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Alba - The wines of Italy's Piedmont

Wine Making Areas

If you were to drive into Italy from its North-west border with France, you come into the French-speaking Val d'Aosta. The valley is long, and nowhere is it wider than a few kilometres. It's sides are precipitous and for much of the year the mountains are capped with snow.

If you were to drive into Italy from its North-west border with France, you come into the French-speaking Val d'Aosta. The valley is long, and nowhere is it wider than a few kilometres. It's sides are precipitous and for much of the year the mountains are capped with snow. As you descend into the valley, around the city of Aosta you start to see vines. These are often trained to grow over the huge erratic boulders that litter the valley floor and they act like giant storage heaters, keeping the vines free of frost at night. The Nebbiolo grape is widely grown here and it produces two of the better-known wines from the area, Donnaz and Carema.

If, as I frequently do, you turn south from here and head for Genova, the next area you come to is Piedmont, which literally means 'foot of the mountains' and topographically that's exactly what it is; once past Turin the mountains become much smaller and the plains between them get larger. Most of the great Piedmontese wines are grown in the Monferrato range of hills, which although foothills of the Alps, are none the less affected climactically by their very nearness. Some of Italy's better known wines come from here, wines like Barolo and Barbaresco, which take their names from villages. About half-way between Turin and the Ligurian coast is the town of Alba. To gastonomists Alba means only white truffles, because it's only in the hinterland of Alba that this rare and expensive delicacy grows, but to wine-lovers it means Barbera and Nebbiolo, the two varietals of Alba that have a DOC. The Nebbiolo d'Alba comes from the area to the north of Alba, while the Barbera d'Alba is from the south. These areas are bordered to the west by Barolo and to the east by Barbaresco. The noble Barolo is also made from the Nebbiolo grape, and in years when it fails to come up to the required high alcoholic strength, it can be sold under the simple denomination of Nebbiolo.

Given its proximity to the most famous truffle of all, it's not surprising that the Nebbiolo from Alba has often been credited with hints of truffle in its taste. Other descriptions that are commonly applied to it are tarry, and often a strong hint of raspberry. Like most Piedmontese wines it has an almost autumnal character, perhaps a product of the natural growing cycle. In these hills the summers are hot, but the autumns are shrouded in mists. At vintage time the vineyards are often lost in the mists that float like seas in the valleys, leaving only the crests of the hills visible.

Suggested wine

Prunotto Nebbiolo d'Alba, 1999

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