Nebbiolo wines with CAV

In October 2010, the wine club CAV – which spelled out means Cercle des Amateurs de Vin – held a tasting under the theme “not only Barolo, fine Italian Nebbiolo”, which I believe may be worth writing about, despite the fact that it’s a couple of months ago. Before I joined, I heard CAV mentioned as “the Commission’s wine club”, but fortunately they have shown to use English in their communication with members, although a fair amount of French is heard during some of the tastings. They typically hold one tasting per month, and typically “2 bottle tastings”, often with 8-12 wines. The wines are usually served open, one by one. While I usually bring my typical “6-pack” of glasses, some participants don’t keep the previous wine after the next one arrives, which has surprised me somewhat. I want to try a couple of wine side by side when I sit down to taste (as opposed to the typical wine fair type of tasting of one wine at a time). All of this makes for a very different type of tasting than the typical “internal” tastings of the Swedish wine clubs I’ve been in, where semi-blind or completely blind (and slightly fewer wines) is the norm. On the other hand, it does remind me of the invited tastings arranged by wine dealers in our Swedish wine club in Brussels. There is a twist, though – at CAV tastings there is typically a cheese tray on each table already before wine number 1 is served. Wonderful, but a couple of pieces of mixed cheese between each wine can effect your taste quite a lot. Could the sense morale be that the participants are simply supposed to enjoy the wines rather than scoring and describing them? 🙂

The themes of CAV’s tastings are very often interesting, and sometimes they include the slightly odd, and are usually well worth visiting. Some tastings are led by board members, and some by wine dealers or other people from the outside. Unfortunately, many 2010 activities collided with other activities in my calendar, so I attended fewer than I would have liked. Have to try to do something about that in 2011!


At this tasting it was the board member Paolo C. who led us through a tasting of mixed Nebbiolo-based wines, largely bough in Italy by himself. The selection focussed on good wines that aren’t too expensive, at least not measured by the Piedmontese yardstick. He started by saying that he prefers so-called traditionalist producers. His view is that the so-called modernists’ wines, apart from being overoaked and overextracted, by and large are overpriced compared to their quality and not that interesting after a couple of years. Some of the older members in the room blamed this entire development on… you probably guessed it – the Americans! (I’ll save my full views on this topic for later…) In order to not jeopardise Scandinavia’s reputation, I chose at this stage not to reveal that fruit bombs with as much alcohol as possible tends to be quite popular in much of Northern Europe as well. Asked for a particularly bad example of such a modernist, he pointed out La Spinetta, which revealed that I’m apparently more Parkerized in my preferences than I wanted to believe – because I’ve often been impressed with La Spinetta’s wines when I’ve tasted them. At future wine tasting, I suppose I might just as well start wearing a T-shirt saying “real wines are inky black, at least 15% and smell of vanilla” under a picture of a smiling you-know-who.

In fairness, I should mention that Paolo also pointed out that the difference in style between modernists and traditionalists has decreased. For example, many use more barriques and other smaller barrels than in the older days, but the proportion of new oak is kept low.

Over to the wines:

Nebbiolo Occhetti 2006, Prunotto
Nebbiolo d’Alba, Piemonte, € 16, the vineyard Occhetti is located in Monteu Roero
Medium red colour, lighter edge. In the nose red berries, some spice and oak, rather fruity, slightly aromatic with hints of roses, balsamic notes, some leather. Rather fruity on the palate, medium bodied, quiet acidic, red berries, overtly bitter, quite tannic, relatively dry aftertaste. 85-86 p. Young, the bitterness somewhat disturbing, but otherwise impressive and complex for a Nebbiolo d’Alba, but we are after all talking about a vineyard-labelled wine from a good producer.

Mazèr 2004, Nino Negri
Valtellina Superiore Inferno, Lombardia, € 13
Light red colour, brick-coloured edge. In the nose decaying leaves, red berries, clearly aromatic with notes of rose hip and roses, some tar, sweetish smell. Slightly less than medium bodied, obvious tannin, some dryness and slight bitterness. 86-87 p. Young in its tannins, but developed in the nose. Produced in a modern style with respect to e.g. fermentation. The lighter style displayed by this wine is apparently to be expected by wines from Valtellina when compared to those from Piedmont. But quite good for its price.

Barbaresco 2001, Produttori del Barbaresco
€ 28
Light red colour with obvious amber notes in the core, brownish brick-coloured edge. In the nose decaying leaves, dried red berries, quite sweetish smell, obvious flowery-perfumed notes, and some mint. Quite pleasant aromas. Medium bodied on the palate, red berries, some impressions of sweetness, minty notes, some bitterness, quite present tannins which are slightly dry but more “embedded” than in the previous wine (Mazèr). 88-89 p.
This is the basic Barbaresco from this rather well reputed cooperative, whih also sells a long series of Barbaresco “crus” under village names. Paolo described this wine (or possibly the producer’s style in general) as in most cases relatively quick to mature.

Barbaresco 1998, Gigi Bianco
€ 30
Light red colour with amber notes, light/amber coloured edge. In the nose red berries with some decaying leaves, leather, aromatic, dried berries, some tar and liquorice. Pleasant nose, slightly sweeter and more tame than the Barbarescon from Produttori. Medium bodied taste, red berries, slightly sweetih with a spicy note, menthol, a hint of alcohol, good acidity, obvious but well balanced tannin, tannic aftertaste. 89-90 p. Pleasant wine, good development, but the tannins are still quite obvious.
Gigi Bianco is a small producer apparently located “under the church”, if that says anything to those who’ve been there, and produces wines in a traditional Barbaresco style.

Gattinara Nervi 2001, Podere dei Ginepri
€ 22
Light red colour with light brick coloured edge (lighter than the two previous, but with less brown/amber notes). In the nose cherries, dried red berries, menthol notes, clearly aromatic (in this case “oak barrel aromatic”), fruity impression. On the palate slightly less than medium boded, sweetish, fruity impression with red berries, acidic, obvious tannin, but reasonably tame compared to several of the other wines of this tasting, some bitterness. 87-88 p.
This wine was produced in a modern style, partially in barrique.

Barolo “Vigna la Rosa” 1998, Fontanafredda
€ 90? (magnum)
Medium red, rather dense colour with brick coloured edge. In the nose leather, red berries with some dark berries impression, sweetish, some oak notes, slightly aromatic. Slightly more than medium bodied on the palate, red berries with some dark berries, sweetish with menthol, slight bitterness. 88-89 p. Probably the wine of this tasting with least development for its age, but it did come from a magnum.

Paolo pointed out that Fontanafredda used to be a very large buyer of grapes, and I believe that this meant that the quality hasn’t always been the best in days past. The “house style” has apparently gone through several changes over the years. At some point (in the 1990s?) they went over to a very modernist style, but from around 2003/2004 they have switched to being more traditionalist. The 97 and 98 therefore comes from their modernist period. Vigna la Rosa is a vineyard-designated wine from one of their own vineyards.

Barolo “Vigna la Rosa” 1997, Fontanafredda
€ 38
In colour very similar to the 1998. In the nose leather, developed notes, rose hip, roses, red berries, sweetish. Quite pleasant aromas. Medium bodied on the palate, felt a little lighter than the 1998, slightly spicy notes of mild dried spices, slight bitterness, some tannin, but rather smooth in character (at least in present company). 89-90 p.

Barolo Cannubio 2004, Francesco Rinaldi
€ 33
Bright red colour, fading edge. In the nose red berries, light-coloured cherries, clearly aromatic, roses and other flowers. On the palate medium bodied, red berries, menthol notes, obvious tannin (but without too hard edges), good acidity. 88-90 p. Quite young, possibly potential for a higher score with maturity, although a bit difficult to know at the moment.
Francesco Rinaldi is a small producer with very traditional wines. (There is also another Rinaldi who is apparently more known, which should be Giuseppe Rinaldi. On top of that there is a Francesco Rinaldi in the United States who sells canned pasta sauce under the slogan “Made by Italians. Enjoyed by everyone!”, by methinks that the definition of “everyone” used in this case actually doesn’t include the Italian Italians themselves…)

Barolo Cannubio 1997, Francesco Rinaldi
€ 35,50
Rather bright red colour with some amber notes, brick coloured edge. In the nose red berries, some dried berries with sweetish notes. On the palate a little more than medium bodied, red and some dark berries, slight sweetness and some bitterness. 88-89 p? The wine was a little “mute” in profile, and behind this “blanket” there may have been hiding a very good wine deserving a higher score, which would then have received the highest score of the evening. Paolo warned us that the wine was quite reductive and needed a good swirl. It also turned out to be a significant variation between the two bottles, where both were a little weird, but with different profile. The one I was served from was described as “metallic” by Paolo, while the other was more “reduced”. “Not quite the grand finale I had expected” he commented, but I couldn’t say that the wine in any way was bad, just that when you had the other wines as reference, it was obvious that it could have performed better.
A funny episode is that a couple of people sitting next to each other and who apparently hadn’t been paying any attention to what Paolo had been saying, said “cork defect” about the wine from the other bottle, and immediately dumped it. I was never able to figure out why they thought that they immediately need an empty glass, since this was the last of the wines we had been promised, and there still was some cheese left. None of the most experienced wine tasters that were served from the same bottle detected any cork defect, though. It is fascinating, and I have seen it before, how some wine tasters get the idea that anything that is a bit strange in a wine is automatically a “cork defect”.

The tasting was very interesting, and the wines were definitely good. I was a little surprised that I scored them in such a narrow range as I did; I had expected more variation in score and that some of them would merit 90+ points. They differed rather much in concentration/weight, but some other plus and minus factors (maturity, other pleasant aromas, bitterness, alcoholic bite, tannic structure) came down a little different for different wines in a way that actually kept the range of score together. If all plusses found in different wines of this tasting had come together in a single wine, it had definitely been enough for at least 92 points. During the final discussion one of those who said he liked the traditionalist wines said that he thought that they often needed 20 years of age to be really great.

I also thought that several of them showed mature aromas in the nose – in several cases decaying (autumn) leaves in combination with some animal notes (particularly leather) – that were closer to old Pinot Noir than what I have thought about before for Nebbiolo. I was aware that really old Barolo/Babaresco could show there notes, but we’re also talking about at least one of the 2001s, and nine years is surely not much of an age for wines that some describe as “tannic monsters”?

Another reflection is that the wines that didn’t come from the core region around Alba, i.e., in this case Valtellina and Gattinara, were good and good value for money, although they were a little lighter in style. They may often be considered to be “budget Nebbiolos” to be drunk young (unless they are ignored), but these two 2001s showed that such wines can also benefit from cellaring and acquire quite pleasant aromas of maturity. Since 2001 is a very god vintage in Italy, this conclusion may not be valid for any vintage, but there seems to be little reason to ignore these more northerly Nebbiolo vineyards just because their names don’t start with a “B”.

The CAV profile B. H. thereafter served us an extra white wine blind. This wine was light yellow colour, showed a nose of peach, some elderberry, citrus, sweetish notes with some dried berries, some smoke, perhaps some oak? On the palate more or less dry, but with some impression of sweetness (≈ feinherb, using German terms), a little more than medium bodied, fruity with peach, slightly alcoholic, medium acidity, slight bitterness, perhaps some oak? 87-88 p? Difficult to nail down, slightly contradictory profile. The nose could indicate a sweet Sauvignon Blanc, but the palate isn’t directly sweet. The aromas could also be a fruity but somewhat “unperfumed” Riesling, in the style of e.g. some Austrian wines, but the slight oak notes and bitterness speaks against, and I would have expected some honeyed notes if the rest of the aromas were as sweetish. Perhaps some odd white wine from Piemonte? After some unstructured proposals from us we were asked to react by show of hands to several proposals from B. H., who by the way is German. The question “is the wine dry or sweet?” divided the audience into two approximately equal parts. I stayed neutral in that vote since I thought it was at “feinherb”/off-dry level. I said no to the question “could it be a German Riesling?”, and yes to the questions “could it be a Riesling?” and “could it be a Sauvignon Blanc?”. It turned out to be a dry and unoaked German Riesling, from Weingut Schauß in Nahe. a Monzinger Frühlingsplätzchen Spätlese trocken 2007 (with some additional name starting with U… and 12,5% alcohol) that apparently only had costed € 8,xx. Very good value, with a lot of power and concentration for the price, but in my mind a little atypical and not quite showing the elegance I expect from a Riesling from that latitude. In this case, B. H. had included it to give us something that would be a difficult guess, but also because it was a good value and to show that you actually can serve dry white wines after tough red ones. A good finale to a very interesting tasting.

The Swedish version of this post can be found here.

This entry was posted in CAV, Nahe, Nebbiolo, Piedmont, Riesling. Bookmark the permalink.

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