What To Drink Now: Nebbiolo

This is a tough time of year for wine drinking. We’re not quite into the fall, but we’re in denial that summer’s almost over. We’ve exercised an exhaustive study of rose (let’s face it), and you can only drink so much Riesling until you start carrying around a needle to satisfy your sugar craving (it’s just not good for you). Everyone’s telling you it’s all about unctuous whites, but I say turn to red; turn to nebbiolo.

Nebbiolo is an incredibly curious grape. Known best when wearing its Barolo or Barbaresco hat, its subtle complexity, aromatics and mouthfeel are totally stunning. But you don’t need to hunt down an incredibly expensive vintage Barolo to experience nebbiolo. In my opinion, Langhe Rosso (the categorical “table wine” of the region’s producers) is one of the greatest, character-driven styles out there (please note: although nebbiolo exhibits beautifully in other regions of Piedmont such as Carema, where it is known as “picotèner”, in Ghemme and Gattinara as “spanna”, or in Valtellina as “chiavannesca”, I’ve decided to focus on Langhe for the time being to keep things simple. Also, whereas Langhe Rosso may indicate a blend of nebbiolo and other grapes that can be equally delicious, I am focusing on pure expressions of the varietal). I’ve found that they are delicate, feminine and aromatic, with strong character and an excellent range of expression. Find one, and you’ll be able to taste the same grapes used to produce the high end Barolos at a fraction of the price.

Native to Piedmont, this varietal has been cited as far back as the 1300s. It is characteristically thin-skinned and slow to ripen, favoring limestone soil and often harvested late in October or even November (the general harvest is in September). It is considered a noble grape with incredible aging ability, elevating Piedmont’s status as the Burgundy of Italy, where nebbiolo is their answer to pinot noir. On the palette it displays a subtle, complex structure of aromas ranging from wild roses to truffles to cinnamon, tastes of dried red cherries, and is quite high in tannin (despite its thin skins).

Given this grape’s incredible ability to mature into some of the most honored wines in the world (Barolo & Barbaresco), I believe that exploring the no-name, younger, “table” wines are equally as exciting and much more accessible. Look for Langhe Nebbiolos (or Rossos that are all or mostly nebbiolo). Some of my favorites include:

  • GD Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo (2012), $24: elegant yet rustic, ripe raspberries, floral with supple tannins. Incredible wine.
  • Roagna Langhe Rosso (2008), $28: grippy tannins, bright, focused and very energetic.
  • Cascina Chicco Langhe Nebbiolo (2012), $19: excellent young nebbiolo. vineyard powered by solar panels; highest selection of vineyard’s grapes cultivated to produce this wine in a sustainable method.
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