The Piedmont region lies in Italy's Northwest corner at the foot of the Alpine chain bordering France, hence the name Piedmont, meaning "foot of the mountains." This is one of the most important red wine districts in the world. Three red grapes dominate the region—Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto. Nebbiolo is responsible for the world class wine of Barolo and Barbaresco. Unfortunately, affordable examples are really a thing of the past.

Barbera, however, is another kettle of fish when it comes to bang for the buck. Barbera is Piedmont's most widely planted variety. It is typically medium bodied and dry with a healthy dose of acidity. Flavors of black cherry and plum framed by earth and the occasional oak barrel are prevalent.

The most famous Barberas come from the vineyards in and around the towns of Alba and Asti. (Yes, this is the same Asti made famous by Asti Spumante.) The Barbera of Alba tends to be biggest of all, showing great power and concentration, while maintaining balance and finesse. Barbera d'Alba is capable of aging ten years and beyond in favorable vintages.

Asti, on the other hand, produces a fruity, less tannic Barbera than Alba, and is best consumed within two to six years of the vintage. Barbera, like most Italian reds, is excellent at the table with a variety of foods. It is marvelous with the Piemontese favorite, Bagna Cauda, a dip of olive oil, anchovies, and garlic. Barbera is also a natural with tomatoes. A simple marinara with a young example is a match made in heaven.

Dolcetto, a variety also from Piedmont, is intensely fruity with less tannin and acid than Barbera. Dolcetto often draws comparison to France's Beaujolais. It varies from village to village but can generally be classified in two basic styles; extraordinarily soft, velvety, and fruity with little tannin, or slightly rugged, with spicy flavors and a nose of toasted almonds. Dolcetto compliments slow cooked stews and roasts, offering fresh and fruity flavors that enliven the dish, but can be equally good as a picnic wine with a light chill. Vintage patterns are quite similar to those of Piemontese Barbera.