With 2008 and 2009 in the market now, I dug up my 45 notes tasted in Serralunga d’Alba in 2011 and have included notes where re-tasted since then.
I had always learned Nebbiolo derived from the word, “Nebbia”, meaning “fog”, alluding to the fog that sets in on the hills in Piemonte during harvest. The true meaning I am told, by every winemaker I met from Piedmont, is that Nebbiolo was named after the Piemontese word “Nebieu” meaning Noble.
This may be the case, but these great wines made from Nebbiolo grape in Piemonte seem to be shrouded in fog – the fog of Italian classification laws. “We are very complicated in Piemonte,” said Pietro Ratti at the Symposium after the Nebbiolo Nobile tasting, almost as an apology.
Most know Barolo and Barbaresco, some may even know they are made from Nebbiolo, but there are also other wines: Nebbiolo d’Alba, Nebbiolo from Roero and Nebbiolo Langhe. They are made from the same grape but are different classifications of Nebbiolo, some that cross over the same territories, even the same vineyards, as Barolo and Barbaresco.
Law of the Land
Nebbiolo d’Alba must be 100% Nebbiolo grape, while Nebbiolo Langhe only has to be 85% Nebbiolo. Langhe DOC was formed in 1995 to be a “second wine of Barolo” but instead it quickly became a catch-all group for other grape varieties such as Langhe Chardonnay. Whereas Nebbiolo d’Alba was formed in the mid-70s, initially to make wine in the Roero region, but can be used as a classification across Langhe and can even be declassified to… Langhe Nebbiolo. On top of that, some winemakers make Nebbiolo Langhe or Nebbiolo d’Alba as a wine in itself, others see it as a vehicle for declassified Barolo.
Langhe Nebbiolo is not as serious as Barolo or Barbaresco yet, they share enough of their good qualities for the dramatically lower price (one-third to one-quarter less). They are food wines par excellence, which is not surprising when Piedmont is the home of wild mushroom risotto, white truffle oil and agnolotti pasta made with eggs and stuffed beef, pork, or rabbit, flavoured with sausage, parmesan cheese, eggs and herbs…
About the Vintages
The hot vintage of 2009 was a strong vintage across Europe. Generally, the Nebbiolo are ripe, high in alcohol with varying degrees of balance. For Nebbiolo d’Alba and Langhe Nebbiolo, the hot conditions seemed to favour some parts of the region over others. The wines from La Morra had the best balance between rich fruit and tannin, while Serralunga d’Alba seemed a little too rich with not enough tannin at this early stage. As Jancis Robinson recently said, “Wine tasting is not a spectator sport,” and even though technically the hot vintage conditions should be good for Serralunga d’Alba, some wines verged on over-opulent, which is fine if they are drunk in next couple of years.
The 2008 vintage benefitted from a long summer. The fruit is not as rich as 2009. The Nebbiolo Langhe and Nebbiolo d’Alba are ready to drink now.
Overall 2008 is more consistent than 2009, and while 2007 is often cited as a better vintage by popular press, there are some great wines in both 2008 and 2009. By a margin, 2008 is more consistent showing greater tension and restraint, which can be more interesting to some than the happy-go-lucky, sun-blessed fruit of 2007.
Some wines were obviously made as an after-thought to their main bread-winning wine (Barolo or Barbaresco), while others showed a level of care and attention that put it in the winning group expressing the region. In this group, Nebbiolo from near Nieve in Barbaresco showed a refinedness distinct from the softer Nebbiolo from the magnesium-rich soil and shallow hills of Roero. The powdery chalk in Cannubi can be tasted in the tannins of the Nebbiolo d’Alba made from there, which wrap around the luscious fruit like thin gauze.
Whether producers treat Nebbiolo as a second wine of Barolo or to treat it as its own style, this is the issue to resolve for the fog to clear.
* Asterixed wines stood out as exceptional at the tasting
2009 Nebbiolo Langhe and Nebbiolo d’Alba
2009 Nebbiolo d’Alba, Renato Ratti, La Morra Pale ruby colour with elegant rich fruit and clean chalky finish.
2009 Nebbiolo d’Alba, Giacosa Fratelli, Neive From the Barbaresco region, this has similar delicate colour to Barbaresco with beautiful rose perfume, good structure to the fruit tannins and slightly spicy finish.
2009 Nebbiolo d’Alba, Giacosa Bruno, Neive Pretty perfume, soft mouthfilling fruit, simple.
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo, Cerrino, Trezzo Tinella * Six kilometres from Barbaresco. Nice bright ruby colour with cherry and raspberry fruit held in check by tannins. Simple, but my notes happily read – “A Joy!”
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo, Bricco Maiolica, Diano d’Alba Slightly heavier in style with rose colour very dry chalky finish. Very well-made wine with upfront fruit, which would suit new people to Langhe Nebbiolo.
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo, Chionetti, Dogliani * Characteristic purple Dogliani colour with stewed plums and soft tannins.
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo, Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco Rosehip and iodine restrained with very strong acidity and perhaps still young at this stage from this quality producer.
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo, Marchesi di Gresy, Barbaresco * Mouthfilling soft fruit, chalky tannins and pale rose colour, beautiful wine with deceptively simple elegance.
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo, Cigliuti, Neive * Incense perfume on nose with good firm structure on the palate, pale pink rose with long aftertaste (retrogusto).
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo, Cascina delle Rose, Tre Stelle * Aged in steel, south of Barbaresco on top of hill of Tre Stelle, velvety fruit, cherry, taste of very fine chalk tannins.
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo, Bataisolo Modern label and modern wine with rich fruit and very dry finish but not uncomfortably dry, either.
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo, Marcarini, La Morra From the darker soil of La Morra, distinct iodine with savoury Merlot character. Light- to Medium-bodied but good balance between richness of fruit and tannins.
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo, Elio Altare, La Morra Darker ‘La Morra” colour, richer and denser with mulberry and cherry fruit and clean tannic finish.
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo, Osvaldo Viberti, La Morra Very rich fruit, slightly tomato ‘capresi” taste with a mineral-clean finish.
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo, Brezza, Barolo Peach and wild fruit, with very elegant chalky finish. Beautiful label. Ready to drink now.
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo, Cantina Mascarello Bartolo, Barolo * Still feels very young, excellent structure with long stewed fruit and an attack of fruit tannins on the tongue.
(Tasted again 26/5/11) Outstanding structure, very refined with wave of rich fruit over the palate with good bone structure. A long aging Langhe Nebbiolo and has the movement of a good Barolo. Distinctive.
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo, Rinaldi, Barolo Deep purple in colour with a savoury (Merlot) taste coming through with a wave of fruit and velvet.
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo, Elio Grasso, Monforte d’Alba * Incredible savoury cherry and toffee characters. My notes read: begs to be drunk with local agnioletti (lamb ravioli in butter).
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo, Domenico Clerico, Monforte d’Alba Taste of dry, unripe plums, simple but ok.
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo, Gemma, Serralunga d’Alba Rich but elegant, baked fruit with vanilla sugar – darker glints, from the heat of the vintage in Serralunga d’Alba?
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo, Ettore Germano, Serralunga d’Alba Slightly paler than other wines from Serralunga d’Alba, with roundness and softness on palate and perfume.
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo, Schiavenza, Serralunga d’Alba Overwhelmed by sweet fruit with not much structure but with good clean finish.
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo, Guido Porro, Serralunga d’Alba Jammy fruit on the palate, not enough tannin to balance.
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo, Pira Luigi, Serrralunga d’Alba Stewed fruit, darker and fruitier with not enough structure expected from this area in a good vintage.
2008 Nebbiolo Langhe and Nebbiolo d’Alba
2008 Nebbiolo d’Alba, Cornarea, Canale * “Another joy”. Very soft, velvety mouthfeel with tobacco and cherry with great depth of fruit. Tannins there, but only tell-tale sign is as fine structure. (26/5/11) Plush mouthfeel with tannins making a last minute appearance after the flood of cherry fruit. Teeth drying finish.
2008 Nebbiolo d’Alba, Marco Porello, Canale A wave of soft fruit which doesn’t lead anywhere.
2008 Nebbiolo d’Alba, Matteo Correggia, Canale * Glossy colour with a lovely roundness on palate and “no attack” of tannins. High-definition perfumes of redcurrant, blueberry and good mineral core.
2008 Nebbiolo d’Alba, Bricco Maiolica, Diano d’Alba * Heavier, leather tobacco and earthy with not much primary cherry fruit character. Very distinctive, but drinkability? My notes read, “Interesting for a dinner party.”
2008 Nebbiolo d’Alba, Edoardo Sobrino, Diano d’Alba Weightier wine on the palate but with a disparate dry finish and edgy acidity.
2008 Nebbiolo d’Alba, Beppi Colla, Alba * Dark purple glints in the glass with voluptuous fruit and salty, black cherry jam. Was pointed out that this wine was, “Not aged in barrique”. Beautiful and distinct personality.
2008 Nebbiolo d’Alba, Ceretto, Alba * Elegant wine with taste of violets and cherry. Still very young but it has good structure to develop well.
2008 Nebbiolo d’Alba, Brezza, Barolo A heady combination of licorice and violets but quite rich and advanced. From between Barolo and Barbaresco. Good drinkability now.
2008 Langhe Nebbiolo, Negro Lorenzo, Monteu Roero Ready to drink now or next year with dark fruits, red flowers and lead pencil characters with fine tannins.
2008 Langhe Nebbiolo, Cascina Luisin, Barbaresco * Elegance epitomised. Harmonious characters of sour cherry with red fruit of forest and bright, mouth-watering acidity.
2008 Langhe Nebbiolo, Ca du Rabaja, Barbaresco Previously sold grapes to Proddutori del Barbaresco in Rabaja, one of the great areas. Perfectly balanced weight and cherry/violet fruit with clean tannins. Ready to drink.
2008 Langhe Nebbiolo, Piero Busso, Neive * Medium bodied with very fine tannins and a lovely clean line of purity of fruit and expression from perfume to palate.
2008 Langhe Nebbiolo, Gigi Bianco, Barbaresco * Only 2000 bottles made from this small producer, a perfect meshing of fruit and tannins. Beautiful clarity.
2008 Langhe Nebbiolo, Renato Fenocchio. Barbaresco Merlot very apparent in this wine, bordering on too funky – overshadows the Nebbiolo too much!
2008 Langhe Nebbiolo, Cascina Fontana, Perno * Raspberries and rose petals with a brooding richness and balanced by fine tannins. Perfect with fresh tomato and mozarella salad.
2008 Langhe Nebbiolo, Giacomo Conterno, Serralunga d’Alba Declassified Barolo, released after 2 years. Very fine tannins and a slightly cinnamon quality to the berry fruit. Slightly weighter style.
2007 Nebbiolo Langhe and Nebbiolo d’Alba
2007 Nebbiolo d’Alba, Brovia, Castiglione Falletto * Wild cherries and tar, this is a seriously good and pure Nebbiolo with depth of flavour that tastes like a baby Barolo.
2007 Nebbiolo d’Alba, Luciano Sandrone, Barolo Red ruby and clear colour. Dense and rich style with tobacco, blackberry and violets. Ready to drink now.
2007 Nebbiolo d’Alba, Eugenio Bocchino, La Morra Slightly cinnamon character with mouthfilling fresh blackberries and licorice with a long, notable finish.
2007 Langhe Nebbiolo, Vietti, Castiglione Falletto Ruby with brick highlights. Red fruits and violets with a velvety medium-bodied palate leading to a dry finish. As a fan of Vietti, not as impressed as I wanted to be.
2007 Langhe Nebbiolo, Massolino, Serralunga d’Alba Reminiscent of Barolo in style but with elegance rather than complexity it has a quiet perfume and violet, rose and raspberries. Easy to understand.
About the Langhe
Nebbiolo is very sensitive to varying micro-climatic conditions. This is why you may find Dolcetto taking up space on the lower slopes of top Barolo vineyards.
The Langhe is comparatively small at only 2000 square kilometres enclosed by the plains of Turin and Cuneo. The soil composition is influenced from when the Adriatic sea once covered the area and is a unique combination of iron, potassium, phospherous, copper, manganese and magnesium.
There are 11 townships in Barolo but there are five that are outstanding for Nebbiolo: La Morra, Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d’Alba, Monteforte d’Alba.
The quality areas can be split up further between East and West.
To the West are the townships of La Morra, Barolo and Novello which are calcerous marl, in some parts so chalky to be almost as fine as baby powder. They are more compact, fresher and more fertile regions with wine that are softer, fruitier and rounder. La Morra has a distinct licorice character from the abundance of manganese and magnesium in soil.
To the East are Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d’Alba and Monforte d’Alba. The soils here are sandstone and quartziferous sand. Less fertile, the wines are more intense and structured with greater tannins with the ability to age longer.
Across the river from Alba is the Roero. Nebbiolo is indigenous to this area. The shallower hills and sandier soils lend themselves to a softer style. The wines become lighter and less complex as the soil becomes sandier the further north from Canale. The Manganese in the soil creates its own complexity, especially to the white wines from here.
What is the difference between Barolo, Barbaresco and Nebbiolo d’Alba?
Technically, Barolo has a minimum of 3 years aging, with 5 years for Riserva. Barbaresco has a minimum of 2 years; with 4 years for Riserva. Nebbiolo d’Alba requires one year of aging.
This exploration of Langhe – very nobly – culminated in this tasting at the Castle of Serralunga d’Alba in 2011 with a tasting of 50 great Nebbiolo in one place – a tasting organised by David Berry Green.
ROLL CALL OF FAVOURITES:
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo, Cerrino, Trezzo Tinella
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo, Chionetti, Dogliani
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo, Marchesi di Gresy, Barbaresco
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo, Cigliuti, Neive
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo, Cascina delle Rose, Tre Stelle
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo, Cantina Mascarello Bartolo, Barolo
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo, Elio Grasso, Monforte d’Alba
2008 Nebbiolo d’Alba, Cornarea, Canale
2008 Nebbiolo d’Alba, Matteo Correggia, Canale
2008 Nebbiolo d’Alba, Bricco Maiolica, Diano d’Alba
2008 Nebbiolo d’Alba, Beppi Colla, Alba
2008 Nebbiolo d’Alba, Ceretto, Alba
2008 Langhe Nebbiolo, Cascina Luisin, Barbaresco
2008 Langhe Nebbiolo, Piero Busso, Neive
2008 Langhe Nebbiolo, Gigi Bianco, Barbaresco
2008 Langhe Nebbiolo, Cascina Fontana, Perno
2007 Nebbiolo d’Alba, Brovia, Castiglione Falletto
Tasted April 2011, Nebbiolo Nobile in Serralunga d’Alba, Piemonte
Photo by Douglas Blyde
Image Aerei 1989 by Alihiero Boetti