Alpine Nebbiolo from Valtellina DOC

It may surprise you to know, the most radical group of architects in the late 1960s came from the Duomo-dominated horizon of Florence. Calling themselves Superstudio, they critiqued the dominant idea that architecture is a benevelont force in society and questioned the impact of built environments on politics. Radical at the time, with their surreal landscapes and montages, now their concerns are considered core ideas for many architects today.

I was thinking about this as I had the disorientating experience of tasting a distinctly low-resolution Nebbiolo from the Alpine region of Valtellina in an ultra-modern space outfitted by designer Phillipe Starck. It made me wonder: Does where you taste a wine affect the taste?

If that is the case, then this rustic Nebbiolo did not stand a chance. Read More »

Pure Pleasure State: Vermentino! (Amore, Amore, Amore)

The state of Vermentino is pure pleasure. So I raised my eyebrows to the challenge to show there were different styles of the vermentino grape. To me it is obvious: all vermentino seems to show a wave of glamourous flavour which ends in a quiet shhhh of reaching the shore. Whether the Vermentino is from Liguria, Tuscany, Sardinia or the emerging areas in Australia. But there are differences.  Read More »

Dress Code Black

The skills for making handmade lace are nearly all replaced by the factory. Except in Sicily. Donnafugata Mille e una Notte is a red wine from Contessa Entellina DOC that has a tight grip on its joyous Nero d’Avola fruit like a short, sharp slap from a woman in mourning. Unashamed Italian austerity, with deep balsamic herbs and black-lace tannins with round Nero d’Avola berries saved from complete voluptuousness by cool harvesting the grapes in the middle of the night. If your idea of black is easy-wearing, wash n’ go then you may not be ready for the young widow with eyes of coal dressed in black lace; this is a deeply unmodern wine, yet made in a highly technological way, that seethes tension and speaks the vocabulary of the volcano. Brava.

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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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