All the greats have done them: Suzanne Collins has “The Hunger Games,” E.I. James painted with “Fifty Shades of Gray” (come on I know you read it), and lets not forget Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” So welcome to the third installment of Griffy on Wine’s Nebbiolo Trilogy.
We’ve experienced Barolo, the Lee Marvin of Nebbiolo; gravelly voiced, hard boiled, a true tough guy, and it’s brother Barbaresco, the Daniel Craig James Bond-type Nebbiolo. Now let me introduce their cousin Nebbiolo d’Alba. This is the pretty boy Nebbiolo; think Brad Pitt in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. This wine is not a pushover, but it doesn’t have the hard-hitting temperament of either Barolo or Barbaresco.
Alba is the capital of Langhe. The DOC of Nebbiolo covers wines made outside of Barolo & Barbaresco. This wine tends to be lighter and earthier. Rather than mandate a 100% Nebbiolo, producers are allowed to blend a small percentage of Bonarda, Croatina and Vespolina, though most modern producers favor a high percentage of Nebbiolo. The wines tend to be less tannic and lighter, but wine from Alba under the Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC do have a complexity and body very closely related to Barolo and Barbaresco. The thing that makes this whole exercise interesting to me is all of these wines are made with in 30 miles of each other, from the same grape, yet taste remarkably different!
Our wine is Pietro Disarti Nebbiolo d’Alba 2011. The first thing you’ll notice is the nose, it’s lighter and earthy, like a garden after it rains. It’s color is a clear red that reminded me of a California Pinot Noir. If you like oak, you’ll taste it, along with all the usual fruits and spice (ginger and pumpkin). The color is no indication of the power of the taste; while the color says light, the taste is full. Compared to the Barolo and Barbaresco there are far lighter tannins compared to what I might usually drink, strong (i.e. dry) tannins. Pair the d’Alba with red meats, heavy pasta’s and stinky–I mean strong–cheese.
Nebbiolo d’Alba wines are going to clock in around the $20 mark, which makes them pretty affordable compared to the Barolo and Barbaresco. They will not age, mature, or grow up like those wines, but really, at my age, that’s not a big deal. If asked to pick a favorite I’d go with the Barolo, I liked the flavor the best of the three.
This has been a great education for me, I can’t remember even drinking the wine of the same grape for the better part of a month and yet experiencing a distinctly different reaction each time. I have been able to truly understand the magic or terroir, and the way winemakers influence the wine. I hope you’ve tried this adventure with me, if not, please do, it will set you back about $100 but well worth the investment.
I know the WINE-DAR is not done with Piedmont. This part of Italy is rich with fantastic wines; Barbera is the most widely-grown wine in Piedmont and is the antithesis of Barolo and Barbaresco, having very soft tannins and not requiring a long maturing period to be drinkable. Dolcetto is the most quaffable of Piedmont’s reds, Bodarda and Vespolino two minor blending grapes, are usually mixed with Nebbiolo in Gattinoro and Ghemme. Then there are the whites, Gavi and Arneis, Cortese, and the most well known Moscato, a great varietal for those who like sweet wine. If you like sparkling wines try the wines of Asti. Sicily is still my spiritual home, but you could spend a good part of you wine-drinking life just exploring the bottled joy of Piedmont.
What are you waiting for, get drinking!