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Wonderful White Wines of Piedmont
By Pam Roberto
May 7, 2024
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For Italian wine lovers, Piedmont is an embarrassment of riches. From Barolo and Barbaresco, two of Italy’s most majestic and revered wines, to more budget-friendly sippers like Barbera and Dolcetto, Piedmont has firmly cemented its reputation for stellar red wine production. But beyond these illustrious names, the region is also a treasure trove of less famous – but no less intriguing – grapes, including several native white varieties deserving of recognition.

Nestled in the northwest corner of Italy, Piedmont translates to “the foot of the mountain,” a fitting description for a region bounded by the Alps to the north and west and the Apennines to the south. Its hilly terrain, warm sunny days, and cool nights are ideal for quality white wines, but production has long skewed towards meeting demand for the region’s popular sweet sparklers – spumantes from Asti and lightly fizzy Moscato d’Asti wines – rather than dry white table wines.

Overshadowed by the region’s high caliber reds and cheerful sparkling wines, many of Piedmont’s white grapes teetered on the verge of extinction in the 20th century. The economic toll of phylloxera and two world wars prompted farmers to abandon less-desirable grape varieties, replacing them with higher yielding and more profitable alternatives. Fortunately, a handful of local winemakers saw promise in their native vines and refused to give up on them. Thanks to their passion and perseverance, the past few decades have witnessed the revival of dry white wines made from historic Piedmontese varieties like Arneis, Cortese, Erbaluce, Nascetta, and Timorasso.

Piedmont’s signature white varieties may not be household names, but these once obscure bottlings are increasingly appearing on restaurant wine lists and wine shop shelves nationwide. Oenophiles, white wine aficionados, and savvy wine consumers would be wise to seek them out. Piedmont’s white wines offer excellent quality at an attractive price point, and bottlings from top producers are available for a fraction of the cost of the region’s more famous and fashionable reds.


Grown for centuries in the Roero hills on the left bank of the Tanaro River, plantings of Arneis had nearly vanished by the 1960s. A difficult variety that requires a great deal of work in both the vineyard and the winery – its name purportedly means “little rascal” in the local dialect – Arneis is low-yielding, susceptible to fungal diseases, struggles to retain acidity, and is prone to oxidation. By the mid-20th century, Arneis’s status had sunk so low that farmers grew it not to make wine, but to divert vineyard pests away from their more valuable Nebbiolo grapes.

Local interest in Arneis resurfaced in the 1970s when two of Piedmont’s most celebrated winemakers, Alfredo Currado of Vietti and Bruno Giacosa, began singing the praises of this maligned grape. As confidence in the variety’s potential increased, producers adopted higher standards for viticulture and winemaking, propelling Roero Arneis to DOC status in 1989 and DOCG status in 2005.

Arneis produces medium-to-full bodied floral and fruity wines with a round texture, moderate acidity, and a crisp finish. Wines from cooler sites or vintages show citrus, green fruit, and herbaceous notes, while those hailing from warmer sites or vintages tend toward ripe stone and tropical fruit. Typically unoaked, Arneis is drinkable upon release but often benefits from a few years in bottle. Outside of Roero, the Langhe DOC and Terre Alfieri DOCG produce smaller volumes of varietal Arneis.

The most widely planted native white variety in Piedmont, Cortese was one of the first Italian white wines to achieve international fame. Unlike Arneis, Cortese is a high acid, high-yielding grape with the capacity for bulk production. For centuries, its high yields made it a popular choice among growers looking to maximize quantity while minimizing labor costs. Unsurprisingly, the resulting wines – largely bland, austere, and uninspiring – merited little in the way of consumer excitement.

Fast forward to the 1950s, when Vittorio Soldati, founder of the Gavi-based winery La Scolca, set out to make a quality dry wine from 100% Cortese. Capitalizing on Soldati’s success, other Gavi winemakers followed suit and demand for the wines surged. 100% Cortese wines from Gavi attained DOCG status in 1998. Bottles labeled as Cortese di Gavi DOCG can source grapes from anywhere in the Gavi region, while those carrying the Gavi del Comune di Gavi DOCG label must come from vineyards located within the town of Gavi. The grape’s global popularity peaked in the 1970s and has waxed and waned ever since.

Typically intended for early drinking, Cortese combines delicate citrus aromas with a steely acidity. Wines fermented in stainless steel are light-to-medium bodied, with citrus zest, chamomile, and almond notes framed by a crisp saline finish. When fermented or aged in oak, the wines exhibit a richer and more textured style. The warmer climate and deep clay soils found in Gavi’s northernmost vineyards yield fuller-bodied wines with aromas and flavors of ripe peach, apricot, and melon. Further south, cooler conditions and a higher concentration of limestone in the soil deliver leaner and more structured wines with a fragrant lemon, grapefruit, and herbal bouquet. Top bottlings may need a few years in the cellar to reach their full potential.

This native white variety grows almost exclusively in the Alpine foothills of northwestern Piedmont, in and around the commune of Caluso. As early as the 17th century, Erbaluce drew praise for the quality of its sweet wines, but its bitterly astringent dry styles – made from grapes that struggled to ripen in such a cool climate – were largely undrinkable. In this regard, Erbaluce has been one of the lucky beneficiaries of climate change. Today, the grapes achieve full ripeness on a consistent basis, creating the necessary depth and intensity of fruit to balance the wine’s otherwise acerbic bite.

Erbaluce has lip-smacking acidity, alluring aromas of wildflowers, crisp green apples, and mountain herbs, and a long and linear finish. For a rounder and creamier style, look for examples aged on the lees in tank or barrel. There are fewer than 1,000 acres planted in the region, most of which fall within the boundaries of the Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG. Outside of Caluso, the Colline Novaresi DOC, Costa della Sesia DOC, and Canavese DOC also produce tiny quantities of wines from 100% Erbaluce.

The commune of Novello, three miles south of the village of Barolo, is the home to Nascetta, a white variety native to the Langhe. Difficult and unpredictable in the vineyard, by the end of the 20th century Nascetta had become an endangered species. In the 1990s, winemaker Elvio Cogno embarked on a mission to save the variety from oblivion. Harvesting bunches from the few remaining vines scattered across the commune, he successfully bottled a small quantity of varietal Nascetta in 1994.

Italy added Nascetta to its national register of grape varieties in the early 2000s and approved it for use in the Langhe DOC shortly thereafter. A decade later, the variety received its own subzone, Langhe Nascetta del Comune di Novello DOC, authorized for wines produced from 100% Nascetta grown entirely in the village of Novello. Fewer than 150 acres (60 hectares) of Nascetta currently exist in the Langhe, but plantings are steadily increasing.

In the glass, Nascetta unveils aromas of honeysuckle, ripe citrus, and peaches mingled with a savory herbal character reminiscent of sage, rosemary, and thyme. Fat and round on the palate, often with a waxy or lightly oily texture, the wine’s bright acidity deftly slices through to balance the richness. Citrus zest, yellow stone fruit, bitter herbs, and a mineral salinity carry through to a long persistent finish. Wines that undergo a short period of skin contract prior to fermentation often have a gentle tannic grip. Prized for its aging potential, Nascetta picks up notes of honey, flint, and petrol as it evolves.

One of Italy’s most buzzworthy grapes, Timorasso is an ancient variety native to the Tortona hills in southeastern Piedmont, not far from the commune of Gavi. Largely abandoned in the 20th century in favor of the more reliable and higher-yielding variety Cortese, by the 1980s just a few meager acres remained. If not for the efforts of local winemaker Walter Massa, whose leap of faith to vinify a varietal Timorasso in 1987 spearheaded the movement to rescue and promote the variety, Timorasso would likely have gone the way of the dodo bird.

Timorasso has distinctively bright acidity and intense minerality, frequently evoking comparisons to Chenin Blanc, Riesling, and Chablis. On the nose, the wines are beautifully fragrant, displaying aromas of honeysuckle, acacia, and ripe peaches. Rich and creamy on the palate, yet radiating with nervy acidity, they finish with vibrance and persistence. Vying with Nascetta for the title of Piedmont’s most age-worthy white, the best examples of Timorasso evolve to develop tertiary candied fruit, honey, petrol, and nutty characteristics. Bottled under the Colli Tortonesi DOC appellation, many producers label their Timorasso “Derthona,” a nod to the ancient Roman name for Tortona. Efforts to create an official Derthona Colli Tortonesi DOC subzone are currently underway.   

Wines to Try
Whether you’re new to Piedmont’s white wine scene or looking to score a unique bottle for your next dinner party, here are a few suggestions to get you started:

Bruno Giacosa Roero Arneis DOCG 2022 ($28)
Inviting aromas of apricot, white peach, and linden blossom waft from the glass. Smooth and round on the palate, the wine bursts with juicy lemon and green pear flavors that linger on the finish, intertwined with a pleasant hint of almond skin bitterness.  93

Ceretto “Blangé” Langhe Arneis DOC 2022 ($17)
Made from 100% Arneis and boasting perfumed aromas of honeysuckle, jasmine, ripe peach, and pineapple, this is not a shy wine. Light-bodied, with a bit of spritz for extra vibrancy, the concentrated ripe fruit flavors convey a hint of sweetness despite the absence of residual sugar. Crushed stones and nectarines linger on the persistent finish.  90

La Scolca “Gavi dei Gavi Etichetta Nera” Gavi del Comune di Gavi DOCG 2022 ($34)
Crafted from the estate’s 60-year-old vines, La Scolca’s Etichetta Nera (Black Label) Gavi undergoes an extended period of lees aging prior to bottling. The delicate nose has aromas of white blossom, chamomile, lime peel, and toasted breadcrumbs. Medium-bodied, the rounded palate unfolds with flavors of grapefruit, green apple, peach yogurt, and walnut skin. The refreshing finish closes with a flinty minerality.  92

Villa Sparina Gavi del Comune di Gavi DOCG 2022 ($16)
Ripe stone fruit, dried pineapple, fresh herbs, and orange blossom bloom on the nose. With a silky texture and taut structure, the palate doles out vibrant flavors of sliced green apple, spicy tangerine, and thyme that echo through the crisp and savory finish.  91

Ferrando “Cascina Cariola” Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG 2022 ($25)
Sourced entirely from the single vineyard site of Cascina Cariola, the grapes hang on the vine until October to fully ripen. On the nose, daffodil, yellow apple, lemongrass and almond aromas are framed by a whiff of alpine mint. There is an impressive depth to the medium-bodied palate, with notes of lemon juice, green pear, and a chalky minerality. The long and elegant finish radiates with crushed stones and citrus pith. Annual production is about 6,000 bottles.  94

Cieck “T” Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG 2019 ($30)
Harvested late to promote full ripening, the wine spends eight months aging on the lees in medium-toasted oak and one year in bottle prior to release. Richly concentrated aromas of honeysuckle, yellow orchid fruit, and toasted wood shine from the glass. Full bodied with mouthwatering acidity, the palate unveils a bevy of ripe peaches, pears, and nectarines over a backbone of stony minerality. Finishes long with a savory lemon character and a touch of oak.  94

Diego Conterno Langhe Nascetta DOC 2022 ($23)
The nose leads with orange blossom, tangy citrus, pineapple, and a wet stone minerality. Beautifully textured, the wine is smooth and round with a weighty midpalate, but with plenty of crisp acidity to retain freshness. Flavors of lemon curd, green apple, dried rosemary, and a touch of salinity unfold, followed by a finish full of Bartlett pears.  92

Elvio Cogno “Anas-Cëtta” Langhe Nascetta di Novello DOC 2022 ($27)Perfumed aromas of honeysuckle, grapefruit, and peaches spring from the glass, alongside dried sage, bay leaf, and the faintest hint of petrol. Silky on the palate with a jolt of fresh acidity, flavors of yellow pear, nectarine, and savory herbs give way to a long saline finish.  93

Oltretorrente Colli Tortonesi Timorasso DOC 2022 ($25)
Expressive wildflower, acacia honey, and lemon verbena nose with just a touch of funk. With a waxy mouthfeel and a pop of bright acidity, the palate features honeyed yellow fruit and a tangy minerality that carries through to a fresh herbal lemon finish.  92

Broglia “Derthona” Colli Tortonesi Timorasso DOC 2018 ($27)
The seductive nose opens with yellow flowers, ripe apricots, and honey, mingled with ginger and hints of eucalyptus. Smooth and round on the palate, this bursts with crunchy peaches, kiwi, papaya, layers of spice, and savory herbs. Almond skin, olive brine, and touch of a rusty nail minerality linger delightfully on the finish.  95