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Weekend wine Nebbiolo

Saturday, April 25, 2015   by: Vin Greco
“Nebbia”, the Italian word for ‘fog’, has given a form of its name, Nebbiolo, to the great red grape of the Piedmont area in the north of Italy.  At harvest time, the vineyards are often wrapped in fog, and this may be the reason for the name; alternatively, as the grapes ripen they tend to take on a pale, milky coating, as if the skins themselves are covered in fog.
 
It is this grape which is responsible for one of Italy’s great red wines, Barolo, along with Barbaresco  and other less well known Piedmontese reds such as Ghemme and Gattinara, as well as Valtellina wines from Lombardy.
 
In Piedmont, Barolo is know as the “King of Wines and the Wine of Kings”, and in earlier days, the juice was left to ferment on its skins for several weeks, resulting in oodles of tannin, such that the wine would be age in large wooden casks or “botti” for several years before bottling - when first released it could be quite austere, especially when the grape’s noted acidity is factored in the equation.
 
I remember reading years ago it being said that Barolo, once opened, was a wine that got better and better for days when left exposed to the air. Usually, this is just too much oxygen for a wine and it becomes bitter, but Barolo needed the aeration.  
 
An informative but un-attributed article on the Viking Range site proposed that in flavour and aroma, Barolos conjure the season of autumn, with bright cherry fruit wrapped up in forest notes of wood-smoke and fallen leaves, along with licorice and tar nuances.
 
In the mid-80’s, in an effort to produce a more accessible wine, some winemakers adopted approaches more in line with California and Bordeaux. While they were successful to a degree, it was quite controversial, their practices anathema to the traditionalists.
 
The dean of Canadian wine writers, Tony Aspler, described how Elio Altare, one of the leaders of the ‘revolution’, ended up taking a chain saw to his father’s old wooden botti. His father was so incensed that he threw him out of the house and disinherited him.
 
In time, it was felt that the newer style might lack the aging capacity of the old Barolo, and the pendulum has been swinging back so that the old style has been regaining popularity.
 
The trick is figuring out which style you prefer, and considering that an inexpensive Barolo is $30 a bottle, the “tuition” can be significant.
 
Parallel to the evolution/revolution in Barolo, there is the issue of taste.  When the Barolo innovators were getting going, “New World “ American and Australian red wines often tended to be quite flavourful and relatively approachable.
 
In time, some of these producers have aimed for more balance and nuance in their wines, just as drinkers over time may develop palates that are more discerning.
 
It may well be that appreciation for the more traditional style of Barolo is a reflection of similar changes in other areas of the wine cosmos.
 
If Barolo is “King”, then its close neighbor, Barbaresco, is the Queen Nebbiolo wines.   The production areas are just a few miles apart, and the Barolo zone is about 3 times larger than that of Barbaresco.
 
Barbaresco ripens a little earlier in its particular micro-climate, and the wine is generally not quite as tannic, and tends to be more accessible at a young age in spite of the characteristics it shares with Barolo.
 
The flavor profiles are quite similar, but Barbaresco may be more elegant, Barolo more powerful.
 
Prior to bottling, Barbaresco must age 26 months, of which 9 are in oak, before bottling, while a Riserva requires 50 months with 24 in oak, usually.  With Barolo it’s 36 months with 24 in oak, and a riserva requires 5 years in all.
 
The general region containing Barolo and Barbaresco is the Langhe, and its wines include other Nebbiolos, or wines that are blends including the lighter grapes of the region, Dolcetto  and Barbera.
 
Langhe wines will predictably be accessible for drinking enjoyment at a younger age, and there are a few of them on our Vintages shelves in addition to the Barolos and Barbarescos – they will likely all be blends, and not strictly Nebbiolo wines.
 
Gemma, Batasiolo, and Fontanafredda Barolos are all available at the Great Northern Road store, and the Bay Street store has six bottles of the Marchesi di Barolo Barolo – all are in the $30 range.
 
The 2010 Gemma originates in the Serralunga area, noted for the quality of its wines, and offers raspberry and spice flavours on the palate with some tar and violet on the nose – an excellent Vintage, with its silky tannins i is fairly approachable for the style.
 
Fontanafredda is a big producer, and this wine has some heft and structure with focused ripe cherry, herb and mushroom notes- there are also a couple of bottles (2 at time of writing!) of the Nebbiolo from Fontanafredda, for $19.95 – not a bad entry point.
 
Beni di Batasiolo Barolo is also aromatic, and again shows herb (rosemary) and plum at the core.
 
Terre del Barolo 2009 at just $26.35 is on the lighter end of the spectrum for Barolo, but certainly carries the Nebbiolo flag well, with an earthy nose, good body, silky tannins, and fruit, spice and even chocolate overtones.
 
With Barbarbesco, Castello di Nieve 2011, $19.90, is a good example, promising great things, if given time to open up – reviewers admire its texture, balance and depth, with juicy red cherry fruit, green pepper and cinnamon.
 
With the weather as unseasonably cold as it has been, this is still a good time to appreciate a grape that makes really “red-blooded” wines.
 
May 2 Vintages Release
 
Whites
 
Two Pinot Gris invite comparison, New Zealand’s Opawa Pinot Gris 2014, $16.95, and Salwey Pinot Gris 2013, $21.95, from the Baden region of Germany – according to Vintages, the Opawa carries peach-like fruit and a texture suggestive of glycerol along with a crisp freshness and good length, while the Salwey has tropical fruit and smoke along with mineral notes, but is likewise richly textured and acidic on the finish.
 
California’s McManis Vineyards is carving out quite a niche on our shelves, and the 2013 River Junction Chardonnay, $19.95, has earned itself an 88 from the Wine Enthusiast, for being light-bodied with an herbal bouquet, pleasing peach and pear flavours, and a clean fresh finish.
 
At $16.95, Argentina’s Famiglia Bianchi Chardonnay 2014 is made from hand-picked, barrel fermented grapes and is creamy, toasty and ample.
 
For a crisp dry white, look to Spain’s El Bufon Verdejo 2013, $13.95 – Josh Reynolds of vinousmedia.com describes “lemon, quince and talc-y minerals on the nose, with hints of tarragon, honeysuckle and fresh herbs adding complexity.  Taut and refreshing, displaying bitter citrus pith and pear skin flavours and a touch of ginger.”  A steal.
 
Reds
 
Two Spanish wines have raves from erobertparker.com, with Castano Solanera Vinas Viejas 2012, 16.95, scoring 94 – a full-bodied  and intense blend of Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Grenache (sounds French) with pure dark berry fruit and stunning texture: at $18.95, the predominantly Tempranillo Hacienda Lopez de haro Reserva 2005 scored 92 with a “beautiful, rounded, sensual bouquet”  and “crisp acidity…taut tannins… and dry dusky finish”.
 
Leone de Castris is an excellent producer in Italy’s Puglia region, and the Maiana Salice Salentino, $14.95, should be delicious and sapid, with juicy cherry notes leading to a dry and satisfying finish.
 
Argentina’s Norton has been a rock-solid reliable produce for more than a century and the Reserva Malbec 2011, $17, was #36 in Wine Spectator’s top 100 in 2013 – WS used words such as mesquite, mocha, silky and cream-tinged to describe it, along with “raspberry gamache and rich plum fruit.”
 
Buy it.  Buy a lot of it.
 
Saultlicious
 
Ticket sales are set to begin this weekend at the Mill Market for June 13th’s Saultlicious. They are $150 per person, with $50 generating a tax receipt for donations in support of ARCH and the Algoma Conservatory of Music. 
 
Groups will be conducted on a tour of several restaurants (View, Solo, Dish, Pub at the Water Tower) as well as the Old Stone House, where they will enjoy hors d’oeuvres paired with carefully selected Ontario wines, before concluding the evening at the Grand Bazaar with Franzisi’s at the newly refurbished Machine Shop at River’s Edge.  There will be entertainment, bakeries, vendors and a cash bar with local craft beers and Ontario wines.
 
You may call Mill Market at 705-251-6776, extension 1006 for further information.
 
“In other news”, Giovanni's will be featuring different provinces of Italy each month pairing regional dishes and wines, starting with Tuscany in May.  I think you will enjoy it!
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