Nebbiolo Flight

Barolo is not an enormous category in our shop, but it is important to carry the flag. I should mention that I’m a huge fan of Piemonte wines, particularly of good Nebbiolo. These quarterly Nebbiolo tastings routinely represent the best, most interesting wines we taste, all year. For our customers with a California palate, these wines are difficult to comprehend. Barolos and Barbarescos are not necessarily plush with fruit, especially in vintages that produce classically traditional wines like 2005. Instead, the focus of the wines are on the aromatics, complexity, and texture. My job is to get people to examine wine by looking beyond what fruit a wine has, and really examine what the character a wine is offering. I once told a girl when she said she didn’t like Bordeaux: Wine is like the guy you are dating, you are never going to change him, so you just have to appreciate him for what he is. You have to find the good things, and not wish he were someone else.”

La Morra

La Morra (Photo credit: uknaus)

That doesn’t always help the folks who feel like Nebbiolo is a mouthful of sour and bitter. That said, Barolo is no longer the wine it was 15 or 20 years ago. For decades these Nebbiolo (the grape) based wines were both exceptionally tannic and acidic, and required many years, even decades, in the cellar to come around. Three things have happened.

First, all aspects of vineyard practices have improved dramatically. Also growers  know much more about when to pick. They recognize now when the grapes have physiological, and when they don’t. This has brought forward the fruit characteristics, and eliminated the rough green tannins that were so prevalent a two decades years ago.

Second, global warming has led to longer hang times, more physiological ripeness, particularly adding in developing round tannin structures, and riper wines have lower acid levels. Also important aspect of the climate change in Alba, is there are now fewer early rains,which caused many vintners to pick earlier than they would have liked, or worse, caused dilution of the wine when a vintner was caught off guard by heavier than expected rains.

Third, regardless of being a modernist (modern producers have backed off of the earlier practices of long cold macerations and lots of new oak) or traditionalist, knowledge of the science of winemaking has improved, improving aromatics and fruit in their wines, integrating tannins, reducing volatile acidity, and in general making cleaner wines if for no other reason than most wineries now have improved cleanliness in the cellar. The wines are now generally drinkable on release, and though they may close up four or five years after vintage. But because of the improved balance of the wines, they don’t close up for nearly as long as in years past.  It was not unusual for Barolos of the past to take 20 years or more to open up again, if they ever did.

For me, the 2005 Cogno “Ravera” and the Einadi “Nei Cannubi” were wines of the tasting. The Antoniolo was beautiful, if not authoritative, and particularly petite and graceful (an oxymoron) for Gattinara .

2009 Domenico Clerico Arte Lange Rosso 90% Nebbiolo from Sori Ginestra, 10% Barbera $32.99

 Red Cherries, Black Cherry liquour, dusty road, dried herbs on the nose. Fairly round in the mouth, with a pleasingly tart structure. Maybe a little simple. Certainly not as complex and expressive as the 2008

2007 Cantina del Pino, Barbaraesco “Ovello” $49.99

Soft and vaguely fruity on the nose, with a touch of fennel seed. Much richer and more round than the Arte, but not nearly as fruity, which is a combination of an extra two years in the bottle, vineyard location and winemaking style. Nice vibrancy on the palate, with complexity coming in the form of dried spice.

2007 Antoniolo Gattinara San Francesco $51.99

Gorgeous nose of geraniums, green peppercorns and bright red cherries and notes of cream. The most refined and clean Gattinara I’ve ever had, very feminine, with soft silky tannins and relatively low acids, and lovely purity of fruit and good length.

2007 Manzone Barolo “Bricat’ $41.99

Bigger and darker than the previous wines, this featured deep berry fruit coupled with a roundness that only the 2007 vintage of Barolo possesses. What makes these 2007 great, if not classical, is they are big and relatively fruity, but you could never mistake them for anything but Barolo. Excellent complexity with this Bricat. I don’t have complete tasting notes on this wine.

2006 Cogno Barolo “Ravera” $54.99

The 2006 Cogno typifies the difference between great classic Barolo and the 2007s. Whereas the 2007s are a dark plum color, the Cogno is more brickish and more translucent. Rose, cherry, cedar, plums, spice, this was very complex, while comparatively not fruity at all, rather the Barolo’s classic suggestion of fruit. Very alive and textural in the mouth. An incredibly deft balance of acid and tannin, pushing the limits, yet it is this that makes the Cogno Ravera so vibrant. A beautiful wine that will aged 20 to 30 years.

2007 Icardi Barolo “Parej” $59.99

Again, back to the darker, rounder 2007s, with their plum tinged opaque color. The Parej was very masculine, with more muscular plum fruit, with cherry in the background. Fullish on the midpalate with a solid feel. Powerful through the plum and cherry finish.

2005 Luigi Einaudi “Nei Cannubi” $69.99

From the ageworthy 2005 vintage, these are typically in need of cellar time. Cherry and strawberry on the nose, with a touch of menthol. Round and supple in the mouth (after being open for 6 hours), with firm tannins. This was a big wine, with significant palate impression, even following the Icardi. Very complex, with a long textrual finish lingering with cherry and strawberry highlights A great wine, that deserves significant cellar time.

2007 Renato Ratti Barolo “Marcenasco” $43.99

No notes taken. This was the biggest, and chewiest of the flight. Following the Einaudi, this seemed a bit simple. Plenty of fruit though. Given there was no wine left when I had time to take notes, it must have been a crowd favorite.

MYSTERY WINE

I threw this into the flight because it has a striking similarity to Nebbiolo. Some believe Xinomavro (the grape variety of the wine) is the root source of Nebbiolo. Since many Italian varietals were brought to Italy by the Greeks, this is a strong possibility.

2007 Domaine Karydas, Xinomavro, Naoussa Greece

Duskier than Barolo, the Domaine Karydas featured a chalky nose, with coco powder, plum and fennel bulb. Greener than Barolo (which is likely due to farming practices), it had very similar tannin and acid structure.

THE PALATE CLEANSER

With any flight of tannic wines, it is good to cleanse the palate with white wine. Whites, do a superb job at refreshing the palate, rinsing the tannins away. Nothing else does such a good job, not water, bread, cheese (which changes the flavors of the wine.) I poured a top flight Pinot Grigio from Schiopetto that I picked up off a close-out list.

2007 Schiopetto Pinot Grigio, Capriva del Friuli,  $14.99

This is showing beautifully, if you like aged whites, and I really do, as long as they are built for it. This is got plenty of structure, and the fruit is holding up well, burnished as it is by age, giving it an extra level of complexity. Melon, touch of caramel, fresh herbs, like thyme and chives, and sweet fennel bulb notes in the mouth. Nice sweet fruit on the mid-palate shows it could go longer, but I don’t think it will improve with additional cellaring.  I’d drink it over the next year or maybe two if you are feeling lucky.   Schiopetto’s whites can age 1o to 20 years or longer the winery’s sales manager told me.  Pinot Grigio is the least ageworthy wine in their line-up, thus it is priced as the least expensive wine.   I got this on close-out.

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