Piedmontese white wines
Roero Arneis, Cortese di Gavi, Erbaluce, Timorasso. Still or sparkling. It is difficult to choose the best. Because among the red-wine hills of the Langhe and Monferrato, the real pearl is often... white wine! Whether it is a very old native vine such as Nascetta or a classic of modern oenology such as Chardonnay, this "other" side of Piedmont cannot be ignored by the true lover of Italian wine.
Between Roero and Langhe: Arneis
Arneis is the ace up the sleeve of the Roero, a Piedmontese territory morphologically similar to the Langhe but situated along the left bank of the Tanaro. Here, where nebbiolo has not been as lucky, the identifying wine has become a white: Arneis. Straw-coloured and with splendid mineral, citrus, yellow fruit and elegantly vegetal fragrances, arneis is of precious freshness, always accompanied by an enveloping aromaticity. The best crus do not disdain refinement on lees or, in some cases, in wood, with significant enrichment of the complexity of an already intriguing product. It is also good as a passito wine.
Gavi, the Piedmontese white of the moment
Neutral according to some, many sided according to others, the cortese is certainly the Piedmontese pop white par excellence. Originally from the province of Alessandria, today it is typical of lower Piedmont and in particular of Gavi DOCG. For a Piedmontese aperitif, it competes with Arneis, which is perhaps more complex, but no less satisfying. Straw-coloured with greenish reflections, it generally expresses simple notes of white flowers and delicate fruits, with hints of minerals and wild herbs. Fresh and sapid, with a contained structure - except in the versions that undergo some refinement on lees - it generally comes into contact with only steel and leaves a slightly almond-flavoured persistence. It is also excellent as a spumante base, both in prosecco style and classic method.
Erbaluce: the great white wine of upper Piedmont
The erbaluce is the most characteristic white-skinned grape of upper Piedmont. Of unclear origin, perhaps belonging to the Trebbiano family, it seems however autochthonous to the Canavese area, and in fact, already in 1606, the man of letters Giulio Cesare Croce praised its qualities in Della eccellenza e diversità dei vini. The name derives from "alba-light", in reference to the coppery-pink colour of the leaves during autumn. The recent success of erbaluce, to which the Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG or Caluso is reserved, is due to the great ductility of the wines produced.
The grape, in fact, preserves high acidity even at the peak of ripeness, giving elegant, fragrant, fresh wines with floral, fruity, vegetal aromas, generally tense, subtle but also complete on the palate. An excellent still white, even when aged in wood, erbaluce turns out to be also perfect as a spumante, and not only as an aperitif. The most typical and sought-after product is Caluso Passito, a sweet wine produced from dried erbaluce grapes, whose must is vinified and aged, in the best versions, in vinsanto style, with the use of small barrels in contact with oxygen: the oxidative notes, of dried fruit and walnut husk, sometimes salty, thus balance the consistent residual sugar, creating one of the most intriguing, and Nordic, sweet wines in Italy.
Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon: the international Piedmontese white wine
Although not as widespread as in Tuscany, international grapes have also spread widely in Piedmont. The areas of choice are somewhat limited, but the results are extraordinary. Because of its climate and soil (the former is often cool and the latter mineral), Piedmont has in recent decades proved to be an ideal terroir for many international white grapes. In the land of Barolo, for example, excellent Chardonnays are produced, not infrequently refined slightly in wood. Fresh but well-structured and pleasantly spicy whites that make the most of a terroir that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And that's not all: apart from excellent Sauvignon Blancs, not everyone knows that the Langhe and Roero are the parents of some of Italy's best Rieslings. This is due above all to the almost mountainous terroir of upper Langa, where heroic vineyards, covered in snow in winter and with a particularly prickly climate, produce sensational whites in terms of their mineral vigour, classic notes of hydrocarbons and longevity.
Timorasso, Nascetta, Favorita and a heritage waiting to be taken back
According to many, due to its minerality and longevity, timorasso is the most important white grape in Piedmont, actually among the best in Italy. Speaking of the minerality of timorasso, a native grape of the Tortona hills in south-eastern Piedmont, generalisations are not usually made, but reference is made to specific notes of resin, hydrocarbon and flint that, over the years, evolve admirably into extraordinary complexity. In the area since the fourteenth century, it has repeatedly risked extinction, as its cultivation, very sensitive to rotting and other diseases, is extremely difficult, and yields are limited. Thanks to the conservative ageing in steel only on the lees, timorasso gives a wine that is not easy to read in its youth, which also needs years to express itself with all its class. When young, in fact, it can appear bitterish, vegetal and nervous, but with age it gives a full, structured, clear, vertical palate, with persistent acidity and an almond finish of great elegance.
Nascetta is the white grape variety native to the Langhe. Documented since the nineteenth century, it has recently been rediscovered and recovered, since, once the red vocation of the territory was established, it risked being abandoned. Its straw-yellow colour with greenish reflections pre-empts a bouquet of citrus fruits, grapefruit and white peach that evolve into white flowers, acacia honey and thyme. On the palate freshness floods the palate and persists thanks to the sapid backbone which, together with dried fruit, creates a pleasant juicy and silky sensation. It lends itself quite well to a certain evolution and also succeeds as a pleasant, mineral and refreshing spumate.
Recent studies have shown that the favorita and the vermentino are genetically the same vine; therefore, the favorita represents the Piedmontese variant, with its own characteristics linked to the climate, which is not the Mediterranean one of the "twin" and the soil. Widespread in the Langhe and Roero, as well as in the Belbo valley and towards Canelli, the favorita gives dry, fresh and harmonious whites, endowed with above all aromatic personality, but it is also well suited to the production of sparkling white wines, sometimes spumante, which enhance their marked acidity and fine bouquet.
Piedmont is in fact a region with a great wine-growing tradition, both white and red, with an extraordinary heritage of indigenous grapes. However, in recent decades, reds have definitely taken over: Barolo, Barbaresco, the great Barberas, Dolcetto and all the Nebbiolos from upper Piedmont are now – and justifiably so, of course - the winning trademarks of regional wine-growing. In addition, of course, to Moscato, which is perhaps the only great Piedmontese white grape with an international reach, but which, as we know, is almost always vinified sweet for the production of Moscato d'Asti, Asti spumante and some passito versions.
Piedmontese white wine has therefore been rediscovered. At times, entire districts have rediscovered the vine after ancient white vines in the area had risked becoming extinct or being totally replaced with red grapes. Such is the case with Timorasso. Other grapes have found new life thanks to the demands of modern taste, which is increasingly oriented towards fresh, dry, vertical whites, excellent for aperitifs and responsible drinking: this is the case of Gavi and Arneis del Roero. Let's (re)discover them together!