Known commonly as the great white grape of the Burgundy region of France, Chardonnay has become the most popular white wine in America, if not the world. Chardonnay is by nature a rich, full-bodied wine that grows at its best in a relatively cool climate. It is grown in virtually every growing region in the U.S. and is made in a myriad styles. Most Champagne and methode champenoise sparkling wine has Chardonnay in its blend. At one extreme, it can be elegantly floral and forward in the nose, with lovely fruit of pears and melons and a clean green apple acidity with a certain flinty or chalky mineral quality. It often has a full almost "oily" mouthfeel that lasts seemingly forever on the palate, with a perfect balance of fruit, acid and alcohol. Despite the long, complex finish, Chardonnay makes you hungry for food and thirsty for more wine all at the same time. At the other extreme, the first inhalation fills your nostrils with the sweet vanilla of new French oak and the creamy, buttery complexity that only Chardonnay can embody. Butterscotch, hazelnuts, toasted almonds all might come to mind, and the fruit might be tropical in nature, perhaps pineapples or coconuts, with more grapefruit-like acidity. This is truly a chameleon grape, and it can be altered as much by the climate and soil as by the winemaker's hand. In this country, it has found its best representations in Monterey and the Central Coast, Santa Barbara County, Carneros, Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley, Willamette Valley (Oregon), Yakima Valley (Washington), Virginia and Long Island.
There are few countries in the world with a viticultural history as long or as illustrious as that claimed by Italy. Grapes were first being grown and cultivated on Italian soil several thousand years ago by the Greeks and the Pheonicians, who named Italy 'Oenotria' – the land of wines – so impressed were they with the climate and the suitability of the soil for wine production. Of course, it was the rise of the Roman Empire which had the most lasting influence on wine production in Italy, and their influence can still be felt today, as much of the riches of the empire came about through their enthusiasm for producing wines and exporting it to neighbouring countries. Since those times, a vast amount of Italian land has remained primarily for vine cultivation, and thousands of wineries can be found throughout the entire length and breadth of this beautiful country, drenched in Mediterranean sunshine and benefiting from the excellent fertile soils found there. Italy remains very much a 'land of wines', and one could not imagine this country, its landscape and culture, without it. Situated in the north-western part of Italy, the region of Piedmont is known worldwide and is highly respected for the quality of the wines produced there. Many of the most successful sub-regions in Piedmont produce many of the world's finest red wines, such as those made from the excellent Nebbiolo grape varietal in areas such as Barolo and Barbaresco. However, the historic wineries which typify this region use a relatively wide variety of grapes, including Dolcetto and Barbera for their red wines, which are typically aged and have a delightful velvety character. Piedmont isn't all about beautifully complex red wines, though, as it is also famed for high quality, elegant sparkling wines, notably the Asti wines made with the white Moscato grape. The region benefits from a range of terroirs which are often well expressed in the sparkling wines, and a wonderfully consistent climate ideal for vineyard cultivation.
Piedmont produces what most describe as Italy's best red wines. Within Piedmont, there are 38 DOC/G zones and 43 distinct types of wine. Several of the well-known DOCG wines come from Piedmont. Barolo DOCG is a rich and powerful wine made from the nebbiolo grape, and coming from the region of the same name. Barolo having four years of wood aging is specified as Riserva (five years in wood earns a Riserva Speciale designation). Barbaresco DOCG is also made from nebbiolo and named for the town and the area of the same name. Slightly smoother than Barolo, and less brash in its youth, it is another benchmark of big, rich Italian red wines. Gattinara DOCG is the third top-rated Piedmont wine. It is also made from Nebbiolo, and named for the small region in which it is made, but it is a lighter-style than the previous two. Barbera is the most widely planted grape in Piedmont, and wines are bottled by the name of the grape, and not an area. Barbera is fruity, tannic and high in acid. Another wine named for the varietal, not the region, is Dolcetto, another lighter-style red that the Piedmontese often enjoy with a first course. The best examples of this gamay-like wine are from Alba (near Barolo) and Asti.
On the bubbly side, Asti Spumante and Moscato d'Asti DOCG offer sparkling and Petillant/Frizzante wines made generally from muscat grapes and by charmat method. Grignolino, a light, fruity dry ros' wine is sometimes found in styles that are a bit "petillant" as well.
The noteworthy white wines produced in the area include Arneis and Gavi (Cortese).