Not-for-Profit, Award-Winning Community News and Views for Windham County, Vermont • Since 2006
Food and Drink / Column

Insisting upon itself

The nebbiolo grape refuses to conform, producing a challenging varietal for wine makers and wine drinkers alike

Copy Chief Abe Loomis’s education in wine began at the Big Y Liquor Supermarket in Northampton, Mass., picked up speed at Astor Wines in Manhattan, and continues in western Massachusetts, southern Vermont, and occasional expeditions to vineyards farther afield.

BRATTLEBORO—The meek may inherit the earth, but it is the patient who will see the glory of the wines of Piedmont.

Set into the Langhe foothills of northwestern Italy, the treasures of this region, Barolo and Barbaresco, are guarded by the glittering watchtowers of the alps and by another gatekeeper: time.

Nebbiolo is a reticent grape, with an unusually long growing season, and its suppleness and generosity emerge only gradually. Uncorked too soon, the wines it makes will show a tannic edge that can feel harsh. Even if you wait, you may find these wines austere.

But they do soften eventually, and at their best achieve a bewitching balance of elegance and power.

Paired with the right foods — which can range from lamb with chimichurri (nebbiolo is a high-acid grape) to braised beef (a classic pairing) to a soft, pungent cheese such as Taleggio that will smooth the sharp, tarry, tannic angles and complement the grape’s delicate aromas of violets and earth and rose petals — they can be transcendent.

* * *

A recent find, the Negro Lorenzo “San Francesco” Roero Riserva 2009, is one of these. True to its varietal roots, it has some structural tight-fistedness. But it also has a flash of ripe fruit; along with the ink and ash comes a blast of fresh black cherry.

In the universe of northern Italian nebbiolos — a universe that is often spartan in its flavor profile — this is a relatively ripe wine.

Still, it is far from “Parkerized” (a term sometimes used to characterize the widespread softening of European wines attributed by many to the extraordinary influence of wine critic Robert Parker and his American palate). Like many nebbiolos, this is a demanding wine, a wine with teeth.

* * *

The word piedmont literally means “foot of the mountain,” and Piedmont is among Italy’s coldest regions, with a yearly climate comparable to that of much of central Europe.

The nebbiolo grape is widely thought to take its name from the Italian word nebbia, meaning mist or haze, and the slow-ripening grape benefits from the autumn fog that blankets the Langhe valley and reaches into the hills, where it cools the rolling vineyards and imparts an unyielding acidity to the grapes that grow there.

There may also be some magic in that mist, as nebbiolo has yet to be cultivated with consistent success anywhere else in the world.

The grape has proved more challenging to adopt away from its home region even than Burgundy’s finicky pinot noir, to which it is often compared and to which it is similar in weight and color.

But this is part of its charm. Born of restless vines that demand frequent pruning to focus their creative energies on the grapes they bear, nebbiolo can be a challenging varietal for wine makers and wine drinkers alike.

It speaks stubbornly, as fewer and fewer things seem to do, of a particular place in the world. And it has not yet been coaxed into relinquishing or tempering its nature — as many other grapes have — to enter the mainstream.

Small wonder, then, that it often carries an edge. And a small price to pay for the experience of its originality.

What do you think? Leave us a comment

Editor’s note: Our terms of service require you to use your real names. We will remove anonymous or pseudonymous comments that come to our attention. We rely on our readers’ personal integrity to stand behind what they say; please do not write anything to someone that you wouldn’t say to his or her face without your needing to wear a ski mask while saying it. Thanks for doing your part to make your responses forceful, thoughtful, provocative, and civil. We also consider your comments for the letters column in the print newspaper.

Add Comment

* Required information
1000
Enter the last letter of the word satellite.
Captcha Image
Powered by Commentics

Comments (6)

Sort By
Topic: Page One
5/5 (2)
1 2 > Last
Gravatar
New
Amelia Stone
Gravatar
1
0
0
Aug 2018
Amelia Stone (E Dummerston, Vermont, US) says...

Kudos to the Boston Globe for encouraging newspapers across the country to remind us all of the value of a free press, and to the Commons for hearing that call. The NYTimes article, A Free Press Needs You, concludes with the following: \"If you haven’t already, please subscribe to your local papers. Praise them when you think they’ve done a good job and criticize them when you think they could do better. We’re all in this together.\" Today I plan to subscribe.

Gravatar
New
Bev Matias
Gravatar
1
1
0
Aug 2018
Bev Matias (Connecticut, US) says...

Thank you for your efforts to disseminate the news of the day and resist the hate-filled and deceitful rhetoric of this administration. I cannot believe, still, in this country that it is necessary for the press and regular citizens to defend themselves. Only one quarter or less of the citizens believe a word he says yet you are forced to defend yourselves because his speech is so incediary. The press is now officially our last line of defense.

Gravatar
New
Janet
Gravatar
1
1
0
Aug 2018
Janet (Venice, Florida, US) says...

You nailed it perfectly.

Gravatar
New
banar Singleton
Gravatar
1
2
0
Aug 2018
Most Likes
banar Singleton (Michigan, US) says...

Spot on...thank you for challenging those who would blanketly dismiss your opinion/facts to do their own \"facts checking\". Unfortunately I fear many if not most of these sheep will be lead to slaughter thinking that they are going to the trough.

Gravatar
New
Scott
Gravatar
1
0
1
Aug 2018
Scott says...

Foreign hand on the scale isn’t an unbiased conclusion. You argument might be more forceful without highlighting this issue.

Page 1 of 2
1 2 > Last
 
 

Originally published in The Commons issue #462 (Wednesday, June 6, 2018). This story appeared on page B2.

Related stories

More by Abe Loomis