Monferrato Wine Region: History, Tradition, and Indigenous Grapes

monferrato wine region

My love of the Monferraro wine region took off when I did some marketing consulting for a historic winery there. The barbera grape is indigenous to the area and I had no idea that the popular food-friendly wine could have so much depth! The more time I spent there, the more enamored I became with its history and sprawling vineyard landscape. As I get more return clients looking for something new – and, as Barolo wine country tourism prices increase – I thought it was time for Girl’s Gotta Drink to share more about the Monferrato. 

Welcome to the enchanting Monferrato Wine Region

In the Monferrato, history, tradition, and exquisite wines come together to create a truly unforgettable place in Piedmont, flanked by rolling hills, medieval castles, and, a fascinating – and delicious – wine culture. 

Steeped in centuries of winemaking heritage, the Monferrato wine region has earned its place as a region to watch. From the robust reds of Barbera d’Asti to the lightly sweet frizzante of Moscato d’Asti, the region offers a diverse range of wines for every palate.

What sets Monferrato apart is its dedication to preserving tradition while embracing innovation. Winemakers here employ both time-honored techniques and cutting-edge technology to craft wines of exceptional quality. The result is a harmonious balance between the old and the new, creating truly unique and captivating wines.

Whether an avid wine connoisseur or a casual enthusiast, visiting the Monferrato offers a sensory journey. Explore the charming wine towns, indulge in delectable tastings, and immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage that permeates its every corner.

Come discover Monferrato, where the past seamlessly blends with the present, and every sip tells a story.

Monferrato Wines: History and Tradition

Where is the Monferrato Wine Region? 

Situated in Italy’s Piedmont region, the Monferrato spans the provinces of Asti and Alessandria. It’s about 60 km / 37 miles east of Turin and a 100 km / 62 miles south-west of Milan on the right bank of the River Po, which runs at the foot of the Monferrato hills.

Averaging 2000 hours of sun a year – that’s nearly 84 days – with a gentle mild and dry climate, the region is ideal for grape growing with records of grape cultivation dating to the 16th century. 

Monferrato winemaking history

Monferrato winemaking history dates back centuries with traces of vine cultivation found as early as Roman times. However, it was during the Middle Ages that the region gained prominence as a viticultural hub. The noble families of Monferrato, such as the Gonzagas and the Savoys, recognized the region’s potential for producing exceptional wines and actively encouraged its development.

Throughout the years, Monferrato has managed to preserve its winemaking traditions, passed down from generation to generation. The winemakers here take immense pride in their craft, utilizing age-old techniques that have stood the test of time. 

But Monferrato is not stuck in the past. The region also embraces innovation, blending traditional winemaking practices with modern technology. Winemakers combine ancestral knowledge with state-of-the-art equipment to ensure the highest quality wines. The harmonious blend of tradition and innovation creates a unique and captivating experience for wine enthusiasts.

monferrato wine region

Grape Varieties and Wine Styles in Monferrato

The diverse range of grape varieties in the Monferrato thrive in its favorable climate and soil conditions. The most notable being the robust, full-bodied barbera grape – Italy’s third most planted grape (number one in Piedmont). Barbera d’Asti one of the region’s most celebrated red wines with an intense flavor profile of forest fruits, vibrant acidity, and velvety texture. 

Piedmont’s noble grape of nebbiolo is also found in the Monferrato wine region. However, since winemakers reserve their best plots for barbera here, nebbiolo plays second fiddle to its tannin-less counterpart. Don’t skip it while in the Monferrato, but don’t compare it to the nebbiolo-based wines from its neighbors in Barolo and Barbaresco. 

barbera harvest
Barbera d’Asti 2020 Grape Harvest, Scarpa Winery.

Barbera d’Asti Wines

Soil is the primary component to the complexity and elegance of Barbera d’Asti wine, but there are variances from the Monferrato’s north to south. In the north, find calcareous soils that give Barbera d’Asti wines a deep color and more power. The south has sandier soil, producing lighter and easier drinking Barbera d’Asti wines.

The coveted Italian DOCG status brands a wine one of the country’s best. For most wine lovers the DOCG fascetta represents best in class, while to wine producers it means a strict set of rules and regulations to ensure the highest quality of wine.

Explaining the label and regulations

Barbera d’Asti DOCG and Barbera d’Asti DOCG Superiore may use a single vineyard or vigna name on the label to recognize a specific subzone or top cru. Here’s your cheat sheet: 

  • Barbera d’Asti DOCG Superiore requires at least 6 months of wood aging. Consider that the practice is used for juice with more potential for complexity (think older vines, grapes grown in more calcareous soil, etc). The wood aging builds up tannin and structure. The type of wood used comes at the winemaker’s discretion, options include small-oak barrel or barrique, tonneaux, botti grande. 
  • Fresh, younger drinking steel-aged Barbera d’Asti wines (solo acciaio) require a minimum of 4 months cellar aging. A steel-aged Barbera d’Asti wine never wears the label Superiore. Don’t be fooled by the lack of wood. Well grown steel-aged Barbera d’Asti wines last up to 8 years showing elegancy and depth.
  • Barbera d’Asti DOCG requirements dictate that the wine is at least 90% barbera grapes; up to 10% non-aromatic red wine grapes are permitted. However, today most producers use 100 percent barbera grapes.

Barbera Wine Pairing: Lessons from Piedmont

Notable, lesser known Monferrato red grapes include: 

  • Gringolino: A favorite local workhorse wine, gringolino makes light colored red wines and rosés with very fruity aromas, strong acidity, and tannins. The intense grape variety can produces rich red wines that are high in tannins and acidity, offering much-needed relief to the cold Piedmontese winters of the past. Gringolino pairing suggestions: Thanks to its acidity, the wine has great versatility with food. Try it with olives, feta cheese, spaghetti with tomatoes or even pizza dressed with olives and herbs. 
  • Ruché: The ruché grape is mid to early ripening, accumulating sugars well. Despite its low acidity, it retain a good share of malic acid that gives the wine freshness. The grape has good tannic structure, which makes it temptingly ageable. When visiting the Monferrato wine region, make sure to try an aged ruché. Ruché pairing suggestions: The wine is excellent with aged, strong cheeses. Try also with game, local bagna cauda, and rich pasta dishes.
  • Freisa: My clients who have spent time with me know that I go wild for Langhe Freisa, but don’t miss the Monferrato expression. Freisa is thought to be a parent to nebbiolo, so it has all those inviting characteristics of rich complexity and haunting flavors with a little added vivaciousness compared to its more guarded offspring. Historically it was made with a slight effervescence and I say try both styles when here! Freisa food pairing: I love with BBQ, chicken wings, even mildly spiced Chinese food or Mexican!

Whites of the Monferrato

For white wine, Monferrato shines with its production of the renowned Gavi wines (the cortese grape) and Moscato d’Asti.

  • Gavi: Made from the Cortese grape, Gavi wines are crisp, refreshing, and often described as having a delicate floral and citrus aroma. These elegant white wines perfectly complement the region’s rich culinary offerings. In particularly cool vintages, the wines become lean and show aggressive acidic, but winemaking techniques like malolactic fermentation and oak barrel fermentation temper that. Gavi wine pairing: Often a favored wine in Liguria for fresh seafood caught off the Ligurian coast, the wine’s moderate acidity and light, crisp flavors pair well with the delicate flavors of fish.
  • Moscato d’Asti: Made using the thousand year old Moscato bianco grape, the most important expression found is as a frizzante sparkling wine, served with aperitif or dessert. On the palate, expect sweet aromas of peaches, green apple, orange blossoms, and lemons. The flavor tingles on your tongue from its acidity and light carbonation. Moscato d’Asti wine pairing: Great with lighter desserts, like apple or peach pie, cakes of apple or hazelnut. The light sweetness and acidity make it great as an aperitif. I love it as a brunch pairing – at only about 5% alcohol, feel okay finishing the bottle! Read the Girl’s Gotta Drink take on pairing Moscato d’Asti with a Full English Breakfast! I call it, Moscato for Breakfast

timorasso grape harvest

Sustainable Wine Production in Monferrato

In recent years, the Monferrato wine region has made significant strides towards sustainable wine production. The region’s winemakers recognize the importance of preserving the land and its resources for future generations. Many vineyards have adopted organic and biodynamic farming practices, minimizing the use of chemicals and promoting biodiversity.

Sustainability extends beyond the vineyards; it also encompasses the winemaking process. From energy-efficient production facilities to eco-friendly packaging, Monferrato’s wineries are committed to reducing their environmental impact. By prioritizing sustainability, the region ensures that its wines not only taste exceptional but also contribute to a healthier planet.

Must-Visit Wine Towns in Monferrato

Monferrato is home to multitudes of charming wine towns, each with its own unique character and attractions.

  • Asti: A bigger city, Asti is renowned for its annual Palio horse race. Stroll the ancient streets for shopping and sample the local delights. Check out Asti’s Antique Market every fourth Sunday of the month in Piazza Alfieri: Piazza Libertà e Via Garibaldi.
  • Canelli: Another must-visit Monferrato town, Canelli is famous for its sparkling metodo classico (Champagne-style) wines aged in its majestic underground cathedral wine cellars. The historic cellars were carved into the hillsides and provide the perfect environment for wine aging. Exploring these cellars is like stepping back in time, immersing yourself in the region’s winemaking heritage.
  • Castagnole delle Lanze: The charming wine town hosts one of the Monferrato’s most important wine events: the Festa della Barbera. The festa takes place the first weekend of May offering a sneak peek into private courtyards in the city’s historic center, typically shuttered to the public. Peruse the various food and wine tables set up to taste local products and wine. 

The Monferrato’s Festa della Barbera in Castagnole delle Lanze takes place the first weekend of May.

Festa della Barbera

  • Santo Stefano Belbo: At about 23 square km / 9 square miles, Santo Stefano Belbo is a historic town placed perfectly for Monferrato wine exploration. Historical sites and fantastic wine bars and ristorantes make it worth a stop.
  • Acqui Terme: One of my favorites from my early days as a transplant. The historic city became an important thermal center during Roman times with its dominant – and naturally occuring – element of boiling hot water. Extremely rich in therapeutic properties, it flows in the city’s historic center. For a spa experience, visit the Terme di Acqui spa, with its hotel and wellness center. 
Monferrato wine towns
Visit Acqui Terme for its it’s ancient, hot sulpher springs, but stay for the charm.

Where to Stay in the Monferrato

One thing I’ve found refreshing is all the lodging options in the Monferrato. From villa properties to agriturismi to boutique hotels, stay in one of the cities…or, among the vines.

I am getting more ad more guests looking for villa properties for extended stays and while there is no longer a total shortage in Barolo wine country, they remain few and far between there. What’s more, the prices keep climbing for Barolo lodging, so the Monferrato is an excellent alternative for groups, families, couples – anyone looking for a little more tranquility that’s a little easier on the wallet. 

For less the price, get a vineyard location, extra large pool, professional kitchen, and more! Part of my travel planning services includes lodging, so if this is your cup of tea, I’ll get you settled! And, don’t worry – I’ll make sure you get at least one day exploring Barolo and Barbaresco wines! 

where to stay in the monferrato
Villa properties in the Monferrato region are sprawling with epic views, and far more affordable than Barolo.

Ready to Visit the Magical Monferrato Wine Region?

A visit to Monferrato is not just about tasting exceptional wines; it’s about immersing yourself in a world where every sip tells a story. From exploring the vineyards and wineries to indulging in wine tastings and food pairings, every moment in Monferrato is an opportunity to appreciate the magic that goes into crafting these exceptional wines.

So, come and discover the enchantment of the Monferrato for an experience that lingers in your heart long after the last drop. 

Book your visit to the Monferrato wine region – tours, lodging, and more!


piedmont wine region

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