Benjamin Barrone is a finance and accounting professional located in Chicago, IL. Mr. Barrone most recently served as Director of Finance for Vital Proteins, also located in Chicago, IL. Benjamin (Ben) Barrone enjoys making great food and wine pairings. When it comes to red wine, Ben indicates that his favorite come from the Piedmont region of Northern Italy. Best know for their long-lived Barolo and Barbaresco, the region is produces Barbera and Nebbiolo that are more approachable in their youth. Perhaps the best part of these wines is their versatility with food.
Situated in the northwest, Piedmont shares borders with France and Switzerland. The region’s Italian name, Piemonte, translates to foot of the mountains, which is a fitting descriptor for its subalpine location and the fact that it’s surrounded by mountains on three sides—the Alps in the north and west and the Apennines in the south.
There are two distinct winemaking areas in Piedmont. One is northeast of Turin in an area near Lake Maggiore. The other, which is the region’s real heartland, is located southeast of the city in the provinces of Asti, Alessandria, and Cuneo. The highest concentration of vineyards altogether is in the Langhe and the Monferrato hills. This is where the region’s most acclaimed vineyard sites can be found. The land here is strikingly dense with vines. The surface area of some villages, particularly around Barbaresco, is almost entirely planted with curving rows of grapevines.
As a wine region, Piedmont has had enormous success cultivating its own indigenous varieties. Though some international grapes like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc are planted here, the region is renowned for its red wines made from grapes like Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto and whites made from Cortese, Arneis, and Moscato
The mountains create a protective barrier around Piedmont and the sub-alpine foothills offer many sunny slopes for planting the region’s most-prized grape. While the sunniest aspects tend to be reserved for Nebbiolo, nearly all of the vineyards in Piedmont are planted on hills ranging in elevation from 150 to 450 meters above sea level. Very few (less than 5 percent) are officially classified as flat. The coolest sites are usually planted with Dolcetto, except in the hills southeast of Asti, where cooler vineyards are reserved for Moscato.
The most famous winemaking area, the Langhe, gets its name from the Latin word for tongue, which aptly describes the long, narrow strip of hills that make up this sub-region. The Langhe is surrounded on three sides by rivers. The Tanaro runs west and north and the Bormida di Spigno to the east.
Soils are typically made up of varying degrees of sedimentary clay, calcareous marl, sandstone, and sand. Those in the Langhe, as well as in the area around Gavi, are rich with limestone. In the Roero, soils are sandier and less calcareous. Variations in soil composition, altitude, and aspect combined with the sub-mountainous landscape contribute to a range of mesoclimates throughout the region.
Overall, Piedmont has a classically continental climate (though the area of Gavi in the southeast experiences some maritime influences from the Mediterranean Sea). The continental climate brings long, hot summers that extend into early autumn. Then temperatures drop quickly for a cool fall and cold winter. Spring is also cool and often rainy.
The area is known for the morning mists and thick fog that roll through the mountains and valleys. It’s commonly believed that the Nebbiolo grape takes its name from la nebbia, the Italian word for fog. In the Langhe, fog helps to prolong Nebbiolo’s ripening season, yielding aromatic wines that are high in acid, alcohol, and tannins with excellent aging potential.
Hail can be a particularly hazardous threat to both the quantity and quality of grapes in Piedmont. In the past, it has caused losses of up to 30 percent of an overall grape harvest. Fortunately, when hail does hit, it typically affects only a few slopes and never the entire Nebbiolo crop.