Two Sides to Every Tasting: Nebbiolo Prima 2010

Nebbiolo Prima, the reconstituted annual anteprima event formerly known as the Alba Wines Exhibition, is easily one of the most engaging Italian wine tastings that I’ve attended. It’s also certainly the most gruesome: four days, 75-85 new nebbiolo wines each day, and only three or so hours in a single sitting to taste them all. Still, it’s a fantastic opportunity to taste most of the new releases from the following appellations: Roero, Barbaresco and Barolo. And as an invited (and hosted*) journalist, I got to taste everything blind, broken out by vintage and commune.

I’m still typing up my notes, so it’s a little premature to comment on individual wines. Actually, typed notes or no, I think it’s impossible to offer accurate impressions of the 330 or so wines tasted at Nebbiolo Prima. To be sure, I had some favorites — wines that, to me at least, gave a balanced impression of how nebbiolo performs in a particular zone, whether the Roero, Nieve, or Castiglione Falletto.

Large, comprehensive tastings like Nebbiolo Prima, however, do have their advantages, namely providing an opportunity to play generalist and look for underlying trends or profiles within communes and, most importantly, within the vintage.

So speaking generally, I came away from this tasting uninspired by many of the ’07s from the Roero (a region that I tend to like under normal circumstances) and frustrated by the bulk (literally and figuratively, but not all) of ’07 Barbarescos, especially those from Treiso which, marked as they were by jammy tannins and high alcohols, didn’t seem to handle the warm, dry conditions of 2007.

(Above: Two sides to every tasting, and every rental car. I had rented a new – and adorable – Fiat 500 to make getting around much easier. Unfortunately a tight alleyway and an obscured bench in the medieval town of Serralunga decided to make things a little more difficult. Thankfully, a quick thinking winemaker reattached the bumper with tape.)

Barolo 2006 was a different matter. And at least to judge from my experiences during both Nebbiolo Prima and during visits with several producers both before, during and after the event, 2006 is looking like it will be a very good, possibly classic, vintage for Barolo, especially among producers in Castiglione Falletto, Barolo/Novello, Monforte, Serralunga and Verduno. La Morra was the odd man out here, with too many wines that felt pushed in the cellar, whether through overworked tannins or excessive oak flavors.

Which brings up another point about 2006, and perhaps why I think this vintage shows real promise for Barolo: it’s a tough year to hide behind. In other words, it’s not a year in which warm, ideal ripening conditions can hide bad winemaking, nor is it a year in which the more obviously modern and international styles tended to show their best. If you dig brighter acidity, earthy, firm tannins and purity of expression over technique, then 2006 Barolo is your thing.

A few more posts, including some producer visits in Liguria and Valtellina in addition to Piedmont, to follow…

NB: I had the great pleasure of spending a good amount of time tasting (and eating) with David McDuff, who has also posted informed observations about Nebbiolo Prima. Definitely worth a visit.

*As noted before, but worth pointing out again, I was an invited journalist at Nebbiolo Prima, and have the organizers to thank for logistical support, airfare, some meals, etc. The rental car, in all its taped, bashed-up glory, was my own responsibility.


I guess one advantage to jet-lag is waking up early. At least when you want to be productive. Here it is, 6.30 am in New York and I don’t even have to be at work until 9.30. And for a prosecco tasting at that. So who’s got some breakfast/coffee place recommendations out here? None of that cappucino/latte shit either; those will only bring with them a nostalgic sadness for the real thing. Too much to bear in the morning. Drip, which we Americans seem to have returned to with a scientific ferocity, is where it’s at in the country. I’m sure there’s a happy medium to be found here, so, any thoughts New York readers? I need some caffeine, stat!

Meanwhile, the round of anteprima tastings I attended in Tuscany went rather well. Aside from growers from these regions presenting their latests commercial releases to gatherings of trade and press, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Italian organizational ability here stayed true to form, and while certain things for the most part were very precise (logos, for one), much of the day’s schedule was left open to interpretation. Once you actually knew where to be and at what time, the laid back nature of each event was quite pleasant.

The Chianti Classico Collection, Chianti Classico’s anteprima event, was held at the ex-Stazione Leopolda, an abandoned 19th century train station a the west end of Florence. Packed with events, artwork and tables of producers pouring their wines, the setting in a reclaimed industrial space had an air of Critical Wine about it. Unfortunately I never had the chance to ask the organizer if that was the case, or if she knew abut CW.


There were over 320 wines to taste at the Chianti Classico event, and this was organized in one of two ways. First, and this is what I preferred, there was an area set aside (like above) for focused tastings. Each table was divided into four stations consisting of glasses, a spit bucket, two bottles of water and a catalog of wines. You used the catalog to select the wines for tasting and then handed a list with their numbers to a sommelier who would then bring the glasses to you. Producers were present in the next room over to pour their wines directly, but that very quickly turning into a public tasting zoo. And while there were no Hawaiian shirts (these don’t leave the US apparently), I preferred the first method.


(Above: my work station before the onslaught)

It sounds like overkill but it actually worked. And as there were normale wines from 2006 and 2005 to work through, plus riservas from 2005, 2004 and even 2003, the service method allowed one to think unhurried through a tasting strategy. The tastings in Montepulciano and Montalcino later in the week followed this plan as well, though obviously with a focus on different vintages depending on DOCG rules for new releases. At Montepulciano, we tasted the 2005 Vino Nobile, selezione wines from 2004, 2003 and 2001, and the riservas from 2004 and 2003. Montalcino was dedicated to the 2006 vintage of Rosso (which I didn’t focus much on) and the awkward 2003 Brunellos.

While I found great wines in each region and from various vintages, I want to try not to generalize too much here. Chianti Classico is capable of wonderful wines that speak to its identity; some of these new releases, while good, seem to have lose sight of their origin. Maybe they’re just young and this is an odd time to taste them. Still, as I came away from the tasting, I couldn’t help but ask myself what does it mean to make Chianti Classico anymore?


(Above: I wouldn’t have minded a spin around the vineyards of Montepulciano in this early 70s Renault 4)

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was more confusing, although again, there were some delicious wines. This lovely DOCG has it all: rolling hills, generations of growers, a particularly regional clone of sangiovese, and an amazing medieval city standing watch over the vineyards. Unfortunately it’s sandwiched between Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino, meaning that’s it’s both often overlooked in favor of the the other regions, or tries unsuccessfully to imitate them. The best wines here were, to my palate, those made as traditionally as possible in large Slavonian oak botte old enough to be in high school. I visited one such producer whose historical cellars are right in the center of Montalpulciano–right under it in fact, built a couple stories down into the city’s 11th and 12th century defensive walls. I couldn’t help but think that the best direction for this region might be found by looking inwards.


(Above: the view to the west from Montepulciano)

On to Montalcino. The 2003 Brunellos–which, I believe, are the last major releases of this vintage from any high-calibre table wine appellation–were tough to go though. Besides simply being to young to drink, many showed signs of suffering in the heat, producing either cooked, jammy fruit flavors or showing high alcohol levels. Some were downright awful. And then there were some good ones: from sites that grew at high elevations, from growers who engaged in hyper-rigorous fruit selection, or from those with older vines that have a knack for responding to what nature throws at them. It’s not a vintage to write off, but I’d taste a few of them first before committing to a bigger purchase. As for the great stylistic debate between ‘tradtional’ and ‘modern’ wines, the 2003 vintage, to me at least, seems to amplify those differences, so if that means something to you, then you know what I’m talking about. And based on a few cantina visits I made, there’s much to look forward to in the 2004s.


(Above: sunrise in Montalcino with the moon still lingering around)

And now, about that coffee…


Leaving today for Italy and unknown blogging capabilities, although I’ll try to update as best I can…

This trip takes me to Tuscany for the Anteprima tastings put on by the various growers’ organizations behind Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino. And of course all the cinghiale I can eat!