Winefriend by David Way

Writing about the wines of Piemonte, Italy and France

Diary 25: Wine map of southern Piemonte

In mapping Piemonte, I explained the fun I had at the beginning of research for The Wines of Piemonte in commissioning a large (A1) size map of the region. I have now gone a second step, acquiring a wine map of southern Piemonte. It is based on the ‘heart of Piemonte’ map in The World Atlas of Wine. As before, this was done officially with permission to create a bespoke map for personal use only and carried out to a high standard by Cosmographics.

59 denominations and counting

The challenge in creating a wine map of southern Piemonte is the sheer number of DOCs and DOCGs. Here is the final map. At the bottom left, are the main denominations – 25 by my reckoning. Towards the right-hand side are some of the smaller DOCs I have added by hand – another 10. They are the ones with the pencil hatching (my amateur attempt!) and the orange sticker numbers that are too small to see here.

I decided to leave Alba DOC off the map, a minuscule DOC for Nebbiolo/Barbera blends whose name should never have been allowed. It has nothing to do with important denominations such as Nebbiolo/ Barbera/ Dolcetto d’Alba. Other units were too complicated to draw (e.g. the regional Piemonte DOC or Alta Langa DOCG) or fall just off the map (Dolcetto di Ovada and Gavi). Even so, the map shows 35 denominations in an area that is roughly 70 kilometres (45 miles) square. There are another 24 denominations in Piemonte, making a grand total of 59. (As that is clearly not enough, there are at least two more in the pipeline!)

Diary 25: Wine map of southern Piemonte
Bespoke wine map of southern Piemonte with my additions
Seeing the detail close up

The real value to me is to be able to see the denominations in real detail. Who knew that the northern extent of Langhe Nebbiolo goes further north-west than Roero DOCG? Then there are some overlapping denominations with small differences between them. Albugnano (a Nebbiolo denomination) nearly but does not quite overlap with the sweet and fizzy Castelnuovo Don Bosco … I could go on. Why are there two huge and mostly overlapping Barbera denominations: Barbera d’Asti and Barbera del Monferrato? There is a story to be told behind those decisions but so far no one has wanted to divulge it to me. Or it has now been quietly forgotten. The point is that the variety Barbera should have been connected to the geographical and cultural but not administrative entity that is Monferrato. As a result, wine lovers have a sense of, for example, the Langhe, but not of Monferrato.

For this project, I asked Cosmographics to add the following to the basic map ‘heart of Piemonte’ map in The World Atlas:

  • Terre Alfieri – this is not in the atlas at all but has, since its last edition, become a DOCG.
  • From the NW Italy map, I asked Cosmographics to map professionally:
    • Barbera del Monferrato  
    • Freisa d’Asti
    • Cortese dell’Alto Monferrato
    • Verduno Pelaverga
    • Monferrato
    • Freisa di Chieri
Discovering a great mapping tool

I have then added the smaller denominations by hand in pencil, having taken the precaution of buying two prints in case I made a complete mess of my lovely new map. I used two main resources. First, every denomination has a detailed and precise description of the area it covers in its regulations, the disciplinare. This is normally a list of municipalities (communi). Second, I found the very detailed mapping provided by Portale Abruzzo. Despite its name, this maps every single municipality in Italy (yes, nearly 8,000 of them). It has a great feature that shows the municipalities that surround a named one. For example, here is the municipality of Alba and its surrounding municipalities (e.g. Barbaresco is the yellow one to the east).

Diary 25: Wine map of southern Piemonte
Alba and the municipalities around it: https://www.portaleabruzzo.com/piemonte/11-alba/limitrofi/

With the help of this, I was able to add the smaller denominations. Below is my pencil inscription of Gabbiano and Rubino di Cantavenna. The boundaries are only rough approximations but they help me to visualise the situation. Here you can see Gabbiano (number four) on the left of the overlapping denominations and Rubino di Cantavenna (number 5) on the right. They both include the municipality of Gabiano. However, Gabiano DOC includes some land to the west, while Rubino di Cantavenna includes some land to the east. Both denominations are for mainly Barbera-based wines. Incidentally, neither denomination is strictly necessary. Either wine could be Barbera d’Asti or Barbera del Monferrato. On another day, we could discuss whether it is better to share a large easily-recognised denomination with thousands of producers or to have one virtually to yourself. But at least I can now see pretty much exactly where they are.

Diary 25: Wine map of southern Piemonte
Now you have heard of them: Gabbiano DOC and Rubino di Cantavenna DOC

Now all that remains is to make sense of the organised chaos which is any Italian wine scene. And write about it clearly and engagingly in my forthcoming book.

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