Posts Tagged nebbiolo

Enjoying Nebbiolo a rite of passage for wine nerds

“Do people really drink that?” a student asked me a few years ago on taking her first ever mouthful of Nebbiolo. This variety, from Piemonte in northeastern Italy, makes some of the country’s finest wines. But with its firm dark impenetrable fruit, high acidity and swingeing tannins, Nebbiolo can never be described as easy-drinking. These are wines for the aesthete rather than the hedonist .

Before you stop reading, two things: first of all, most Nebbiolo nowadays is made in a much more approachable style than in times past. Secondly, as with all wines, you need to drink it in the right setting. Arm yourself with a bowl of tajarín, the fine egg-rich pasta of the region, accompanied by wild mushrooms, white truffles, rabbit or a beef ragù, or maybe a risotto, or agnolotti del plin (little folds of pasta stuffed with meat), or maybe simply some roast game or aged parmesan, and Nebbiolo begins to make perfect sense. The food of Piemonte, centred on the towns of Alba and Asti, is amongst Italy’s finest. So are the wines.

Enjoying Nebbiolo is almost a rite of passage for real wine nerds. Tannic and alcoholic they may be, but really good Nebbiolo also has fleeting aromas of violets and perfume, an array of supremely elegant complex fruits that have you scrabbling for adjectives  – leather, truffles, black olives, tar, licorice, wood smoke and much more besides. Those tannins allow the wines to age and improve for decades in great vintages.

Patchwork of vineyards

The grape reaches its finest expression in the two small towns of Barolo and Barbaresco, both on the valley floor, surrounded by vineyards high up the slopes, peeking through a shroud of swirling mist. Often called the Burgundy of Italy, the region has a similar patchwork of tiny vineyards, with holdings scattered throughout. As in Burgundy, each sub-region, each vineyard, every change in height and exposure is reflected in the wines. Sadly, the prices are fairly Burgundian too.

In the past, many young men and women deserted the region for the two big local employers – Fiat in Turin and the massive Ferrero chocolate plant, manufacturers of Nutella and Ferrero Rocher, which gobbles up one of the region’s other great products, hazelnuts. Nowadays, farmers with a field or two in either town own a very valuable asset.

There are plenty of other wines produced in the region, including the more approachable Barbera and Dolcetto, as well as some good white wines, but Nebbiolo is the undoubted king, and Barolo and Barbaresco its finest expression. Langhe Nebbiolo is their Bourgogne Rouge: in the right hands it is much more approachable and often good value. Further north in Piemonte, Proprietà Sperino produces silkier wines with a lovely mineral streak.

Langhe Nebbiolo 2014, Massolino, 13.5%, €29.99
Fragrant violets and redcurrants; tangy, elegant, approachable wine with light tannins on the finish.
Stockists: Fresh Outlets, Dublin; Blackrock Cellar.

Proprieta Sperino Costa della Sesia Rosso
Uvaggio 2012, 12.5%, €39.99

A Nebbiolo blend. Scented, floral, laced with herbs; lingering fruits; an utter delight.
Stockists: Terroirs; Red Island; 64 Wine; Red Nose Wine

Massolino Barolo ‘Parafada’ 2012, 14%, €79.99
Beautifully aromatic, with intense structured robust dark fruits and a firm dark finish. Ideally keep it five years-plus.

Stockists: Corkscrew; Green Man Wines; Blackrock Cellar.

Posted in: Irish Times

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G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole 2011

G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole 2011

Image 10G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole 2011

€78.99 from Baggot St. Wines: Jus de Vin, Portmarnock; Terroirs, Donnybrook; Corkscrew, Chatham Street.


Fragrant aromas of rose petals and violets; an intense palate of firm, elegant dark damson and cherry fruits, a slight spiciness and a long elegant tannic finish. Relatively approachable, but will certainly keep another five years or more. Beautiful wine.


If you drink it now, decant before serving with robust dishes; steak, beef and mushroom stew, roast game or an aged Parmesan cheese.


Vajra is a fairly new enterprise, set up by the energetic Aldo Vajra in 1972, the worst vintage in the 20th century. He is now assisted by his daughter and two sons. Over the years, Vajra has assembled a relatively large sixty hectare estate that includes prime vineyards in all three sub-regions of Barolo. The wines are wonderfully aromatic, with all of the authentic pure flavours of the Nebbiolo grape. The Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo (around €30) is well worth seeking out for earlier drinking.


Posted in: Top Drop

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Three women wine writers

Three women wine writers
Alice Feiring at Litfest 2015

Alice Feiring at Litfest 2015

First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 2nd July, 2016

This week we veer right off the beaten track and celebrate three female authors who have each published a well-written book on an obscure wine region. Books on nebbiolo, vin jaune and Georgian qvevri wine are unlikely to climb the best-sellers lists. But each is a lovely read.

Alice Feiring was a fascinating and provocative speaker on natural wine at the Ballymaloe Litfest 2015. She has gone on to write a wonderful, emotional book, For the Love of Wine, about traditional winemaking in Georgia, one of the oldest wine-producing countries in the world. She explores the ancient culture of making wine in qvevri, clay amphorae, and meets up with some of the most remarkable characters making wines that sound intriguing. I would love to have included the amazing Pheasant’s Tears Saperavi as a wine of the week. The wine is macerated and fermented with stems, skins and pips in clay amphorae lined with beeswax and buried in the ground for months on end. Sadly, it has sold out completely.

The Jura has been the trendiest region in the wine bars of London and New York for several years. It produces some of the most unusual and least known (until recently) wines of France. Even the most hardened wine anorak will find it difficult to recall savagnin, poulsard and trousseau. And nowhere else in France will you find a vin jaune, the country’s answer to sherry, as well as the most extraordinary chardonnay and pinot noir. Wink Lorch, author of Jura Wine, has spent part of the year in the French Alps for two decades. Her enthusiasm and knowledge is infectious; this book really makes you want to travel there, drink the wine and eat the food too.

Jancis Robinson calls growing nebbiolo an exercise in precision engineering. In Barolo and Barbaresco: the King and Queen of Italian Wine, Kerin O’Keefe writes that, for her, barolo “was like a Fellini film; with the first sip I wasn’t quite sure what was going on but I knew I liked it, by the next sip it was starting to make sense, and by the time I finished the glass I was hooked”. Not everyone finds it so easy to love nebbiolo, which can have very high levels of tannins and acidity. It has a haunting bouquet. All are agreed that it hates to travel outside of Piedmont, and that it reaches its apogee in two small towns; Barolo and Barbaresco.

Like Feiring, O’Keefe pulls no punches, and is quite happy to criticise where she feels it is required. She has an obvious love and understanding of her subject. Her book is the definitive guide to the soils, the grapes and the growers producing these great wines.

IMG_1923Didimi Krakhuna 2013., Imereti, Georgia


Bone-dry with invigorating crisp sparky minerals and cool yellow fruits.

Stockists: Blackrock Cellar: The Corkscrew; Green Man Wines; Fallon & Byrne.

DSCF6303Barolo Le Coste di Monforte 2011, ‎Guidobono

Fragrant floral aromas with liquorice, raspberries and firm dry tannins.

Stockists: Mitchell & Son; Sheridans Cheesemongers; Grapevine; Donnybrook Fair.

ImageVin Jaune 2006, Arbois, Domaine Rolet
€51 for a 620ml bottle

Astonishing wine with tangy almonds and walnuts, cumin and a long bone dry finish. Serve lightly chilled with a good Comté.

Stockists: 64Wine, Green Man Wines, Clontarf Wines.

Posted in: Irish Times

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