Enjoying Nebbiolo a rite of passage for wine nerds

Often called the country’s Burgundy, Italy’s Piemonte region produces superb wines

A mature red Nebbiolo grape in Italy’s northeast: Nebbiolo is the undoubted king of the region, and Barolo and Barbaresco its finest expression

A mature red Nebbiolo grape in Italy’s northeast: Nebbiolo is the undoubted king of the region, and Barolo and Barbaresco its finest expression

 

“Do people really drink that?” a student asked me a few years ago on taking her first ever mouthful of Nebbiolo. This variety, from Piemonte in northeastern Italy, makes some of the country’s finest wines. But with its firm dark impenetrable fruit, high acidity and swingeing tannins, Nebbiolo can never be described as easy-drinking. These are wines for the aesthete rather than the hedonist .

Before you stop reading, two things: first of all, most Nebbiolo nowadays is made in a much more approachable style than in times past. Secondly, as with all wines, you need to drink it in the right setting. Arm yourself with a bowl of tajarín, the fine egg-rich pasta of the region, accompanied by wild mushrooms, white truffles, rabbit or a beef ragù, or maybe a risotto, or agnolotti del plin (little folds of pasta stuffed with meat), or maybe simply some roast game or aged parmesan, and Nebbiolo begins to make perfect sense. The food of Piemonte, centred on the towns of Alba and Asti, is amongst Italy’s finest. So are the wines.

Enjoying Nebbiolo is almost a rite of passage for real wine nerds. Tannic and alcoholic they may be, but really good Nebbiolo also has fleeting aromas of violets and perfume, an array of supremely elegant complex fruits that have you scrabbling for adjectives  – leather, truffles, black olives, tar, licorice, wood smoke and much more besides. Those tannins allow the wines to age and improve for decades in great vintages.

Patchwork of vineyards

The grape reaches its finest expression in the two small towns of Barolo and Barbaresco, both on the valley floor, surrounded by vineyards high up the slopes, peeking through a shroud of swirling mist. Often called the Burgundy of Italy, the region has a similar patchwork of tiny vineyards, with holdings scattered throughout. As in Burgundy, each sub-region, each vineyard, every change in height and exposure is reflected in the wines. Sadly, the prices are fairly Burgundian too.

In the past, many young men and women deserted the region for the two big local employers – Fiat in Turin and the massive Ferrero chocolate plant, manufacturers of Nutella and Ferrero Rocher, which gobbles up one of the region’s other great products, hazelnuts. Nowadays, farmers with a field or two in either town own a very valuable asset.

There are plenty of other wines produced in the region, including the more approachable Barbera and Dolcetto, as well as some good white wines, but Nebbiolo is the undoubted king, and Barolo and Barbaresco its finest expression. Langhe Nebbiolo is their Bourgogne Rouge: in the right hands it is much more approachable and often good value. Further north in Piemonte, Proprietà Sperino produces silkier wines with a lovely mineral streak.

Langhe Nebbiolo 2014, Massolino, 13.5%, €29.99
Fragrant violets and redcurrants; tangy, elegant, approachable wine with light tannins on the finish.
Stockists: Fresh Outlets, Dublin; Blackrock Cellar.

Proprieta Sperino Costa della Sesia Rosso
Uvaggio 2012, 12.5%, €39.99

A Nebbiolo blend. Scented, floral, laced with herbs; lingering fruits; an utter delight.
Stockists: Terroirs; Red Island; 64 Wine; Red Nose Wine

Massolino Barolo ‘Parafada’ 2012, 14%, €79.99
Beautifully aromatic, with intense structured robust dark fruits and a firm dark finish. Ideally keep it five years-plus.

Stockists: Corkscrew; Green Man Wines; Blackrock Cellar.

Bargain buy

Da Vinci Chianti 2015, 13%, €14.95
Very moreish, with ripe red cherries and plums, rounded tannins, clean finish.
Stockists: McHugh Kilbarrack and Artane; Silver Granite, Palmerstown.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.