Piedmont is a fascinating region for wine lovers and a particularly challenging one for wine students. In a previous article, we focused on just a single province, Cuneo, home to some of Italy’s most famous vineyards, denominations, and wineries. In this one, we tackle two provinces to the east of Cuneo—Asti and Alessandria—where most of the other well-known and widely available Piedmontese wines are made. A later article will finish the job by looking at the rest of Piedmont, including the under-the-radar northern DOCGs and the blanket denomination Piemonte DOC.
The two provinces in the spotlight here are for the most part synonymous with Monferrato, a historic area controlled for many centuries by a series of marchesi. Asti and Alessandria provinces together form the southeast quadrant of Piedmont, bounded by Cuneo on the west, Liguria to the south, Lombardy to the east, and the Po River on the north. The main cities are the provincial capitals (Asti and Alessandria).
The border between Cuneo and Asti provinces generally divides Cuneo’s Langhe area from Monferrato, but the hilly wedge at the southern tip of Asti province is historically part of the Langhe and is known as Langhe Astigiano.
Monferrato’s dominant grape variety is not Nebbiolo—indeed, very little of that variety is grown in these two provinces—but rather Barbera, which accounts for some 40% of the vineyard area in Monferrato. The predominant source for this grape is Barbera d’Asti DOCG, essentially covering all of Asti province and some neighboring parts of Alessandria. The heart of Barbera d’Asti has an additional DOCG of its own: the prestigious former subzone Nizza. Another denomination with significant production is Barbera del Monferrato DOC, which underlies Barbera d’Asti plus even more of Alessandria.
The area’s second red grape variety is Dolcetto, well represented by four single-focus denominations, the largest of which in production is Dolcetto di Ovada DOC. On a smaller scale, Monferrato is the home of some unusual and interesting red grape varieties that are worth looking for, including Freisa and Grignolino, both of which deliver an acidic-tannic punch, and Brachetto, enjoyed as a sweet, sparkling dessert wine from Acqui DOCG.
White wine—at least of the dry, nonsparkling sort—is not really a strong suit of Piedmont, but the region’s best-known entry in that category is found in Alessandria province. Gavi DOCG nestles up against the Ligurian Apennine Mountains and produces white wine exclusively from Cortese. Other white table wines are scarce, but if you’re up for a challenge, seek out a Timorasso from Colli Tortonesi DOC; although rare, these wines manage to claim top awards with some regularity.
If you’re not insistent on your white wine being dry and still, Piedmont has you covered. The leading white wine of Asti province—and Piedmont’s top-producing denomination of any type—is good ol’ Asti DOCG, known worldwide for its lightly fizzy Moscato d’Asti and fully sparkling Asti (Spumante) versions. These wines are usually quite sweet, as is often the case for Moscato-based wines, although drier versions have made inroads. Asti DOCG extends from Asti into both Cuneo and Alessandria provinces, as does Alta Langa DOCG, a source of classic-method, Chardonnay/Pinot Nero–based sparkling wines.
Producers to Look For
Below is a short list of wineries that are imported to the U.S., representing most of the Monferrato denominations mentioned in this article (U.S. importer in parentheses). Many other good choices are available, particularly for the larger denominations.