Recently, I had the opportunity to learn and taste through the wines of Roero, located on the western side of the Langhe region, just below Asti on the map. The tasting and master class was provided by the The Consorzio di Tutela Roero. Founded in 2013, the Consorzio di Tutela Roero aims to protect and promote Roero Docg Bianco and Rosso through the synergy between vine growers and winemakers in the area. According to the Consorzio, the Roero appellation, a DOCG since 2004, covers a total surface of 1,158 hectares of vineyard, of which 889 are planted with Arneis vines and 269 with Nebbiolo vines. Out of an annual production of about 7 million bottles, just over 60% is exported.
And so was our focus of the tasting—the Arneis and Nebbiolo grapes, which can produce a variety of wine styles dependent on specific terroir.
Today I’m zero-ing in on the northwest portion of Italy, specifically the key regions for the key red wine grapes grown—Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto. Pop Quiz:Can you describe each of these grape varieties’ key characteristics? How would describe the market positioning for each?
For those of you following along on my WSET wine tour around the world, we recently did a brief stop in Northern Italy for a pop quiz about some of the wines produced. Indeed, that did cover a lot of ground, but not nearly the whole region. So I want to take time to look at Northern Italy in its entirety and explore the different regions and wine styles produced.
[Information based on WSET Level 3 material]
When we look at Northern Italy, we are looking at the area closest to the foothills of the Alps as well as the plains of the River Po. In general, Northern Italy has a moderate climate with dry, short summers. The Alps, which you may be able to tell from the map above, span the length of the Northern Italian border, thus shielding the area from rain. Like the River Po, other bodies of water that provide climatic moderation to the more inland areas include lakes such as Lake Garda. As you can see, there are also portions that are close to the sea—these areas can have higher levels of rainfall, so the major vineyard concern there will be fungal diseases.
Traditionally, vineyards were trained on the pergola system, as this provides air flow as well as keeps the grapevines off of the moist vineyard floor. Furthermore, with the vine canopy drooping over the fruit clusters, the training system also helps minimize excessive sun exposure. This system is still utilized today for grapes that require a high amount of acidity and low sugar (such as for sparkling wine) and for those wines that require grapes to be sun-dried (as in the passito method, which requires grapes to be fully developed and free of fungal disease so they can dry-out off the vine, post-harvest—we covered last time, but will touch on it again here). However, it’s noted that higher density plantings utilizing a VSP training system is now more widely used overall.