Texture, sidekick and Buddha : Bocchino Nebbiolo

Eugenio Bocchino, La Perucca Nebbiolo d’Alba, 2001

Region: Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC, Piedmonte, Italy

Grape: Nebbiolo

Price: 30$

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All life is suffering. I didn’t say that, the Buddha said that. This being said, I think he failed to account for wine. All life is not suffering, sometimes there’s wine, and ice cream. Sometimes your sidekick comes over for dinner, you make some pasta and open a bottle of Nebbiolo. There is very little suffering involved here.

Nebbiolo is still one of my favorite grapes, a tough to grow, temperamental variety from northern Italy, known for complex fruit, flower and smoky flavors. I reviewed several examples of such wines already, this particular bottle is from the Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC. An appellation centered on the town of Alba, like other DOCs such as Barbera d’Alba or Dolcetto d’Alba. This is not a premium appellation for Nebbiolo, unlike Barbaresco or Barolo, but that will not stop us from drinking it

Eye: dark garnet with hints of brown

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Nose: Clean, medium-plus intensity. Mostly red fruits (blackberries and cherries) with a hint of smokiness

Palate: Dry, medium acidity, medium-plus body, very nice tannins and texture that hit the top of the palate.

Red fruits galore, mostly cherries and blackberries, sadly no trace of the smokiness that was present on the nose. A little bit lacking in acidity but the tannins make up for it as they are structured and smooth. The length is good but it remains a simple, red fruits oriented wine.

Food pairings: worked with pasta arrabiata

Overall opinion: I think it might have been a bit past its prime. It was perfectly drinkable and interesting if only for the tannins. It was disappointing in the sense that you really don’t get any of the Nebbiolo’s complexity. I need to try a younger vintage to investigate.

Grade: 6/10

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Italian- Spanish night

Last weekend’s wine tasting night took a turn for the epic. Freed from WSET studying, my friend Laurie let loose the dogs of wine and it made for a spectacular lineup! We ended up having an Italian-Spanish them to the evening, which was unexpected but much appreciated.

Falesco, Est! Est!! Est!!! de Montefiascone, 2011 from Latium, Italy (Trebbiano, Malvasia, Roscetto), around $15

Est Est Est

An Italian white to start the evening, crisp and dry with citrus, apple and pear aromas. Est! Est!! Est!! (complete with multiple exclamation points) is the actual official name of the appellation (and the most annoying thing to type ever). It’s nothing to write home about but the name of the DOC is just too good to pass up. Mean people on the Internet have said that the name of the appellation is way more exciting than the wine itself. Well, it’s a very exciting name.

Stefano Farina, Barolo, 2009 from Piedmont, Italy (Nebbiolo), around $40

Stefano Farina

That’s a big jump in category from the Falesco. Roses, red fruits and smoky (charcoal) aromas are present in this pretty typical Barolo. I was keeping it for an occasion, taking the WSET diploma qualified. Nebbiolo is a variety I fell in love with a few months ago, it’s a shame it’s so pricey… A very well made wine, just short of being spectacular. I’ll stay on the hunt for Nebbiolo based wines: Barolo, Barbaresco, Gattinara,..

Marina Cvetic, S.Martino Rosso, Montepulciano, 2009 from Abruzzo, Italy (Montepulciano d’Abbruzzo), around $25

Cvetic

Another big Italian red, bold and intense with blackberries, red plums, vanilla and chocolate notes. Interestingly enough after the Barolo, it also had a smoky character, but more in a firewood, earthy way than the Barolo which was more on the charcoal, mineral side. I think it was my first Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ever; I can start to see what all the fuss is about. I need more examples to form an opinion, add it to The List.

La Gitana, Manzanilla, NV from Andalucia, Spain (Palomino), around $15

La Gitana

Ah, a vacation reminder. Manzanilla is fortified wine from Southern Spain, it’s actually a kind of fino sherry that is made in the city of Sanlucar de Barrameda, on the coast. It’s a very dry wine with marine aromas (it’s made by the sea) and also distinctive almond, hazelnut and floral notes. As for the floral notes, manzanilla in Spanish means chamomile and the wine was named that way because, well, there are chamomile notes in the wine.

El Chaparal de Vega Sindoa, Old Vines Granacha, 2011 from Navarra, Spain (Grenache), around $15

El Chaparal

We finished with another Spanish wine, from Northern Spain this time. Fruity and spicy, a playful little wine. The color completely threw me off as I tend to expect a fairly light color from Grenache and this wine looked quite dark. I guess Navarra joins Rioja as the Spanish representatives on The List. Given the fact that their country is out of the World Cup already, they need all the help they can get.

So, as you can see, this made for a very enjoyable evening. A fringe benefit of moving to the US was the increased availability of non-French wines, including, ironically enough, European wines. It would be hard to find that many quality Italian or Spanish wines in Paris (not to say anything of New World wines). Now, when is that next wine dinner?

Wine Music : Cabernet and Nebbiolo

Wine Music is a series of posts where I try to match wines with famous songs.  I feel like wine and music go well together as they are two matters that can be studied both technically and emotionally. Simply put, I want to match some wines with songs that they make me think of.

Previous entries include:

Chablis and Meursault

Gewurztraminer and Beaujolais

Vouvray

I love writing those Wine Music posts but they can be hard sometimes. It’s not necessarily the writing in itself, it’s the research and the whole finding a song thing that can take time. I used to go at it in a carefree way, waiting for a match idea to strike me as I perused songs.  I realized that I needed to change methods and use the approach I use to blind taste a wine, a structured, sequenced approach.

Since we are taking about structure, let’s match Cabernet Sauvignon with a song. Structure is one of the defining characteristics of the wine, what are the others? Acidity, tannins, a bit of an unforgiving side, potential for ageing, full bodied, dark, those are a few of the Cabernet things. From that, I can tell that I will need an older song that stood the test of time, it should not be an easygoing happy song about rainbows, there should be some darkness in it and finally it will need some “body”, some staying power, I can’t go with a breezy, light summer tune.

At first I considered some Bach pieces as, like Cabernet, it emphasizes structure but I thought it was a cop out and it lacked the darkness I wanted. Bach to the drawing board I guess (one day I’ll be able to stay away from puns). Cabernet Sauvignon’s music match is: Paint it Black, The Rolling Stones, 1966

The darkness is right already in the title, it’s definitely a classic song, there is structure and staying power and for added bonus, the use of the sitar gives oriental notes to the song that mirrors cedar aromas some Bordeaux can have. Done.

Now, onward to Nebbiolo. What am I looking for here? There is a reason I lumped Nebbiolo in the same note as Cabernet Sauvignon. Many characteristics are the same: potential for ageing, structure. Acidity, tannins,… Where Nebbiolo differs, in my opinion is that it is lighter (without being light), more elegant and can be more surprising than Cabernet.

I considered staying with the Rolling Stones with this one; maybe Sympathy for the Devil would have had that funky element I’m looking for. In the end I decided to go with another great song : Wish you were here, Pink Floyd, 1975

I feel it’s a good match, definitely a song with structure and layers, serious without being dark, elegant to a fault and with moments of grace to mirror the joy of drinking an old Nebbiolo.

Thoughts? Did I miss the mark on these ? Any alternative pairings ?

More affordable Nebbiolo ! Petterino Gattinara

Petterino Gattinara 2000

Region: Gattinara DOCG, Piedmont, Italy

Grape: 100% Nebbiolo

Price: around $35

I spent last weekend in New York City and, while taking a walk in the East Village, I came across a wine shop. Well, this being a wine blog, you probably know where this is going right?

I went in, browsed a little bit and then found a pretty well stocked Italian section. I had a pretty good Gattinara recently and so, when I saw another wine from that DOCG I was intrigued. When I saw the vintage and the price I was more than intrigued, and after that it was a matter of paying, going home and getting a couple wine glasses.

I wasn’t going to let an occasion to drink some good Nebbiolo pass, especially an older vintage. Nebbiolo is a wine that tends to ages beautifully and reveal itself more and more as time passes. I was excited to try it for myself. In terms of ageing, this particular wine spent 3 years in oak barrels, pretty much on par for the course.

Petterino

Eye: pale garnet, orange- brownish rim, typical of older Nebbiolos

Nose: Clean, intense, red fruit (raspberries, cherries) with a distinct tar smell and some pot-pourri like flowers.

Palate: Dry, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus body, very soft and smooth tannins, long finish with coffee notes

The contrast with the Travaglini is immediate. I described Travaglini as a denser, more intense Pinot Noir, this Petterino is nothing like that. There are still red fruits aromas, raspberries and dark cherries but all is underlined by intense earthy flavors such as leather or tar. The tannins are present but extremely well rounded which makes the wine extremely easy drinking. Even 15 years in, the acidity is still there. The final is very long and offers notes of coffee. It’s incredible to see how different 2 two wines from the same town can be. Of course the age (2007 vs 2000) might be a factor, but it remains such a huge gap. Two completely different experiences.

Food pairings: I had it on its own but it would work well with any meat dish or even game. It would definitely hold its own. Some of the aromas might seem a bit funky to pair with food (tar for instance).

Overall opinion: Once again, Nebbiolo doesn’t come cheap and even if Gattinara is an affordable alternative, I was still surprised to get a bottle this old for this price. I’d say it is closer to the traditional image of a Nebbiolo with the pale garnet color and the strong tar notes on the nose. I would also recommend trying it if you can put your hands on it; it gives a totally different perspective on the grape than the Travaglini.

A Nebbiolo you can afford, Travaglini Gattinara

Travaglini Gattinari 2007

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.

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Yes, the bottle has a weird shape

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

The best kind of fog, Nebbiolo

It’s a particularly ugly day in Boston from a weather standpoint. It’s been raining and snowing at the same time, a fact that meteorologist describe as “wintry mix” which sounds like a cereal brand or a granola bar. Rain, snow and fog don’t make for a great early Spring. Actually, fog might help. If you translate fog into Italian, you get Nebbiolo which is way more fun to be around than fog.

So, Nebbiolo is an Italian red grape variety from the Piedmont region (Northwest Italy, capital Turin).

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It is considered the noble grape of the region, which I guess makes Barbera the bourgeois grape and Dolcetto the peasant grape. That’s actually a pretty accurate comparison because Nebbiolo is a really fussy and temperamental grape. Seriously, it makes Pinot Noir look easy to grow in comparison. Nebbiolo is extremely fragile, needs constant care and takes forever to ripen. It is also very particular about the type of soils and climate it needs to grow properly and thus, can only be cultivated on the very best tracts of land. All those factors contribute to its rarity and its “nobility” status.

Nebbiolo Grapes

Nebbiolo Grapes

Why do people bother growing it then? Well, it produces spending wines. That might have helped. Wines made from Nebbiolo have extremely high acidity and tannins level. Often they are way to tart to be drunk early. Most high quality Nebbiolo requires oak aging and then a few years in the bottle to reach its potential and be enjoyable. A peak Nebbiolo makes me think about a tighter, denser Pinot Noir where the gamey, Fall-like notes of Burgundy would be replaced by more peppery, spicy notes. That’s my own experience however, generally accepted descriptions of Nebbiolo insist on aromas like roses, liquorice, mulberries or even tar.

The most famous appellations for Nebbiolo are the Barolo and Barbaresco DOCGs in Piedmont with high reputation and price both. Other DOCGs for Nebbiolo include Gattinara and Ghemme. There is also a DOC, Nebbiolo d’Alba. Outside of Piedmont the grape is not widely planted even so there are Nebbiolo wines from California and Australia.

I’ve been drinking a few Nebbiolos recently and I was I could drink some more because it is usually great stuff. But the relative rarity, high reputation and necessary ageing makes it an expensive passion, especially for Barolos and Barbarescos. Other DOCGs and DOCs are more affordable and they tend to be easier to drink young. It’s usually a good bet if you can find one of these at your local wine shop.