Region: Gattinara DOCG, Piedmont, Italy
Grape: 100% Nebbiolo
Price: around $30
Sometimes, you have to treat yourself. Maybe you’ve been a good boy. Maybe you’ve had a bad week. Maybe you just feel like giving yourself a present. In any case, I was in such a self-indulging mood and coincidentally, it was Restaurant Week in Boston. So reservations were made at Erbaluce, one of the top Italian restaurants of the city. Luckily I went with my wine industry friend, she handles the bottle selection, and I can just relax. She selected a Nebbiolo from Gattinara to go with my wild board and her rustic pasta.
Gattinara is one of the Piedmont DOCGs (premium growing regions). It is not as famous as some of the others like Barolo or Barbaresco but it is a more affordable alternative to those classic Nebbiolos. Contrarily to Barolo and Barbaresco, Gattinara allows for some blending: a minimum of 90% of Nebbiolo grapes with up to 10% Bonarda di Gattinara and no more than 4% of Vespolina. The one we had however is 100% Nebbiolo, which is a common choice for producers in Gattinara.
Eye: deep garnet
Nose: Clean, medium intensity, red fruit (raspberries), vanilla
Palate: Dry, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus body, soft tannins, long finish
The likeness to Pinot Noir from Burgundy is there. Body and acidity and soft tannins match, so do the primary aromas of red fruit (raspberries mainly). The oak is present (minimum 1 year) and gives out vanilla aromas. Where it differs from a Burgundy though is a distinct mineral quality on the finish. It gives the wine a denser, tighter feel than Pinot Noir. For lack of a better word, I’d say it gives the wine a greater sense of urgency, whereas a Pinot Noir takes a leisurely stroll, the Gattinara is desperate to give you a message.
Note that this is a 2007; Nebbiolo wines have a reputation of being hard to drink young. I’m not sure how that extends to Gattinaras. The acidity in this one was medium-plus so I assume it already has mellowed out somehow. A younger wine could be a lot tarter with more aggressive tannins.
Food pairings: I had it with wild boar. Not a bad combination but I think it would work better with a more traditional red meat. I can see it working with cheese too.
Overall opinion: Nebbiolo doesn’t come cheap; this Gattinara from Travaglini is a more than decent example of this varietal at a very reasonable price. If you want to get a feel for that noblest of Northern Italian grapes I would recommend it, strongly.
Bonus: this wine was the subject of a blind-tasting contest