A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.
Friday, April 27, 2012
Sparkling Nebbiolo and Nebbiolo Bianco - Piemonte and Lombardy, Italy
In celebration of reaching this milestone I'd like to write about a couple of really interesting wines I've had recently that were made from the Nebbiolo grape. Nebbiolo is one of the world's great grapes, forming the base of two of the world's most spectacular wines, Barolo and Barbaresco. I wouldn't ordinarily write about wines made from it, but these two wines were made in very unique styles. One of them was a white table wine, similar in style to the Blanc de Franc I took at look at a few months back, while the other was a fully sparkling metodo classico rosé wine made by four young winemakers in Piemonte who became friends while attending oenology school together. But before we get to those wines, let's take a look at the Nebbiolo grape and see if we can learn a bit more about it.
Nebbiolo's name is thought to come from the Italian word nebbia, which means fog and is a reference to the dense fog that tends to form in the Langhe river around harvest time each year. To be as widely esteemed as it is, plantings of Nebbiolo are shockingly low and not geographically widespread at all. It is planted on only about 5,000 hectares (about 12,700 acres) of land, which places it well outside of the top 20 most widely planted grapes in Italy (Aglianico sits at number 20 with just over 18,000 acres planted as of 2000). For comparison's sake, Catarratto is planted on over 100,000 acres of land in Italy, but you'd have a much more difficult time finding a wine made from Catarratto at your local wineshop than you would one from Nebbiolo. Nebbiolo is planted almost exclusively in northwestern Italy in various parts of Piemonte, the Valle d'Aosta and Lombardia. There are plantings scattered in other areas of the world, but the grape just doesn't seem to do well outside of very selected areas in Italy. It is a unique grape in that it seems to perform well in a few very specific, very small places and nowhere else. Of all of the great wine grapes in the world, Nebbiolo is far and away the most scarce and prices for the best wines made from it definitely show it.
There are three main Nebbiolo clones that make up most of the plantings of the grape: Lampia, Michet and Rosé. Nebbiolo Lampia is the most common of the three and is the vine we are generally referring to when we talk about Nebbiolo. The Nebbiolo vine is particularly susceptible to viral infections and Nebbiolo Michet is essentially a Nebbiolo Lampia vine that has been infected with a particular virus which causes the vine's canes to fork. In a presentation (link is currently dead...similar paper can be found here, in Italian) given at the Nebbiolo Grapes conference in 2004 (in Italian), a team of scientists reported that Nebbiolo Rosé is actually a genetically distinct variety, though it does have a parent-offspring relationship with Nebbiolo Lampia (though we don't know which way the arrow is pointing). This team also found that Nebbiolo Lampia was very closely related to Freisa and to Vespolina, among a handful of other Piemontese obscuranda. Decanter filed a report based on this presentation later that year where they claim that Nebbiolo is related to Viognier, though close reading of the article shows that they are overstating the case. Since Freisa is related to Nebbiolo, then grapes that Freisa are related to are also grapes that Nebbiolo is related to. The research team found that Freisa had a lot of genetic similarities to Viognier, but they stopped short of saying that there was any provable familial relationship and I've not been able to find any publications since that time which were able to comment on the case with any certainty. It seems likely that there's some kind of relationship, but we just don't have enough evidence at this point to say one way or the other.
Gypsy Kitchen for about $21. In the glass the wine was a very pale silvery lemon color with some greenish tints to it. The nose was moderately intense with aromas of pears and ripe red apples. On the palate the wine was on the lighter side of medium with high acidity. There were flavors of green apple and meyer lemon with some ripe pear and white peach. It was sharp and zippy but had a bitter, pithy kind of finish. From the nose you'd expect a broad, ripe flavor profile, but it's actually fairly lean and little bit tart. It's a really cool wine and it's good, but the price is a little high for what you get. It's an interesting novelty but it's hard to imagine buying a case of something like this.
Wine Bottega for $75. This wine is made by four young winemakers who met in oenology school and decided to make a sparkling Nebbiolo for their thesis project. They continued to make it after they graduated by using the fruit from some of the younger Nebbiolo vines on their properties. The name "Erpacrife" is a combination of the first syllable of each of their names: Erik, Paolo, Cristian and Federico. It's a traditional method sparkler with no added dosage. In the glass this wine was a medium pink color with vigorous bubble. The nose was strikingly intense with candied strawberry and rose petal aromas. On the palate the wine was light bodied with very high acid and intense bubbles. The flavor was very floral with rosewater, dried strawberries and something a little bit tarry. There wasn't a great deal of depth to the wine but the flavors were pure and intense. $75 is a lot of money to pay for wine but this was so unique and so tasty that I wouldn't have any problem at all paying that amount again for another bottle. It's really just a fantastic wine.