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Piemonte Pulls Some Corks

I love Piemonte. 

It’s a beautiful place that makes many great wines.  The people are friendly.  The Alba truffle festival is to dine for. And as for those views of the Alps when Torino isn’t pumping out smog, well…

I also love Piemonte because within the Italian wine world it seems to play the role of Burgundy to Tuscany’s Bordeaux.  Both the Piemonte and Tuscany regions (more about the spelling of those names in a minute) are well-regarded for their wines, both are well-known within the wine world of dealers and collectors, yet Tuscany, like Bordeaux, gets all the press and all the attention, especially in the English-speaking world.  When was the last time a friend said, “Let’s rent a villa in Piemonte?”  And who would have thought of inventing a super-Piemonte?  Then there is the matter of having Florence as an added attraction.

Last week I found myself in New York attending a tasting as part of the “Piemonte Land of Perfection” campaign.  Many of these regional show-and-tells are desperately seeking attention, but, in this case, the air of this new publicity and education blitz seems to be more one of, “Don’t forget about your friends in northeast Italy; after all, we are Piemonte.”

“Actually, we got more visitors this year than Toscana,” says Andrea Ferrero, president of the Piemonte Perfection organization, as well as head of the consortium for Barolo, Barbaresco, Alba, Langhe and Roero.  “The UNESCO world heritage designation is also pending.”

Most of the heavy hitters who make Barolo and Barbaresco weren’t in NYC, but the purpose of the event was to introduce regional trade and media to the diversity of wines made within Piemonte’s borders and to show some fresh faces that may not be well-known or even represented by American importers.

In terms of varietals and regions, several producers were pouring Brachetto d’Acqui, a light-colored, aromatic, red sparkling wine that was once virtually unheard of but which was elevated to DOCG status in 1994.  “The big boom came in the 1980s,” says Paolo Ricagno, head of PR for the consortium, “and it was all because that Arturo Bersano heavily promoted it.”  The wine’s biggest export market is the U.S.  “It’s used as an aperitivo primarily,” Ricagno says, “but it’s also good with sweet and sour foods and with desserts.”

Most people are familiar with the Nebbiolos and Barberas of Piemonte, but few know about Dolcetto.  “Dolcetto is the workhorse red grape of Piemonte,” says Mario Felice Schwenn, whose company, Clavesana, claims the title of world’s largest producer of Dolcetto wines and which wants to “take Dolcetto mainstream.”  One of their efforts is a quite nice, introductory wine called “D’Oh,” and they are still excited that Dolcetto di Dogliani became a DOCG in 2010.

There were a few producers showing one of my favorite Italian whites, Arneis, grown primarily in Roero, the district on the north side of Alba.  “Roero is a very young land, the last in the region to emerge from the sea,” explains Ferrero, “and it’s known for its sandy soil. It produces fine and elegant wines.”  However, there is no large push to market Arneis, because there are relatively small amounts of it made, and the price is higher than a lot of Italian whites.  “It’s usually sold out by June,” Ferrero says.

I did ask several people why the campaign is using “Piemonte” instead of “Piedmont,” but either something was lost in translation or no one knew the answer.  Most English and American communications, including wine books and magazines, refer to Italian regions by their Anglicized names.  Toscana is called Tuscany, and most Tuscan winemakers even use the term when talking with Americans and the English.  Similar, almost everyone in the U.S. refers to Piemonte as Piedmont.  Was there a strategy at work here?

Never found out. But then perhaps “Piemonte” just sounds better when paired with “perfection.”

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