For the first time, I’m joining the Italian Food Wine Travel group for its monthly discussion of Italian culture, cuisine, and wine. In a departure from the usual Italian-only focus, this month the bloggers will explore Nebbiolo from places outside the well-known vineyards of Barolo and Barbaresco. You may also see Nebbiolo wines outside the traditional dry red table wine, as it is sometimes made into rosé or sparkling wine! Check out what our group members have on order for the chat in the list below. My post follows immediately afterward.
Blog and Chat With Us!
The posts below will go live early Saturday, Feb. 4. Our group will get together for a chat on Twitter at 11 am eastern time to discuss our finds. Join us at #ItalianFWT on Saturday morning!
- Jill from L’occasion shares The Test in Life is Unity: G. D. Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo
- Susannah from Avvinare shares Discover Off the Beaten Path Nebbiolos from the Caluso, Carema and Canavese
- Lauren from The Swirling Dervish shares 2015 Cantalupo “Il Mimo” Rosato Nebbiolo
- Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares Zuppa di Cipolla al Vino Rosso + Bava’s “Gionson” Nebbiolo
- Mike from Undiscovered Italy shares Let’s Go Grumello
- Jen from Vino Travels shares The Land and Soul of Ceretto
- Gwen from Wine Predator shares Silver and Gold: Nebbiolo from Santa Barbara and Italy
- Jeff from FoodWineClick! shares Nebbiolo Grows On My Desert Island
Just about every oenophile who has tasted the red wines of Piemonte, in northwest Italy, becomes smitten with the elegant elixirs of Barolo and Barbaresco. With their enticing aromas of cherry and rose petals, it’s easy to understand their appeal. But, as with any product whose demand outweighs its supply, a bottle of Nebbiolo from either of these communes can be an expensive proposition. So where to search for a wine with similar charms, but with a more attractive price tag? Look no further than Alto Piemonte, a collection of small towns nestled in the foothills of the Alps, in the far northeast corner of the Piemonte region. As you might expect, the climate here is a little cooler and the vines are planted at higher elevations than in Barolo or Barbaresco, resulting in wines that, in comparison, tend to be lighter in color and less tannic, with more delicate aromas and flavors. More suitable for early drinking, they indulge the impatient Nebbiolo drinker, one who doesn’t want to wait years for his wine to mature. And because these wines come from relatively lesser-known areas, they are a bit easier on the pocketbook.
The Villages of Alto Piemonte
A group of small villages clustered around the Sesia River, Alto Piemonte was once the epicenter of Nebbiolo production in Italy. But after phylloxera wreaked havoc on the vineyards and World War II gave way to the industrialization of Northern Italy, there was not much incentive for growers to continue. Fortunately, for us wine lovers, that is no longer the case. As we’ve seen in other parts of Italy, there is a groundswell of support for those who want to replant ancient vineyards and rescue indigenous varieties from the verge of extinction. And that means new wines for us to discover!
Wine #1: 2015 Cantalupo “Il Mimo” Nebbiolo Rosato; Colline Novaresi DOC ($15 retail; 13.5% abv)
As you can see from the label, this wine takes its name from a mask – one that dates back to Roman times, when vineyards were first planted here. It was unearthed in the alpine foothills of Ghemme, not far from the Cantalupo winery. The DOC comprises the eastern slopes along the Sesia River, where vines are planted at elevations of about 400 meters, on soils of gravel and clay. Under DOC rules, wines must contain at least 50% Nebbiolo, with Uva Rara, Bonarda, and Barbera frequently blended in. This wine is unusual in that it is 100% Nebbiolo.
In the glass, the Il Mimo shows bright, dense coral; quite vibrant. Delicate red fruit aromas of cherry and strawberry, with just a hint of the rose petal for which Nebbiolo is famous. A sip reveals that this is all Nebbiolo – rosé or not! Tons of acidity frame up the beautiful fruit, which ultimately reveals the supple spine of tannins that underlie it all. Rather robust for a rosé, but very much to my liking. It made a super pairing with grilled turkey burgers with feta and spinach served over a salad of endive and yellow peppers (see photo.) I think it would work equally well with a heavier dish, say, grilled skirt steak with chimichurri. It’s also quite a delight on its own!
Wine #2: 2012 Proprietà Sperino Uvaggio; Coste dell Sesia DOC ($31.50 retail; 13% abv)
A century ago, Felice Sperino, a Lessona doctor, grew Nebbiolo and made some of the most highly acclaimed wines in Italy. Following in his great, great uncle’s footsteps, Paolo De Marchi moved to Tuscany during the 1970s, and founded the Isola e Olena estate, which has been credited with helping jump-start the renaissance of Chianti Classico. About 10 years ago, he returned to Lessona and, with his son Luca, began to revive the traditions established by Felice Sperino, restoring the vineyards and renovating the winery.
Soils in Lessona are composed of marine sands from the Pliocene Period, and are rich in minerals like iron, manganese, aluminum and zinc which, according to some, you can taste in the wine. I didn’t really pick up any one of those in particular, although there is a distinct mineral component on the palate.
Consistent with most red wines made in the Alto Piemonte regions, this wine is a blend dominated by Nebbiolo (80%), with a little Vespolina (15%) and Croatina (5%) thrown in. It is deep red/garnet in color, with orange-gold glints at the rim. Notes of cherry and rose waft from the glass, giving way to an herbal component that makes me think of herbes de provence. On the palate there are notes of dried bitter cherry, strawberry, and spice, with a definite mineral finish. Acidity is bright, tannins are fine: It’s a beautiful wine of exquisite balance, and serves as a wonderful complement to long-simmered Osso Bucco (below.)