Bill’s Best Bets – February
The winter nebbiolo cure
by Bill Zacharkiw
Brrr, or rather, grrrrr. It’s the dog days of winter folks and I am starting to get a touch cranky with the unending cold. So for putting up with all this, I tend to spend a little more time treating myself with wine. And recently, I went back to one of my favourite regions – Piedmonte.
Located in northwestern Italy, this is the home to one of my favourite red wines and adored grape varieties – Barolo and nebbiolo. Those who appreciate more fragrant wine with delicate textures usually fall on either side of the pinot noir/nebbiolo fence. As one who doesn’t mind some tannin, and loves the sensual aromas of faded roses and cherry that would make most real cherries jealous, I’m a nebbiolo man.
There is almost a tortured sensuality about nebbiolo. Something distant, melancholic but entirely provocative. I wrote of one Barolo, a 2005 made by Silvio Grasso : “young Barolo challenges, older versions caress.” The common complaint against nebbiolo is that when young, Barolo can have high acidity and lots of mouth numbing tannin which can take years in bottle to soften up.
And true, these are wines that ideally should be drunk 8-10 years after vintage. But I still love them in their youth. All I do is give them a few hours of air and ideally a piece of veal and mushrooms, and I couldn’t be happier.
But there are other ways to enjoy nebbiolo, wines that are able to be drunk earlier. The broader Langhe appellation offers up nebbiolo, or nebbiolo-based wines that are ready to drink right away. These are wines that are often made with either declassified grapes that the winery doesn’t want to include in their Barolo – they may be younger vines or perhaps less complex. They may also have been grown outside of either the Barolo , or neighbouring Barbaresco region.
The Langhe appellation allows for the winery to put to market their wines earlier. To qualify as Barolo, the wine must stay at the winery for a minimum of 3 years, with 18 months of that in barrel. To qualify for Riserva status, the wine must be aged for five years before hitting the market.
So where to start? Look no further than the 2013 Langhe from Produttori del Barbaresco. Made by one of the world’s best co-operatives this wine is, simply put, killer value and traditionally styled.
On a slightly more modern taste profile, the 2011 from Pio Cesare offers up notes of vanilla to give the wine a touch more accessibility.
Worth noting, even though at $54 it is at the price of many Barolos, is the 2012 Langhe from Giuseppe Mascarello. Beautiful lines on this wine. So sensual and delicate.
But Borolo is my love so let’s get to it. The starting point for Barolo is around $30 and the prices can easily attain $100. But around $40, you can start getting some serious wine. Case in point is the 2010 from Principiano Ferdinando. Gorgeous aromatics and a beautiful, sensual texture.
If you are looking for a wine with some age on it, the 2006 from Aurelio Settimo offers up those characteristic aromas of faded roses, with a texture that is very traditional. Slightly tannic and with refreshing acids.
One of my favourite wines that I have tasted recently was the 2009 Barolo from Paolo Scavino. While less traditional in terms of flavour profile and texture than the previous two wines, it walks the line nicely between traditional tannic structure and more modern notes of vanilla and a richer mid-palate.
If you don’t mind the tannin, the 2009 from Silvio Grasso might require a bit of prodding (I opened it up 24 hours before drinking), but the complexity here was mind blowing. I would ideally keep it in the cellar for a while before drinking, or give it a fatty cut of beef.
If you want a more powerful Barolo, with a weightier texture, then the 2010 from Pio Cesare is your wine. Drinking well now, it will easily cellar for another decade. But the Pio is at $58. If you want a wine that is in a similar style but with a touch more age on it, then the Batasiolo 2005 Riserva, at $37, is a nicely aged wine that shows a more modern styling, but still faithful to the Barolo character.
And finally, for those of you who are looking to keep it around $30, the 2009 Follia from Podere Castorani is a ready to drink, and an inexpensive entry point into this grand appellation.
Stay warm and drink well folks,
“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial
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