Nebbiolo and Me – Not Love at First Sight

Once upon a time, I thought that Nebbiolo was the Drano® of wine. Anything that made my salivary glands erupt like Vesuvius, my tongue feel like it had been hit with a mallet, and my teeth feel like the enamel was sloughing off, couldn’t possibly be good, right? Well, not so fast. There’s a “who knew” on the horizon.

Nebbiolo has always been Italy’s wine. No matter what, it seemed as if the grape wanted to stay firmly attached to Piedmont’s hind teat and refuse to be weaned into the new world. Frankly, some of the early efforts with the grape were pretty bad, in that they didn’t taste anything like the wine from Italy. But instead of being good wines, they had a decided “meh” quality about them. They were uninteresting and seemed to verify my opinion that it was a ridiculously overrated grape.

Bunches of Nebbiolo grapes

I don’t know what happened about a decade or so ago, but the “can’t grow in the New World” paradigm began to change. For what it’s worth, I changed, too. I had the opportunity to do a Nebbiolo tasting which included Barolo (a Gaja no less!), a Barbaresco, and a couple of others from northern Italy. And to confuse things, a Brunello was thrown in for good measure, just to stir the pot a bit.

That evening, I learned an important lesson. That was the difference between a Nebbiolo that was badly made/unripe/unready/just plain bad and one that was truly delicious, could not be overrated.  I was an instant fan, despite losing all feeling in my mouth.

Since then, I’ve been on the lookout for good Nebbiolos and made the happy discovery that they were available from many places in Italy, often under a different name. Spanna, for instance. What!? That’s Nebbiolo too!?

Even better, Nebbiolos began to bloom in the New World. I understand that it’s being grown successfully in New Zealand and Argentina, but I know it’s being grown beautifully in California. As you will see later, two of the five Nebbiolos were from California and were hits.

Nebbiolo is a very seductive wine. It looks delicate; it’s transparent, with lovely garnet hues faintly touched with violet. It is virtually identical to cool-climate Pinots and on first glance, can easily be mistaken for it.

The nose, however, is the first sign that this ain’t no Pinot! The prototypical Piedmont Nebbiolo has hints of rose petals, tar, violets, leather, and truffles, with the palate reflecting the same. It has high acidity, and as mentioned before, tannins determined to wage guerilla warfare against your tongue.

Interestingly, the features that turned me off of the wine when I was a neophyte are the same ones that have me singing their praises and for the reason you’d expect.

Nebbiolo is ethereal with food.

I figured that would be the case when I hosted some friends at Casa Wineaux, and the wine of the evening was Nebbiolo. I had already decided that Barolo and Barbaresco were going to be absent. That meant that every Nebbiolo originated from outside of those sacred areas, and they were all good.

Okay, I have to admit that the primary reason is because I have a $90+ bottle of Barolo that I’m saving to share with The Wineaux Guy™ over a romantic dinner. I love my friends, but…

The Wines

Here’s the list!

First, there was the “welcome” wine. It was 100% Nebbiolo Rosé, 2012 Larmes du Paradis Vallée d’Aoste. As you may expect, it’s both fruity and dry, with great acidity and just a hint of the famous Nebbiolo tannin structure.

The Nebbiolos which were tasted blind were:

2004 Valtellina Superiore Sassella Balgera

2010 Adelaida Nebbiolo (yes, the one from Paso Robles!)

2009 Jeremy Wine Company Nebbiolo (from Lodi!)

2010 Angelin Negro Nebbiolo (from Langhe doc)

2012 Coste Della Sesia DOC Spanna (90% Nebbiolo, 10% Vespolina)

And the Ringer:

2012 La Rasina Brunello di Montalcino

There was no wine of the evening because they were all really good, although surprisingly, the Adelaida seemed to have a bit of an edge!

The Courses

The unfortunate thing is that I have no photos of the dinner, but I can share with you what I made. Everything was made from scratch, so I was not exactly focused on taking photos and didn’t think about it until dinner was over! Oy!

The first course was a Caprese salad made with different sizes of heirloom tomatoes and topped with Burrata, basil fresh from my small herb garden, Central California extra virgin olive oil, and guests chose from a variety of exotic salts, which included Murray River salt, Swedish black salt, Halon Mon, and others.

The second course was Pasta Primavera with homemade saffron infused fettuccine, a variety of fresh organic vegetables, olive oil, and instead of the usual Parmesan, I used Pecorino Romano.

The third course was a 48-hour Sous Vide chuck roast, served medium rare with a merlot sauce. The seasoning rub was Herbes du Provence finely ground with some kosher salt, vacuum sealed and placed in the water bath for 48 hours at 133ºF. The result was rich, succulent, and butter-tender medium-rare chuck roast. That is not a typo.

The dessert was Tiramisu, which I made with homemade lady fingers (hard to find this time of year, and they’re easy to make), bourbon in place of the usual rum, and instead of cocoa powder as the final topping, I used a Microplane to shred 71% chocolate over the top.

I understand that everything was absolutely delicious. I have to take their word for it because everything was gone by the time I was ready to eat! I consider that the highest compliment!

After everyone had left, I was able to nibble on a bit of the chuck roast and about a tablespoon of the Tiramisu that I had squirreled away. They were delicious with the leftover wine. I can’t wait to do it again!

(Note to self: next time make more, serve self first!)


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