I Love Italian Wine and Food - The Piedmont Region

By: Levi Reiss

If you are looking for fine Italian wine and food, consider the Piedmont region of northern Italy. You may find a bargain, and I hope that you’ll have fun on the fact-filled wine education tour.

Piedmont is located in the northwest of Italy. It borders on France and Switzerland and is surrounded on three sides by the Alps. The name Piedmont means the foot of the mountain. Piedmont is one of the most industrialized regions of Italy. It is considered the best organized region of Italy for wine tourism. Its population is about 4.4 million.

Piedmont was originally settled by the Celts. It was conquered by Hannibal and reconquered by the Ancient Romans. Piedmont was ruled by the French Savoy family for almost five hundred years. It was a center in the fight to unify Italy. Victor Emmanuel II, the king of Piedmont and Sardinia, became the first king of modern Italy in 1861.

Agriculturally Piedmont has it all. For example, meats include beef, kid, lamb, rabbit, and veal. Game includes hare, partridge, pheasant, and venison. Donkey meat stew is a local specialty. Another specialty is grissini, breadsticks that are a yard long. The region makes nine protected varieties of cheese. About the only food that seems to be a bit short is fresh fish, with the exception of trout.

Piedmont’s capital and largest city is Turin, a city of nine hundred thousand that is the capital of the Italian automobile industry and the site of the 2006 Winter Olympics. This city was the first capital of united Italy (from 1861 to 1865) and remains to this day the world capital of vermouth.

Piedmont devotes over one hundred forty thousand acres to grapevines, it ranks 6th among the 20 Italian regions. Its total annual wine production is about ninety million gallons, also giving it a 6th place. About 70% of the wine production is red or rosé (only a bit of rosé), leaving 30% for white. The region produces 44 DOC wines. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin, presumably a high-quality wine and 7 DOCG wines. The G in DOCG stands for Garantita, but there is in fact no guarantee that such wines are truly superior Almost 56% of Piedmont wine carries the DOC or DOCG designation. Piedmont is home to four dozen major and secondary grape varieties, somewhat more red than white varieties.

Widely grown international white grape varieties include Muscat (in particular Moscato Bianco) and Chardonnay. The best known strictly Italian white varieties are Arneis, Cortese, and Erbaluce.

International red grape varieties are not important in Piedmont. It is the center for Nebbiolo, felt by many to be Italy’s noblest red variety, the base of Italy’s world famous Barolo and Barbaresco wines. Other Italian red varieties include Barbera, Brachetto, and Dolcetto, some of which are grown elsewhere.

Before reviewing the Piedmont wine and cheese that we were lucky enough to purchase at a local wine store and a local Italian food store, here are a few suggestions of what to eat with indigenous wines when touring this beautiful region.
Start with Cipollata Rossa Monferrina, Spicy Robiola Cheese and Scallion Spread.
For the second course try Tasca Ripiena, Veal Stuffed with Salami and Scallions. For dessert indulge yourself with Budino Freddo Gianduja, Decadent Hazelnut-Chocolate Pudding.

OUR WINE REVIEW POLICY While we have communicated with well over a thousand Italian wine producers and merchants to help prepare these articles, our policy is clear. All wines that we taste and review are purchased at the full retail price.

Wine Reviewed
Surì Rosso Barbera d’Asti Villa Giada 2004 Andrea-Faccio Viticoltore (Winemaker) DOC 13.5% alcohol about $10.90 plus tax

Unlike the other wines in this series, I purchased this bottle while on vacation in Seattle, Washington. Frankly I thought that I was drinking the cousin of a $40 bottle of wine. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were the equal of some $40 bottles. While three other Italian grape red varieties are authorized to a maximum of 15% in the Barbera d’Asti DOC, this particular wine is 100% Barbera.

I found the wine very powerful, perhaps too strong for pasta. Its tastes included tobacco, leather, cherry, and black cherry. An Italian wine site states: "An imposing wine that is always rather severe but richly and exquisitely perfumed and with a flavor that couples strength with finesse.” I agree except that I didn’t find it severe. I also drank it with a marinated, barbecued rib steak. The wine cut through the steak’s grease. Once again the flavors came out well.

Gran Padano is a classic Parmesan-type cheese made for a millennium in northern Italy including the Piedmont region. It is a cylindrical, cooked, semi-fat cheese which matures slowly. It has a grainy consistency and may be sliced or grated. Its taste is fragrant and delicate. I tried this wine with grated Gran Padano cheese on toast with a somewhat spicy Moroccan tomato and pimento based dip.The combination was excellent; I felt that both the wine and cheese flavors were accentuated. The term mouth-filling came to mind.

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Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would rather just drink fine Italian or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. His wine website is www.theworldwidewine.com . You can reach him at [email protected]

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