Nebbiolo, I’d love to like you more…


Nebbiolo, I’d love to like you more…

Just been discussing Nebbiolo on Twitter. It’s one of those grapes that we in the wine trade are supposed to like.

For sure, it’s a grape I love the idea of, but the reality is that I keep getting disappointed by it. And I like pale-coloured reds with perfume, so I don’t see why there’s a problem here.

It’s just the palate. It’s so often too tannic and astringent that all the joy is sucked out of it. It doesn’t give any sweetness; it offers no charms other than rather austere intellectual ones. It’s like an extremely bright yet miserable friend.

Nebbiolo, I’d love to like you more. I really like the idea of you. It’s just that in practice, we’ve rarely worked well together.

But I’m open minded, and of the belief that everyone deserves a second (and third, and fourth) chance. So send me some recommendations of wines that I can buy (or just send me the wines!) that you think will change my mind.

36 Comments on Nebbiolo, I’d love to like you more…Tagged
wine journalist and flavour obsessive

36 thoughts on “Nebbiolo, I’d love to like you more…

  1. Yep, that twitter discussion got a few backs up. People are like born again evangelists and are shocked we nebbiolo naysayers don’t get it. Wrote about this earlier on fb too. Went to a tasting that David Gleave put on in the late 80s of Barolo and Barbaresco back to 1961. The 61 was by Gaja’s dad I think. All of them had brutal tannins and rasping acidity. Wine that still isn’t soft after 25+ years of ageing is pointless I recall thinking. Times will have changed but still plenty of pointless unpleasant wine being made. Tannin I can take in other reds but it’s so astringent in nebbiolo and with so little fruit. Once in a blue moon there’s a wine with richness to balance against the structure but rarely enough.

  2. I know what you’re getting at. Probably not what you mean, but I did enjoy some good Nebbs down in South Australia a few years back. Strange orange colour and with biting acidity, they weren’t typical Aussie reds for sure, but I enjoyed them quite a bit. Coriole in McClaren Vale certainly used to make a great one and I see you’ve already reviewed Peter Godden’s wine “Arrivo” – that’s a wine I’d love to try.

  3. The spannas of Gattinara are much lighter and less tannic or try the youthful drinking nebbiolos of Langhe, both have the perfume and bright fruit but and lack the high tannins that give the classic Barolos and Barbarescos their age worthiness.

  4. Surely you’re missing the whole point of nebbiolo though?

    It’s a wine that’s designed to pair up with the really rich foods of Piedmont (butter laden dishes, truffles, game & wild meats etc). Drunk alone it is out of context, and thus not enjoyable…

  5. Teaboldo Rivella, Monte Stefano, Barbaresco. 2 hectares of awesomeness. Think Raeburn in the UK. Or Capellano Barolo Pie Franco. Come to Stockholm and we’ll crack a couple

  6. Pizzini make a neb called Coronamento which is about as good as it gets over here. Damn fine drop too albeit on the pricy side

  7. Good ones tend to be pricey. See if you can get some Produttori Ovello 1970. Should be a little under £100 and I’m sure it’d be worth 95 of your points 😉

  8. I’m inclined to agree with Mr Goode. I’ve had nebbs back to the 1940s and the best of them have been fine wines, but never anything utterly persuasive for me.

    Julia’s point is a really good one though – the fit between nebbiolo & rich Piemontese foods shows both off to advantage. But in a more modern diet not anchored to those dishes, I struggle to see the point of nebbiolo compared to, for example, good sangiovese.

    And when the Piemontese prefer to drink other things, like Barbera, and sell Barolo & Barbaresco abroad…

  9. This may be the one time I can say California Nebbiolo could be the answer. More fruit, lower acid, and slightly softer tannin can often be had. Our yearly Nebbiolo roundtable tasting in California has provided a very interesting New World/Old World perspective. It may be time for us to embrace the un-Baroloness we produce, since we can’t reproduce it anyway.

  10. I can definitely relate to what you are saying, since I have been in the same situation. For some 26 year Barolo/Barbaresco were wines that I wanted to like, but they never really made it to my heart – until I finally visited Piemonte. Somehow everything fell into place and now my heart sings Nebbiolo. But I guess you’ve already tried going there? If not, you’re in for a treat!
    Finally, if you don’t get these wines, there is no idea to try to find older bottles, since these were often made in an oldfashioned, less fruity style. Try younger, but not necessarily modern, wines instead. A lovely example is Mascarello Bartolo’s Barolo 2008. don’t know if you can find it, though. BBR might have them, as well as others,like the Barbarsco of Manuel Marinaci which might work for you too. Good luck!

  11. cannot stand young Nebbiolo and tried many from top producers. BUT give the wine 30 plus years and it sings and dances 🙂

  12. Julia has it. They have a context. They don’t “taste” as well as they drink with food. I hope their astringency drives away ever more sweet-toothed consumers and the prices decline. The Barolos of 2006 and 2007 I’ve tried have been astonishingly good wines.

  13. Definately agree with the comments above, certain foods do help! The Ceretto Barolo available at the Co-op is a much friendlier, more approachable expression. I’d recommend giving this a try along with the fine wines suggested above!

  14. Definately agree with the comments above, certain foods do help! The Ceretto Barolo available at the Co-op is a much friendlier, more approachable expression. I’d recommend giving this a try along with the fine wines suggested above!

  15. Most Neb’s are food wines. Go to Italy , to Piemonte.
    Visit Aldo Conterno , Guiseppe Rinaldi, Sandrone, & of course Giacosa.
    There is also a 15 year rule with most Barolo.
    Hopefully this will change your opinion.

  16. Are we talking about Nebbiolo as in a Langhe Nebbiolo or a Nebbiolo d’Alba and not getting it mixed up with Nebbiolo to produce a Barolo or a Barbaresco ??????
    Langhe Nebbiolo “Gavarini” – Elio Grasso – Monforte d’Alba – Piemonte. Vinified only in stianless steel tempreature controlled tanks – after a year of bottle age it Bowls like the Aussie cricket team. Great with Red Tuna fillet steaks pan-seared in olive oil ,rosemary and thyme ,med-raw cooked. Langhe Nebbiolo 2011 from Produttori Del Barbaresco – aged circa 6 months in Big Oak casks – bats like the Aussie cricket team. Quite a lot of Neb growing in Australia and in the U.S.
    Great wine price / quality ratio. Often see it being ordered in restaurants by foreign wine lovers an Italians.

  17. You are all insane. While I agree that there are plenty of astringent, overly tannic examples of Barolo/ Barbaresco this can be said of almost any grape and much of it has to do with tradition and farming. There are just as many unbalanced wines lacking elegance or depth in Napa, Burgundy, Bordeaux and just about everywhere else. Treat yourself to a bottle of Altare with a little age on it, or Gianfranco Alessandria and then tell me that Barolo can’t be harmonious and silky. Grab some Arborina from Mauro Veglio and tell me that wine isn’t as graceful as a ballet dancer. Even the 2010s from Sottimano are already drinking well and that is about as young as it can possibly get!

  18. I’m a Pinot guy but have to give a nod to some exceptional Nebbs: 2008 Paolo Scavino Bric del Fiasc Barolo, 2009 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo, 2008 Barbaresco Montestefano by Serafino Rivella. These are all puppies at this stage and not inexpensive but they have power, beauty and glory in reserve.

  19. Another food you might try to help soothe the tannins is Parmigiano-Reggiano. Also, the wines of Marchesi di Gresy tend to have softer tannins because of their particular clone of nebbiolo. For me, nebbiolo is one of my five favorite grapes.

  20. Dear Jamie and any fellow wine writers – please feel free to hop off the nebbiolo bandwagon. I love this grape, especially in the form of Barolo and Barbaresco, but fear the prices are going to rival those for Burgundy and Bordeaux one day. Let’s keep this one a secret for only the most dedicated nebbiolo drinkers who love it for its “austere intellectual” charms.

  21. There are plenty of easy drinking fruit-driven Nebbiolo styles to satisfy Jamie’s sweet tooth. Renato Ratti is one such ‘modern’ barrique-loving producer. If none of these appeal, there’s always Apothic!

  22. Some very interesting nebs coming out of Victoria’s Pyrenees – like the Quealy product or Glenlofty’s Single Vineyard 2011 Nebbiolo, which has the varietal floral nose, a firm tannic backbone and some good red fruit. Hard to find from this new producer, but worth the effort. And worth testing against a Langhe neb from one of the younger producers using small French oak.

  23. “So send me some recommendations of wines that I can buy (or just send me the wines!) that you think will change my mind”: Jamie, how about looking at the scores you gave Roagna’s Barolo/Barbaresco wines on Wine Anorak in Feb 2012. 2 x 97 points, 2 x 96 points, a 94 point and a 93 points. All pretty high up the scale for you; you’d already answered your question.

  24. This is a very exciting subject indeed. My feeling is that Nebbbiolo is THE red grape – or let’s put it another way – Nebbiolo is THE red grape which is lucky enough to have a significant enough number of producers working with neutral older and larger European (mostly Croatian) oak barrels, combined with being planted across the really massively diverse terroirs of the Langhe, Alto Piemonte, Valtellina & Monferrato.
    The greatest examples are so very varied, from the Sturm und Drang of Monfortino in Serralunga, to the silky poetry of Brovia’s Castiglione crus in say 2008, via the ‘traditional with new-found fruit’ of Giuseppe Rinaldi & Figlie, and so on. As Fukuoka put it ‘though one thing there can be all things.’
    But the second that one puts Nebbiolo in unseasoned new oak (worse still, from a rotary fermenter) it becomes a fruit & oak sandwich, from which it may never recover. The only Nebbiolo I have amazed by which was born from a barrique is Aldo Conterno’s Gran Bussia. (If more Bordeaux GCC Chateaux followed suit and de-oaked their wines, turning to seasoned 550L, 10hl, 50hl barrels, they might start to make wine worth talking about again.)
    The 15/30 year rules are now a bit OTT. The best of 1997 were rich, 2000 very open and gentle, 2003 with a hedonistic sweet spot, and were all good to go from the barrel, also without food. Backwards years, the less ripe sites sure benefit from some time. Let’s say 10 years, but pay attention to hoovering up forward years.
    Julia Bailey is spot on with the assessment of Nebbiolo not generally being made for quaffing without food – and this means tasting as well. For me, along with Amarone, Vintage Port and botrytis wines these are the hardest wines to taste quickly.
    Top Azienda? In alphabetical order I would include the ancient Lorenzo Accommasso, uber-cool ArPePe, Brovia, Canonica, Cappellano, Bruno Giacosa (estate vines), Giacomo (Roberto) Conterno, Maria-Teresa Mascarello, Giuseppe Rinaldi, Serafino-Rivella, young Luca Roagna. Yes, we (Raeburn Wines) ship seven of these growers to the UK, but we have also visited if not tasted pretty much everyone else.
    And some of my least favourite wines in the world are also Nebbiolo from the Langhe, those with high yields, high % of new-small oak, but we know who they are, and those are the overpriced wines, because they have little vinous-value in the first place.
    David Berry-Green has written on BBR’s blog about the Alto Piemonte renaissance: some historic wines were as good as their Langhe cousins, though I think we have to wait awhile before the old families and newcomers can serve up their finest. They do have more old clones of Nebbiolo than the Langhe, plus altitude, heat resistant soils, and rainfall, which makes them somewhat more global-warming resistant.
    Interestingly, the serious growers who have old-vine Dolcetto or Barbera on Barolo/Barbaresco grade terroir, can make better Barolo/Barbaresco style wines than their neighbours do with Nebbiolo. It is a great example of terroir & culture dominating variety. (E.g. Serafino-Rivella’s Dolcetto from steep Montestefano; Canonica’s Barbera from Barolo cru Paigallo which you have to go to Daphne’s in Brompton Cross to drink.)
    Glassware plays a bigger role with Nebbiolo than most other grapes, and Willburger Burgunder, Soldera, Riedel Sommelier or Extreme Montrachet glasses are splendid. A tall narrow glass will not convey anything of the nose.
    Last thought: in the old days (pre-80s vintages) one drank largely by vintage, like Bordeaux, as all growers were ‘traditional’ and only certain years lasted well – others being for earlier drinking, or downright poor. Now, one is certainly better off following grower alone, with the best of them delivering the goods every year, in the style of the year, as in Burgundy.

  25. I see many of my favorite Nebbiolo wines listed in the other comments, although, as the commentators also write, most of them need a lot of time before the real drinking window opens. However, a couple of fruit-driven Nebbiolo wines with no oak notes and with discreet, silky tannins you can drink young would be the Barolo Serralunga of Ferdinando Principiano as well as the Langhe Nebbiolo Coste from the same producer. They are both also very well priced, and imported to the UK (but I don’t remember by whom). Also Gianni Canonica’s Barolo Paiagallo (mentioned above for his unobtainable Barbera from the same vineyard) already drinks very well in the 2007, 2008 and 2009 versions (and the 2010 from the vat a month ago was even better than all of these). This wine is also surprisingly economical.

  26. I love the nebbiolo Grape, I like tannin and acid in wine. It helps my foods taste better.
    It is interesting that if I was intolerant of any regions wines, Like Jamie is with Nebbiolo, it would be most Australian reds.
    Fat, sweet tasting fruity almost dessert wines, not meant for real food. does that shock you folks?

    Curious how we all like what we like and one big reason why I hardly review any wines anymore, as my bias is a problem with many novice drinkers needing big sweet reds to get them down.

  27. In 1976 I remember taking a drive in Piemonte, right around truffle season. Before heading home we wanted to buy some Barolo, and stopped by the Pio Cesare Winery. The gentleman we talked with reiterated the two important things to remember about Barolo, the old-style, very tannic Barolo. First, he pointed out, it is “too much wine” to drink with meals. It should be enjoyed by the fireplace, with s crust of bread and some cheese, and good conversation. Second, a true old-style Barolo should be opened in the morning, it needs a long time to open up! Which is why true cognoscenti would never order it in a restaurant. As a matter of fact, there is an old tradition in Piemonte: you offer the honored guest wine from the bottle you opened yesterday. Eight hours or more in an open bottle will smooth out much of the wine’s austere character.

  28. An amusing coda to the above comments: After a pleasant half-hour discussing Barolo and its characteristics, we asked to purchase two cases of the wine. Our acccents gave us away … the gentleman in charge realized we were from Rome, and thus could never appreciate Barolo. He agreed to sell us two bottles and two cases of Barbaresco.

  29. I was relieved when I stumbled across Jamie’s original post. I lived in Milan for several years and spent many wonderful weekends exploring the vineyards and food of the Piedmont. I tasted Nebbiolos of every description and my reaction was always the same — where’s the joy, the warmth, the love? In the end, I decided to make a clean break. Life’s too short and all that. But no hard feelings — it’s not you, Nebbiolo, it’s me.

  30. Sorry to come to this thread late, but Alessandro Vitelli’s comments mirror my own experience.

    The most disappointing bottle I can recall was a Barolo my wife and I ordered on the occasion of our 10th anniversary. We were at a restaurant called Stella Sola, which was on a Texan-cross-Northern-Italian theme. They’re long gone now, but they had a great wine list.

    When the wine arrived it was so very tight and lifeless. I had the server take it back and pass it between decanters a few times, as much as they had patience. When they returned it has opened up a little, but not much. We ate our meal largely without touching it. Later, we retired to the bar to have desert, taking the bottle with us. After desert we tried it again, and it was just starting to come alive. The next day it was outstanding.

    Now we only have Barolo at home, where I can open them up well in advance.

    Now, what can you tell me about Sforzato di Valtellina?


  31. I can not disagree more. Recently, I had a bottle of 1971 Tavaglini Gattinara – I found it in an abandoned house and my client, the new owner, let me have it. It had been stored in a liquor cabinet standing up for 25 years. I did not believe for a moment that it would still be drinking nicely.

    Upon opening, and decanting (massive sediment), and a little airing, it was perfumed, elegant, brown in color at the edges, delightful. Past its prime, but fascinating, still a touch of fruit, but complex, a long finish, with touches of truffle, dust, and old leather.

    But then, I love barbaresco and barolo when they reach their drinking window…

  32. Very interesting topic indeed! Nebbiolo is not a varietal for everybody; this i`ve learned through the years . I just came from a long trip to Piemonte, and tasted endless amount of Barolos and Barbarescos. I also took part of a big Barbaresco tasting in Barbaresco village. And i was really blown away by the quality of the wines. Honest wines, highly enjoyable, tought provoking, profound with great craftmannship. Only few wines were dissapointing,(and actually they were still quite ok) It`s even hard for me to think at the moment a Wine region and Grape varietal with as great standard of quality. There`s a big variation of styles f.e in Barbaresco wines. some are actually quite sweet and really delicious, fruit driven, flirting with the New World. Some are more austere, earthy and difficult. Some need many years to have balance. In my opinion Nebbiolo is actually a very diverse Grape that has mny different faces.
    And as for me, it could even be my favorite red grape off them all. But anyway, we all have our own taste, and our own wine journey..
    Cheers, Ilari Edelmann

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