Wines from the Langa and Roero are immediately recognisable in a world context because they so completely represent their terroir: that is, the combination of a specific geological area and its particular climate. Single varietals are used to make wines that are vinified with traditional methods and are thus given every chance to express their personalities. It is only during the last few years that wines corresponding to modern international tastes have been produced here, presented using the Doc ‘Langhe’ category. In addition, some traditional blends have recently been rediscovered for the commercial market. One of these, Alba Doc, will be on sale from 2013.
South Piedmont’s great classics - Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto and Moscato – have been an essential part of local agricultural economy for many years. They are all cultivated throughout the area of land divided by the river Tanaro. If planted elsewhere, cultivation is possible but results will not be so satisfactory: the soil ‘recipe’ found here in the hills of the Langa and Roero – marl, clay, chalk and sand – together with cool temperatures, the proximity of the Alps, abundant water and south-facing hillsides allow these varietals to express themselves to the full.
These native vines with their centuries-long history have formed the hub around which the life of local farming folk and their economy has rotated for many generations. They are considered so precious and unique that today the vineyard-clad hills of the Langa, Roero and Monferrato have been proposed as candidates for Unesco’s World Heritage series.
The main varieties of grapes cultivated in the Langa and Roero are undoubtedly those native to the area. However, during the last few years, some producers have begun to experiment with some of the so-called ‘international’ varieties. The excellent climactic conditions of the region and dedication of the producers themselves have produced some very good results, although it has to be said that traditional varietals remain the undisputed champions.
In the Roero, the most cultivated traditional varietals are Nebbiolo, Barbera and Arneis, followed by Favorita and Brachetto, which does not possess a recognised Denomination and is sold under the collective name of ‘Birbet’. International varieties have not met with much success apart from a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot.
In the Langa the most cultivated traditional varietals are Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Barbera and Moscato, followed by smaller quantities of Pelaverga, Freisa, Favorita and Nascetta. International varieties are represented by Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, to name the most abundant.
Our Region’s Denomination system does not include the IGT (‘Indicazione Geografica Tipica’) appellation. Immediately following the ‘vini generici’ ex-table- wine category, there is a large Doc Denomination, ‘Piemonte’, a Doc rarely used in the Alba area.
The next level are the territorial Doc categories, such as ‘Langhe’ and ‘Monferrato’ which include large wine- growing areas and consent the use of various vines and blends.
After this come the historical Doc denominations, some of which have been raised to Docg level. Docg status indicated more stringent controls – although these have now been applied to Doc as well and, with the new legislation, only one appellation of prestige will remain.
At the very top of the pyramid, we also need to include the ‘Menzione Geografica Aggiuntiva’ category (additional geographical definition), which is the addition of the name of a particular cru belonging to one or more winery. If the word ‘Vigna’ (vineyard) is used, the producer must be able to demonstrate that a small quantity of grapes with superior quality has been utilised for the wine.
The European Community recognises ‘Igp’ wines ( ‘Indicazione geografica Protetta’ or ‘protected geographical origin’) and ‘Dop’ wines (‘Denominazione Geografica Protetta’ or ‘protected geographical denomination’). In Italy, however, the terms Igt and Doc (plus the Docg variant) will continue to be used in preference.
In the Langa the prevalent system of pruning is the so-called ‘Guyot’ or mixed system. The Guyot system is suitable for the dry, relatively infertile soils of steep hillsides. It consists in long fruitbearing canes with from six to ten buds bent into an arch shape, co-existing with shorter spurs bearing only one to two buds, which serve as a base for the following year’s crop.
In the classical Guyot system, the structure of the rows is variable, usually with a gap from 2.40 m to 2.80 m between rows and from 80 to 100 cm on the row, depending on the vigour of the vines, the combination of graft- host plant and the fertility of the soil.
The Guyot system produces a vine with a simple structure that is easy to prune, including the possibility of mechanical green pruning. Other advantages are: good leaf exposure to sunlight, production of a good thick plant and stimulation of growth of weaker vines.
Disadvantages are: the fruit-bearing cane must be renewed and tied annually, the bunches of grapes have a lot of exposure to sunlight which can cause problems in control of ripening in early varieties and also of burning of the fruit. In cooler environments, the more vigorous types of grafts can present an over-abundance of leafy growth, requiring frequent green pruning.