The Grapes of Piedmont

One of Italy’s most famous wine regions, Piedmont boasts an impressive list of native grape varietals. The most common of these are Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo. When one thinks of the region, the first thought is of Barolo and Barbaresco, made from the Nebbiolo grape. The reality is that this accounts only for about 3% of the total production of the region, with Barbera and Dolcetto being the two other most popular wines.


With Barbera, Dolcetto is one of the two “everyday” wines of the Piedmont region in Italy. While the most favorable growing sites here are reserved for Barolo and Barbaresco, winemakers plant Dolcetto widely where the temperamental Nebbiolo grape doesn’t thrive.

Translating into English as “little sweet one”, Dolcetto makes brightly colored wines, reddish-purple in hue, with aromas of blackberries and plums.  On release, they are generally fruity with soft tannins. Really, there’s little reason to hold onto Dolcetto for much longer than a year, after which its youthful fruit character starts to fade.


Barbera has long filled-in the low slopes and valleys of Northern Italy. It’s considered a lesser wine to Nebbiolo and, therefore, doesn’t earn the best grape-growing real estate.

Somehow Barbera wine tastes both rich and light-bodied. Why is that? Well, one reason is that it has dark staining pigments that dye the wine to near-black. However, the taste of Barbera has notes of strawberry and sour cherry. Drink within two to four years.


Even in its region of origin Nebbiolo is exceptionally finicky about where it will happily grow and ripen. The Nebbiolo heartland is the tiny Barolo region, a cluster of fog-prone hills around the village of the same name.

The wine is typically intensely aromatic, developing a bouquet in which, roses, autumn undergrowth, woodsmoke, violets and tar can often be found – together with a greater variety of other ingredients than most other grapes. On the palate, the wine is typically high in acidity and, until after many years in bottle, tannins.

[Sources: WineAccess, Wine Folly, Jancis Robinson]