A little Dolcetto at lunch


The Dolcetto d’Alba  Vignevillej from Brovia at Trullo restaurant in Islington.

Dolcetto is a fantastic lunch wine, and a good one should be able to step in when the (Barolo) boss is away and do a decent job. This Dolcetto d’Alba Vignevillej from Brovia does this and more – it has all the easy satisfaction of a lunch wine and a pretty violet colour, but can cut through a beef shin ragu, particularly the one at Trullo restaurant in Islington that has been cooked so long the meat has an incredible creamy texture.

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Mario Cordero (Vietti) talks Moscato d’Asti

Here I talk to Mario Cordero of the brilliant Vietti winery in Piemonte when he came to visit Bibendum Wine in London.

Vietti are well known for their serious single cru Barolo, so I ask him, how do you like to have your Moscato d’Asti?

This has to be one of the most fun wines in the world and truly lights up the room when it is opened. As my friend said after seeing this video, Mario should get the award for World’s Best Dad.

Breakfast wine: Moscato d’Asti on Sundays

It is not often you find a wine with a sense of humour, but this lightly sparkling, lightly sweet wine is the vinous equivalent of being overpowered by tickling. Logic says, don’t give in, but the frizzante, well – it is hardly bubbles, and 5.5% alcohol is hardly wine, and it is as sweet and light as a hazelnut meringue or biting into a fresh millefeuille pastry on a first time visit to Paris. Something monumental is born from the entirely fun and frivolous. Oscar Wilde once said, “Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast”, and most times I agree wholeheartedly with this statement, which is why Moscato d’Asti is the perfect antidote for lazy Sunday breakfasts.

A Tale of Two Vineyards: Giacomo Conterno dinner at Zucca

When one of the oldest Barolo house changes guard, it is worth sitting up and taking notice. Cantina Giacomo Conterno is a great name in Barolo wines and was established in 1908. With the passing away of the formidable Giovanni Conterno in 2004, his son Roberto took the helm. There have been a few changes since then, which is why I was pleased to have an informal dinner at Zucca Restaurant in London to taste the latest releases.  Read More »

Piedmont Report: Langhe Nebbiolo & Nebbiolo d’Alba

I had always learned Nebbiolo derived from the word, “Nebbia”, meaning “fog”, alluding to the fog that sets in on the hills in Piemonte during harvest. But no, I stand humbly corrected. The true meaning I am told, by every winemaker I met while I was there, is that Nebbiolo was named after the Piemontese word “Nebieu” meaning Noble.

This may be the case, but these great wines made from Nebbiolo grape in Piemonte seem to be shrouded in fog – the fog of Italian classification laws. “We are very complicated in Piemonte,” said Pietro Ratti at the Symposium after the Nebbiolo Nobile tasting, almost as an apology.

Does it have to be this way?

Some may know Barolo and Barbaresco, some may even know they are made from Nebbiolo, but there are also other wines: Nebbiolo d’Alba, Nebbiolo from Roero and Nebbiolo Langhe. They are made from the same grape but are different classifications of Nebbiolo, some that cross over the same territories, even the same vineyards, as Barolo and Barbaresco (see map above).  They share the same essential character, but they cost a lot less.

Please feel free to skip over this next paragraph unless you are studying a degree in Wine.

Nebbiolo d’Alba must be 100% Nebbiolo grape, while Nebbiolo Langhe only has to be 85% Nebbiolo. Langhe Nebbiolo DOC was formed in 1995 to be a “second wine of Barolo” but instead it quickly became a catch-all group for other grape varieties such as Langhe Chardonnay. Whereas Nebbiolo d’Alba was formed in the mid-70s, initially to make wine in the Roero region, but can be used as a classification across Langhe and can even be declassified to… Langhe Nebbiolo. On top of that, some winemakers make Nebbiolo Langhe or Nebbiolo d’Alba as a wine in itself, others see it as a vehicle for declassified Barolo.

Let’s be clear: Nebbiolo Langhe or Nebbiolo d’Alba is a mini-Barolo or mini-Barbaresco. In other words, Nebbiolo is earlier-drinking and brilliant value.

Just as a villages-level Bourgogne is to Grand Cru Burgundy, Langhe Nebbiolo are not as serious as Barolo or Barbaresco yet, they share enough of their good qualities for the dramatically lower price (one-third to one-quarter less). They are food wines par excellence, which is hardly surprising when Piedmont is the home of wild mushroom risotto, white truffle oil and agnolotti pasta made with eggs and stuffed beef, pork, or rabbit, flavoured with sausage, parmesan cheese, eggs and herbs…

Nebbiolo Nobile event at Serralunga d’Alba Castle, Piedmont

The exploration of Langhe – very nobly – culminated in a tasting at the Castle of Serralunga d’Alba organised by David Berry Green of Berry Bros & Rudd. It could be the immaculate palate of David Berry Green, who was once Burgundy buyer for Berry Bros & Rudd (and eighth-generation Berry), but regardless, all of the 50 wines showed a Burgundian freshness, finesse and drinkability.

I took this unique opportunity to taste 50 great Nebbiolo in one place – a tasting beautifully ‘edited’ by David Berry Green – to ask myself specific questions:

  • Can I taste specific characteristics in the Nebbiolo from different regions?
  • What is the difference between Barolo and Nebbiolo Langhe?
  • What is the difference between 2008 and 2009?

Some wines were obviously made as an after-thought to their main bread-winning wine (Barolo or Barbaresco), while others showed a level of care and attention that put it in the winning group expressing the region. In this group, Nebbiolo from near Nieve in Barbaresco showed a refinedness distinct from the softer Nebbiolo from the magnesium-rich soil and shallow hills of Roero. The powdery chalk in Cannubi can be tasted in the tannins of the Nebbiolo d’Alba made from there, which wrap around the luscious fruit like thin gauze.

Whether producers treat Nebbiolo as a second wine of Barolo or to treat it as its own style, this is the issue facing producers in the Langhe today.

This was a unique opportunity to taste 50 Nebbiolo from the region with only 5 producers imported by Berry Bros & Rudd, the rest selected on merit and some without representation in the UK. David Berry Green’s almost revolutionary belief in the importance of communicating the nobility of the Nebbiolo variety clearly meant nearly all the wines showed finesse, elegance and drinkability.

Nebbiolo Langhe and Nebbiolo d’Alba producers tasted include:

Vietti, Bricco Maiolica, Cantina Mascarello Bartolo, Giacomo Conterno, Renato Ratti, Produttori del Barbaresco, Giacosa Bruno, Marchesi di Gresy, Bataisolo, Elio Altare, Viberti, Cornarea, Rinaldi, Cascina Fontana, Luciano Sandrone, Ferdinando Principiano and more.

Buy Nebbiolo available at Berry Bros & Rudd

The following notes of 50 wines showcased at Nebbiolo Nobile and an overview of the region and vintages are exclusive to Vinissima subscribers. If you would like to subscribe, or are a member, please press here:

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Drawing the Line: Barolo, Barbaresco & Langhe Nebbiolo


Barolo may be the wine everyone knows, but the grape that makes Barolo – Nebbiolo – is the chalk line that draws the character of Piemonte. This line has its moments of frustration. Particularly when Nebbiolo is only recognised by winelovers and winemakers alike as the King and Queen of Piemonte, Barolo and Barbaresco.However, like any character who hopes for a continuous line, there is good news for Langhe: a distinct picture is emerging. Read More »

New Italian wines at The Wine Society: bella figura!

The concept of ‘bella figura’ or good image is important to Italians. Bella figura is more than dressing well. It extends to the aura you project too – i.e. confidence, style, demeanour, etc. (From Italy – Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette)

The Wine Society UK has found its Members wines that not only speak of the place but also have an extra flourish of bella figura. You’ll find nearly all of The Wine Society’s Italian wines for Spring have personality and speak of its place and history; in particular, the white wines. At these prices, and in these quantities, that is quite an achievement. Here is the line up for Spring:  Read More »

New Italian Wine range at Marks & Spencer

“What is it? Why does he have to shout? Why!” The Queen turned to say to noone in particular at the G20 Conference in 2009. The collective groan could be heard all the way from Italy after President Berlusconi shouted across The Throne Room in Buckingham Palace to introduce himself to the new US President Obbammmmaaa.

Which brings me to the Marks & Spencer Spring Tasting. One word came to me while walking away: Read More »

“What wine should I drink to celebrate Chinese New Year of the Rabbit?” 恭喜发财

This is the question I am sure to be asked this weekend for Chinese New Year! What I love about Chinese New Year is that is all about food and prosperity. So what better way to celebrate the Chinese New Year of the Yin Metal Rabbit than with a wine called The Rabbit (“La Lepre” means hare in Italian): Fontanafredda “La Lepre” Dolcetto di Diano d’AlbaRead More »

Go a little crazy Arneis

In local Langhe-Piedmont dialect, the name of the white grape Arneis means “crazy, weird, introverted, whimsical, bizarre”. But what’s really crazy here is that Arneis is not more well-known as a white wine. In a similar way to Viognier, its individuality was once blended away into red wines and production was limited to a small parcel of land. Reminiscent of Viognier with its hint of apricot, good Arneis has an unmistakeable note of delicate white flowers and great Italian texture on the palate. Good humoured, light and original, I won’t say I have never seen crazy-as-in-psychotic examples of Arneis before Read More »

Marks & Spencer Barbera d’Asti

Warning: the label says Barbera d’Asti but there is nothing much Barbera nor Asti about this wine from Marks & Spencer. The natural acidity of the Barbera grape jars with the American oak (yes, I said American oak) which gives the wine as much pleasure as chewing on tin foil while watching good food being thrown away.

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How to do the new austere: a baby Barbaresco

La Maggiorina Le Piane 2009 (Colline Novaresi DOC, Piedmont) from Lea & Sandeman, £12.95 pb

This is how to do the new austere well: with a light, baby Barbaresco style wine from a near-abandoned region in Piedmont. Beautiful perfumes and tight tannins somehow make austere seem rich.

A fabulous wine yet with an honest country heart: violet, roses after rain, stewed cherry, and fresh-smelling wet forest twigs and gun shop, the expansive feeling of the perfume slowed down by refined tannins, like stopping on a mountain path to take photos of a richly-coloured sunset with a super-sharp lens.

From a once thriving wine-region 1-hour drive North-West of Milan, vineyards deserted in the 1950s for the textile industry, the Colline Novaresi DOC is in the highest and most eastern part of Piedmont. This is made near the town of Boca from the Nebbiolo grape which gives the wine a beautiful pale colour and perfume, also seen in expensive Barolo and Barbaresco, but contains up to 30% Croatina grape, a local variety which gives a violet colour and tannic quality slightly deeper than Dolcetto.

Three word review: Dramatic Luxury Lite

Image: Sofia Sanchez and Mauro Mongiello


The One That Got Away

This wine had the place smelling like Christmas for a week.
Can I give you a tasting note from broken bottle? At around £120 – £140 per bottle, I have to at least try… I was down on my hands and knees licking the floor. Risking shards of glass in my tongue just to have a taste.
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Controversial Freisa: why this is an important wine variety

“They can be fussy, unreconstructed; most of them don’t want to go along to get along. They have an attitude, an edge.” – Randall Grahm, Preface to Wines of Italy, Been Doon So Long: A Randall Grahm Vinthology

There comes an evolution in the taste buds when tasting wine and that can be summed up in one word: bitterness. Bitterness is an acquired taste. A five year old does not like bitterness. Did you ever mistake a cold bottle of Indian Tonic Water with Schweppes Lemonade on a hot summers day as a child?

Ha! It is a shock. That is perhaps why Freisa d’Asti from Piedmonte in North-West Italy divided the critics. Hugh Johnson described Freisa d’Asti as being “immensely appetizing” to Robert M Parker Jr described Freisa as producing “totally repugnant wines”.

But I defy you to come to a firm conclusion on it from a simple sip-and-spit basis.

This is never going to be a mainstream wine. Not because it’s not a good wine, it is an excellent wine, but because it does sophisticated things to the palate: angostura bitters, rose petals and the dryness of raspberry. There is a thrilling electricity along the highway of the tongue when I first tasted it. Mouth-watering, the tannins do their job in time: to prep the palate for great things ahead.

(You’ll also find this fresh bitterness in other flavours in Italian food: think rocket arugula leaves, angostura bitters, amalfi lemons, balsamic vinegar.)

Before tasting a Freisa d’Asti – in this case, the Freisa d’Asti from Cascina Gilli – I was not so much worried about the bitter but the sweetness. From what I researched, there had been a traditional practice of covering the tannins with residual sugar. For a while, Freisa had fallen out of favour.

But this is definitely not what I am tasting today. This is a very modern, adult taste. The light-medium body is a nod to the traditional cuisine it partners with such as salumi. It speaks of its place. It is interesting to note, Freisa is the grandparent of Nebbiolo, who later became one of the Kings of Italian grapes.

Freisa d’Asti may not ever be a popular wine but it is an important wine. I tried to imagine what the world would be like if I could find this on every supermarket shelf: and quite simply, the world would be a different place. It’d be a world where wine would only be drunk with food and people would care what they put in their mouths (ergo, their minds).

So why not go there if you can? Go to a different place.

Link: Cascina Gilli

Image: from Studio Tord Boontje