Tuesday, January 20, 2015

You Obviously Love Owls

YOLO is more than just a slightly dated acronym (you only live once) for a two syllable utterance that one might give before doing shots of Fireball whisky or using a funnel to drink... anything, but it is also the final sound in the grape name Nebbiolo (Neb-bee-yolo).

Nebbiolo is arguably one of the most important grapes on the Italian peninsula. This importance is not for its prolific acreage, compared to Sangiovese, but due to its ability to produce world class vineyard specific wines rivaled only by Pinot Noir in Burgundy. The comparison here to each of these grapes is important because Sangiovese (known for Chianti and Brunello) is the other grape to know if one has any interest in approaching Italian wine and Pinot Noir (Burgundy) is a grape reputed to be truly fine at expressing delineated vineyards.

This curious grape Nebbiolo is often tough to approach without at least a little work, because like many Italian wines the place name appears on the bottle before the grape ever will. To give you an idea, here are the regional names what you might see on a wine bottle label before you even know that these wines are made from this surreptitious Nebbiolo: Barolo, Barbaresco, Gattinara, Roero, Valtellina, and Ghemme.

Agriculturally, this is a difficult grape to grow. In my experience I’ve never seen or tasted anything of note outside of Italy’s Piedmont, Lombardia, or the Vallee d’Aoste which draws a stark contrast to grapes like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon that you find in every practically every wine producing country in the world.

(A disclaimer should be made here that I’ve heard Randall Graham has had small scale success with Nebbiolo production in California and that there’s increasing interest in parts of Australia and New Zealand, but as of yet nothing worth commercial note.)

Now when it is vinified, the wine is often very pale in color which belies its aromatic nature, high tannins, and marked acidity. While this description makes it sound challenging to appreciate, I find it much easier to spend time with a bottle of Nebbiolo than a dishonestly sweet, out of balance Aussie Shiraz or Cali Cab.

Depending on its age and where it happens to grow, the wine can smell like any of the following: cranberries, tart cherries, strawberries, mushrooms, wild fennel, dried flower (rose) petals, tar, and leaf piles in late Autumn.  

The downside is that the average bottle of Nebbiolo tends to be a wee bit more expensive than almost every Malbec we sell, but what you lose in obvious savings, you gain in stimulating drinking experience.

Wines to try:

Casata Monticello Nebbiolo $9.99
Tintero Barbaresco $21.99
Bruno Rocca Nebbiolo $26.99
Reverdito Barolo $29.99
Altare 2010 Arborina Barolo $124.99

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