Tasting Recap: the Beguiling Charms of Nebbiolo

Hailing from Piedmont in northwestern Italy, the Nebbiolo varietal has been producing some of the world’s greatest wines for centuries. Growing well only in the specific soils and climate of this sub-Alpine region, this naturally highly tannic and acidic grape has the means to produce wines that will dazzle consumers and age for decades, though it can take some getting used to. Nebbiolo’s flavor profiles generally include notes of tar, roses, cherries and cocoa all balanced with a great sense of place – and yes, tar is indeed a good thing. This past week’s tasting focused on six expressions of Nebbiolo sampled in three sets of pairs to greater understand the contrast of producer and region as well as Nebbiolo’s transparent nature when it comes to¬†terroir. We began with two accessible options (both on the palate and wallet) and progressed to a gorgeous Barbaresco and three mighty Baroli – including a true apples to apples comparison of the same wine from two consecutive vintages – an incredibly enlightening experience no taster could forget. We personally love Nebbiolo so this is always one of our favorite tastings, and last week’s attendees certainly agreed. Never had Nebbiolo? Stop into either location and pick up a bottle to indulge in – you may find yourself as enamored with this grape as we are!

Guidobono 2011 Nebbiolo, Langhe ($15.95)
Andrea Oberto 2010 Nebbiolo, Langhe ($24.95)
As world class wine often requires more effort (lower yields, longer aging time, etc.) in the vineyards and winery, producers of these wines need a little bit of cash flow while these high-quality gems are coming to in their cellars. The result of this are pocket-friendly wines fashioned in a style ready for more youthful consumption – often sourced from high-quality fruit with the same love and care that goes into the higher-end labels. This first pair showed two entry-level Nebbiolos – the Guidobono, sourced from just south of Barolo, and the Oberto which is all high-quality Barolo fruit declassified to keep separation from Oberto’s higher end bottlings. With the Guidobono we find a nice ripe cherry fruit with a hint of cocoa and that delicious tar with a slightly rounder acidity and smoother more polished tannins. Seeing just a few months of barrel aging softens the palate and combined with the predominance of fruit makes this wine a perfect way to sample Nebbiolo as it has a modern edge that new world wine drinkers will appreciate. This isn’t one to cellar but to drink now (and often!)

Oberto, though often considered to be a modernist, certainly shows why you spend a few more bucks on a bottle expressing even more the potential for this varietal. Sourced from La Morra in northern Barolo, this wine sees six months in partially used barrique after a warmer fermentation creating richer and deeper flavors and showing a step up in structure. Secondary notes of mineral, tar and roses surface here with a darker cherry profile to balance. The palate is a bit more put together here with the acidity a touch brighter, bolder but more nuanced flavors and just enough grip to remind you that this bottle could cellar for a few years. Tasters were split on this pair overall, but both wines showed extremely well for their styles and we certainly wouldn’t refuse a glass of either.

Roccalini 2008 Barbaresco ($34.95)
Vietti 2008 “Castiglione” Barolo ($46.95)
With this pair we moved into the more specific regions of Barbaresco and Barolo and though only a few miles apart and sharing fairly similar laws, these wines are where Nebbiolo really shines. Roccalini is a small producer (about 600 cases annually) who creates just this Barbaresco and a Dolcetto. This 2008 bottling is an incredibly pretty wine reminding us of how Nebbiolo features bold flavors and textures yet remains fairly medium bodied. A heightened florality comes through here with a bright acidity to balance gentler tannins and a fairly lengthy finish. Delicate yet expressive, this wine showed extremely well and has cellaring potential, but its abundance of ripe fruit makes it accessible now.

For contrast, the Vietti holds true to an earthier, traditional Barolo. With more time in oak and tank, this wine shows how Barolo can be more assertive than Barbaresco. Vietti has been producing wines for just over a hundred years paving paths and opening doors along the way for this esteemed region. Their 2008 “Castiglione” brings more firm tannin, dried rose, a darker fruit and more tar than we’ve sampled at this point. The palate is more extracted yet still remains medium bodied, acidity is well-integrated and though the tannins are firm, in due time this wine will please those traditional palates that enjoy drinking more non-fruit flavors. A classic Barolo.

Luigi Einaudi 2007 & 2008 “Nei Cannubi” Barolo ($84.95 each)
Tasting these two wines side by side, tasters experienced just how much variation there can be between vintages and though the wines were only one year apart, boy was there variation! These wines were sourced form the Cannubi vineyard in central Barolo, considered to be one of the top crus of the region. Einaudi owns 6 acres in the cru, and the wines show the versatility and significance Barolo wines can offer from vintage to vintage. The 2007 extolled that vintage’s ease with a riper, lusher palate and more giving aromas and flavors and the 2008, with floral notes intermingled with red cherries, a rounder acidity and a lengthy, grippy but graceful finish. This wine drinks incredibly well young and will certainly age well, though perhaps not as extensively as a more classic vintage.

The 2008 growing season was not as easy to work with, proving to be much more traumatic in comparison. Consistent rains, varying weather patterns and hints of hail caused turbulence this season, however through adversity, peace was found with a sunny, warm fall. 2008 has proved to be a classic vintage for Barolo creating vibrant, refined wines. Structure is quite different here as the components for this wine demand more time to integrate, and we find more mineral, earth and a greater sense of terroir here. More tar, more earth, more grip, more acid, more length and finish – this wine is a baby and will cellar well for 10-15 years. (Running it through the Vinturi to aerate it worked wonders, though, the wine was opening up beautifully by the end of the evening.) For an apples to apples comparison, this pair showed just how different those apples can be, both unique, and both quite delicious.

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