emphasis to Asia, this is a complex terroir in a complex moment. What you first must think is that in the late 70’s Barolos really were started being bottled in any meaningful numbers. Many of these growers are just lucky farmers who rode the 90’s wave of the perceived American Palate. So many of the names of this region are just names they are not representative of real wine making techniques.

Picking good Nebbiolo in Langhe is the trick and also in less well known vintages the crus go into these wines. Apparently there are Barolos in the supermarket for 10 EUR: no one is or should be happy about that. Sounds a lot like Chianti Bottlers destroying the market by having Chianti on the shelf at 2 EUR a bottle. The same truth of Asti Spumante. The Moscatel Grape has amazing possibilities for sparkling wine and we can show you some wonderful examples, still and sparkling, not the Asti Spumante that makes 100 million bottles a year. It is so large a business that there are not enough Moscatel Grapes in North Italy to fulfil that demand, so we were told.

It’s easy to pick an expensive wine at a restaurant, but give us your attention for as long as you have available and we can wrap up the whole story neatly while tasting great wines at prices you will never pay back home. The Piedmontese restaurants of excellence never gouge their patrons for the cost of wines which makes dining out so much more exciting.

This Vintage 2013 is not proving not so easy with lots of rain and no sun in these last critical days so as at 28th October they are still harvesting. Much more than Nebbiolo is being served up as being great. It is debatable how great.  If this is your first explicit trip to find more about from this captivating of grapes let us stick as much as we can to understanding Nebbiolo. The surrounding areas provide the famed examples of Barbera, Dolcetto and Arneis … amongst others. We tend towards wine tastings at small, unique and of course all the world renowned estates  that we respect.  We would try to drink approachable Langhe Nebbiolo from the great houses rather than drinking Barolo or Barbaresco that are 2007 or 2008. It is impossibly young to enjoy. And ask yourself if it is drinkable and fruity then it is not Barolo. Is it?

Flavescenza Dorata or Flavescence Dorée is a very threatening disease to the vines. It could prove to be as destructive as anything for 100 years. From what we understand it was brought into Piedmont through infected chardonnay varietals from Champagne. It is something you should ask the wineries how and if they have been affected. Its playing havoc with the Organic guys as its compulsory spraying, if your neighbour is not spraying or at a totally different time of year this makes all this redundant. The Vector (a plant hopper) gives the vine a disease that is spread through the plants lymph system and kills it from there.

The Langhe Region is a veritable labyrinth of hills and winding roads nestled between the Tanaro and Bormida River.

When you go visit wineries that have Rotary Fermenters used for the maceration … you need to know you are visiting a winery that in the late 90’s invested in this technology. Wineries of 70.000 bottles have 3 or 4 of these things? There was obviously a good salesman. As these machines are not really there for small production wineries … why do they have them?  For large production outfits it is understandable if you want to make industrial wine quantities. OK … but for Cru Barolos? It is going to be costly to get out of this abomination. When you try the result of these wines you will be drinking quickly made wine … short macerations in these things and then 12 months and up to 36 months in barrel to hide their terrible green tannins and high acidity. Surely the American and World palate has changed and matured. How will these wineries adapt? More wood won’t fix it.  Still talking about modernist and traditionalist in this region is valid but of course a massive oversimplification.

The Barbera Grape was largely replanted post-phylloxera epidemic. The Asti and Monferrato Regions are the best known appellations for the Barbera Grape. One has to remember that the Barbera Grape is the third most planted variety in Italy (after Sangiovese and Montepulciano) and has only come to form (making interesting wines) since the massive changes in Italian wine making that were adopted in the 1980’s. Dolcetto is lunch time good easy family drinking. Barbera is more interesting and we have found some fantastic examples and really these do not come from Barolo or Barbaresco Wineries. Why would you plant less prestigious grape varieties on prime land that costs 1.500.000 EUR a hectare for an unexciting plot in DOCG Areas? If you want to really explore Barbera then let us take you into Monferrato Area. In the Langhe there are 800 approximately producers … some working with virtually extinct grapes. It is very interesting … so many wines we all have yet to know.  To recap then Piedmont wine touring should be 4 nights minimum to get a feel for the region and 7 to 10 nights are ideal.

Since the Robertson Wine Tours inception in Italy we are working with established local partners and no more so than in Piedmont. RWT is going to give to you a perfectly balanced overview of the wines of the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato wine zones.

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