Winefriend by David Way

Writing about the wines of Piemonte, Italy and France

Diary 40: the small DOCs in Piemonte’s Western Alps

I am about to set off to visit the small DOCs in Piemonte’s Western Alps: Valsusa, Pinerolese and Colline Saluzzesi. To call these little known would be an understatement. I am not sure any journalist has visited them recently, apart from the indefatigable Ian d’Agata. They also boast some extremely rare grape varieties, including Avanà, Averengo and Becuet. But what is a small DOC in Piemonte? Having done some digging around I decided I would call ‘small’ any DOC that had declared less than 100 hectares devoted to it. For the sake of comparison, Condrieu AOC has around 200 ha, while its minuscule enclave Ch. Grillet AOC is 3.5 ha.

In fact, it turned out that 100 hectares was a hugely generous interpretation of ‘small’. There are nearly 30 denominations that claimed less than 100 ha on average in the years 2017–19.*

In fact, there are 13 denominations that claimed less than ten hectares:

DenominationAverage hectares,
2017–19
Strevi0.67
Loazzolo0.73
Gabiano1.50
Alba1.83
Rubino di Cantavenna2.54
Fara5.16
Sizzano5.86
Colline Saluzzesi6.25
Calosso6.51
Cisterna d’Asti7.06
Valli Ossolane9.15
Valsusa9.61

My guess is that most readers, even of this website, have never heard of any of these. Some might have heard of Strevi, a historic zone for the production of Moscato passito. And if you have been on the Alto Piemonte trail, Fara and Sizzano do feature there. And by the way, Alba DOC is not the well known Barbera d’Alba or Dolcetto d’Alba. It is a micro denomination for Nebbiolo/Barbera blends. To be honest, it has troubled the lawyers and administrators that oversee the DOC process more than it has troubled, or even delighted, wine consumers.

What is of immediate interest to me is that two of the three DOCs in Piemonte’s western Alps are on this list. Colline Saluzzesi weighs in with a production from 6.25 ha, while Valsusa tips the scales at 9.61. The third of three, Pinerolese is ‘much bigger’ at 27.01 ha. I am going to spend a day in each of these and with these figures, that seems about right.

Ramie Coutandin vineyard, Pinerolese DOC
Temporary photo from: https://nonsolodivino.wordpress.com/

Moving on from the micro-DOCs, the next group is from 10–100 hectares. if we call these the small DOCs, then between the micro-DOCs and the small DOCs, we have covered half of Piemonte’s 60 denominations.

DenominationAverage hectares 2017-19
Collina Torinese14.91
Albugnano15.11
Boca15.67
Verduno Pelaverga17.01
Lessona19.71
Carema19.79
Pinerolese27.01
Dolcetto di Ovada28.12
Bramaterra33.06
Barbera del Monferrato Superiore42.62
Terre Alfieri42.99
Malvasia di Castelnuovo Don Bosco45.65
Ghemme49.15
Malvasia di Casorzo d’Asti55.43
Costa della Sesia61.21
Freisa di Chieri75.99
Gattinara90.58

Finally, we have a denomination that most Piemonte wine buffs will recognise. Gattinara DOCG just squeezes into this ‘small’ category. In fact, there are a few well-known names here, if only among the cognoscenti. Costa delle Sesia, Ghemme, Bramaterra, Carema, Lessona and Boca are small but valued Alto Piemonte DOCs. (Did they really need to create so many denominations? I will have a better idea after the next few weeks.) Verduno Pelaverga is perhaps better known than its 17 ha might suggest as Verduno is, of course, a village within the Barolo DOCG, and therefore gets a lot more attention.

Piemonte is very proud of having no IGT wines and only DOCs or DOCGs. The only other option is declassification to simple vino. I think it has rather overdone the number of its DOCs, but that is how it is. In the end, it is the quality and distinctiveness of the wine that matters. That is what I am looking to find out more about in the coming week.

*At the end of harvest each year, growers have to ‘claim’ the number of hectares they used for a denomination and the volume of wine made from those hectares. This leaves them with the choice of whether to claim the DOC or DOCG to which they are entitled or to declassify to another denomination or category that has less strict rules. it also helps to guarantee that what is in the bottle is what it says it is on the label. The policing of this is a subject for another day but it is rigorous. All the data in this piece comes from the official body, ISMEA.

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