With the exception of the urbanised sprawl of Turin, Piedmont is a resolutely rural region. This breathtakingly beautiful part of north-western Italy, nestled between the Italian Alps and the Ligurian coast, is as famous for its hazelnuts and truffles as it is for its wines, the most iconic of which come from the DOCG zones of Barolo and Barbaresco.
If you had to draw up a list of wines that every wine buff must try at least once in their lives, wines from one or the other of these appellations (or both), would almost certainly be included among most people’s top ten. Based on the Nebbiolo grape, whose name is thought by some to be derived from the word nebbia, the mist that cloaks the hillsides in autumn when the grapes are harvested, these wines are richly perfumed and built for the long haul. The firm tannins that seem to incarcerate the fruit during the wine’s youth dictate lengthy cellaring before revealing a layered palate full of tar, roses and earthy truffles.
Needless to say, Barolos and Barbarescos don’t come cheap: it’s rare to find a bottle under £25, and those from named vineyards and highly rated producers often top the £100 mark.
The price fetched by these wines is exacerbated by the fact that Nebbiolo is a fickle grape, and attempts to grow it outside of its home region have, largely, been unsuccessful. Luckily for those who’ve succumbed to Nebbiolo’s heady charms, the grape has found a champion in David Berry Green, 8th-generation scion of the Berry Bros & Rudd dynasty (left).
Berry Green, who relocated to Piedmont a couple of years ago to facilitate his job as buyer of the company’s Italian wines, has been working hard to generate interest in Piedmont’s other Nebbiolos, those from Alba and the wider region of the Langhe. These wines, which are often made from grapes grown outside of the demarcated DOCG zones or from young vines, are not only a relative bargain (most of them are priced from £15 upwards), they’re also fresher, lighter and made in such a way that they’re at their peak within two or three years of harvest.
Berry Green recently organised a generous tasting of 52 of these wines (not all of them, by any means, are available from BBR) at the splendid Castello in the hilltop village of Serralunga d’Alba. While some of the wines were marred by heavy-handed oaking and/or extraction, the great majority of them displayed plenty of charm and character.
Bruno Giacosa, Nebbiolo d’Alba, Neive 2009
Plenty of nods to tradition in in this crisp, focused wine. There’s no discernible oak, and the firm, ripe tannins are wrapped around a palate perfumed with dried roses and liquorice. Very long. 93 points.
Renato Ratti, Nebbiolo d’Alba, La Morra, 2009
An attractive nose with smoky cherry fruit. Approachable, supple tannins and a bit of new oak. Nicely balanced. 88 points.
Produttori del Barbaresco, Langhe Nebbiolo, Barbaresco, 2009
Slightly volatile nose, but the palate is bright and fresh. Notes of dried roses and cherries with a tarry finish. Ripe, supple. 89 points.
Marcarini, Langhe Nebbiolo, La Morra, 2009
Heady nose of plums and earthy, smoky notes. Pure fruit core, fresh and direct. Taut tannins will take a bit of time to relax, but has potential. 92 points.
Elio Altare, Langhe Nebbiolo, La Morra, 2009
Intense nose of dried fruit and flowers. A powerful, concentrated palate full of ripe fruit, supported by a hint of oak spice and fleshy tannins. Long, sweet, cherry-tinged finish. 90 points.
Cantina Bartolo Mascarello, Langhe Nebbiolo, Barolo, 2009
Pretty red fruit on a palate that shows concentration. Ripe, almost gentle tannins. Pretty wine. 88 points.
Ferdinando Principiano, Langhe Nebbiolo, Monforte d’Alba, 2009
Very perfumed, floral wine, with some delicate strawberry fruit on the palate. Brisk acidity and supple tannins give it the necessary support. 89 points.
Edoardo Sobrino, Nebbiolo d’Alba, Diano d’Alba, 2008
Tomato leaf, red cherries and dried roses. Linear, pure, taut and precise. Quite light, but graceful. 89 points.
Cascina Luisin, Langhe Nebbiolo, Barbaresco, 2008
Silky, elegant texture. Complex, with layers of concentrated earthy truffles, dried fruit and a hint of fresh rose petals. Still firm and powerful. Long, perfumed. 94 points.
Piero Busso, Langhe Nebbiolo, Neive, 2009
An austere wine with some minerality to go with the cherry and tar notes. Both power and grace on the long finish. 92 points.
Gigi Bianco, Langhe Nebbiolo, Barbaresco, 2008
The wine initially appears delicate, but it builds in intensity in the mouth, revealing strawberry and rose notes draped around fine-boned tannins. 92 points.
Cascina Fontana, Langhe Nebbiolo, Perno, 2008
A very pretty, floral wine with notes of violets, roses and cherries. Lively and lifted, with supple tannins and a perfumed finish. 93 points.
Guiseppe Mascarello, Langhe Nebbiolo, Monchiero, 2008
A marmite wine that some will hate, while others love the concentrated, smoky palate. A wine of power and intensity. 88 points.
Giacomo Contenrno, Langhe Nebbiolo, Serralunga d’Alba, 2008
Firm tannins make the wine appear austere on first tasting, but reveals plenty of heady, perfumed fruit and a streak of minerality on opening up. 89 points.
Massolino, Langhe Nebbiolo, Serralunga d’Alba, 2008
Truffles on those nose. Powerful, concentrated palate with good primary fruit. layered, elegant. Supple tannins. Very long. 91 points.
Brovia, Nebbiolo d’Alba, Castiglionne Falletto, 2007
A silky, elegant, seductive wine that’s really hit its straps now. Earthy, gamey notes. Intense, complex. 90 points.
Luciano Sandrone, Nebbiolo d’Alba, Barolo, 2007
A very traditional style of Nebbiolo with chewy tannins initially obscuring the concentrated cherry, smoky fruit. Power, rich and long. 94 points.
Eugenio Bocchino, Nebbiolo d’Alba, La Morra, 2007
Quite developed, with notes of truffles and game, dried fruit and liquorice. Complex and fine boned, with very fresh acidity. Linear and long. 90 points.
Vietti, Langhe Nebbiolo Perbacco, Castiglione Falletto, 2007
Served in double magnum, this was a earthy, tight wine with dark plums and more than a hint of cocoa-tinged new oak. Powerful, youthful and intense. Quite showy. 89 points.