Celebrated for ageworthy world-class reds like Barolo, Barbaresco and Barbera, Piedmont also makes excellent white wines. Often crafted by some of Italy’s top winemakers, the best of these extraordinary bottlings boast surprising aging potential. Read on to learn about the native grapes that excel in their select growing areas and should be on every wine lover’s radar.
Gavi, made exclusively from the Cortese grape and also known as Cortese di Gavi, is the region’s most storied white wine. Named after the town of Gavi, the growing zone is in a hilly area in southern Piedmont’s Alessandria province. The region’s proximity to Liguria and historical links to Genoa’s aristocrats influenced its traditional cuisine based on lean meats, fish and vegetables that pair better with white wine. Records show specialized vineyards of Cortese were already cultivated in Piedmont by 1856.
Gavi can be made in all or part of 11 townships. Wines made with grapes grown exclusively in the Gavi municipality can be labeled as Gavi del Comune di Gavi and sometimes colloquially called Gavi di Gavi.
Typically, Gavi offers delicate aromas of white spring flower and stone fruit that join citrus, peach and bitter almond on the palate. Its elevated acidity lends itself to sparkling versions and riserva expressions. The latter, which must be aged for a minimum of one year with a minimum of six months’ bottle aging, are surprisingly ageworthy and take on mineral notes over time.
The appellation’s microclimate stems from winds from the Ligurian sea less than 20 miles away and the vicinity of the Apennines. As a result, it has cold winters and warm, breezy summers. Cortese thrives in the denomination’s hilly slopes and the calcareous marl and clay soils.
Family-owned Broglia is a strong believer in Gavi’s aging potential. The firm was founded in Gavi in 1972, when entrepreneur Bruno Broglia purchased La Meirana, one of the oldest properties in the denomination and named in land registries in 972 BCE.
The estate recently released its 2010 Vecchia Annata, aged on its lees in steel for nine years, which boasts complexity and freshness.
“Thanks to a unique microclimate and calcareous marl soils, Cortese excels in Gavi,” says Roberto Broglia, who runs the firm along with other family members. “Our Vecchia Annata is made only in outstanding years, from the best grapes of our oldest vines planted between 1953 and 1955. These plants have naturally low yields and lend depth and complexity to the wines.”
Bottles to Try
Broglia 2010 Vecchia Annata (Gavi di Gavi); $99, 91 points. Aromas suggesting eucalyptus, underbrush, hay and ripe apple form the delicate nose. On the linear palate, tangy acidity accompanies dried pineapple, pear and candied lemon drop before a hazelnut finish. It’s aged remarkably well. Vias Imports.
Fontanafredda 2020 Gavi di Gavi; $25, 91 points. Heady aromas of yellow wildflower, spring blossom and yellow stone fruit almost leap out of the glass. Tangy and savory, the round palate shows flavors of tart apple, lemon zest and honeydew alongside fresh acidity.Taub Family Selections. Editors’ Choice.
Pio Cesare 2019 Gavi; $28, 90 points. This lovely white has delicate aromas suggesting white spring flower, Bartlett pear, citrus and a whiff of wet stone. Linear and bright, the palate offers yellow peach, lime, bitter almond and a hint of saline accompanied by tangy acidity. Drink through 2023. Maison Marques & Domaines USA.
A handful of producers that included famed Barolo makers Bruno Giacosa and Vietti’s Alfredo Currado saved Arneis, which was almost extinct by the 1960s. Grown in the midst of Nebbiolo vines, locals used to call the grape “white Nebbiolo.” It was either vinified sweet, enjoyed as table grapes, or if amounts were insignificant, it was presumably added to red wine production long before strict regulations prohibited such things.
Currado vinified his first Arneis in 1967. At about the same time, across the river Tanaro in the Roero denomination, Giovanni Negro, of the Angelo Negro winery, also experimented with the variety. He vinified his first dry Arneis in 1971.
Arneis is difficult to cultivate and ferment. There are a few theories that surround the grape’s name, but most producers point out that arneis means “bad tempered” and “unreliable” in the local dialect.
Grown throughout the Langhe, the grape’s spiritual home is Roero. Langhe Arneis must be a minimum of 85% Arneis. Roero Arneis has to be at least 95%, though most producers use 100%.
“From a geological point of view, Roero is quite a young land,” says Giuseppe Negro, head of sales at his family’s Angelo Negro firm. “In general, soils are a combination of marl and sandstone with a prevalence of sandstone that’s rich in marine fossils. Here, Arneis finds its ideal growing conditions.”
Angelo Negro’s Sette Anni designation confirms the wine’s aging potential.
“We’ve discovered that in the seventh year after harvest, our Arneis reaches very good maturity, with the potential to improve,” he says. “We made several experiments in the past, including aging in wood, but regarding the former, we had poor results in long-term aging. Therefore, our Roero Arneis 7 Anni is refined in steel, concrete and bottle.”
The just-released 2014 shows depth, tension and focus.
Retroactive to the 2017 vintage, Roero Arneis producers can add the names of delimited crus, called Menzioni Geografiche Aggiuntive, on wines made entirely from these specific zones.
Bottles to Try
Angelo Negro & Figli 2018 Perdaudin (Roero Arneis); $30, 92 points. Lime, graphite, hazelnut and spring blossom shape the nose. The rounded, savory palate has a viscous texture, doling out ripe yellow apple, apricot, grapefruit and candied lemon drop alongside tangy acidity. Piedmont Guy.
Malvirà 2020 Roero Arneis; $15, 91 points. Made with organically grown grapes, this has delicate, enticing aromas reminiscent of ripe white stone fruit, crushed mint, pineapple and freshly made bread dough. On the linear, savory palate, notes of bitter almond and ginger accent a core of Bartlett pear and lemon drop before a tangy mineral close. Selections. Best Buy.
Valdinera 2020 Roero Arneis; $17, 91 points. Aromas of ripe pear, yellow spring flower, hay and almond lead the way in this dry, delicious white. Rounded and medium-bodied, the savory palate features ripe white peach, apple, bread dough and juicy citrus alongside fresh acidity. It closes on a saline note. John Given Wines. Editors’ Choice.
Like several other white grapes native to Piedmont, Nascetta had all but disappeared from Langhe’s vineyards by the early 1990s. According to historical documents, Nascetta, known also as Nas-cetta and Anascetta and cited as far back as 1874, had been used primarily to make sweet wines. A version made from slightly dried grapes was used to celebrate Mass.
Barolo producer Elvio Cogno, of his namesake firm, and his son-in-law, Winemaker Valter Fissore, saved the grape from vanishing. In 1993, the two, along with several others, tried a rare 1986 wine made with Nascetta. As Fissore says today, “it was love at first sip.”
Cogno and Fissore began to experiment with the variety a year later. No vineyards that specialized in Nascetta remained, so the pair hunted down the sparse numbers of top-quality grapes to be found in several vineyards located in their Barolo village of Novello, where the grape originated. With the 1994 vintage, they made their first Anascetta.
Wines made with Nascetta have delicate aromas of white spring flower, wild herb and citrus. Linear and medium-bodied, typical flavors include grapefruit, sage, rosemary, honey and savory saline notes. With aging, it takes on more flinty and petrol sensations.
“This is a great white in a land of great reds,” says Fissore. “Nascetta gets more mineral-driven and takes on more depth with age. People tend to drink Nascetta too young; the wine needs at least three or four years before it fully expresses itself and can age well for 15 years or longer.”
To enhance its aging potential and structure, Fissore forgoes malolactic fermentation and ages 30% of the wines in large Slavonian casks.
Made as Langhe Nascetta, producers that make wines with grapes exclusively from Novello, the grape’s birthplace, can add “Nascetta del comune di Novello” or “Nas-cëtta di Novello” to labels.
Langhe Nascetta must contain at least 85% of the grape, while Nascetta del comune di Novello must be 100% Nascetta.
To further the link between grape and land, Fissore reveals that after years of experiments, there are two specific strains of yeast culled from Novello vineyards that most local producers use for fermentation.
Bottles to Try
Elvio Cogno 2019 Anas-Cëtta del Comune di Novello Nascetta (Langhe); $29, 92 points. This full, rounded white opens with aromas of bread crust, chamomile, aromatic herb and citrus. Reflecting the nose, the rounded palate features grapefruit, honey and hazelnut before a tangy finish suggesting saline and sage. Enjoy now or hold for more complexity. Drink through 2027. Wilson Daniels Ltd.
Braida di Giacomo Bologna 2019 La Regina Serra dei Fiori Nascetta (Langhe); $25, 91 points. Floral aromas of Spanish broom mingle with ripe orchard fruit, hay citrus and fennel. The bright palate offers Bartlett pear, tangy lemon, grapefruit and white almond before a tangy saline close. Soilair Selection.
Rivetto 2018 Nascetta Borea (Langhe); $34, 90 points. Made with organically farmed grapes, this has aromas ripe yellow stone fruit, black olive and yeasty whiffs of bread dough. The briny olive note carries over to the tangy palate along with dried apricot, lemon zest and saline. Volio Vino.
Timorasso/Derthona and Erbaluce
Native grape Timorasso and its wines owe their present-day success to one man, Walter Massa.
After he graduated from Alba’s enological school in 1976, Massa took over his family’s farm in the hilltop village of Monleale, in southeastern Piedmont’s Colli Tortonesi denomination.
Massa soon realized the zone’s altitude, microclimate and soils were best suited for whites grapes. As he said in 2015, “market demands in the 1970s and 1980s for reds meant that local growers replanted with red varieties for commercial reasons only.”
He didn’t think Cortese was suited to the area. A rare local variety was, however: Thick-skinned Timorasso, was normally eaten as table grapes or added to Cortese production; in 1987, Massa vinified it on its own. After he carried out a massal selection of plants found in different sites, he planted his first Timorasso vineyard in 1990.
The rest is history.
Initially, Massa was considered crazy or eccentric by his peers. Now, celebrated producers from other parts of Piedmont have invested in Timorasso, like Barolo and Barbaresco icons Roagna, Pio Cesare and Borgogno.
These producers haven’t just invested in the grape, but also the large subzone known as Derthona. The ancient name for the town of Tortona, wines labeled as Derthona hail from an area that encompasses 45 townships. But they only come from vineyards situated at set altitudes that exclude unsuitable areas like valley floors.
“Thanks to Walter Massa, in 2015, we decided to invest in the Colli Tortonesi denomination to make Derthona Timorasso because we wanted to make a white wine that would be at the level of our Barolo,” says Oscar Farinetti, owner of Borgogno and chairman of Fontanafredda. “That same year we bought the first [7.4 acres].”
Borgogno’s first Derthona was from the 2015 vintage. Starting with the 2019 vintage, the grapes have been certified organic.
Derthona Timorasso yields full-bodied, structured wines that offer yellow stone fruit, almond and honeyed mineral notes. They have more depth, body and complexity than most Italian whites. These aren’t your classic aperitivo wines.
As vertical tastings attest, Derthona is extremely ageworthy. Bottles develop more complexity, mineral and petrol notes up to about the 15-year mark. As vines get older, the wine’s aging potential may increase, too.
Erbaluce, planted almost exclusively in northern Piedmont, is a flexible grape that makes crisp, linear whites, racy sparklers and rich dessert wines.
The grape is most associated with the Caluso denomination, where it thrives in the hills of glacial origin. The area has a mild microclimate that benefits from many lakes and constant breezes that come from the mountains in nearby Valle d’Aosta.
Erbaluce di Caluso’s growing zone is situated mainly in the Turin province, where it spans 32 townships, as well as a town in the province of Vercelli and three municipalities in Biella.
It’s a fresh, dry white, with sensations of white spring flower, citrus, almond and mineral that fully develop after three or four years. Three types are made with 100% Erbaluce.
Thanks to marked acidity, Erbaluce di Caluso Spumante, made only through metodo classico, are creamy and crisp, with vibrant acidity. Erbaluce di Caluso Passito, produced from withered grapes, boasts ageworthy structure and intense flavors including dried apricot and honeyed almond.
Bottles to Try
Roagna 2018 Montemarzino (Derthona); $90, 95 points. Enticing, delicate aromas of fragrant yellow wildflower, cedar, botanical herb and citrus mingle with a whiff of eucalyptus in this racy white. Elegant, focused and extremely savory, the linear palate features apricot, orange zest, dill and hazelnut. Honey and mineral notes linger on the close while vibrant acidity keeps it balanced, tense and energized. Drink through 2028. Polaner Selections. Cellar Selection.
Borgogno 2018 Derthona; $60, 91 points. Elegant and full-bodied, this offers aromas of beeswax, botanical herb and hazelnut alongside the barest hint of petrol. The rounded, enveloping palate features ripe yellow stone fruit, honeyed almond and a ginger note before a saline finish. Enjoy now or hold for more complexity. Drink through 2026. Ethica Wines.
Cantina della Serra 2019 Ramblè (Erbaluce di Cluso); $25, 90 points. Made with organically farmed grapes, this has intriguing aromas of hazelnut, botanical herb, citrus rind and a whiff of salt. The aromas carry over to the bright, tangy palate along with cedar, orange slice and nectarine. Canon de Colorado.