There are dozens of Italian winemaking regions, as anybody who has read our blog in the past will be able to attest to. Each of these regions offers something unique and interesting when it comes to wine, be it through their production techniques or because of the grapes that are native to the region.
Every Italian wine region is special.
But there are some that are a little more special than others.
And one of those “more special” regions is the Langhe. The home of the King of Wines (Barolo), the Langhe has a reputation for being one of the most oenologically fascinating regions in the country. In this article, we look at exactly why that by examining the region’s history, terroir, and the grapes that have allowed it to rise to fame.
Why is the Langhe so Special?
The answer comes down to two factors:
The region’s history and its terroir.
Zeroing in on the history first, the Langhe and its capital city of Alba were founded by the Ligurian tribes. Eventually, the region fell into the hands of the Statielli, who ended up losing it to the Celts. However, it was the arrival of the Romans (big surprise there) that kickstarted the winemaking reputation of the region.
The Romans brought with them both a passion for wine and the technology needed to develop the Langhe region into a winemaking powerhouse. It was during this period that wines like Barolo started to attain their reputations, though the versions of these wines that existed during Roman times are much different from those we have today.
The fall of the Romans brought further conflict to the region, with the Burgundians, Lombards, Franks, and Saracens all controlling it at various points. This constant conflict is what led to so many castles being built in the region, with the city of Alba even receiving the nickname of “the city of 100 towers” due to its increasingly distinct appearance.
Finally, the 1800s brought with it peace under the rule of the house of Savoy. And with that peace came the building of the Langhe’s reputation as a region that produces truly exceptional wines. That reputation carries over to this day, with some of Italy’s best and most prominent wines emerging from this area of the country.
And that brings us to the second factor in why the Langhe is so fascinating to Italian wine lovers – its terroir.
In 2014, UNESCO made the Langhe a world heritage site due, in large part, to the region’s varied and impressive winemaking tradition. Anybody who has ever visited the region will soon see why, as it features an array of landscapes that allow for the creation of a wide variety of wines. Hills give way to mountains, which border seemingly endless plains. And each of these environments offers exceptional qualities that make them ideal for growing certain types of grapes.
Perhaps it is the soil that makes the wines of the Langhe so interesting. Being both clayey and calcareous, the soil of the Langhe is unlike the soil you’ll find anywhere else in the country. This composition is widely credited with enabling the diversity, complexity, and rich structure of the region’s wines.
The varied climate experienced in the region also plays its part in the Langhe’s ever-growing winemaking legend. Long and snowy winters are punctuated by hot, sometimes even tropical-feeling, summers that make the region ideal for some of Italy’s late grape varieties, such as Nebbiolo. The grapes that can survive the Langhe’s climate are hardy and capable of offering complexity on a scale that few other grapes can.
Couple all of these environmental factors with the constantly developing winemaking expertise in the region, which is built on centuries of tradition bolstered by the innovative work of the region’s producers, and you have the Langhe. Few other Italian wine regions can compete with the sheer variety enabled by the region’s unique terroir.
The Wines of the Langhe
We’d best get the most obvious wine out of the way.
The Langhe is the home of Barolo, which is known to many as the King of Wines. Though it can trace its origins back to Roman times, Barolo truly came into its own during the period of Savoy occupancy, when the wine quickly became a favourite of both Italian and French nobility. It is on the back of this wine that the Langhe’s initial reputation was built.
However, Barolo is far from the only stunning Italian wine to emerge from the unique terroir of the Langhe.
In fact, the climate allows producers to grow a wide variety of grapes. Beyond the Nebbiolo grapes used to produce Barolo and its sister wine Barbaresco, the Langhe is also home to producers who grow Dolcetto, Freisa, and Barbera grapes. White wine producers are not left in the cold, as the region’s unique terroir allows them to grow grapes as famous as Chardonnay and as regional as Arneis and Favorita.
The point we’re making here is that variety is king in the region.
Producers have the option of bolstering their more famous wines with a host of other grapes that add complexity into the mix. And of course, producers who feel an affinity for certain types of grapes can also produce wines other than Barolo to demonstrate further just why this region is so highly-regarded in the Italian wine industry.
The Final Word
There are few regions quite like the Langhe.
Its history is one of constant conflict and upheaval, which may go some way to explaining the adaptive and innovative attitudes of its winemakers.
The terroir is unique in its composition, leading to the creation of complex wines that stand out even when compared to some of the best Italy has to offer.
And finally, the Langhe’s interesting climate allows producers to grow a wide variety of grapes, leading to the creation of interesting Italian wines.
The Langhe is definitely a region we would recommend all wine tourists take the time to visit. But if you don’t quite have the money needed for a visit, you can at least get a taste of the Langhe thanks to the Xtrawine catalogue.
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