After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the isolated region’s dance with invasion has been her most defining characteristic. Having been controlled by the Dukes of Savoy, Austria, Germany, the Holy Roman Empire, and France, it would be an understatement to say that Piedmont has had many different rulers. Each culture left an indelible mark on the region’s culture as well as its winemaking practices. This occurred to such an extent that, thanks to its time under the control of Napoleonic France, vineyards have multiple owners, each of whom own only 2.5 acres on average.
It cannot be overstated that the Piedmontese people take their food and wine seriously. An adequate description would be that theirs is a culture based upon the art of haut-cuisine. Cafés and coffee shops serve as morning meeting-places, pre-lunch or pre-dinner aperitifs are a cultural requisite (after all, Vermouth originated in the Piedmont), and nearly all activity in the region stops for daily meals. Similar to Spain’s siesta culture, shops and businesses typically close from 12:30 pm until 3:00 pm for lunch. Culturally, lunch is the traditional main meal of the day and Sunday lunch a time for families to gather and eat together.
Every year, Italians of Piedmont host an influx of hounds and men who take part in the annual truffle harvest. Here, the black truffle is the most sought-after fungi in the world and, at prices well above $1,000 per pound, it is the world’s most expensive mushroom. Piedmontese cuisine incorporates truffles, nuts, and meats to make some of Italy’s most hearty stews and priciest pasta dishes. Agnoletti,pasta wrapped around a roast beef and vegetable center, in a hearty beef broth-based sauce can smooth the tannins of a Barolo or Barbaresco and help the wines’ fruit flavors bloom. Taglierini, baby taglietelle, in a bagna cauda sauce (garlic, anchovies, capers and butter) is one of the region’s traditional pairings for the crisp white Gavi. Piedmont is also world-renowned for its chocolate and hazelnut delicacies (like Nutella and gianduiotto), which can make an excellent complement to a glass of Brachetto d’Acqui.
Barolo, Barbaresco, Ghemme, and Gattinara, with their extremely tannic, aromatic, and ageworthy reds, are generally considered the quintessential Piedmontese wines. Barolo and Barbaresco are two of the most westerly winemaking regions in Piedmont and a recent push to establish crus has taken root. Ghemme and Gattinara, the most northerly of all Piedmontese winemaking regions, make a lighter and less-ageworthy expression of Nebbiolo. All four versions of Nebbiolo are tannic with a moderately acidic backbone that is underscored by humus and bacon fat.
Brachetto d’Acqui and Moscato d’Asti make red and white sparkling semisweet wines, respectively, characterized by a similarity to red velvet and angel’s food cake.
Gavi is an acidic, mineral-tinged wine with underpinnings of macadamia and Brazil nuts, which develop more as the wine ages.