The allure of Nebbiolo

2017/02/21 - Written by Marco Giovanetti
The allure of Nebbiolo
The allure of Nebbiolo
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Nebbiolo lovers are are a crowd of eccentric wine lovers. Most of them will pay huge  prices and wait in tranquility for decades to let these wines reach their prime. 

What's all the fuss about? The thing that always gets me is Nebbiolo sensual smell. Stick your nose in a glass of this red wine and you'll be captured by dried cherry, rose petals, and truffles. Nebbiolo powerful tannins can make it persona non grata when young, but with some braised lamb pappardelle alongside and you might be best friends!

You might have heard the names Barolo and Barbaresco: these are the classic spots for Nebbiolo, both near the town of Alba in Piedmont. The Nebbiolo grape is perfectly suited to the soil and climate of these areas. Barolo wines are more structured and powerful, while Barbaresco tends to be more floral and elegant. (Of course, there are  many  exceptions in  those generalizations.) Both areas put the name of the vineyards on the label, with some places more prestigious than others. The appellations have an aging requirement—meaning that these bottles can't legally show up on international shelves until years after harvest.

To make things more interesting, Then there are specific crus of Barolo.  These are the eleven  specific communes that make up the Barolo area: Barolo, Castiglione Falletto, La Morra, Monforte d’Alba, Serralunga d’Alba and some parts of the communes of Cherasco, Diano d’Alba, Grinzane Cavour, Novello, Roddi and Verduno. Each commune making a different style of Barolo. Also to finalize, there are the specific vineyards within this town's: Brunate, Cerequio, Cannubi,  Rocche di Castiglione, Monprivato, Rocche dell'Annunziata, Vigna Rionda, Francia and Villero, etc. Juancho Asenjo, one of the leading experts of Italian wine in Spain, once told me: “ It takes a lifetime to learn about Italian wine but another one just to learn about Nebbiolo”. Then there is the traditional or modern Barolo wine producer. Both traditional and modern-styled Barolo wines, with three important  winemaking characteristics  accounting for the difference in styles.

Modern-styled Barolo is made much the same way as most contemporary international red wines, with a brief fermentation period followed by couple of years aging in small French oak barrels to impart spicy nuances such as vanilla and enhance wine texture. The higher the percentage of new barrels used, the higher the impact of wood upon the wine’s final character. Traditional Barolo producers, such as Giacomo Conterno, Fontanafredda,Bruno Giacosa and Cappellano avoided the small oak barrels, opting instead to age their wines in  rustic wooden vats that impart minimal effects to the wine’s flavor or texture, but allow the red must to mellow and mature in a neutral environment.

Not only the vessel impacts the wine style, but also the winemaker’s choice of aging period. Traditional producers leave their beloved Barolos to mature in old oak barrels for many years before bottling and releasing them into the market. Top producer Giacomo Conterno  used to leave his wine sleeping in barrels for up to ten years before public release.

Another importance  between the two philosophies is the fermentation period and the length of time the wine is left in contact with the grape skins.Modern-style producers, such as Angelo Gaja, Scavino, Elio Altare, Roberto Bava, Voerzio and La Spinetta  have opted for brief fermentation periods (about a week) whereas traditional producers prefer leaving the grape skins in contact with the wine up to a month believing the skins enhance wine complexity and longevity. This is correct, but grape skins also impart tannins into the wine,so traditional Barolo can be perceived as hard and tannic if not allowed to rest in the cellar for a few years.

Modern-styled Barolo mature sooner and is less austere than the traditional Barolo, requiring only six to ten years aging before reaching a prime state. Because traditional Barolo can be tannic and austere, they require twelve to fifteen years before reaching their full potential. If deciding whether you are a traditionalist or modernist confuses you, then open the two styles side-by-side and decide for yourself. You can’t go wrong with either.

Thats Nebbiolo for you. Beyond Barolo and Barbaresco, we find  other places will allow you to skip the long wait. Without the prestigious Barolo and Barbaresco brand on the label, you might find great deals on these wines (note that some will allow other grapes to be blended into the mix.) Roero, Langhe, Ghemme, and Gattinara offer wines with softer tannins with the same  complement the classic cherry and rose petal flavors of Nebbiolo. The Valle d'Aosta, high up in the Alps near Mont Blanc, calls the Nebbiolo grape Picotendro, and makes a lively, fresh version. Valtellina in northern Lombardy on the Swiss border offers high altitude Nebbiolo, called Chiavannesca by the locals—it's not given, but  still offer bang for your buck.

Tasted Recently:

Poderi Colla Nebbiolo d'Alba 2014. SAQ Code: 10860346. $25.95.

Very aromatic. Pleasant aromas of cherry, rhubarb and strawberry compote. A hint of tar and brown earth. Also a  slight note of licorice and hazelnut. Discreet with lots of spicy flavors such as mustard seeds and  cardamom. Powerful and racy. Austere but elegant tannins. Very harmonious.

Beni di Batasiolo Riserva Barolo 2007. SAQ Code: 11599231. $37.50. LCBO Code: 330704. $39.95

A very feminine Barolo. Lovely cherry nose with a floral poise and spice that bring to mind cloves. On the mouth, the wine is nicely balanced with delicate note of red fruits, acacia wood and other spices. Very long on the spice side.

Poderi Colla Dardi Le Rose Bussia Barolo 2010. SAQ Code: 10816775. $52.00

Drinking way to young,  but showing some  spice and earth character with lovely blueberry fruit.  On the mouth, it is a wall of tannins but still showing attractive licorice, red plum and red berry character  Should improve in a decade or so.

Michele Chiarlo Cerequio Barolo 2012. SAQ Signature: 12674504. $89.00.

On the nose, a cascade of minerality bringing to mind iron. In addition, complex animal nuances such as bacon and dry beef jerky. In addition, cassis, blueberry with a dollop of dead leaves. On the  mouth, retronasal flavors that bring to mind red fruit and peppermint. Elegant with a smooth finale and streamlined tannins.

 

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