Bill’s Best Bets – March 2018

Barolo and the Nuance of Nebbiolo
by Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Most wine folks love Burgundy, or at least the idea of Burgundy. It’s where you find thousands of shades of pinot noir and chardonnay, where even the most subtle change in soil depth, altitude and exposition will give you a variation on the theme.

Unfortunately to go into any serious depth is a wildly expensive proposition, if you can even find the wines. But there is another grape out there that displays a similar nuance between growing sites and offers as much complexity – nebbiolo. And it’s much more accessible both in terms of bottle price and selection. Prices start under $30 and, while you can pay up to $200 for a bottle, if you want to taste some exceptional wines, you can find enough of them for under $80.

What are you going to discover, and are you “educated” enough to taste the differences between the bottles? Last February I was touring Piemonte with my girlfriend and stopped at Batasiolo. She loves wine, but like many, simply knows what she likes and what she doesn’t. We tasted through five different, single vineyard Barolos, all from the 2008 vintage. She immediately caught on and was amazed at how different each wine drank.

If you want to go deep, a study of Barolo is a study of soil and hillside expositions. From the richer limestone-based soils of Serralunga which produces more structured and powerful wines, to the lighter, sandier soils around Castiglione where you find more floral and delicate wines. It’s pure pleasure.

On a larger scale, there is the difference between Barolo and its well-known neighbouring appellation, Barbaresco. While both reveal the aromatic beauty of the nebbiolo grape, I find Barbaresco more linear, more structured. Perhaps Barbaresco is more Bordeaux in feel, while Barolo is more Burgundian.

But if you have never tasted nebbiolo, the place to start is with Langhe. This umbrella appellation is used by producers for nebbiolo that is either grown outside of the main appellations, or with younger vines. They can also be blends, but if it is 100% nebbiolo it is usually written on the label.

A great place to start is with one of the best co-ops in the world, Produttori del Barbaresco. For the price, it is hard to beat this classically styled nebbiolo. A touch more delicate, the aromatics of the Paolo Scavino 2015 Langhe are exceptional. And if you want an easy door to enter the world of nebbiolo, try the 2015 Langhe from Pelissero. A touch more barrel-driven, but a delicious wine.

Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo 2016Paolo Scavino Langhe Nebbiolo 2015Pelissero Langhe Nebbiolo 2015

Moving onto Barolo, Beni di Batasiolo offers an exceptionally good under $30 bottle. It’s very old school, with its light colour and delicate aromatics. On a similar vein, but with more depth albeit at almost twice the price, is the 2013 Barolo from Fratelli Alessandria. Put this in a big Burgundy glass and swirl away, the aromatics are intoxicating.

Beni di Batasiolo Barolo 2013Fratelli Alessandria Barolo 2013

While the Alessandria Barolo makes you work a bit, Prunotto’s 2013 is remarkably expressive. Good palate of fruit while not sacrificing the delicate nature of the grape. One of my favorite winemakers from the region is Paolo Conterno and his 2012 Ginestra is simply put, one of the most satisfying Barolos I have tasted in a while.

If you want to spend a bit more, and taste the single vineyards, Chiarlo’s 2013 Cerequio is a heady, and pretty intense wine that I would stash away for a few years.

Prunotto Barolo 2013Paolo Conterno Ginestra Barolo 2012Michele Chiarlo Barolo Cerequio 2013

Moving on to Barbaresco, the 2014 Castello di Nieve is a remarkably good version for the under $25 price tag. Linear tannins, good length and with a touch of barnyard that will make it either a love it or hate it wine. Try it with a veal roast and truffle, it’s killer. The 2014 Barbaresco from Produttori del Barbaresco is once again a no-brainer. Rustic in its mouthfeel but such delicious fruit and aromatics.

Castello di Neive Barbaresco 2014Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco 2014Vietti Masseria Barbaresco 2013

At close to $100, Vietti’s 2013 Masseria Barnaresco is stunning. Much like the Produttori wine, it has fabulous aromatics, floral and with nuanced fruit. The mouth however, is richer, with superb tannins that demand a few more years to come together. Brilliant wine.


“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial

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