Thursday, April 19, 2012


This is a bit of an introductory post. The Piedmont area in north-western Italy  is a unique wine experience largely due to the fickle, but utterly amazing Nebbiolo grape. The two main appellations are Barbaresco and Barolo. They are distinguished by the area the vineyards are located in and the aging time required before market release. Barbaresco is centred around the town by the same name, and the nebbiolo has to be matured for two years before release. The Barolo area is situated a bit further south and the nebbiolo requires three years of maturation.

There are 480ha of vineyards in Barbaresco and 370 producers. From this you can deduct how small each producer is. The situation is very comparable to Burgundy. The lack of scale makes the wine expensive, but also ensures very focussed quality treatment of the grapes etc.

At a recent tasting, a couple of things stood out. The length of fermentation is a key driver of the wine's characteristics. The traditionalists have long fermentation periods of 15 days plus, which results in wines which age well, but are tough and very tannic when young. The modernists, which ferment 3-7 days make wine which is accessible much earlier. It is often matured in small barriques, which gives these wines a more international feel. Traditional wines are matured in large oak vats.

I tasted a few wines from the 2007 vintage, which was warm and produced earlier drinking style wines (in the context of Barbaresco). The best wine came from a very small modernist producer, the 2007 Traversa Barbaresco Starderi. It had good depth of fruit, but still elegance and firm tannins.

The second key point is about terroir. Individual vineyards may have different soils, aspect and elevation. This was brought home by four wines from Produttori del Barbaresco, all single vineyard wines from vineyards in close proximity. They were all from 2001. This is a traditional producer, and these wines were still taught and not ready to drink after 10 years! I tasted the wines blind and the two best wines were from the Rabaja and Asili vineyards. Phew, they have the reputation. The Asili wine was actually quite stunning. The flavours and aromatics went very strongly to the back palate. It went on and on. The wines from Ovello and Montestefano did not have the same depth and balance. One a bit short, the other too tannic.

Wine drinkers who have not had Nebbiolo before find it often difficult to relate to these wines. However, they are excellent food wines, which do not dominate, but are strong nonetheless. And the best wines (think Gaja or Moccagatta in Barbaresco) are unique and utterly delicious.


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