2010 Barolo is driving me broke! In years past, I’d usually have no less than three cases of Barolo in the cellar by now. Unfortunately, with the average 20% increase on my typical value-buys, and my beloved single vineyard wines up about 50% or more, I’ve been forced to cut back in a big way. So where does this leave the Nebbiolo lover? You could turn to Barbaresco, but even there the prices are starting to creep up. So why don’t we look outside of Barolo and Barbaresco for our Nebbiolo fix…? Do I hear silence? Why, because you once tried an Alto Piedmonte wine that came off as too light, acidic or just plain disinteresting? I think we’ve all been there before, but I am telling you now that it’s time to take a second look at Nebbiolo outside of Barolo, and I’ll tell you why.
There are a few things to consider here.
First, the newfound popularity of Barolo and Barbaresco has a lot to do with a renewed emphasis on cleanliness and quality. For the most part, the days of 50-year-old rotting oak barrels in the cellar are gone. The modernist movement—which has lost nearly all of its steam–did one very good thing for the wines of Barolo and Barbaresco: it showed even the most traditional producers that a better Barolo could be made through well-manicured vineyards and maintained cellars. However, this exact same revolution has taken place in the vineyards and cellars throughout the entire region. So, when you buy a Ghemme or Gattinara, it’s no longer just the Alpine-inspired light and wirery Nebbiolo you may have once encountered.
Which brings me to my next point: global warming. One of the most typical conversations I have come across these days are winemakers talking about the effect of global warming on their vineyards. For the longest time, these conversations were very positive. However, lately, they’ve taken a less optimistic turn. Long ago, the best vineyards in Barolo were designated by where the snow melted first, and much of this had to do with full southern exposures. It was in these locations where Nebbiolo would obtain perfect ripeness for making Barolo. However, this is not always the case anymore. We’ve seen a pretty even mix of warm and cool years over the last decade; and now, when one of those warmer vintages come along, those once-storied, south-facing slopes are now becoming too warm for the Nebbiolo grape. You can see this first hand in the rise in popularity of high-altitude, single-vineyard Barolo like Vajra’s Bricco delle Viole or Burlotto’s Monvigliero. The cooler climate makes for a more classic wine.
How this applies to designations like Langhe Nebbiolo, Roero, Gattinara and Ghemme is that the vineyards which were once considered inferior due to how difficult it was to achieve ripeness are now able to achieve perfect ripeness. Langhe Nebbiolo is a great example, as these vines are usually found within the growing areas of Barolo and Barbaresco, yet planted on the slopes with poor exposure.
Lastly, it’s simply the science of how markets move. 25 years ago, when Barolo was cheap by today’s standards, the production of Gattinara and Ghemme were snatched up by devoted Nebbiolo enthusiasts. Now, many of these wines are still kicking, and when placed blind into a tasting of vintage Barolo and Barbaresco, they can often fool a lot of tasters. These have always been classic wines with serious aging potential; but as the popularity of Barolo soared, many producers took notice of what the markets were looking for. Today, they have created a marriage of their alpine roots and feminine framework, coupled with an elegance which is in large part due to the points listed above.
In the end, it’s a good time to be exploring Nebbiolo outside of Barolo and Barbaresco. I had a fantastic time tasting through these wines, and have added a number of them to my cellar. The fact is that there are wines here that easily rival some of the best Barolo I’ve tasted. Oh yeah, I may have forgotten to mention the price. These wines range from $19 – $59, and that $59 bottle is worth every penny.
My first pick doesn’t even come from Piedmont; instead it’s from the Lombardy region where you’ll find the Valtellina. The Valtellina is an amazing wine region all of its own, with a cuisine inspired by its close proximity to Switzerland. These wines come from some of the most steeply-terraced vineyards on earth, where helicopters are often used to move grapes from the vineyard to the winery. These water-starved, weathered soils produce intense and inspiring examples of Nebbiolo. What amazed me here was the quality-price-ratio of this wine. Nino Negri produces a range of serious Nebbiolo (the 5 Stelle is always one of my top wines year after year), but it’s their Valtellina Superiore which provides an early drinking Nebbiolo that’s so likable, and gulpable, that you may find yourself adding this to your list of house wines.
2010 Nino Negri Valtellina Superiore Quadrio – The nose was dark and spicy with black cherry, clove, blueberry skins, undergrowth, and a hint of dry fall leaves. It was silky on the palate with juicy, acid driven textures, giving way to notes of blackberry, cherry, cedar and spice. The floral finish showed tart red fruit complemented by youthful tannin. This can be enjoyed now for its exuberant bouquet and juicy round fruit, yet will hold in the cellar for a number of years. (90 points)
I’ve sung the praises of Cavallotto Barolo, and now it’s time to talk about the incredible value of their Langhe Nebbiolo. This is a wine which comes from the same vineyard as their flagship Barolo, yet from the less ideal exposures. From there, it’s treated to an 18-30-day maceration and then moved to large botti for 15-24 months. When you consider the source and ageing, you realize that this is a baby Barolo.
2011 Cavallotto Langhe Nebbiolo – The nose was rich and dark, yet still fresh and layered with dark cherry, rosemary, moist soil, cinnamon and dusty potpourri. The notes of dark, dusty earth added great complexity to the ripe and forward fruit. On the palate, it was like velvet in its weight and texture. Fleshing out across the senses, it showed dark red fruit and licorice with a hefty dose of tart acidity, making the cheeks pucker toward the close. The lasting finish showed dried cherry, cinnamon a hint of molasses and a touch of heat. (91 points)
Matteo Correggia has become synonymous with the Roero, being one of the first producers to make a quality wine from this area. The Roero, which is across the Tanaro River from Barolo and Barbaresco, is still a relatively new designation but many believe it may be the next frontier for Nebbiolo. Although Correggia uses new barrique, it is done in a truly stylish manner which recalls some of the best modern Barolo coming out of Piedmont. What’s more, as much as this wine could age for an easy decade, it can also be enjoyed now with a moderate decant—plus the price is amazing for this level of quality.
2008 Matteo Correggia Roero Riserva Ròche d’Ampsèj – The nose was almost savory, while showing telltale alpine characteristics with tart berry, plum, cracked pepper, cherry tobacco, hints of menthol and mountain herbs. It was surprisingly rich and round on the palate, yet with a dried spice character giving way to cranberry, sweet spice, hints of orange peel and tobacco. Saturating the palate throughout the finish, the fruit seemed to dry and intensify, adding balsamic notes while youthful tannin tugged at the senses. The 2008 Matteo Correggia Roero Riserva Ròche d’Ampsèj was open for two hours before it truly began to sing. This is beautiful and surprisingly juicy and open for the patient taster now, however it should also reward a decade in the cellar. (93 points)
Heading up to the North of Piedmont, at the foot of the Alps, we find two of my favorite categories outside of Barolo and Barbaresco, and that’s Ghemme and Gattinara. Here, the Nebbiolo grapes take on the name “Spanna,” where a small number of producers have been making age-worthy, world-class wines for many decades. The two below are a perfect example, and they contrast each other beautifully. In all honesty, they have both been added to my cellar. In the case of the Cantalupo Ghemme, it’s for the haunting aromatics which seem to be constantly morphing in the glass. It’s a wine built on its bouquet, yet it still paints a perfectly balanced picture for the palate as well. In my opinion, this is the best value of all the wines I’ve listed here.
2006 Antichi Vigneti di Cantalupo Ghemme Anno Primo – The Anno Primo was hard to put down, as it showed a beautiful, expressive bouquet of dried flowers, cherry tobacco, cedar, mint and floral undergrowth. On the palate, it was vibrant and fresh with tart cherry, cranberry, minty herbs, and a hint brown stem. Wonderfully youthful with ripe tannin on the finish, along with notes of dried cherry, plum and spice. This is simply gorgeous, and it’s a wine that will find its way into my cellar. (93 Points)
Then there’s Antoniolo, a house that has been perfecting single-vineyard Gattinara for decades now. Frankly, this wine stands shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the best Barolo and Barbaresco has to offer, yet the price remains very fair. This is 100% Nebbiolo, put through the same aging regiment as Barolo. It’s a wine that thrills you the first night, wows you on the second, and then makes you ask “how is this possible” on the third. Put it in your cellar and open it ten years down the road for the best results—yet this can be enjoyed now by the patient taster.
2009 Antoniolo Gattinara San Francesco – The nose was rich with dried spices and dark cherry up front. Floral notes, menthol, cedar, dried leaves and tobacco formed in the glass over time. It was velvety yet firm, as it caressed the palate with intense dark, red fruit and balsamic tones made elegant by weighty textures and ripe tannin. There’s a power and potential here which is just begging to be released. Truly satisfying, yet youthful throughout the finish, as the fruit turned to spiced cranberry with tannin clinging to the cheek. A gorgeous wine. (94+ points)
So, after all of this, I would hope that I’ve at least tempted you to delve into the category of Nebbiolo that’s not Barolo or Barbaresco. In the end, tasting for yourself is the best way to know, and any of these offerings will be a great place to start. Take my word for it, you will not be disappointed.
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido