22 June, 2010

Nebbiolo, the king of Piemonte.

Image via TorreBarolo's flickr.

When did my love affair with Nebbiolo begin? When you fall this hard and fast for a grape, it seems like one would remember that first bottle, that first sip, but I think I started to swoon before I had even met the grape. When I was younger I heard more experienced oenophiles gush over Barolo, but of course when I browsed the shelves it was clear that it was too rich for my wallet.

It's also not an easy grape to get to know. Drink it too young and you'll be greeted with a mouthful of gripping tannin and acid leaving you to wonder what all the fuss is about. But drink one that's been hanging around for awhile (even decades) and all those structural elements have faded into the background to reveal plum, cherries, spice, licorice, roses and even tar (in a good way). All that mouth drying tannin will be come a soft back drop which the fruit can play upon. 

Nebbiolo is a fussy grape that's hard to grow outside certain conditions, that's why we see so few examples outside the Piemonte region of Italy. It seems to love the dry, warm conditions of this region. Too warm, too cold, too wet and the grapes don't flower, fruit doesn't set or it rots. Australia, the U.S., even Mexico and South Africa have all had their flings with it, but with marginal success. High maintenance indeed. 

So how does one get a fix for this wine without breaking the bank? First, get to know a little more about the Piemonte region. Both Barolo and Barbaresco are made from Nebbiolo and carry a regional label. These are the heavy hitters in the area. I'll still pick a couple of these up whenever there is a good sale. And I cellar them for a few years. That way I always have at least one on hand for a special occasion. Other regions to look for are Gattinara, Ghemme, Langhe and Nebbiolo d'Alba. However, in Itally, wines are either regionally labeled or varietally labeled. I was able to find one of these last night at Bar LaGrassa for a fairly reasonable price.

This Enzo Boglietti from Langhe was listed at $52 (by comparison, they had a Barolo for $100 and many Barolos are well over $50 at retail).This was full of fruit and very earthy. While it was good with the rich pastas that my husband and I ordered, I still think this 2006 could age for a number of years and still improve. Even so, the bottle was empty when we left. 


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