Sunday, November 23, 2008

Due Nebbioli I Didn't Like

Regular readers will have deduced by now that I feel a particular affinity toward the wines of Piedmont, in particular to the many regional iterations of Nebbiolo. I like Nebbiolo, too, when grown in the precarious, high altitude area of Valtellina, nestled near the Swiss Alps in northern Lombardy. Yet sometimes I do drink wines from both regions that I don’t like. I just don’t write about them as often as the wines I do enjoy. Sometimes, though, you can learn just as much if not more about someone’s tastes by what they don’t like as compared to what they do.


Sometimes, there’s the wine I’ll buy in hopes of liking it….

Rosso di Valtellina, Sandro Fay 2005. $13.50. 12% alcohol. Synthetic. Importer: Omniwines, Linden Hill, NY.
Nebbiolo is an incredibly finicky vine. It requires perfectly selected vineyard sites if it’s to ripen adequately and provide wine of any real character. Piedmont and Lombardy seem to be the only two regions on the globe where that happens with any consistency. It’s also temperamental, both in the vineyard and the cellar; a vine and wine that requires much care and attention from the farmer and winemaker. In all of these respects, it shares much in common with Pinot Noir, particularly as cultivated in Burgundy. And much like red Burgundy, especially in today’s marketplace, the idea of a varietal Nebbiolo selling for under $15 seems too good to be true. Yet my hope that such a wine might surprise just had to be explored.

I don’t think my expectations were too high. This is meant to be a simple wine, a relatively everyday expression of Nebbiolo (actually, it’s about 90% Nebbiolo blended with other local vines and a smidgen of Merlot). And I found it simple – simple to a fault that is. There was nothing technically flawed about it. It’s just that it left me completely flat, flat being a word that pretty well sums up its qualities in the glass – muted fruit and aromas with little in the way of liveliness. It’s quaffable enough; heck, it even held up pretty well over the course of three days. I won’t rule out trying it again. In fact, I probably will, in hopes that my first impressions might be proven wrong. It’s just that this bottle didn’t move me. And I want to be moved, at least a little, by any wine I drink, no matter the price point.

Then sometimes, there’s the wine I’ll buy in spite of expecting not to like it….

Call it a reality check, if you will. Or call it the antithesis of open minded or blind tasting. I suppose it’s both.

Langhe Nebbiolo “Vigneto Starderi,” La Spinetta 2004. $27.50. 14% alcohol. Cork. Importer: A Marc de Grazia Selection, Vin DiVino, Chicago, IL.
I think it’s fair to place La Spinetta at the extreme modernist end of the spectrum when it comes to Piemontese producers. The estate is represented in the US by Marc de Grazia, an importer who heavily influences the stylistic approaches used by the winemakers in his portfolio. While I don’t discount the possibility of perfectly lovely wines being made in the modern style (Elio and Gianluca Grasso’s Barolo “Runcot” comes immediately to mind), I do tend to prefer Nebbiolo – and wines in general – when the vineyard has more to say than does the winemaking.

Tasting La Spinetta’s Langhe Nebbiolo, I’m left with the distinct impression that I’m drinking made wine. Its richly hued garnet color is darker than I’d expect from Nebbiolo, especially from a young vine wine like this, even if from a good vintage. And while some of the classic Nebbiolo aromas – licorice, tar and raspberries – were present, there was also an aggressive element to the wine’s scents. Alcohol and paint both came to mind. In the mouth, the wine wasn’t just disjointed. It also felt over inflated, as if someone had started out with what might have been Grace Kelly but ended up producing something more like Pamela Anderson. Too much oak and too much extraction, with little in the way of finesse to balance out those top-heavy attributes.

9 comments:

Aaron said...

I've had similar experiences with the wines from La Spinetta. Recently tasted through a complete lineup of their wines, from their Monferrato Rosso 'Pin' to the single-vineyard Barbarescos and Barolos, and I was seriously underwhelmed. There was as you said an "inflated" sense to the wines, like a guy with a slender frame trying to pack on fifty pounds of muscle. Your Grace Kelly/Pam Anderson analogy is very apt. Having lost much of their proportion, they've also lost their ability to refresh and instead are a chore to drink. Like nothing so much as an overblown Aussie Shiraz or spoofed-out New World Cabernet. Thank God for Giacosa, the Mascarellos, and of course G. Conterno.

. said...

So--any suggestions on a "value" nebbiolo?

Joe Manekin said...

It may be a bit frustrating and tough on the wallet to buy wines which you think you will not like, but it also shows a certain discipline and dedication to wine, in all of its regional, stylistic and vintage driven permutations.

Way to experiment! Hopefully the next go works out better.

Marty said...

Great post! I've not had the Fey, but the Giuseppe Rainoldi Rosso di Valtellina seems similar--a $10.99 nebbiolo. Simple yet somewhat satisfying.

I'd go for honest over Spinetta any day. I agree completely with your assessment. After tasting some producers like Spinetta and Bruno Rocca, I ask myself: Is there a point where a wine just tastes "very ripe" and loses it's varietal and terroir characteristics?

David McDuff said...

Aaron,
Thanks for the thoughtful comment. My post seems to have struck a common chord with you and several other readers, some of whom commented offline. Your point about wines losing their ability to refresh, in particular, is very well taken.

Genevelyn,
Is this your new pseudonym? You've truncated your persona to a single point of punctuation?

"Value" is a loaded term, something that I think can be found at a wide variety of price points. If you're thinking along the $15ish lines, I very much enjoyed Sella's "Orbello" when last I had it, though Nebbiolo plays a relatively small part in its blend.

In the mid-$20s, I've found few wines of late that offer as much reward and finesse as the 2006 Langhe Nebbiolo of G.D. Vajra.

Joe,
Thanks for the moral support. It's definitely tough to ante up the bucks for a wine on an experimental basis but its something I feel I have to do from time to time to keep my tasting habits tuned in to an open frequency.

Marty,
Ditto what I wrote in response to Aaron's comment. Thanks for the Rainoldi mention; I'll keep on the lookout for it. Just as I'll likely try the Fay again, I won't rule out the hope of finding a sub-$15 Nebbiolo I can enjoy.

And yes, I do think that pushing fruit to uber-ripeness, along with over polishing wines in the winery, is a common factor in the all too common obliteration of terroir and typicity.

Marty said...

After ruminating on the topic I rememered a couple of favorite cheap nebbiolo (I am a sucker for the stuff.)

And the Produtorri del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo, usually right at $15 is always lithe, bright, and aromatic! That may be my #1 cheap, relatively easy to find nebbiolo. Also, Vietti's "Perbacco" Langhe Nebbiolo is usually right around $22 and tastes like a baby Barolo and is made from the estate's young vines in Barolo and just doesn't get as much barrel time--even at the price, is a great value.

Do Bianchi said...

My suggestions for value Nebbiolo are anything by Ferrando (Carema and Canavese), Orsolani (Carema in particular), Spanna by Dessilani (totally old school), and Ghemme by Cantalupo (also some Lessona and Bramaterra out there). Fay is always so modern: I'm surprised to see such low alc on that wine. Giorgio Rivetti of La Spinetta? Avoid at all costs...

Great post... Sometimes you just have to say it like it is...

Joe said...

Been meaning to try a Valtellina - any other suggestions? Interesting tasting note re: "paint" - seems to me that Nebbiolo is just as finicky in the winemakers hands, and the modernists play a delicate game trying to soften it up without, well, paint.

David McDuff said...

Thanks for your recommendations, Marty and Jeremy. Adding to the mix and in answer to Joe's question, I'd also suggest the Valtellina of La Castellina (Fondazione Fojanini). When last I bought some it was a steal in the high teens, though it's been some time since I've seen any floating around the market.

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