Gattinara is found in Italy's north-western Piedmont region. Like its neighbor Ghemme, the area also has ancient origins. It is thought that the name derives from Catuli Ara (the Altar of Catullus); it appears the town of Gattinara was built on the site where the Proconsul Lutatius Catullus dedicated the spoils he claimed in his victory over the Cimbrian Gauls in 101 BC. There is also evidence from archaeological discoveries that puts vine growing as far back as Roman times.
The area was granted DOCG status in 1990. Its 247 acres (100ha) of vineyards are located north of Vercelli on steep, south-facing slopes (at a height of 274–396m/900–1300ft), centered around the commune of Gattinara and stretching westward towards the Alps. This winemaking zone enjoys a continental climate and the vines grow on iron-rich gravelly soils of volcanic origin, with traces of carbonate, calcium and magnesium. The uniqueness of these soils, combined with the ideal microclimate, helps yield excellent Nebbiolo grapes.
Similar to Ghemme, the wine must comprise 90% Spanna (the local name for Nebbiolo), the rest made up of Bonarda di Gattinara and Vespolina. Unlike Ghemme, which has an alcohol level of 12%, Gattinara must reach 12.5% (13% for riserva). Ageing requirements are 36 months with 12 in oak barrels, or for the riserva, 48 months with 24 months spent in wood. The wine usually ranges from orange to garnet in color, and has a rustic nature and an aromatic bouquet reminiscent of violets. Its reputation for exceptional longevity is thanks to its very prominent tannins and high acidity, which is greater than that of its more well-known cousins, Barolo and Barbaresco.