The Ginger Man

Archives: June 2015

Torino, Piemonte

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THE CITY

 

Turin   Torino, pronounced [toˈriːno]  is a city and an important business and cultural center in northern Italycapital of the Piedmont region, located mainly on the left bank of the Po River, in front of Susa Valley and surrounded by the western Alpine arch. The population of the city proper is 911,823 (December 2012) while the population of the urban area is estimated by Eurostat to be 1.7 million inhabitants.

The city has a rich culture and history, and is known for its numerous art galleries, restaurants, churches, palaces, opera houses, piazzas, parks, gardens, theatres, libraries, museums and other venues. Turin is well known for its renaissancebaroquerococo, neo-classical, and art nouveau architecture.

UntitledMuch of the city’s public squares, castles, gardens and elegant palazzi such as Palazzo Madama, were built in the 16th and 18th century, after the capital of the Duchy of Savoy (later Kingdom of Sardinia) was moved to Turin from Chambery (nowadays France) as part of the urban expansion.

Turin is sometimes called the cradle of Italian liberty, for having been the birthplace and home of notable politicians and people who contributed to the Risorgimento, such as Cavour. The city currently hosts some of Italy’s best universities, colleges, academies, lycea and gymnasia, such as the six-century-old University of Turin and the Turin Polytechnic. Prestigious and important museums, such as the Museo Egizio and the Mole Antonelliana are also found in the city. Turin’s several monuments and sights make it one of the world’s top 250 tourist destinations, and the tenth most visited city in Italy in 2008.

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The city used to be a major European political center, being Italy’s first capital city in 1861 and being home to the House of Savoy, Italy’s royal family. Even though much of its political significance and importance had been lost by World War II, it became a major European crossroad for industry, commerce and trade, and currently is one of Italy’s main industrial centers, being part of the famous “industrial triangle“, along with Milan and Genoa. Turin is ranked third in Italy, after Milan and Rome, for economic strength. With a GDP of $58 billion, Turin is the world’s 78th richest city by purchasing power. Turin is also home too much of the Italian automotive industry.

THE WINE

Piemonte, in the far north-west of Italy, enjoys an unrivaled seat among the world’s very finest wine regions. It is the home of more DOCG wines than any other Italian region, among them such well-known and respected names as Barolo, Barbaresco, and Barbera d’Asti. Although famous for its austere, tannic red wines made from Nebbiolo, Piedmont’s greatest success story in the past decade has been sweet, white, sparkling Moscato d’Asti.

Piedmont sits at the foot of the Western Alps – the name Piemonte means ‘the foot of the mountains’ – which encircle its northern and western sides and forms its naturally formidable border with Provence, France. To its southeast lie the northernmost Apennine Mountains. These low coastal hills divide Piedmont from its long, thin neighbor Liguria, and the Mediterranean Sea beyond.

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Piedmont: ‘at the foot of the mountains’

The Alps and Apennines are great significance here, in various ways. They are largely responsible for the region’s favorable climate, and for many centuries provided a certain level of protection from invasion. It wasn’t until the region’s mountain defenses were successfully breached (first by the Romans, then repeatedly by the French) that advanced oenology finally arrived here. The introduction and regular updating of foreign winemaking technologies is one of the main reasons that Piedmont remains so viticulturally advanced compared to other Italian regions. The region’s proximity to France also plays a part in this.

Piedmont is often described as the ‘Burgundy’ of Italy, a reputation due to its many small-scale, family wineries and a focus on quality which sometimes borders on obsession. What Burgundy does with Pinot Noir, Piedmont does with Nebbiolo – not the region’s most widely planted grape, but the one which has made the largest contribution to the quality and reputation of its wine. Nebbiolo grapes are behind four of Piedmont’s DOCGs: Barolo and Barbaresco (two of Italy’s finest reds), Roero and Gattinara. Nebbiolo wines are known for their ‘tar and roses’ bouquet, and the pronounced tannins which can make them unapproachable in their youth but underwrite their excellent cellaring potential. The grape is known as Spanna in the north and east of Piedmont, and is used in at least ten local DOCs including Carema, Fara and Nebbiolo d’Alba.

Barbera, a dark-skinned variety from the Monferrato hills, is Piedmont’s workhorse grape and the region’s most widely planted variety. It is long been used to make everyday wines under a number of DOC titles, but is now behind a growing number of superlative wines. Piedmont’s best Barberas are sold under the Barbera del Monferrato, Barbera d’Asti or Barbera d’Alba titles. These are classically Italian in style: tangy, sour-cherry-scented reds with good acidity and moderate complexity. Less astringently tannic than their Nebbiolo-based counterparts, Barbera wines are enjoyable (and marketable) within just a year or two of vintage, giving them a competitive edge in today’s fast-paced, impatient wine market. This has made Barbera popular with both wineries and consumers.

The third red grape of Piedmont is Dolcetto. It has several DOCs devoted exclusively to it: Dolcettos d’Alba, d’Acqui and di Ovada are the top three. Although its name means ‘little sweet one’, Dolcetto is usually used to make dry red wines with an appetizing, gently bitter finish. Unfortunately, the care and attention lavished on Nebbiolo and Barbera too often leave their poor cousin Dolcetto lacking refinement and complexity.

Brachetto is also worthy of mention, not least for its role in the sweet, sparkling reds of the Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG. So too is Freisa, with its broad portfolio of sweet, dry, still and sparkling red wines made in Asti and Chieri.

Although Piedmont is known as a red-wine region, it produces several well regarded white wine styles. The most obvious (in every sense) are crowd-pleasing Moscato d’Asti and its less-ambitious cousin Asti Spumante. Both of these are made from Moscato grapes grown around the town of Asti, but there is a key distinction: Moscato d’Asti is sweeter, more lightly sparkling and generally of higher quality.

Much less frivolous than the sparkling whites of Asti is Gavi, the Piedmont white of the connoisseur. This is made from Cortese, a variety which struggles to produce wines of any aromatic complexity anywhere else, and is now facing serious competition from the alluringly aromatic Arneis. Although not as prestigious as the whites above, Arneis, the best of which comes from Roero, is increasingly popular for its delicate, exotic perfume. A final white worthy of mention is local obscurity Erbaluce (of Erbaluce di Caluso), which has naturally benefitted from the 300% increase in Piedmont’s white-wine production over the past three decades.

With more DOCGs and DOCs than any other Italian region, and about 40% of its wine produced at DOC/G level, Piedmont is challenged only by Veneto and Tuscany for the top spot among Italian wine regions. It is a region which has identified its star grapes, while continuing to experiment with new varieties in the background. Viognier has been trialed by at least one well-respected winery, and the ever-successful Chardonnay is also present in many Piedmont vineyards. Although secure for now, over the next decade Piedmont will be exposed to increasing competition from other Italian wine regions seeking to usurp its crown.

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Any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact me

J_armstrong@winebow.com