The Wines of Piedmont, Italy (DOCs and DOCGs)
One of the best ways to explore Piedmont (or as they say “peh-ah-MON-tey”), Italy is through its wines.
Drink your way through the region and you’ll discover quite a range of styles: from the bold and age-worthy red wines of Nebbiolo to the delicate, sweet, fizzy white wines of Moscato d’Asti. If you didn’t know it already, Piedmont (Piemonte) is one of Italy’s most acclaimed wine growing regions.
Of Italy’s 20 major wine regions, Piedmont ranks 6th in highest production volume.
It’s known for high quality and produces more DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita — Italy’s top wine classification) designated wines than any other region.
In Piedmont, there are a total of 59 regions (including Barolo, Gabiano, Barbera d’Asti, etc.) and the name of the region is listed prominently on Piedmont wine labels (often noted alongside the variety).
While regional names are numerous and complex, there are only a dozen or so grape varieties that highlight the most important wines of the area. Getting to know these grapes (and their wines) is a great way to get acquainted with the Piedmont culinary style and you’ll discover that the wines perfectly complement the region’s meaty, truffle-infused, rustic recipes.
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Red Wines of Piedmont
Below, you’ll see detailed notes on the major varieties and corresponding regional wines. Wines are organized by regional distribution, with the most widely planted varieties listed first.
Barbera is the most planted variety in Piedmont and it’s what you’ll often find the locals drinking. Great wines of Barbera deliver aromas of red and black fruit (particularly raspberries, lingonberries, and blackberries), along with espresso, smoke, and fresh anise, supported by velvety tannins and a spicy finish. The wines are often oaked to deliver richer, opulent fruit flavors, but most everyday Barberas are medium-bodied with a touch of spicy-earthy terroir. Despite the prevalence of this grape in the region, Barbera continually flies under the radar and usually offers good economic value. Here are the regions that specialize in Barbera:
- Barbera d’Asti DOCG (90% min)
- Barbera d’Asti Sottozona “Nizza” DOCG (90% min)
- Barbera del Monferrato Superiore DOCG
- Barbera del Monferrato DOC
- Barbera d’Alba DOC
- Gabiano DOC (90–95%)
- Rubino di Cantavenna DOC (75–90%)
- Colli Tortonesi Barbera DOC (85% min.)
- Piemonte Barbera DOC (85% min.)
Loved for its lower acidity and soft, fruity flavors of plums, blackberries, and raspberries. Dolcetto wine often has lifted floral aromas of violets and black peppercorn that are contrasted with firm tannin texture (that can come across as similar to chocolate). Exceptional producers are found in both DOCG and DOC areas (especially Alba) and because of the lower acidity, most recommend drinking the wine within 5 years of release.
- Dolcetto di Ovada Superiore DOCG / Ovada DOCG (100%)
- Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba DOCG (100%)
- Dogliani DOCG (100%)
- Dolcetto d’Alba DOC (100%)
- Dolcetto d’Asti DOC (100%)
- Dolcetto d’Acqui DOC (100%)
- Dolcetto di Ovada DOC (100%)
- Langhe Dolcetto DOC (85% min.)
- Colli Tortonesi Dolcetto DOC (85% min.)
- Piemonte Dolcetto DOC (85% min.)
The most exalted red wine variety of Piedmont is Nebbiolo. This wine is striking to experience because its delicate, pale, brick-red color and floral cherry and rose aromas are completely contrasted by somewhat aggressive, chewy tannins (particularly in wines from Barolo). Because of its structure, you’ll find that Nebbiolo wines are a favorite for wine collectors who will happily set aside wines to open them decades later to reveal a delightfully soft and delicate wine. Even though Nebbiolo has a reputation for tannins and long-term aging, many of the sub-regions (Langhe, Alba, etc.) produce softer styles with a similar weight to whole-cluster Pinot Noir.
- Barbaresco DOCG (100%)
- Barolo DOCG (100%)
- Ghemme DOCG (85% min.)
- Gattinara DOCG (90% min.)
- Roero DOCG (95% min.)
- Nebbiolo d’Alba (100%)
- Langhe Nebbiolo DOC (85% min.)
- Albugnano DOC (85% min.)
- Terre Alfieri DOC (85% min.)
- Boca DOC (70–90%)
- Bramaterra (50–80%)
- Carema (85% min.)
- Lessona DOC (85% min.)
- Valli Ossolane Nebbiolo (85% min.)
- Sizzano DOC (50–70%)
- Fara DOC (50–70%)
- Colline Novaresi (50% min.)
- Piemonte Nebbiolo DOC (85% min.)
One of Piedmont’s most delightfully fruity and sweet red wines offers up aromas of strawberry purée, cherry sauce, milk chocolate, and candied orange peel. On the palate, wines are juicy and often made in a creamy, sparkling style to accent the sweetness in the wine. This is one of a few reds that will pair perfectly with chocolate (especially chocolate mousse or the regional Bônet alla Piemontese).
- Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG
- Piemonte Brachetto DOC
This is one of the most polarizing red wines from Piedmont; some love it, some hate it. Wines have deep color and are often produced in a lightly sparkling frizzante style. The aromas are lightly fruity, with sour, wild red berries and then deeply herbaceous with notes of sage, green olive, earth, tar, and bitter green almond. On the palate, the wine has zippy acidity and astringent bitterness with chalky and grippy tannins (the kind that cause the insides of your mouth to stick to your teeth). Several producers will actually leave a touch of residual sugar in the wine to complement its astringency, which can come across like a light-weight amaro. Wines like Freisa that have exceptionally high levels of antioxidants are known for being also a bit bitter, so all in all, Freisa is a rare treat.
- Freisa di Chieri DOC (90%)
- Langhe Freisa DOC (85% min)
- Freisa d’Asti DOC
- Colli Tortonesi Freisa DOC
- Piemonte Freisa DOC
Grignolino is generally light-bodied, with strawberry and cherry notes and a bitter almond finish, which can sometimes be more rhubarb-like in character. This is a classic food wine of Piedmont that begs for salumi or maybe a plate of the region’s famous egg-yellow tajarin pasta. While Grignolino from northern Italy is especially earthy, you can actually find a few producers making it in California in a softer, perfumed style with slightly less bitterness.
- Grignolino d’Asti DOC
- Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese DOC (90% min.)
- Piemonte Grignolino DOC (85% min.)
Several intriguing red variants of Malvasia grow in Piedmont and produce wines that are typically made in an off-dry or sweet style, with bright, translucent ruby red hues. The wines have high-intensity aromas (especially if made with the local Malvasia di Casorzo grape) of roses, raspberries, and fresh grapes. Because of the grapes’ thick skins, the wines have noticeable tannin that helps balance out the sweetness.
- Malvasia di Casorzo d’Asti DOC (90% Malvasia di Casorzo)
- Malvasia di Castelnuovo Don Bosco DOC (85% min. Malvasia di Schierano and/or Malvasia Nera Lunga)
White Wines of Piedmont
Piedmont also produces some exceptional white wines.
Moscato Bianco (aka Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains)
The highly perfumed Moscato Bianco variety delivers sweet notes of honeydew melon, fresh grape, ripe pear, and mandarin orange all wrapped up in floral winter daphne aromas. Moscato can be made in a range of styles (all with varying degrees of sweetness): from a delicate frizzante, to creamy sparkling Asti Spumante, to a dried grape still wine called Passito. Moscato wines are often served and sold in featherweight portions (375ml and 500 ml bottles) to accentuate the importance of their aromas.
- Asti DOCG (100%)
- Loazzolo DOC (100%)
- Strevi DOC (100% passito style)
- Colli Tortonesi Moscato DOC
- Piemonte Moscato DOC
A sleek dry white with a crisp and characteristically long, chalky finish that frames lemon, apple, melon, and straw flavors. The most famous region of this grape is Gavi, although you can find many plantings in the encompassing Piemonte DOC that offer exceptional value. Keep your eyes peeled for Cortese wines from California for comparison (also quite delightful).
- Gavi DOCG (100%)
- Cortese dell’Alto Monferrato DOC (85%)
- Colli Tortonesi Cortese DOC
- Piemonte Cortese DOC
Oddly enough, a large number of Chardonnay vines can be found growing in the Piedmont region. Producers often take the grape quite seriously and produce oaked styles of the wine under the Piemonte DOC, which is labeled simply as Chardonnay. Wines deliver ripe apple and pineapple notes often with a subtle, crisp bitterness on the finish, which is enveloped in nutmeg and notes of pie crust. If you’re a fan of Chardonnay, it’s fascinating to taste how northern Italian terroir affects this grape. Beyond still wines, you can also find sparkling wines made in the Traditional Method (Champagne style) including from Alta Langa, which allows for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to be blended together.
- Alta Langa D.O.C.G. (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay Sparkling wines)
- Valli Ossolane DOC (60% min. Chardonnay)
- Piemonte Chardonnay DOC
A delightful Piemontese white with harmonious, juicy flavors of peach, apple, and lemon that leads into a spicy, long, flavorful finish. Some wines from cooler vintages or sites offer grapefruit notes and a lean, herbal finish, where as those from warmer vintages and sites give juicy peach and passionfruit-like notes. The best wines of Arneis are consistently made in Roero DOCG and the surrounding Langhe DOC. This wine is still a great value, sourced from some Piedmont’s most acclaimed wine regions.
- Roero Arneis DOCG (95% min.)
- Langhe Arneis DOC (85% min)
- Terre Alfieri DOC (85% minimum)
A bracing, alpine white that delivers lean flavors of lemon, green notes of gooseberry, and peppery spice with a subtle bitter almond note. The best regions for Erbaluce are in the northern parts of Piemonte, leading into the foothills of the Alps where the Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG produces a sparkling spumante version as well as a sweet passito style that takes about 5 years to make and 50 years to age.
- Erbaluce di Caluso/Caluso DOCG (100%)
- Colline Novaresi DOC (100%)
- Canavese DOC (100%)
- Coste della Sesia DOC (100%)
A Few More Intriguing and Rare Wines of Note
If you’re feeling that you’ve already been there and done that with the wines mentioned above (including all their sub-regions), here are a few other wines that will surely delight you:
- Chiaretto is another name for rosé and is produced in numerous Italian wine regions where it is most commonly a blend of the various red grapes. A great way to drink Piedmont rosé is to uncork a bottle on a hot day.
- Ruché is a very special aromatic red grape that is indigenous to Piedmont and can be found under the Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG. Wines have spiced notes of pepper, mint, and cinnamon, balanced by floral aromas of rose and iris. In Native Wine Grapes of Italy, Ian d’Agata recommends trying wines from both the Scurzolengo sites which are lighter and more floral as well as Castagnole Monferrato.
- Timorasso was single-handedly revived by Walter Massa in the region of Colli Tortonesi, which is off the beaten path. This white wine is often likened to a dry German Riesling and, as a result, has become the secret delight of acid freaks (the wine kind).
- Croatina (aka Bonarda) is a red wine with potential for greatness. It has high levels of anthocyanin, tannin, and acidity, which gives it the makings of an age-worthy wine. Wines from Cisterna d’Asti, Collina Torinese, Colli Tortonesi, and Coste della Sesia are often labeled as “Bonarda” and deliver red berry fruit and black-tea-like tannin, which is occasionally balanced with a touch of residual sugar.