Andrew Corrigan MW continues his study of Italian wine regions, focusing on the diversity of Piedmont.

Last column we discussed how Italy is the largest wine producer by volume in the world; and also the most diverse. The region of Piedmont (also spelt Piemonte) is particularly fascinating for a study of traditional laws and new winemaking techniques, with clear distinctions.

The old Piedmont

The “old” requires a long fermentation in stainless steel tanks under hot temperature conditions with maturation in old oak barrels. “Old” reds have big tannins and smoky “forest floor” savoury characters.

The new Piedmont

The “new” technique consists of a short fermentation—six to seven days compared to two weeks in the “old” method—with cooled conditions, a second malo-lactic fermentation (that converts the harsh malic acid to soft lactic acid and enrichens and softens the wine) and maturation in new barrique barrels for around 22 months. “New” reds still have grippy tannins but a softer black cherry flavour and fleshy taste; the aroma of new oak – cedar wood, is distinctive.

Piedmont grape varieties

  • Dolcetto has savoury cherry flavour, is light but tannic, and has a plump juicy richness.
  • Barbera is bigger and more tannic in flavour and more versatile – it is grown widely and can make lighter, fresher, berry-flavoured reds through to big dark tannic, bitter chocolate styles. Cheap Barbera can be acidic and gives this wonderful grape an undeserved bad name.
  • Nebbiolo is the most famous – it is the biggest, most tannic-flavoured red grape and can make long-living wine. It is surprisingly light in colour and often with age, it takes on an orange/brown appearance at the edge. It looks like it is going to have a light taste but instead a persisting big tannic flavour emerges. These varieties are grown in small batches in Australia.