Langhe Nebbiolo and Nebbiolo d'Alba. These entry level bottingd of the Nebbiolo grape from some of Piedmonte's greatest producers of Barolo and Barbaresco frequently capture the beauty of the grape with a transparency that allows for the terroir and vintage character to shine right through.
This tasting was a beautiful exercise none the less as each wine spoke clearly about both the producer's style as well as the vintage's character. Most of these wines tend to be made in relatively small quantities since virtually all of Barolo and Barbaresco producers are family run farming operations. They also tend to be poorly distributed in this country so some may be hard to find.
Why then are we doing this you may ask. Well the answer is simple, from this tasting I hope to offer general guidelines on the producers and the vintages to help guide you in finding Nebbiolo in your market that appeals to your palate.
Now there is one problem with that but it's a small hurdle. All the recommended producer from this tasting make wines that should be classified as traditional. The one modern producer made a wine that horrified this group of decidedly old world palates. Even though all the wines are made in a traditional style the variety of expressions was striking. So her are the tasting notes. After the notes is a short synopsis of both producer and vintage styles that I hope will be helpful. These wines really are fantastic wine and offer a great drinking experience at a very fair price. My tasting notes for these wines can be found summarized here.
1) L Pira Le Ombre Langhe Nebbiolo $21.99
groups tied for 8th - my 9th
This got us off to a good start with both Dave and Mark commenting on the oak here but at the same time as Mark said “it's not out of balance.” John thought this to be ” a little extracted and modern, it's got a muddiness from the extraction and the oak” a sentiment that was more or less shared around the table though Justin, like most of us, came around noting ” I didn't like this at first but it's a good wine in a kind of newer style.”
2) Cavallotto Langhe Nebbiolo $21.99
groups tied for 8th - my 11th
Ok this was corked. Slightly marred by TCA at first, though it was immediately apparent on the backend and grew over time to become more dominant. None-the-less there was a lot to like here. Josh summer it up well when he commented ” this is more of a traditional style, a lot of tannins still but between the fairly prominent fruit and the tannins, I really liked the balance.” This had ton's of fruit and a clean bottle should be splendid!
3) Ascheri Bricco S. Giacomo Nebbiolo d'Alba $22.99
groups 5th - my 5th
This had a pretty stinky nose by the time we got around to it with an unusual array of Slavonian oak tone that Justin characterized as “sausages and salame” and an earthy fruit quality that both Mark and Josh thought recalled Russian River Pinot! There was some divergence of opinion regarding this wine with John finding it”stemmy with stemmy notes on the nose and the mouth but a fresh garden stemmy.” Dave though tthis was more “tarry, I got chocolate and coffee on the palate and even though this is way lighter than the other two wines there's a lot going on. I like it.”
Flight 2 – 2005
4) La Spinetta Langhe Nebbiolo $24.99
groups 10th - my 12th
With this wine the group was pretty unanimous. While this had some big fruit, that Justin characterized as “starburst candy” and Joe called “more gummy bear and sweet”. Beyond that there was not much to say. Dave thought this smelled “candied and soapy with a plastic element” while Mark summed it up by saying “this is basically undrinkable.” Nuff said.
5) Vietti Perbacco Langhe Nebbiolo $21.99
groups 2nd - my 3rd
This took a while to open and suffered from following the Spinetta. Justin found “good typicity with rosehip and orange peel fruit but it's tough to evaluate now.” Joe came around with time and found the nose ” is really concentrated with classic Nebbiolo notes but your really need to stick your nose in it to get anything.” Josh and Mark were both neutral on this wine, with Josh saying ” not much going on on the palate” and Mark adding “it's got a brief finish too.” John liked the wine's “sweetness on the nose” and appreciated the wine's “relative transparency and good focus and precision.”
6) Ruggeri Corsini Langhe Nebbiolo $21.99
groups tied for 6th - my 7th
Dave noted that this had “a strong barnyard nose, almost to the extent of smelling like manure but the palate turned it around for me. Ultimately I liked this.” John again found this to be ” stemmy in a weedy way with a little stem flavor, not in a bitter way, it just may be young and flesh out.” Mark felt this while this was the best wine of the flight ” I don't like the flavor profile, it's too leathery, barnyardy and earth driven but it doesn't seem manipulated at least.
Flight 3 – 2006
7) Scarzello Langhe Nebbiolo $25.99
groups 8th - my 8th
Joe quickly said ” I don't really like this.” While John was more precise adding ” the alcohol is carrying all the aromatic here, it's muddy with no precision and soft tannins.” Justin felt this was “very tannic” while Josh caught ” a glycerine quality, this is rounder with cherry and menthol notes that remind me of cough medicine.
8) Brezza Santa Rosalia Nebbiolo d'Alba $28.99
groups tied for 3rd - my 1st
Joe, once again getting straight to the point, said ” There's a sweetness here, seems the most traditional of the three, I kind of like it.” Justin had a somewhat different take thinking the wine to be ” very soft and round, jammy and a little candied, very polished but there's not a lot of character to it.” Dave ” liked the simplicity, there are faint flowers, ripe fruit, chocolate, toast, it's working for me.”
9) Burlotto Langhe Nebbiolo $26.99
groups tied for 3rd - my 2nd
John thought this could have used a bit more acidity, a sentiment shared by Mark who felt this ” may have gotten a bit riper they they want it to.” Justin found this to get ” more precise and interesting in the glass with good persistence and an underlying minerality.” Josh ” liked the fruit quality but there's a lot of tannin. It's got the concentration and even though it's wound up you can see where it's going to go. It's got really good structure.”
Flight 4 – Vintage Control
10) 2004 Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo $19.99
groups 9th - my 10th
This was a relative disappointment that Justin thought was “very hollow”. Dave got “a lot of leather, barnyard, and old wood, kind of vegetal and acetic, it's not great but it's not bad.” Josh pretty much agreed adding ” it's thin and tart with some tarry character, not the most pleasant wine.” Mark pretty much was in accord summing the wine up as ” more barnyard, leather earthy on the nose, and vegetal on the palate but it's not trying to be something that it's not.”
11) 2005 Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo $19.99
groups tied for 6th - my 6th
Joe again got a “sour quality” with this wine. Josh on the other hand found this to be ” sweet, not saccharine nor candied but there's a sweetness that goes beyond the fruit.” John found himself “liking this more and more, it's very astringent but it's ripe and extracted , more like a Barolo.” Mark found this to be “roasted but with a rustic, authentic quality. I've got no problem drinking this.”
12) 2006 Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo $16.99
groups 1st - my 4th
This was a very popular wine with Dave noting ” this is full of violets, forest floor and ripe cherries. It's simple but the simplicity holds it all together.” Justin also found this had “lots of violets with a nice mouthfeel, it's very pretty.” Josh thought this to be “more compressed with a core of pretty ripe fruit, really good acidity, good balance and some tannin on the backend.”
While no note were taken while we enjoyed these two bonus bottles their some consensus ideas floating around.
13) 2004 Guido Porro Barolo Lazzirasco $40
This, arguably the greatest value available on the Barolo market today had plenty of heady alcohol but was rich and packed with it's ripeness softening the traditional, dark stern Serralunga character. I think everyone liked this and looks forward to seeing what develops in the cellar.
14) 2000 Burlotto Monvigliero $60
This is just a stunning bottle of wine. Distinctive, seductive and as character filled a bottle of Barolo as one is likely to find with it's trademark black olive nose adding it's distinctive imprint. Positively suave in the mouth, everyone seemed to really like this. Wine of the night!
These brief style shots are for the producer in general and should not be limited to their Nebbiolo bottlings. They are consistent producers with a style that unifies their entire line-up. One caveat that I would add there is that many of these producer do have a top of the line bottling that may veer from that model somewhat.
Luigi Pira - A touch modern but moving towards a more traditional style that captures the strength of Serralunga fruit in a bold style.
Cavallotto - Enlightened traditionalism at it's best. Packed with the rich fruit of Castiglione but built to age and improve.
Ascheri - A touch modern but also moving towards a more traditional style but the wines are rich and complex and worth discovering.
La Spinetta - Modern and not to my tastes with a forced feel, unnatural fruit and enough wood to build a boat.
Vietti - Can be bordering on the modern side but so expressive and elegant they are seductive.
Ruggeri Corsini - Traditional is a touch rustic yet fun and classic. There is an appealing authenticity to the wines.
Scarzello - Arch traditional producer making big, brash wines that may not be to everyones tastes but at their best are thrilling.
Brezza - Traditional with a purity and crude freshness to the wines that make them captivating and eminently drinkable.
Burlotto - Another arch traditionalist but making wines that are softer, suave with an earthy sweetness and unusual complexity.
Produttori del Barbaresco - Traditional producer, actually the world's greatest coop, making the best value in Barbaresco.
Guido Porro - Traditional producer capturing explosive fruit in a rather refined style for Serralunga. The prices are amazing.
2004 - An elegant vintage with exceptional balance but it was a big crop and the high yeilds have left a few wines lacking in depth and complexity.
2005 - A much more challenging vintage but the best wines will offer greater depth and cellaring potential than their 2004 siblings.
2006 - A potentially exceptional vintage with challenges through out the summer but great conditions at harvest that produced rich, fruit filled complex wines.
Gregory Dal Piaz is the Community Manager at Snooth, an avid Wine Geek with a passion for things Italian, and a long suffering Mets fan.