Monday, January 20, 2014

Unit 4 – Day 1: Overview of Italy and Piedmont

After studying the regions and wines of France in Unit 2 in the Intensive Sommelier Training, in Unit 3 we studied New World wine regions (North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa), which in comparison are relatively easy to understand. In Unit 4 we are transitioning to what is probably the second most challenging wine region in the world to learn – Italy. We spent 10 days studying France and we barely skimmed the surface so four days in Italy really won’t be sufficient so as soon as this course is over I plan to return to both France and Italy and spend at least a year doing in-depth studying.

Unit 4 is divided into 4 sections:

Day 1 - Overview and Piedmont

Day 2  - Northern Italy

Day 3 – Tuscany

Day 4 - Central Italy, Southern Italy and Islands.

However, I think a more logical approach would be to divide these classes a little differently into the following:

Day 1 - North Western Italy

Day 2  - North Eastern Italy

Day 3 - Central Italy

Day 4 - South Italy

So, my notes may follow this format utilizing the text-books and other sources rather than strictly going according to what was actually discussed in class.

Introduction to Italian Wine

Italy is one of the most important wine-producing countries in the world. Italy is the second-leading wine-producing nation (1.3 billon gallons per year) just behind France and it is THE biggest exporting nation to the United States. While the average American might drink wine on weekends, holidays and special occasions in Italy it is part of every-day life. In fact, Italians are some of the biggest consumers as they average person drink more than 20 gallons per person per year. Most of the grapes grown are indigenous species and it has been estimated that there are over 2,000 different kinds, most of which have never been cataloged. Not only does Italy produce, consume and export a large amount of wine it also has a long history of wine making (over 4,000 years) as the early Etruscans were already producing wine when the Greeks arrived who came to call the country Enotria – “the land of wine.”

Italy can be divided into 4 large regions: Northwestern Italy, Northeastern Italy, Central Italy and Southern Italy and the Islands. The 3 Classic Regions are Piemonte (Piedmont), Toscano (Tuscany) and Veneto.

Italian Wine Laws and Labels

The Italian wine laws were first introduced in 1963 and referred to as the Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) laws are loosely based on the French AOC laws. They established maximum yields, approved varieties and viticultural practices, set geographical boundaries, and authorized vinification techniques, styles, and minimum (or maximum) alcohol levels for each DOC wine.

They can be rather confusing at times, especially for someone like myself who is more acquainted with the AVA system. These laws also changed a couple times since they were first initiated which only adds to the confusion. In 1992 there was an attempt to reform the laws. Then with the EU Common Market Organization reforms were initiated from 2008 through 2011, jurisdiction over the final approval of new appellations transferred from Rome to Brussels, the political center of the EU. From 2009 to late 2011 the number of DOCs multiplied and DOCGs increased from under 50 to 73, as officials rushed to fulfill over 300 requests to approve or change the status of appellations across the country.

The DOC laws divide Italian wines into 4 quality classifications, from strictest to loosest in requirements they are as follows:

(1)  Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG)

To date there are only 37 DOCGs and this category represents an attempt to guarantee quality.

(2)  Donominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC)

The term loosely translates to “area of controlled origin.” These wines are often labeled by region (e.g., Soave DOC) or a grape and a region (e.g., Barbera d’Alba DOC).

(3)  Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT)

Better quality wines made with very few restricitons.

(4) Vino da Tavola

Lower-Quality Wines made with very few restrictions, “Table Wine”. Similar to French vin de pays.

Goria Laws

In 1992 new laws were initiated which have been in the process of being implemented. The new law was initiated by Giovanni Goria, and it seeks to clarify Italian wine laws by restructuring a pyramid of quality.

At the lowest level is simple Vino Da Tavola, basic wine that may be labelled red (rosso), white (bianco) or pink (rosato); but the grape or locality cannot be stated.

The next grade is Indicazione Geograflca Tipica (IGT), which is similar to the French Vin De Pays: this is wine from a locality (not a DOC zone), with the grape name shown on the label.

The final levels are DOC and DOCG which previously existed.

The Goria law makes it possible for less-than-successful DOCs to be eliminated, and for successful ones to be promoted to DOCG. This is in line with the French system in which AOCs are constantly monitored and adapted when and where necessary.

A new departure is the use of vineyard, estate and commune names within DOCs and DOCGs. Previously, one DOCG covered the whole of Chianti which produced as wine as the Medoc and Graves combined. There was no official provision for indicating the vineyard or commune, or the name of the producer. The new law allows the labeling (in diminishing order of size) of sub-zones, communes, localities, micro-zones, estates and even specific vineyards. This restores the importance of location
(or terroir) to the legal quality system.

Finally, the law allows wines to be assessed at harvest time. If they fail to meet certain standards they will be downgraded and a high quality Vino Da Tavola may qualify as an individual estate or vineyard DOC or DOCG wine.

Piedmont (Piemonte)

The name Piedmont (Piemonte in Italian) means “foot of the mountain” as the region is surrounded on three sides by large mountains, the Apennines to the south and the Alps to the west and north. It has a purely continental climate as it is completely landlocked and is cut off from any Mediterranean influence by the “rain shadow” effect of the tall coastal mountains. The Po River flows through the region eastward from its headwaters in the Western Alps, creating a fertile alluvial plain well-suited for standard agriculture but too fertile for viticulture.  So, while Turin is the capital and most important city, most of Piedmont’s vineyards are planted in the foothills south of the Po Valley, in the provinces of Asti, Alessandria, and Cuneo.  Within these three provinces, vineyards are found on the Monferrato and Langhe hills.  Thinner, calcareous marl and sandstone soils with varying percentages of clay and sand, coupled with the sub-mountainous landscape, create a number of distinct mesoclimates throughout the region. Very few blends are produced in Piedmont; instead winemakers focus on single-varietal wines that translate the unique terroir of small, classified regions.

The Important Grapes of Piedmont



The top red grape is Nebbiolo which is named for the morning fog (la nebbia). It produces extremely tannic, acidic, full-bodied wines that are high in alcohol. The two most important appellations are Barolo DOCG and Barbesco DOCG found in the hills surrounding Alba, both are made from 100% Nebbiolo. Barolo must be aged a minimum of 3 years before release, 2 of which must be in barrel. Barbesco has a warmer climate and the wines tend to be softer with less tannin and more fruit. The wines must be aged for a minimum of 2 years (including at least 9 months in cask) prior to release, or for a minimum of 4 years if labeled riserva.  Both Barolo and Barbesco have aromas of tar, truffle, rose petals, and dried fruits and their color is characteristically moderate in concentration and orange-tinged even in youth. 

Barbera and Dolcetto

Another important grape is Barbera, it is the most widely planted grape and it produces light, medium-bodied wines with dark fruits, earthiness and often a slight smoky character. Another is Dolcetto, meaning “little sweet one” it produces high-quality, light red wines. Although Piedmont does not rank among the largest producing regions, more than 80% of its production is at the DOC level or higher – more than any other region in Italy. The most notable are Asti DOCG, Barbera d’Alba DOC, and Dolcetto D’Alba DOC. Two new DOCG appellations established for Dolcelto wines are Dolcelto di Doglini DOCG and Dolcelto di Ovada DOC.



The top white wine in the region is Moscato which produces sweet, soft, sparkling wines (spumante) of the Asti DOCG. The wines are made from Moscato Bianco and blended from vineyards across the southern provinces of Piedmont before undergoing secondary fermentation, usually using the Charmat Method.  Riper grapes are used to produce Moscato d’Asti which has a maximum pressure of 2 atmospheres and it is only slightly sparkling (frizzante) rather than spumante, with an alcohol level between 4.5% and 6.5%.  Both wines are sweet, but Moscato d’Asti tends to have more of a floral bouquet. 



Another important white grape is Cortese which produces light-bodied, mineral-tinged, acidic wines that are citrus fruit driven. The most important wines come from the Gavi DOCG in the southwest corner of Piedmont produced from Cortese grapes. Cortese di Gavi, or Gavi di Gavi, was the first still white wine in Piedmont to be promoted to the DOCG level.  The appellation is located in the extreme southern portion of Alessandria province and shares its western border with Ovada. Although most of the production is focused on still wines (tranquillo), spumante or frizzante versions are also produced.



Another important region is Roero Arneis DOCG which was elevated from DOC in 2005. Roero is in the southwest corner of Piedmont on the northwestern bank of the Tanaro River, opposite Barolo and Barbaresco. While the DOCG’s red wines are based on a minimum 95% Nebbiolo, Roero also produces fresh and floral white wines from the Arneis grape. 

Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

Alta Langa DOCG is home to traditional method sparkling wines made from Pinot Noir (Pinot Nero) and Chardonnay grapes. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir have been planted in Piedmont since the early 1800s. Alta Langa spumante wines may not be released for 30 months after the harvest, and riserva versions may not be released for a full 3 years. 



Finally, there is the Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG which is dedicated to producing sweet sparkling red wine from the indigenous Brachetto grape near the village of Acqui. Both dry and still versions of Brachetto exist, although they are increasingly rare. 

Other Important Regions in Northwestern Italy


Emilia-Romagna is a large area just north of Tuscany and south of Lombardy and Veneto, it spans an area from the Adriatic Sea in the east across northern Italy to Liguria. It is a high producing region, accounting for 15% of the country’s production. But most of the wine is IGT and vino da tavola. Emilia-Romagna’s currently has two DOCG appellations:

Albana di Romagna DOCG is the first dedicated to white wine made from the Albana grape. It is made in a range of possible styles but the most promising versions are passito - a wine made from grapes that have been dried to concentrate their juice.

Colli Bolognesi Classico Pignoletto DOCG is Emilia-Romagna’s second DOCG (awarded in 2011).  These are tart, dry varietal white wines produced from the Pignoletto grape in an area stretching southward from the city of Bologna.  It was known to the ancient Romans as “Pino Lieto”, is most likely identical to Umbria’s Grechetto. 

The central provinces of Modena and Reggio are most known for dry or sweet (dolce) red sparkling wines made from the Lambrusco grape. Several DOCs, including Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, Lambrusco di Sorbara, and Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce, produce frizzante red wines from over sixty sub-varieties of the Lambrusco variety.  The Lambrusco Montovano DOC lies just over the regional border in Lombardy. 



Liguria is a narrow region of mountainous coastland south of Piedmont that wraps northwest around the border of Emilia-Romagna. It has a Mediterranean climate, and the top white wine is a local indigenous variety known as Pigato. It is a late-ripening white grape variety, does well especially in the DOC wines of Colli di Luni and Riviera Ligure di Ponente.  Its name means “spotted” from the appearance of the ripe grapes and it may be related to Arneis or Vermentino.

Important red grapes include Dolcetto (known locally as Ormeasco) especially in Ormeasco di Pornassio DOC, located in the Riviera di Ponente, in Italy’s north-western region of Liguria. Ormeasco is considered a “mountain wine” in Pornassio, as this area has a very challenging growing environment with steep slopes reach up to 2625 feet (800 meters) above sea level. Most red varieties struggle to grow in this kind of terrain and climate as they must contend with early autumnal frosts. However the native Ormeasco thrives as it ripens early. Regulations require that the wine comprise at least 95% of this variety with 5% of other red grapes permitted in Liguria.

Others important grapes in Liguria include Sangiovese, and the local red Rossese produced as Riviera Ligure di Ponente DOC varietal wines.  Rossese is particularly notable as the sole component in wines of the Dolceacqua, or Rossese di Dolceacqua DOC

Despite advances in quality in these appellations, the white wines of Cinque Terre DOC remain amongst Liguria’s most well known. The wine is produced from a must containing at least 40% of the Bosco grape, but may also contain up to 40% of Albarola and/or Vermentino and up to 20% of other white-berried grapes approved and/or recommended for the Province of La Spezia.

Lombardy (Lombardia)

Lombardy is centrally located in the area of the Italian Alps. To the south is Emilia-Romagna, to the west is Piedmont, to the east is Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige and to the north Switzerland and the Alps. Lombardy is small region but it produces some of Italy’s top sparkling wines. The region can be divided into 3 sections:

(1) Franciacorta DOCG is the most important DOCG zone in Lombardy established in 1995. The name “Franciacorta” is restricted to sparkling wines but still wines from the region may be released as Curtefranca DOC or Sebino IGT.  While the production of sparking wine in the region dates back to 1570 the region’s recent success are due to the efforts of Guido Berlucchi in the early 1960s, and Mauricio Zanella of Ca’Del Bosco, whose prestige cuvee “Annamaria Clementi”.  The requirements are as follows:

[A] Production Method: Franciacorta DOCG produces sparkling wines made by metodo classico (the traditional method) so like Champagne the flavors are derived from secondary fermentation and autolysis

[B] Grapes Used: The wine consists of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir (known locally as Pinot Nero), and a maximum 50% Pinot Bianco. Franciacorta Rosé requires a minimum 25% Pinot Nero grapes and is produced by blending rather than the saignée method. Wines labeled “Satèn” must include only white grapes, and are bottled at less than five atmospheres, a lower pressure than the five to six atmospheres required for standard bottlings. 

[C] Non-Vintage, Vintage and Ageing: Non-vintage Franciacorta DOCG wines must spend a minimum 18 months maturing on the lees, and may not be released until 25 months after the harvest.  Vintage, or millesimato, Franciacorta may not be released for a minimum 37 months, although in practice many producers allow their vintages wines to age for a much longer period.  Vintage Franciacorta requires only 85% of the grapes to be harvested in the stated year and it may be labeled riserva if it ages a minimum 5 years on its lees, with release after a minimum 67 months. 

[D] Sweetness Levels: With the exception of the exclusively brut “Satèn” style, non-vintage Franciacorta may be released in wide range of final sweetness levels, determined by the dosato (dosage).  The residual sugar scale in Franciacorta is the same as Champagne.

(2) Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico DOCG is another important region for producing traditional method sparkling wines in the southern area of Lombardy.  The wine must consist of a minimum 70% Pinot Nero.  If the wine has at least 85% it may be labeled “Pinot Nero” and “Pinot Nero Rosé”.  The aging reqirements for Oltrepò Pavese is shorter than Franciacorta, non-vintage wines must spend 15 months on the lees and vintage wines must spend 2 years on the lees.  Still wines from the region may be released as Oltrepò Pavese DOC.  

(3) Valtellina DOC is north of Franciacorta and it is Lombardy’s most important zone for red wines.  The Nebbiolo grape, known as Chiavennasca in Valtellina, provides a lighter and more angular style here than in neighboring Piedmont.  Valtellina’s vineyards represent the Nebbiolo grape’s northernmost outpost in Italy; despite the region’s Alpine location and high altitude, an abundance of sunshine makes the slow ripening process of the grape possible.  Within the region there are three DOCG zones:

[A] Valtellina Superiore DOCG which has five subzones: Valgella, Inferno, Grumello, Sassella, and Maroggia.  Vatellina Superiore wines are labeled as “Stagafassli” if bottled in the neighboring territory of Switzerland.  Valtellina Superiore is aged for a compulsory 24 months (12 in cask), and riserva wines are aged 3 years prior to release. 

[B] The second is the Sforzato di Valtellina DOCG (also known as Valtellina Sfursat).  Sforzato is a style similar to recioto, produced from Nebbiolo grapes that are dried to release no more than half the equivalent juice content of a freshly harvested grape.  The resulting wine is aged for at least two years, is dry in character, and has a minimum 14% alcohol content.

[C] The Moscato di Scanzo DOCG surrounds the town of Bergamo to the west of Franciacorta, and produces sweet, passito red wines from a red Moscato grape.  The wines must be aged for a minimum 2 years, but may not be aged in wood.  Moscato di Scanzo is often bottled in the sleek and slender futura.

Valle dAosta

Valle d’Aosta is landlocked in the mountainous western Alps, which gives the region a continental climate with long, cold winters and short, hot summers.  Its vineyards are concentrated in a narrow band of land carved out by the Dora Baltea River. The Valle d’Aosta has the lowest production amongst Italy’s 20 regions in volume of production. Within the Valle d’Aosta DOC there are 7 sub-appellations:

(1) Arnad-Montjovet

(2) Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle

(3) Chambave

(4) Donnas

(5) Enfer d’Arvier

(6) Nus

(7) Torrette. 

Both local and international grapes are grown in the region to produce red, white, and rosé blends and varietal wines including Petit Arvine, Gamay, Petit Rouge, Fumin, and Premetta.  The Petit Rouge grape dominates wines from Torrette, Chambave, and Enfer d’Arvier, whereas Picotendro (Nebbiolo) provides a high proportion of the blend for Donnas and Arnad-Montjovet reds.  Blanc de Morgex (Prié Blanc), is the white grape that goes into still and sparkling wines of La Salle, grown at one of Europe’s highest vineyard elevations on the slopes of Mont Blanc.  In addition, Valle d’Aosta DOC wines may be labeled as varietal wines. 

Learning Objectives of Unit 4 – Day 1: Northwestern Italy

At the beginning of class lectures a list of learning objectives is provided to the students. By the end of the class, the students should have a certain degree of understanding from their own reading and the lectures and be able to provide the answers to list of questions. The Learning Objectives for Unit 4 - Day 1 along with the answers are as follows.

By the end of class, students should be able to:

(1) What are the Quality Levels for Italian wines?

Answer: Vino Da Tavola, IGT, DOC, DOCG

(2)  Describe the Goria laws

Answer: The Goria laws reorganize the pyramid of quality and allow for the reassessment of DOCs and Vino Da Tavola which may be reclassified if the quality lessons or improves and allows for the indication of producer and vineyard designations.

(3)  What are the principle grapes of Piedmont?

Answer: Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto

(4)  What is the production method of Moscato d’ Asti?

Answer: Tank or Charmat Method

(5) What is the synonym for Nebbiolo in the DOCGs of Gattinara and Gheme?

Answer: Spanna

(6)  What are the important white wine producing appellations in Piedmont?

Answer: Gavi DOCG, Roero Arneis DOCG

(7) What are the aging requirements for Barolo Normale and Riserva and Barbaresco Normale and Riserva?

Answer: Barolo Normale must be aged a minimum of 3 years before release, 2 of which must be in barrel, or for a minimum of 5 years if labeled riserva.  Barbesco Normale must be aged for a minimum of 2 years (including at least 9 months in cask) prior to release, or for a minimum of 4 years if labeled riserva

(8)  Describe the attributes of any wines tasted today

Answer: See below

The Wines

On the first day of Unit 4 we tasted the following wines:

1. 2012 Marco Porello 'Camestri', Roero Arneis DOCG, Italy

This is a clear white wine, yellow in color, star-bright with minimal rim variation and medium viscosity. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of golden apples, lime, lemongrass, tangerine, with a hint of blanched almonds and pistachios. On the palate it has flavors of lemonade, under ripe oranges and stale beer on the finish. It has medium++ to high acidity, medium body and a very long finish. This wine sells for $13 - $15 per bottle. I have tasted very few Arneis so I don’t have a broad and deep enough base to evaluate this wine, and the one that is most prominent in my memory is one that I tasted (and bought) from August Ridge Winery which you can read about in my other blog, the California Winery Review in Paso Robles in May 2012.

2. 2011 Bruno Giacosa Dolcetto d’Alba DOC

This wine is clear ruby at the core to pink with minimal rim variation, day-bright, with medium concentration and medium viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderate intense aromas of cranberry, pomegranate, cherry and dusty blackberries with a hint of violet. On the palate it has flavors of dried cherries, raspberries and a hint of dried green herbs. It has medium+ acidity, medium+ tannins, medium body and a medium+ length finish. This wine sells for $26 - $30 per bottle.

3. 2011 Vietti “Scarrone” Barbera d’Alba DOC

This is a clear red wine, dark ruby at the core to garnet with minimal rim variation and medium viscosity. On the nose it is clean with fresh aromas of cranberry, blackberry, smoke, dried meat, and sweet pipe tobacco. On the palate it has flavors of black cherries and savory notes. It is dry with perhaps a touch of residual sugar or alcohol sweetness, medium tannins, medium+ acidity and a long finish. This wine sells for about $23 per bottle.

4. 2009 Produttori del Barbesco, Barbesco DOCG

This is a clear red wine, day-bright, low concentration of garnet at the core with minor hints of orange at the rim and medium viscosity. On the nose it is clean, with moderate intense aromas of dried cherry, black licorice, black tar and a hint of dried rose. On the palate it has flavors of dried cherries, mushrooms and dried tobacco. This wine is dry with medium++ to high tannin, medium+ acidity, medium body and medium+ alcohol and a medium length finish. A very fine wine that could use some more ageing. This wine sells for about $30 per bottle.

5. 2009 Marchesi di Gresy Martinenga, Barbesco DOCG

This is a clear red wine, day-bright, low concentration of garnet at the core with minor hints of orange at the rim and medium viscosity. On the nose it is clean, with moderate intense aromas of tart cherries, a hint of leather, dried herbs, dried mushrooms and sweet tobacco. On the palate it has flavors of dried cherries, mushrooms and cloves. This wine is dry with medium++ to high tannin, medium+ acidity, medium body and medium+ alcohol and a medium length finish. Another great wine but it too could use some more ageing. This wine sells for about $46 per bottle.

6. 2005 Castello di Verduno Barolo, Massara DOCG

This is a clear red wine, ruby at the core to garnet at the rim with a tint of orange, day-bright with low concentration and medium viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of dried cherries, dried tobacco, mushrooms, black tea, cedar, and dried roses. The fruit in this wine is quite faded so the earthy aromas dominate. On the palate it is dry with flavors of dried cranberries and tobacco with medium+ tannins, medium+ acidity, medium body and medium+ alcohol and a medium length finish. Whereas the previous wines seemed like they needed a little more age I think this wine may have turned to corner as it is losing its fruit. Yet, I found it quite intriguing. This wine sells for about $61 per bottle.

7. 2008 Paolo Scavino Barolo, Carobric DOCG

This is a clear red wine, dark ruby at the core to garnet at the rim, day-bright with low concentration and medium viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of macerated cherries, raspberry preserves, mushrooms and a hint of menthol. On the palate it has flavors of black cherries, mushrooms, dried meat and a hint of black walnuts on the finish. It is dry with medium++ to high tannins, medium+ acidity, and medium body with a long finish. This wine sells for about $50 - $60 per bottle.

8. 2011 DeGeoris Moscato d’ Asti DOCG

A clean white wine that is white-peach in color, low concentration with obvious bubbles. It has pronounced aromas of canned pears, yellow golden delicious apples, ripe peaches, strawberry hard candy, and floral rose soap. On the palate it has flavors of canned pears, sweet canned peaches and orange sorbet. It is off-dry, has medium+ acidity, low alcohol, low body with a medium+ length finish. On the palate this wine is very light, airy and refreshing which was quite a stark contrast with the previous wines. This wine sells for about $19 per bottle.

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