Nebbiolo Tasting

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It’s two months on as I sit down today and re look my last tasting, “Nebbiolo from Around the World”. If lasting impressions where what we judge wines on then it must have been epic. Scanning over the list of wines tasted I can remember almost every tasting note without the need to refer to my dog eared, wine stained, Moleskine notebook.

It all started about two years ago in Barolo. The heat is the first thing that hits as you leave the sanctuary of the air conditioned bus. Stifling, sticky. That unmistakable tension in the air as the humidity builds, minute by minute and the pressure rises to the point where the air feels thick around you as the whole town seemingly holds its breath, waiting for the relief of the thunderstorm now imminently clear in the ominous blanket of black cloud rolling in from the East.

I thought this was a moderate climate… No textbook prepares you for this. The Oxford never mentioned the deafening hum of cicada’s, the crushing heat. Hugh Johnson failed to fully articulate the sheer mind numbing plethora of aspects. No topographical map truly manages to capture the mind bending complexity of micro patchwork of vineyards wrapped around a thousand little hills, crammed into this tiny area with world renowned vineyards vying for space with – and hugging, historical buildings. Intersected by a random cris cross of roads, skimming the sides of dark green foliage.

The short walk from via Roma to Barolo castle leaves a lasting impression. The excited banter falls silent, each person trying very hard not to be the first to start panting like an asthmatic chain smoker. Laboured movements are carefully calculated to avoid or delay the inevitable profuse sweating that is sure to follow. The final steps to the castle are done with embarrassing effort of hand to knee, catch breath, stop, try again.

Barolo is hot, it is steep, it’s infinitely varied and it is breathtakingly beautiful.

We started that morning by tasting over twenty Barolos, to young to drink, unapproachable in their youth and we loved all of them.

It took a long time, lots of planning and the help of many people to finally put together a little slice of Barolo, a glimpse into what the region has to offer.

Here follows a brief snapshot into our presentation of Nebbiolo wines, hosted in Stellenbosch and repeated in Johannesburg with wines from the Langhe all the way to Cape Point.

  1. Vietti Nebbiolo Perbacco 2013 (R240, Vinotria)

 

The first wine of the day sets the bar very high. Affectionately called their baby Barolo the Perbacco comes exclusively from vines in the Barolo commune although de classified from the DOCG and treated to shorter aging, some in small barrique, this is a rare example of a top quality wine from the region with entry level price tag. This wine can easily be enjoyed in its youth but will equally reward with a few years cellar ageing. Textbook Barolo aromas with approachable tannin, good structure and long finish of sweet black fruit.

 

  1. Arcangeli Romulus Nebbiolo 2016 (R155, Arcangeli Wines)

 

Coming in on a hard act to follow the Arcangeli Romulus is produced by renowned winemaker Krige Visser from 10 year old Michet vines planted in Rawsonville for Sandro Arcangeli, first generation Italian, currently calling South Africa home and wanting a wine in the portfolio that harks back to their Italian Heritage. The wine is immediately upfront in its fruit, unmistakably new world. Candifloss and rose geranium with a hint of cherry and liquorice. The palate is soft, almost plump in comparison to the previous wine but with good concentration and a long pleasant finish of bright red fruit.

It’s definitely not Barolo or Barbaresco, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

  1. Enrico Serafino Roero 2013 (R160, Vinotria)

A modest one year in large format barrels and six months in bottle before release creates a classic example from the Sandy soils  North of the Tanaro. Vibrant, upfront, juicy, bright red fruit. None of the characteristic earthy flavours of its Northern cousens, backed up with zippy acid structure, juicy tannins and an abundance of bright red fruit. This is the epitome of everyday food wine.

  1. Enrico Serafino Barbaresco 2010 (R330, Vinotria)

Restraint on the nose with just a hint violets, wild herbs and black fruit. Its Barbaresco heritage becomes glaringly evident on the palate with biting acidity, hard-, unyielding tannin and a tantalizing promise of future rewards in the long dry finish of black fruit with a herbal edge. This is not wine to be drunk in its youth and will best reward those with patience, a large glass and time to savour its delicacy on its own.

  1. Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco 2013 (R470, winecellar.co.za)

Laden with history dating back to the Cantine Sociali, disbanded under fascist rule before being reunited by the church. Produttori del Barbaresco flies in the face of convention and stereotypical bulk cooperative winemaking with one of the most classic examples of Barbaresco money can buy. Fifty one independent growers, painstakingly caring for family plots passed on from one generation to the next gives Produttori del Barbaresco access to over 100 ha of vines scattered over the Piedmont landscape.

A delicate dusty perfume greets you on the nose with just the faintest hint of deep black fruit in the background. The pallet is hard and tannic but the endless mouthwatering finish of dark black fruit, spice and perfume gives some indication of the future of a wine that should definitely not be drunk now and which will reward over a decade or more of careful cellaring.

 

 

  1. Fontanafredda Barbaresco Coste Rubin 2013 (R476, Vino.co.za)

Although lately more marketing than fact, the conversation about classic vs modern styles of Nebbiolo has to a large extent defined Piedmont. Here, side by side, is perhaps one of the best examples of that. While the previous two wines were hard and unyielding the Fontanafredda is soft and approachable without losing the DNA that makes it Barbaresco.

Ripe plum and blueberry aromas vie for attention alongside violets, liquorice and tobacco. While ripe black fruit balance out the characteristic bracing acidity leading to a pleasantly long, slightly herbal finish. This wine can be drunk now, long before others in its category might reveal themselves fully but will still benefit from up to five years of careful ageing  

  1. Fontanafredda Vigna La Rosa 2011 (R836, Vino.co.za)

The fist of the Barolos for the evening and it does not disappoint. The tasting note for this wine could have come straight from a WSET textbook. Medium intensity garnet in colour with that unmistakable orange tinge to the rim. The wine is neither reserved nor upfront but rather poised and brooding with dark fruits of bramble & blackberry, herbal notes of liquorice, aniseed & wild brush. Aromatic perfume of roses, candied orange rind & violets and that tell tale sign of great Barolo… Savoury earthy nuances of freshly tilled earth, tobacco and tar.

 

The wine is markedly more full bodied with less noticeable acid than the Barbarescos and the tannin, although it completely dominates the experience on the palate, lacks that hard edge of the former. The flavour descriptors might also look the same as that of its cousin but it clearly leans more towards dark fruit with less perfume and more savoury earthy character.

This is an outstanding wine that can be drunk now but will very much benefit from up to 10 years of careful cellaring. If you can’t wait that long serve it with rich dishes to absorb the acidity which are either high in starch or protein to balance out that tannin structure and ideally with a savoury, umami flavour profile.

  1. Morgenster Nabucco 2011 (R270, Morgenster Wine Estate)
  2. Morgenster Nabucco 2013 (R270, Morgenster Wine Estate)

Owned by Giulio Bertrand, born and bred in Piedmont Italy, with consultation from the renowned Pierre Lurton of Chateau Cheval Blanc and cared for by Henry Kotzé, Morgenster wine Estate, nestled on the slopes of the Helderberg Mountains, have quietly been producing world class Nebbiolo without enough of us noticing.

The 2011 is more upfront on the nose with dark fruit, earth and showing the first signs of tertiary development. While the 2013 is almost Barolo like in its poise and restraint with classic aromas of blackberry, wild herbs, roses, tobacco and tar.

Both these wines have the audience scratching their heids. In a blind tasting it’s genuinely hard to tell… Are they from Piedmont?

With high acid, high tannin and a classic Barolo like flavour profile, only a palate trained in the region or an audience with the benefit of having a world class Barolo in the glass in front of them to compare could spot the subtle nuances that make these wines new world. The acid is less biting. The tannin is somehow more yet simultaneously less aggressive. The fruit is more dominant, there is more herbal character and less perfume, but do not mistake this for a lessor wine. Having tasted every vintage of this wine since its release, the 2011 has the feeling of a wine getting into its stride, perhaps the vineyards maturing or the team learning how to coax the best out of them. But while the 2011 is drinking well now, the 2013 is the one to look out for. Although it might not age like a Barolo this is a very good wine that will reward best with another five years of cellar ageing.

  1. Steenberg Nebbiolo 2015 (R180, Steenberg Vineyards)

One of the best known Nebbiolos in South Africa this wine seemed least at home of all the wines in this lineup. Although objectively still a very good wine it is similar to but lacks some of the hallmarks of classic Nebbiolo.

The fruit is much more upfront and red fruit driven with cherry and raspberry but the perfume is what really dominates the nose with aromatic rose geranium. The palate is richer and softer than the previous wines and the dry herbal, tannic finish that had dominated the flight is replaced by a soft juicy finish of red fruit with just a hint if phenolics.

This is a very good wine, concentrated, complex and well balanced but does not shout Nebbiolo, old world or new.

  1. Enrico Serafino Barolo 2012 (R470, Vinotria)
  2. Fontanafredda Barolo Silver Label 2012 (R476, Vino.co.za)

Our last two wines from Piedmont was chosen to be served side by by side to see if the group picked up much, if any, differences in the two wines, both produced from grapes sourced all over the region, aged for two years in large format casks, a further year in barrel and sold for roughly the same price.

On comparison the Enrico Serafino is somewhat more expressive with darker fruit, earth and vanilla undertones while the Fontanafredda is more herbal, spicy and red fruit driven with liquorice and raspberry. On the palate they are near as makes no difference with perhaps a touch more austerity from the Fontanafredda.

In conclusion these are two great wines from the region that are complex, concentrated, show typicity and all at prices that don’t require an increase on your credit limit. Buy both, drink the Enrico tomorrow with a creamy mushroom risotto and save the Fontanafredda for another twelve months before serving with some rosemary roasted lamb ribs.

  1. Idiom 900 Series Nebbiolo 2012 (R290, Idiom Wines)
  2. Idiom 900 Series Nebbiolo 2008 (R290, Idiom Wines)

Owned by Italian import Alberto Bottega and managed by his homegrown son Roberto, the last two wines in our flight, the Idiom 900 series Nebbiolos by Bottega Family Vineyards, is another that harks back to a family’s Italian heritage.

Named after the fact that only the best three barrels, 900 bottles, are selected to craft the wines in this range, these are big bold expressions of Nebbiolo. The colour on both wines are dark garnet with just a hint of orange in the rim. Upfront aromas of dark, brooding, ripe black fruit including mulberries and blackberries give way to spicy notes of liquorice & fynbos before earthy primary characters seamlessly blend with tertiary character of  tar, earth, wet soil and sun dried tomatoes. There is much more oak in these wines than in most of the previous examples but it feels seamlessly integrated with the ripe dark fruit.

 

Side by side the 2012 shows slightly more brightness of fruit while the 2008 is more brooding, riper and obviously, due to age, more tertiary. Although rich and full bodied both wines retain their Nebbiolo DNA with bracing acidity and hard tannin.

These are very unique new world expressions although great wines in their own right and unmistakably Nebbiolo.

For those who want to enjoy world class wines that show elegance and poise, driven by savoury nuances rather than primary fruit. For those who enjoy wines with structure which aren’t afraid of tannin. For fine wine appreciators who no longer wish to pay the outlandish prices of even an ordinary bottle of Burgundy; Nebbiolo, even Barolo and Barbaresco, still offer some rare gems at prices that don’t necessitate the sale of a firstborn. But act now, there is a storm brewing.

Before you all rush of and while you’re still contemplating what excuse you will use to justify to your better half why you had to buy six bottles of the same grape variety I just wanted to extend a quick thank you to Esmé Groenewald for all the logistics in making this tasting happen, printing tasting sheets 30 minutes before the event was due to start, polishing glasses, collecting wine and making sure everything got to Joburg. To The Saxon Hotel in Sandton for hosting our Johnnesburg tasting and thanks to all the producers who sponsored their wines and their time to answer my questions and to Collisioni for keeping my passion alive for this region. Especially to Franchesca and the whole Vajra family for making us run around the vineyards in Piedmont, in the middle of summer completely over dressed for the occasion, supplying me with slideshows to prepare and for the wine that I unfortunately could not include in the tasting because it had to be done twice but which was very much enjoyed over dinner afterwards. Thanks.

Now you may go buy your wine.  

 

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