Italian wine scares me.
I should qualify that statement. I love Italian wine, and I believe Italian wine is exciting, versatile, and absolutely divine, but I know very little about Italian wine in general. There’s the Piedmont with its Nebbiolo-based wines, then Tuscany with its Sangiovese-based wines, but come on! Aren’t clones for sci-fi movies or Star Wars? And can’t Italy just have a reasonable number of varietal–say, one hundred–instead of like… thirteen hundred (or up to 3,500)? It also doesn’t help that many of Italy’s greatest wines–Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello di Montalcino, for instance–are expensive and, in the case of Nebbiolo-based wines, tannic monsters when young.
It is for all these reasons that, when it comes to that game of blind tasting, I am absolutely useless when I try to identify Italian wines. I can get Sangiovese, with its cherry and dried oregano notes, but I am just not as familiar with Italian wines as I am with French or Californian wines… not that I’m all that familiar with those, either!
In order to turn my weakness into a strength, I have resolved to buy and try more Italian wines. So far, I’ve had a few bottles. Of those, I am very happy to report that the 2010 Produttori del Barberesco Langhe Nebbiolo ($22.00 at Big Tree Bottles) was affordable and delicious!
“Produttori del Barbaresco” refers to the fact that this wine is a product of the Cantina Sociale dei Produttori del Barbaresco, which is a growers’ collective located in Barbaresco. Langhe is actually a larger area which encompasses both Barbaresco and Barolo. A useful analogy is found in Burgundy: just as appellation-level Bourgogne is made of Pinot Noir that comes outside of specifically-demarcated appellations and vineyards (such as the “Les Charmes” vineyard in the appellation of Meursault), Langhe wine is made with the same grape as Barbaresco and Barolo but from a broader region. The practical consequence is that one may purchase a more easy-to-drink, approachable wine at a much lower cost than those from the more prestigious appellations.
Nebbiolo, which some surmise was named after the heavy fogs (nebbia) that cover the Langhe during some of the harvest period, is a grape whose thick skins contain loads of tannin. The traditional method for making Barolo and Barbaresco leaves the skins in contact with the grape juice for extended periods of time, thus resulting in wines that require years of aging. Langhe-level Nebbiolo such as the one I drank for this post, on the other hand, does not undergo the same extended contact period nor the same long aging in barrel and is, therefore, meant for earlier consumption.
The Produttori del Barbaresco Nebbiolo was a light ruby color, almost translucent. It was lighter even than some Beaujolais I’ve had. On the nose I detected sour cherry, cranberry, strawberry jam, and fresh red plum, notes which were confirmed by taste. This wine had moderate tannins which were held in check by a higher level of bright acidity. This was a beautiful, young, fresh wine with enough going on to keep me interested but delicious enough to make me drink quite a lot of it throughout the day. It went well with the meal of stewed pork ribs with rice and beans that I purchased from a local Puerto Rican joint.
After this and some other Italian wines, I can’t say that I am appreciably more comfortable with the genre. However, if they are all as good as this one, I am eager continue learning.