June 16, 2006

Good, cheap nebbiolo

Lately I’ve been on a nebbiolo kick, and knowing my budget, it better be good and cheap. Which is a tall order for nebbiolo. Like pinot noir, nebbiolo is a tempermental grape that in the lesser spots and with lax farming tends to produce a lightly flavored, tart wine. Not awful wine, but not always very good, even with dinner.

But there are some little gems out there, some commonly available, others – like most good values – quite limited.

I’ve mentioned the Langhe Nebbiolo from Produttori du Barbaresco, which everybody mentions. It’s good, traditional nebbiolo with pretty fragrance though often lacking intensity if not tannin. This is wine for food and, even then, this isn’t easy, cozy wine. At $14 locally it’s a bargain in real Piemontese wine, if that’s your thing.

Then there’s the off vintage closeout, a whole ‘nother kettle of bargain. (I should write something about the major categories of wine values and which are the best...but that’s another day.)

I subscribe to the theory that good producers make good wine in most years. There are exceptions to every rule, and 2002 in Piemonte was apparently the most challenging harvest in a generation. Still, I’ve tried a few wines from the vintage and been impressed at what’s available at the low end.

Case in point – the 2002 Ugo Equio Langhe Nebbiolo. For $12 with discount, this wine is terrific. Apparently it’s declassified Barbaresco, probably blended with what lower end wine they could salvage from the rainy harvest. And it’s really quite good for the money.

It has a rich red color with a slightly orange rim, which is typcial for nebbiolo. It’s fragrant with classic nebiolo aromas of tar and flowers, and some balsamic notes. More rich than the Produttori ever is, but not modern and generic smelling. Then comes the tannin.

The flavors are ripe and interesting, but the tannin is strong in this wine. Clearly this is something to drink with a meal, or even cellar a couple years – not longer, even the best “bad year” wines tend to mature early.

This wine is lower in acidity, which purists won’t like. And it’s not Barbaresco because it’s coarse, lacking the refinement and texture of great Barbaresco but not necessarily lacking the flavor.

And for $12 and change, it’s a steal.


g58 said...

Interesting post. I grabbed some relatively cheap Nebbiolo and I'm still not sure what to expect of it. From the 2002 vintage and from Lombardy of all places. The producer is Triacca and the name on the bottle is Sassella. I really only bought it because it seemed affordable for the variety but I'm glad to read here your favourable findings on cheap 2002 bottles. Those years where they declassify can often play out favourably.

Vincent Fritzsche said...

I have never had that wine, but hope you enjoy it. I haven't had much from Lombardy, but there are apparently good wines to be had. Yet another region to learn about...