Piedmont

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Regional Notes

The name Piedmont (Pie de Monte) meaning “at the foot of the mountain”, appeared for the first time in the 13th century. Originally inhabited by people of Celtic origin, this area was Romanised around the second century BC.  With the fall of the Roman Empire, the area suffered terrible devastation, and was occupied among, others, by the Franks and Longobards in the Middle Ages. Its illustrious history begins around the 11th century, when the Counts of Savoy, thanks to shrewd alliances with powerful European families, were able to add Piedmont to their territory. In 1416, it was elevated to a duchy, and the seat was moved from Chambery to Turin a century later. The treaty of London in 1720 gave the dukes of Savoy royal status in granting them the Kingdom of Sardinia. There were a few periods of dominance by the French in the 13th, 17th and 18th centuries, but after the Congress of Vienna in 1815, when the map Europe was redefined, this Royal House was granted control of the “Kingdom of Piedmont and Sardinia”, adding Liguria and the Republic of Genoa, thus gradually becoming the leading force behind the Italian Unification. During the period 1849-1861, Piedmont provided the new country with a king, Vittorio Emanuele, a prime minister, Count Camillo Benso di Cavour and the ideology to unify a fragmented and reluctant nation.

Turin became Piedmont’s capital in 1559, growing into powerful political and industrial city, with elegant baroque squares and graceful bridges, contrasting with the rest of region, which was rural with gastronomic festivals wine production.

This region is completely landlocked, with France to the west and Switzerland to the north, where the Alps provide the natural borders, whose glaciers feed the Po, the largest river in Italy. The varied geography includes mountains, hills and fertile plains, which provide fresh pasture for cattle and game, vineyards producing some of the best wines in Italy, as well as maize and rice.


The Food of Piedmont

 

The cultural identity of the Piedmontese cuisine is rooted in the Gallo-Celtic origins of its inhabitants. Like its dialect, its cuisine shares many similarities of tradition with its cousins on the other side of the Alps. 

Rich with bold flavours, Piedmontese cuisine is one of the most varied and refined throughout Italy, The style of cooking is rich, with creamy sauces, pungent dips and salsas, such as bagna cauda, salsa rossa and bagnet verde.  The great majority of its ingredients are home-grown. Butter and lard have traditionally been the preferred fats; rice for risotto is grown on the plain crossed by the river Po, as is the corn for polenta and the wheat for pasta and bread including the world famous grissini.

With more than 800,000 head of cattle, cheese and meat play an important part in the regional diet. Piedmont produces by far the largest variety of cheeses in Italy from cow, goat, and ewe milk: the soft varieties such as robiola,  stracchino, taleggio  gorgonzola, mascarpone, to the semi hard varieties such as  toma, castelmagno, fontina and many others. These cheeses are not only served after meals, but used extensively in cooking. For example, toma and fontina are used to enrich the polenta in the Cereghin a simple dish with fried egg and truffle shavings.

A huge variety of meat is available in the region: beef is eaten raw for the Carne Cruda alla Piemontese (finely diced raw beef with olive oil, lemon, garlic and anchovy, with optional white truffle) as well as braised in red wine Brasato al Barolo, or oven roasted; meats such as  pork, beef, venison, duck and wild boar are cured, making salami, prosciutto and bresaolas. Rabbit is cooked in a variety of ways, Coniglio con peperoni (rabbit with peppers) being a classic. Traditional too are game dishes, with pheasant, partridge, hare and capriolo, a local wild goat, being among the most popular.

Although land-locked, Piedmont has the river Po with its many tributaries, as well as lakes such as Maggiore and Orta, so trout, pike and other fresh water fish are found in the cuisine. 

Due to the climate in this region, autumn is the most important and rewarding season in Piedmont. The grape harvest in Langhe produces Barolo and Barbaresco, some of the world’s greatest wines; the best hazelnuts are produced here, used to make gianduia, a paste of chocolate and ground hazelnut.  (Nutella, the Italian chocolate and hazelnut spread, was invented here). But what really defines autumn in Piedmont is the white truffle of Alba, the most expensive and sublime truffle of all, now selling at over £3,000 a kilo. This precious delicacy is found in the Langhe forests by the tartufa, highly skilled truffle hunters who go out at night with their trained dogs, and, protected by the darkness, keep the best truffle locations a secret.


The Wines of Piedmont

Along with Tuscany, Piedmont is the most important quality wine-producing region in Italy. Piedmontese reds are the most important both in terms of quality and quantity with Barolo and Barbaresco (see B&B) being the finest and most sought after.


 

RED WINE

Nebbiolo is one of the world’s great grape varieties along with Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay, yet there are only 5325 hectares planted in the world, of which 4700 are in Italy.  If we compare this to the Chardonnay grape, Chablis AOC alone has 4800 hectares planted. 70% (3712 hectares) of nebbiolo is grown in Piedmont, yet this is only 3% of the entire Piedmontese wine production.

Nebbiolo is one of the most difficult grape varieties to grow: it is early flowering and late ripening, so prone to couloure - lack of pollination due to cold spells in spring - and if not on a well-exposed vineyard, it may not fully ripen, producing wines with high acidity and harsh tannins. In 1860, a bug from America, a parasite of the vinifera vine root stock called Phylloxera, devastated all vineyards in Europe. When replanting the vineyards in Piedmont, people chose easier grape varieties such as Barbera, Dolcetto or Moscato, and only planted nebbiolo vines on the best exposed sites. It was due to this that the sunny slopes of the Langhe became the natural habitat for Nebbiolo.

Little is known of the origins of nebbiolo, but it is widely regarded to be indigenous to Piedmont.  Pliny the Elder, mentions the wines of Pallent, a town NE of Barolo, a description of which seems to be similar to the characteristics of Nebbiolo wines of today.  It was in 1268 that we have the first written mention of nibiol, growing in Rivoli near Turin.  In 1304, Pietro Crescenzi describes wine made from nubiolo as being of excellent quality.  By the 15thC, the quality of the nebbiolo grape was such that it was recognised by a statute of the region in which it stated that the penalty for cutting down vines was “punishable with a heavy fine, cutting off of the hand, and even hanging for a repeated offence”.

In the past the wines were full bodied and sweet. It was Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, the first Prime Minister of The Kingdom of Italy, who employed the French enologist Louis Oudart, entrusting him with the task of making wines in the style of Bordeaux. Due to his enormous success, the wines made from the nebbiolo grape became popular at the Royal Court in Turin.

The nebbiolo grape has been introduced into many regions around the world, but due to the ideal combination of climate and soil, it is in Piedmont and to a lesser extent in Lombardy that the best wines are produced.  Its finest expression is, of course, in Barolo and Barbaresco.

Barolo and Barbaresco

Area of production:  the heart of Langhe in Piedmont
Size of area:  Barolo – 1450 hectares;   Barbaresco – 450 hectares
Grape variety:  100% nebbiolo

This area was inhabited by Celts, also known as Gauls, who first learned about vine-growing and wine-making from the Etruscans, with whom they were often at war.  It was romanised in the 2nd century BC, and new viticulture was introduced. Alba became a municipality, known as Alba Pompeo, and its wines were highly rated.  By the 2nd century AD, Marcus Aurelius’ physician was recommending wines from Alba as a therapeutical remedy for various conditions. Viticulture survived the various Barbarian invasions, and was kept alive by the Church and its monasteries, as it was an important element for the celebration of Mass.

In the late medieval period, a number of powerful families started to emerge; the Savoy, who were later to become kings of Italy, were expanding into Piedmont, and by the 18th century, through acquisitions and marriages, had taken over the whole region. In the Langhe, the Falletti became the most powerful family, and were admitted into the nobility, becoming the Marchesi di Barolo.

In the 18th century, with the relative political stability, a new class of wealthy professionals emerged in the region, creating a demand for quality wines among other things.  Viticultural practice improved and expanded and forests were cleared to plant vineyards.  The nebbiolo grape, which was known to produce the finest wines, (the first mention of which, a reference to nebbiul, goes back to 1200,) was planted on south facing slopes, as it is early flowering and late ripening. Originally, nebbiolo was widely planted, but because of its problematic character, it was restricted to the most exposed sites, and other grapebarbera and moscato were introduced to the less favoured slopes. Thus, by the end of the 18th century, the wine from Barolo and Barbaresco had gained a reputation for being some of the finest in the region, and the wines were full-bodied and sweet.

With the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the Dukes of Savoy, who ruled Piedmont, had been granted the kingdom of Sardinia, bestowing on Duke, Carlo Alberto, the title of king.  At the time, French was the language spoken at court, and, of course, French wines were drunk, as they were dry and refined.  At this time, a new generation of enlightened aristocrats took an interest in improving agricultural practices.  The energetic Count Camillo Benso di Cavour employed Louis Oudart from Rheims, with precise instructions to make wines “ in the fashion of Bordeaux”.  He was also employed by Marchesa Giulia Falletti to improve the wines from the family estate in Barolo and Serralunga; the full-bodied and dry wines produced   impressed the king so much, that he bought 25 casks for the royal court..  In 1873, at the world exhibition in Vienna, wines from Barolo, won a number of Gold medals, and became internationally known.  It was as recently as 1894 that Domizio Cavazza, the first principal of the Royal School of Viticulture and Enology of Alba, wrote the definitive method of vinifying nebbiolo. 

As the name of Barolo became associated with quality red wine, preventing misuse of the name became a major issue.  In 1908, Barbaresco producers suggested establishing one syndicat, together with Barolo to safeguard their interests.  Having been rejected by the Barolo producers, for snobbish reasons, they went ahead without them.  However, in 1909, under the orders of the commune of Barolo, the first map establishing the boundaries of the Barolo-producing area was drawn up.  In 1933, the wines from Barolo and Barbaresco were recognised as “wines of great quality” by Royal Decree.  And in 1966, when the DOC law protecting delimited wine areas was introduced, Barolo and Barbaresco were one of the first to benefit.  In 1980, they were granted the status of DOCG, a superior category with stricter regulations. 
Most of the production area for Barbaresco is in 4 communes: Barbaresco, Neive, San Rocco Seno d’Elvio and Treiso Most of the production area for Barolo is in 5 communes: Barolo, Castigione Falletto, La Morra, Monforte d’Alba and Serralunga.

As well as Barolo and Barbaresco, it is also responsible for a group of lesser known districts that offer great value for money wines.  These wine-producing districts are:

Gattinara DOCG: Gattinara, which received its Denominazione di Origine Controllata in 1967, is uncontestably one of the most famous of the group. It is probable that the wine's name is derived from "Catuli Ara" or the Altar of Catullus. For it seems that the town of Gattinara was built on the site where the Proconsul Lutatius Catullus dedicated the spoils won from the Cimbrian Gauls during a war in the area in 101 BC.
Grape varieties: Nebbiolo 90% , Bonarda and Vespolina 10%

Ghemme DOCG: As in the case of all great wines, Ghemme has always boasted extremely ancient origins. In that respect, the discovery near Ghemme of the tombstone of Vibia Earina, a freedwoman of Vibius Crispus, a Roman senator in Tiberius’ time, provides indisputable archaeological confirmation of indisputable that vines were cultivated in the district at least as early as the beginning of the Christian era. Roman vineyards in the district were veritable models of "up-to-date" agricultural practice, where scientific rules were followed in every phase of winemaking from cultivation of the vines to vinification
Grape varieties: Nebbiolo 65-85%, balance Vespaiola and Bonarda

Roero DOCG:  Roero is a hilly area situated in the northeastern-most part of the province of Cuneo. It owes its name to an ancient feudal family that ruled the district.
Roero received its Denominazione di Origine Controllata in 1985, and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita in 2006. It can therefore be considered a young appellation, but it is one with much history that deserves to be better known.  Cherasco in Roero lent its name to the Treaty of 1796, under which the Kingdom of Sardegna, then ruled by Victor Amadeus III, ceded Nice and Savoy to France.

Carema:  Carema, a name esteemed by the whole of Italian enology, is produced in a minuscule area situated in the far north of the province of Turin.  There, on the confines of the Aosta Valley, topsoil is thin and that factor has shaped the "architecture" of the vineyards. The setting is one of great natural beauty to which the vines make an important contribution, for they are planted on a series of terraces rising toward the mountains and supported by granite columns that give the vineyards a unique, fascinating and monumental and appearance.  The terraces have often given way and each time the farmers have rebuilt them, bringing soil up from the valleys, securing it to the steep slope with new stone walls and replanting the vines in the same terrain and at the same altitude. That infinite patience, exercised over the centuries, has provided Carema with an additional claim on the wine lover's attention: the savour of challenge
Grape varieties: Nebbiolo 85% balance other varieties

Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC  is a generic appellation for wines from the Nebbiolo grape produced in the Alba district. It is used by all producers of Barolo and Barbaresco for the second selection, or less than 10 year old vines.
Barbera  Although Barbera’s origins are extremely ancient, the first documents in which it is cited, date to only several centuries ago. In fact, the first formal citation of Barbera appears in a document of the 17th century that is now preserved in the city hall of Nizza Monferrato. And it was first officially mentioned in 1798 when Count Nuvolone, deputy director of the Agrarian Society of Turin, drew up the first catalogue of grape varieties cultivated in the vineyards of Piedmont.
"Il" or "la" Barbera, as it was traditionally called by the Piedmontese farmer, whose brusque and unassuming character is precisely the same as that of this frank and robust red, is one of the wines best known and appreciated throughout Italy for its generosity and strength. A. Strucchi, a noted Italian enologist, observed at the end of the last century, that “when Barbera wine has attained five or six years of age, it is as suitable for consumption with roasted meats as is Barolo and is often preferred by many to the more famous wine.”  The most reliable Barberas are: Barbera d’Alba DOC,  Barbera d’Asti DOC and Barbera del Monferrato DOC.

Dolcetto   The first certain reference to the Dolcetto variety appears in the Istruzione, written at the end of the 18th century by Count Nuvolone, (see above). The volume, in fact, contains some information about a grape and a wine known as "Dosset'' and about the zone in which it was produced.  Those unfamiliar with the wine are often misled by the name and assume that Dolcetto is a sweet beverage. The fact is that the wine with the misleading name is quite dry and has a slightly bitter flavour.  However, the grape that yields the wine is quite sweet, so much so that in the past it was much appreciated as a fine table grape. But that sweetness is not passed on in the wine.  As a wine, Dolcetto is loved by small producers, even if some of the large, well-known wine estates regularly produce it, since it seems to be catching on with a steadily growing number of consumers
Dolcetto di Dogliani Superiore DOC is considered the best source of Dolcetto.  The town’s name is derived from Doglia and Lano, which are corruptions of Janus and Giano. A supreme god in the Roman pantheon, Janus was lord of the sky and sunlight and later assumed special powers as protector of the beginning and end of all things. According to legend, Janus when visiting the Langhe region once stopped in Dogliani, and was detained there by the excellence of the local wine.
Other Dolcetto districts are: Dolcetto d'Acqui, Dolcetto d'Alba ,  Dolcetto d'Asti ,  Dolcetto di Diano d'Alba,  Dolcetto di Dogliani,  Dolcetto di Ovada ,

OTHER VARIETIES
Freisa:  highly resistant to climatic fluctuations and diseases and very adaptable to a diversity of soils and to generally unfavorable exposures 

Grignolino: a light easy drinking wine

Bracchetto: usually still, made with a minimum of 85% brachetto grapes, but may be frizzante(lightly sparkling). Brachetto tends to produce light bodied, highly aromatic wines with distinctive notes of strawberries. In the DOCG region of Brachetto d'Acqui, the grape is used to produce a slightly sweet sparkling wine that is similar to Lambrusco and is sometimes called the a light red equivalent of Moscato d'Asti .

Ruche: unusually aromatic. You either love it or hate it

WHITE WINES
Overshadowed by the reds, Piedmontese white wines are establishing a name for themselves in their own right, unconnected to the regional identity.

Gavi di Gavi: made exclusively from Cortese grapes, is produced in the Alto Monferrato, a vitivinicultural zone situated in the southern part of the province of Alessandria. A total of 59 communes are involved in its output in a district that is predominantly hilly. Acqui, Ovada and Gavi are the best-known communities in its production zone. 

Timorasso:  this ancient variety was brought back from the brink of extinction during the '70/80s by the local boy Walter Massa who led the fight to revive this distinguished grape variety. The style of Timorasso white wines resembles a mix of  Chablis and  Savennieres  on account of high acidity, rich extract and propensity to develop noble rot, all due to calcareous soil

Moscato d’Asti:Moscato d'Asti is a wine appellation in the provinces of Asti of Alessandria and Cuneo for sparkling wines.  Made from the Moscato Bianco grape, it is sweet and low in alcohol, and often enjoyed with fruit-based desserts (mango, peach tarts) or fresh fruits such as strawberries.   The taste is typically reminiscent of ripe orange-fleshed melons, nectarines and blossom, it has an uplifting perfume and although sweet it isn't a cloying but light and refreshing.
Asti Spumante: has been elevated to a DOCG status and renamed Asti, in an effort to distinguish it from other Italian sparkling wines produced from a variety of grapes of varying quality. Asti is also made from the Moscato Bianco grape, sweet and low in alcohol. With a maximum of 1.7 atmospheres of pressure in the bottle, Moscato d'Asti is only slightly frothy while Asti is fully sparkling at 5 atmospheres.  The alcohol content for Moscato d' Asti is 5.5% as opposed to Asti's 7–9.5% 


 


Opening Times

Monday - Thursday,   Lunch 12.00 - 14.30,   Dinner 18.30 - 22.30
Friday & Saturday,   Lunch 12.00 - 14.30,   Dinner 18.30 - 23.00