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November is the perfect time for nebbiolo.
The most prestigious grape of northwest Italy’s Piedmont (Piemonte) region is an ideal match for the hearty, meaty dishes often served when there’s a chill in the air.
Nebbiolo might seem like an odd choice for rich foods when you see its light cherry-garnet hue. It looks like a light, soft, pretty wine. But looks can be deceiving. The grape packs a powerful punch.
In the past, nebbiolo wines were known for their searing acidity and mouth-numbing tannins. But changes in viticulture and winemaking have tamed these characteristics a bit.
The star regions for nebbiolo are the hilly areas of Barolo and Barbaresco. This is where the beasts in the bottle can be found, with the best examples able to age for decades and standing proudly among the world’s greatest wines.
Langhe is a broader region that can include grapes from Barolo or Barbaresco. It is known for lighter, fruitier styles meant to be enjoyed earlier. Nebbiolo wines can also be found in Roero, across the Tanaro River from Langhe, and further north in Ghemme and Gattinara, where the grape is sometimes known as Spanna.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to producing Nebbiolo – particularly in Barolo and Barbaresco. Traditionalists allow the juice and skins to macerate for extended periods before aging the wine in large oak vats, known as botti, which impart little oak flavour. The new school of winemakers shorten the maceration and age the wines in small, new oak barriques like those used in Bordeaux. The small barrels help soften the tannins and produce a more supple win, but add more oak flavours.
No matter which method is used, a well-aged bottle of nebbiolo can be a stunningly beautiful thing, with flavours of rose petals, dried cherries and notes of tar. It might sound odd, but oh does it work.
Whether young or aged, wines based on nebbiolo can be thought-provoking and surprising. Truly magic in a bottle.
Langhe, Piedmont, Italy
Lorenzo Scavino started this winery located in Castiglione Falletto in Barolo in 1922, naming it after his son Paolo. Now Paolo’s son, Enrico Scavino, and Enrico’s daughters Enrica and Elisa, manage the family property.
With 30 hectares of vineyards located throughout Barolo, Paolo Scavino produces many top-level Barolos. In his six decades of winemaking, Enrico has adopted modern styles, though he continues to reduce the new oak influence in the wines, wanting instead to show thecharacteristicsc of each vineyard.
This lively Langhe nebbiolo is their gateway wine. It’s medium-full bodied and dry, with bright acidity, ripe tannins and perky flavours of black cherry, strawberry, tar, rose petals, orange and herbs. The finish is long and pleasant.
Price: About $38. Look for it at Bin 905, select Co-op Wines Spirits Beer, Crowfoot Wine and Spirits Signature store, Highlander Wine and Spirits at North Hill Plaza and Zyn the Wine Market.
Drink: In the next three years. Try it with mushroom and truffle pasta, venison or beef stroganoff. Cork; 14 per cent alc./vol.
Langhe, Piedmont, Italy
The name Perbacco roughly translates from Italian to English as ‘Oh my!’; or perhaps something a little less polite. Former winery owner Luca Currado, who sold the winery in 2016 and served as general manager until leaving this past January, said that was the response the first time he served this Langhe Nebbiolo to a family member. They couldn’t believe how good it was.
Made from grapes grown in select vineyards in Barolo and, to a lesser extent, Barbaresco, this is a very approachable, yet powerful, nebbiolo that shows all the grape’s attributes. Look for aromas of tea, tar, leather, sour cherry, rose petal and mushroom. It is dry, with balanced acid and ripe, almost plush tannins.
The wine is in between vintages right now, meaning there could be some 2019s on shelves as well. That vintage was a knockout, too.
Price: $52. It has been sold at Bin 905, select Co-op Wines Spirits Beer stores, Craft Cellars, Highlander Wine and Spirits, Willow Park Wines & Spirits and Wine and Beyond at Signal Hill.
Drink: In the next five years. Wild boar ragu, steak frites or duck cassoulet would pair very nicely. Cork; 14 per cent alc./vol.
Cordero di Montezemolo
Barolo, Piedmont, Italy
Winemaking goes back 19 generations at this winery, which originated in La Morra with the Falleti family. Through marriage, ownership eventually transferred to the Cordero di Montezemolos, a legendary aristocratic family in Piedmont.
While vineyards at many family wineries have been split up among many heirs over time, the Cordero di Montezemolo family has maintained its lands, with Elena and Alberto Cordero di Montezemolo now farming 51 hectares using certified organic practices.
Monfalletto, the winery’s flagship wine, is made from grapes grown in select plots in the La Morra sub-region known for producing more elegant styles of Barolo. Each plot is harvested and vinified separately before being blended before bottling.
This is a brooding Barolo with plenty of stuffing to age for 10 years or more. The dry, chewy and powerful tannins are balanced by lively acidity that propels a, fruit-tinged long finish. The flavours include black cherry, boysenberry, red plum, leather, herb and a touch of mocha. It is a terrific wine. The 2017 vintage may also be on some shelves. It is delicious and a bit more approachable for early drinking if you just can’t wait.
Price: About $70. BSW Liquor and Cork Fine Wine, Liquor and Ale sell it in Calgary.
Drink: In the next decade. Decant it for an hour if you are drinking it now. Braised beef, a robust game stew or hard cheddar would be good pairings. Cork; 14.5 per cent alc./vol.
Contact Darren Oleksyn at [email protected] or follow him on Instagram or X, the app previously known as Twitter. Looking for a specific wine? Because wine inventories are always in flux, it’s a good idea to call a store to confirm they have it. A search on Liquorconnect.com can give you an idea of stores that have carried the wines.