Wines of Northern Italy

Wines of Piedmonte, in the north of Italy

I did not realize how complex the matter of Piedmont wine is when I became interested while in Turin (Torino in Italian). What intrigued me were the lightly bubbly wines we were getting at restaurants as a house wine. Red, not white, and not bubbly like champagne. I wanted to learn more about them so I could avoid them! Neither of us liked the ones we had and needed to know how to ask if they were going to serve one and identify them on the wine shelves. We bought a few by mistake.

I have found meager references to this style on the Internet but one thing that is helpful to know: they are referred to as ‘frizzante.’ Knowing that would have helped a lot.

A frizzante wine has between 1 and 2.5 times atmospheric pressure in the bottle, compared to 5-6 for a ‘spumante,’ such as the famous and not my favorite by any means Asti Spumante, from the town of Asti not too far from Torino. I have only found references to white frizzante wines- see below for their names. I have no idea what they are like, having never tried any of them.

But not too worry. The wines of this region are mostly red, and still (versus spumante or firzzante). There are many excellent ones.

Nebbiolo Grapes

Nebbiolo is considered the greatest wine from Piedmont. It’s a high tannin grape with red cherry- a very common flavor for red wine- tar – not so common and if too strong is a fault – and rose flavors with. There are some 13 DOC or DOCG (a higher certification) wines in the region made from this grape and they vary widely from one another in nose and tongue.

Barolo, made with Nebbiolo,  is a DOCG southwest of Alba and not far from Torino. The only vineyards with this status are on the southern facing hills. The wine is a brick red with 13%+ alcohol. The wines are aged for at least 18 months in barrel and not for sale for at least 3 years. The Riserva is five. Best ones are 10 years old or more.

Barbaresco DOCG is located northeast of of Alba on the south-facing slopes. These wines are lighter than the Barolo products.

Other Nebbiolo Wines

Langhe Nebbiolo is a region the grows Barolo and Barbaresco without the classification status so they are less expensive. There are sub-regions:
Albugnano, Carema, Fara, Ghemme, Gattinara, Langhe Nebbiolo, Lessona, Nebbiolo d’Alba, Roero 
Rosso, Sizzano* *Nebbiolo is known as Spanna in these areas

Barbera grapes

Barbera is the most common red grape in Piedmont.  They are dark and you should taste black cherry, anise, and herbs. It is less expensive than Barolo wines and goes with many foods. There are 2 DOCGs :Barbera d’Asti and Barbera del Monferrato Superiore. Superiore’wines are aged for more time and have more alcohol.


Dolcetto grapes

Dolcetto are dark in color with flavors of blackberry, licorice and tar. The wines do not age well. They are tannic, which some producers are reducing, making the wine more fruty. There are 3 DOCGs  DoglianiDolcetto di Ovada Superiore and Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba. Superiore’wines test at 13%and are aged longer which reduces the tannic impact.

White Wines

Moscato Bianco has been around a very long time. Roses, mandarin orange, cotton candy touch the nose. Asti Spumante  a very bubbly (Spumante’) sweet wine with only 9% alcohol. No wonder I do not like it!

Moscato d’Asti  Is a Frizzante’ that’s very sweet with about 5% alcohol.



Gavi’ wines from Cortese are dry with lemon-like flavors with good aacidity.

Arneis Roero DOCG, Arneis is medium-bodied with almond notes on the finish, and are grassy similar to Sauvignon Blanc white of Bordeaux.


Here’s a link to a site with a podcast:


Eric Asimov of “The Pour” in the New York Times:

Burlotto Langhe Freisa 2010, about $18:The Piedmont region of northwestern Italy is best known for its nebbiolos and barberas, but oddball grapes like the freisa lurk there as well. Burlotto makes excellent Barolos, yet its 2010 Langhe freisa is fascinating. It’s reminiscent of nebbiolo with its combination of textural lightness, firm tannins and deep flavors, and if it is maybe more Naugahyde than leather, it’s perfect for burgers and sausages off the grill. It might even benefit from another year of aging.

Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo 2010, about $15:Produttori del Barbaresco is one of the world’s finest wine co-ops, offering great values throughout its range. The Langhe nebbiolo is generally made from the grapes of young vines, or grapes that for one reason or another don’t go into the Barbarescos. This is a lighter gauge than a true Barbaresco but still offers all the classic leather, floral and red fruit flavors.

These are very reasonable prices for New York City especially.  I was just there and could not find anything decent from anywhere under $13 US, and that was a very good Zinfandel from California.



Cuisine piedmontese

Piedmont is especially known for its wide variety of antipasto, meats and especially raw beef, truffles,  and is the home of grissini, the breadsticks you can get in some many places of the world.   It is close to the French border and the royal family that once ruled Italy, Sardinia, Sicliy and parts of France brought many influences into the region, not the least of which is French, most visible in the cheeses.

The cheeses are much like the soft cheeses of France in shape, texture, aroma and flavor.One cheese dish is the fonduta- fondue- is made with Fontina and butter.  T

Bagna Cauda (or bagna caôda) is an antipasto that includes raw vegetables served with a warm garlic, anchovies, olive oil and butter sauce.  Other hot appetizers: stuffed squash blossoms deep fired, stuffed Savoy cabbage, and crochette, rice or potatoes croquettes with cheese.  Eggs with truffles and onions make tartra piemontese, or baked to form a fritata.  Vitello tonnato is veal with a capers and tuna sauce.  There is an antipasto called Finanzier, organ meats and mushrooms, Marsala, garlic and vinegar. Terrines and pâtés are made with game birds and liver, in another nod to the French.


Piedmonte wine and cheese
Piedmonte wine and cheese


Stuffed onions are made with parmigiano, eggs, butter and herbs.  Peppers are stuffed with  rice, butter, olive oil anchovies and garlic.

Beyond the antipasti is a huge world of flavor and style.  Salumi are the family of what we in the US call pepperoni, although pepperoni means ‘peppers’ in Italian.  There is an immense variety.   Most are made from pork but some from trout, beef, goose, or even potatoes.  The most famous is Salamin d’la duja, stored in an earthenware jar stuffed with fat.  Prosciutto crudo- in America we call it simply ‘prosciutto’ which means ham in Italian.  In Italy you have to specify if you want ‘cotto’ or ‘crudo,’ the latter meaning ‘raw’ but it refers to salted or smoked hams just like in Spain or France.

Rabbit is marinated and made as tender as tuna and thus called tonno di coniglio.  You can order “Insalata di carne cruda’ which is raw beef or veal appetizer marinaded in olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic, garnished with truffles in season. Other salads include wild mushrooms, beans, greens, asparagus or sweet and sour onions.

The local pasta is called tajarin, served with beef broth, butter, Grana Padano (a relative of Parmigiano), shaved truffles and nutmet.    Meat and herb filled dumplings come with a a sage and butter sauce.  Gnocci are served with Fontina, Grana Padano and butter. Polenta is popular in winter – thank goodness we are here in the summer.  It is prepared with Toma, a strong soft cheese in the French style,  Fontina, butter and Grana Padano. This is called polenta cunsa.  There are bean soups, such as cisràand tôfeja, flavored with pork or pork rind.

 Tajarin al tartufo

Tajarin al tartufo

Risotto comes from the rice grown in the region.  It might be prepared with sauces made from frogs, meat or vegetables.

IMG_20160718_131205 IMG_20160718_131516 IMG_20160718_132539



Brasato al Barolo  is braised beef marinated in red wine.  Veal, lamb and baby goat are common.  Lepre in civet is rabbit marinated in red wine and cooked with vegetables and herbs.

Piemonte is also known for its hazelnuts. We saw a hazelnut pie in one of the local markets.  Candied chestnuts are called marron glaces.  Torta gianduia is made with hazelnut and chocolate but no flour.  Zabaione are stuffed peaches or chestnuts.

You can also get any other Italian dish at a wide variety of restaurants.  Pizza by weight it common if less so than Rome.  Lasagna, pesto sauces, grilled or roasted meats, pork chops, you name it, you can find it and many of these are more common than the specialty items which are found in the more exclusive restaurants.

Coffee.  Italy serves the best.  Last time we spent time here, which was last fall, we went to Spain afterwards.  We could barely stomach the coffee for a few weeks.  This time we crossed into France, which is very close.  We found the coffee to be foul tasting, weak and expensive and were very happy to cross back into Italy, despite enjoying the  food in that part of France.

The fresh fruit and vegetables are high quality and inexpensive.  We bought a kilo of excellent green figs for less than $3.  The watermelon has been as low as $.29 a kilo.  Peaches, nectarines, plums are all local, as are apples.  Circoria (a bitter green), spinach, fennel, lettuces.  The list is endless.  I found the big sesame breadsticks at the local market.


Street market in Turin
Street market in Turin

The bread-  it is astoundingly crusty, and sold with or without seeds, mostly the latter, by weight and very inexpensive.  It does not last long but you can freeze it.



Wine.  There is a lot of it, it’s good to great, and it’s not expensive.  Some of both the reds and white is a bit carbonated (naturally), which we do not care for.  Asti is not far and they make the famous Asti Spumante.  I may have never had a good one or they are all lousy, I can not say which.  You can get wine in enotecas.  You can bring your own container for the local inexpensive wine or buy better quality wine by the bottle at the same place or in any grocery store.

Enoteca in Turino
Enoteca in Turino

For more background on the wine here, see


There are restaurants galore here, as you would imagine.  We stick to the places the locals go to on an every day basis versus the Michelin starred ones.  The pork filet with a piece of chesse filled ham on top we had at a local joint where the wine is $9 a half liter for local white.  That’s quite a bit more than in Rome but still half of what we were paying in Graz this summer, and this wine is better.

Pork filet called Nido, a nest.
Pork filet called Nido, a nest.

I hope to write more about the wine in another post.

Torino (Turin), historically important and a surprisingly entertaining city in northern Italy

Mole Antonelliana

Torino (Turin), historically important and a surprisingly entertaining city in northern Italy


Turin is more than the home of the Shroud of Turin and the home of one of the world’s largest car manufacturers, Fiat-Chrysler.  It is also home to many museums, most famously the Museo Egitzio (Egyptian Museum), Museo di Antichita, the wonderful archaeological museum; Museo dell Automobile with an astounding collection dating to the first Fiat in 1892;  the excellent Palazzo Reale;  There are many more, as well as astounding architecture and urban design.  Getting around is super easy with its excellent public transit system taking you just about anywhere efficiently and inexpensively.

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