Look to Piemonte for great autumnal wines
John Wilson: This week’s choice come from some of the best producers in Barolo and Barbaresco
The four Langhe Nebbiolo.
There is something very autumnal about Piemonte. The scent of woodfires, decaying leaves, and the fog hanging in the long steep valleys. The wealth of fine food and wine that the region enjoys comes into its own at this time of year too. This is the season for porcini mushrooms, white truffles, chestnuts and hazelnuts.
Piemonte produces the finest risotto rice as well as fresh pasta – tajarin, agnolotti or ravioli al plin – rich in egg yolks. There is bagna càuda, a sauce made of oil, anchovies, garlic and butter. There are excellent local cheeses, and chocolate too. As well as being the original home of Nutella, Ferrero Rocher and Kinder eggs, there are plenty of small artisan chocolatiers too. And, of course, the grape harvest takes place. It all makes Piemonte in autumn a mecca for food and wine lovers, although sadly not this year.
Barolo and Barbaresco are the best-known names of Piemonte and produce the finest wines. The sole grape for both is Nebbiolo, a variety that is responsible for some of the most tannic and acid wines of all. The name is thought to have derived from the word nebbia, Italian for the fog which cloaks the vineyards at harvest time. The vines are extremely fussy about where they are planted and only the most carefully selected sites will yield quality grapes. The wine typically has a haunting bouquet, sometimes described as “roses and tar”, and is robust, earthy and tannic in the mouth.
It is only in recent years that producers have learned to tame Nebbiolo a little, but most Barolo and Barbaresco will still age for anything from 15-50 years. Langhe Nebbiolo covers a much wider area, including Barolo and Barbaresco. It is a step down in both quality and price but, in the right hands, the wines can be excellent, and ready to drink at a time when Barolo is too young. While not exactly cheap, they are half the price of the two better-known names. The four Langhe Nebbiolo here come from some of the best producers in Barolo and Barbaresco.
Nebbiolo is pretty much confined to Piemonte, although you will find it in Lombardy in the Alpine valley of Valtellina. As well as working my way through a dozen or more Langhe Nebbiolo, I tasted an excellent Piemontese blend (Sperino Uvaggio) and an intriguing South African Nebbiolo (Blank Bottle), both available from independents.
With all the aforementioned tannins and acidity, Nebbiolo is not a wine to sip before dinner. Choose from the local foods mentioned above. It is good with anything with mushrooms – pasta, risotto, in a sauce with meat – or roast duck, goose and feathered game. It is also a match for a good steak, or maybe brasato al Barolo, a warming autumnal beef stew.
Langhe Nebbiolo 2018, Pian dell Mole, Giulia Negri
A wonderful fragrant nose – all violets and roses. This is a beautiful, elegant wine with pure blackcurrant fruits and light tannins that would go perfectly with a mushroom risotto.
Stockists: Morton’s of Galway, mortonsofgalway.ie; Fallon & Byrne, Dublin 2, fallonandbyrne.com; Barnhill Stores, Dalkey, barnhillstores.ie.
Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo 2018
A very well-priced Nebbiolo with classic violet and dark cherry aromas, really delicious fresh crunchy dark fruits, good acidity and a fine finish. Drink alongside pork in a mushroom sauce.
Stockists: Stationtostationwine.ie; The Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Grapevine, Dalkey, onthegrapevine.ie; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Worldwide Wines, Waterford, worldwidewines.ie.
Langhe Nebbiolo 2017, Massolino
This has wonderful rose and dark fruit aromas. The palate is elegance personified, with pure ripe dark fruits; the tannins are there but perfectly integrated. Drink alongside roast feathered game or duck.
Stockists: Fresh Outlets, freshthegoodfoodmarket.ie; Stationtostationwine.ie; Fallon & Byrne, Dublin 2, fallonandbyrne.com; The Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; wineonline.ie
Langhe Nebbiolo 2017 Cavallotto, Organic
Light pot-pourri aromas; a full-bodied wine with a wonderful concentration of firm dark tannic fruits. Try it with Brasato al Barolo, Piemontese beef stew.
Stockists: Searsons, Monkstown, searsons.com