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Nebbiolo knockouts

Northside Staff
Tasters: Dave Pohl, ed., Dana Malley, and Jason Wentworth

Italy’s two greatest wines are, arguably, Barolo and Barbaresco. They are produced from one of the world’s most finicky grapes, Nebbiolo, in northwestern Italy’s Piedmont region. The complexity and quality of these wines have led producers all over the world to plant Nebbiolo grapes. To this day, however, Nebbiolo has not produced truly fine wine outside of its native region.

Despite the greatness of Barolo and Barbaresco, plantings of Nebbiolo are limited, even in Piedmont. It constitutes only 3 percent of the region’s production, far eclipsed by wines made from Piedmont’s most widely planted grape, Barbera. Due to its relative scarcity, Nebbiolo wine does not come cheaply. Though good Barolo and Barbaresco can be found for under $40 per bottle, truly fine examples begin at $50 and climb into the stratosphere.

Fortunately, most producers of Barolo and Barbaresco also produce a less expensive Nebbiolo-based wine. Usually named either Nebbiolo Langhe or Nebbiolo d’Alba, they are frequently produced from grapes harvested from younger vines grown in the same zones responsible for Barolo and Barbaresco. These varietally labeled wines are more affordable, generally priced $15 to $30 per bottle.

The staff at Northside Wine & Spirits recently blind tasted 12 Nebbiolo wines from Piedmont under $30. The wines were notable for their complex blend of flavors and aromas, usually hinting at red fruits, anise, truffle, and earth. Most of the wines exhibited the tannic backbone typical of Nebbiolo-based wines, a quality that gives them a certain longevity and ability to improve with bottle age.

The staff’s unanimous top pick was the Aurelio Settimo 2008 Nebbiolo Langhe ($28 per bottle). The wine’s lovely, perfumed nose intermingles cherry-like fruit with hints of licorice, rose, and menthol. This arresting bouquet is mirrored in the wine’s flavor, notable for its firm, lingering character.

Also notable in the tasting were the Damilano 2010 Nebbiolo d’Alba ($16) and the Produttori del Barbaresco 2010 Nebbiolo Langhe ($20). Both of these wines were lighter bodied than the Settimo, but shared the top wine’s complexity and flavor intensity. Each of these wines will enhance braised beef or game, pastas served with a meaty ragù, or dishes containing wild mushrooms.

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