As one of the top two winegrowing regions in Italy, Piedmont stands out for its one-of-a-kind varietals, Nebbiolo and Dolcetto. What many collectors might not realize is that this region is cultivating a new era of classic wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, in addition to its traditional, regional-based offerings. To find the latest trends in Piedmont wine, we look not only to Barbera, Nebbiolo, and Dolcetto, which account for 65 percent of the region’s production, but also to lesser-known varietals that are making a huge impact on Italian wines right now.
Higher Tannins in Barolo Nebbiolo
Weather in Piedmont is extreme, with cold winds sweeping down from the Alps, and warm sunshine due to the region’s location near the Mediterranean. This somewhat schizophrenic weather gives Nebbiolo from Barolo thick-skinned fruit with sharp, tight tannins. The only DOCG-status estates are located in the south-facing hills, where the wines are required to have at least 13 percent alcohol. Barolo wines are famous for being intensely alcoholic, but with a balance of low acidity and bold fruit. When searching for Nebbiolo from this region, look to Monforte d’Alba for bolder wines, and La Morra for less full-bodied vintages. The sandstone soil of Monforte lends the wines a stronger flavor profile overall, as the soil drains any excess water quickly from the root system.
Barolo and Barbaresco are in stiff competition over Nebbiolo, but Barolo wines are about 35 percent more expensive, on average, than Barbaresco. This is because Barolo Nebbiolo is higher in tannins than vintages from Barbaresco, due to the higher concentration of sandstone in Barolo’s soil. The excellent soil drainage allows the grapes to mature in a way that increases tannins in the wine. Vintages such as those from Roberto Voerzio have a very high concentration of tannins, but French oak aging balances and smooths this characteristic.
Barbaresco experiences calm weather throughout the year, which allows its wines to develop a balance between acidity and sugar, unlike the intense, often polarizing flavors of Barolo wine. Barbaresco wines receive high taste ratings from wine critics because they are typically easier to drink in their youth due to this balance of flavors. Barolo, on the other hand, is a wine whose strong tannins benefit from cellaring, making it the ideal choice for collectors looking for a long-term investment in Nebbiolo. To invest in Nebbiolo, seek out vintages marked “Riserva,” as these are always aged for at least five years in barrels before bottling. Vintages from Bartolo Mascarello are also excellent picks for collectors seeking well-balanced, long-aging wines. In the next few years, collectors can expect to see Barolo wines with even stronger tannins than in previous decades, as cellaring this wine becomes more popular.
Dolcetto’s Fruit-Forward Comeback
Piedmont Dolcetto is not known to age beyond a handful of years in cellars, largely because of its low acidity. Unlike Nebbiolo producers, modern Dolcetto producers are focusing less on producing wines with very firm tannins, and are instead crafting more fruit-forward vintages. They believe this change in focus produces a more refined and delicate Dolcetto. A wine that is grown for its fruit flavors rather than its tannin levels often has subtler flavors when young, making the Dolcetto vintages of today perfect for drinking early.
In Piedmont, the finest Dolcetto vintages come from its three DOCG-regulated terroirs: Dolcetto di Ovada, Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba and Dogliani. Choose Dolcetto from Piedmont marked ‘Superiore’, as these wines must meet strict standards before being bottled, including a 13 percent alcohol minimum and a long aging process that balances tannins. In the past, many Dolcetto vintages would strive for the tightest tannins possible, increasing the probability that the wine would age well. Today, Dolcetto from Piedmont has a more balanced taste than those of the past, and while it’s not the ideal wine for collectors looking for long-term investments, it is the perfect choice for those looking to expand their tasting palates.
Gaja’s Modernist Approach to Piedmont Wine
When you hear the words, “Italian wine,” chances are that Gaja’s estate comes to mind. This producer has been at the forefront of current trends ever since its owner, Angelo Gaja, became one of the first in Italy to use temperature-controlled fermentation vats in the production process. Today, the estate is making further leaps with Cabernet Sauvignon from Langhe. Wines from Langhe have been DOC-regulated for decades, but producers only began growing Cabernet Sauvignon in the region fewer than 100 years ago. As Italy exports more wines from Piedmont than ever before, producers are expanding their vineyards to include more than just traditional standbys like Nebbiolo and Dolcetto, and this has resulted in a 15 percent increase in wine sales from the region over the past three years.
As in Napa Valley, which has started to grow more Pinot Noir, increased sales and popularity in a terroir tends to result in greater experimentation with new wine varietals. This theory seems to be bearing out today in the previously tradition-driven estates of Piedmont through superb vintages such as the Darmagi from Gaja. Collectors can expect to find higher-quality vintages of common Piedmont wine varietals, especially Cabernet Sauvignon, over the next 10 years, as Gaja and other producers further refine their techniques.
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