A New Year’s Revelation: Nebbiolo is My New BFF

6 Jan

        While the typical theme of New Year’s Eve is “should auld acquaintance be forgot and never thought upon” –  a call to remember long standing friendships, my New Year’s Eve 2011 was, instead, an introduction to a wonderful new friend: Nebbiolo.  Our tradition for New Year’s Eve is to gather with extended family, usually at our East Texas ranch, for a multicourse meal, pleasant company, a game or two and weather permitting, fireworks. This year, two of our three kids were able to join us, as were both my Mom and my sister, Kim, and her family.  As my brother-in-law, Matt, is my buddy in our ISG Fundamentals of Wine class, I decided to flip-flop my usual priorities and choose the wines first and design a menu that would complement them well.

        We tasted a variety of French wines when we were all last together at Thanksgiving.  So I decided to branch out and explore an Italian grape that I don’t have a lot of experience with, Nebbiolo.  Our winery is in Tuscany and we drink a good bit of Tuscan wine: Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Super Tuscans.  I’ve tried Barolo, and we have a few in our cellar, but for all intents and purposes, I’m a Nebbiolo ingénue, in experience, if not by age.  Since we covered Italian wines in our class, I’ve been eager to become better acquainted with this noble grape.

        I went to my favorite neighorhood wine shop, which carries a broad selection of serious wine, intending to pick up 2 different bottles of Barolo to pair with our entrée, osso bucco.  I learned in my sommelier class that Barolo absolutely needs time in the bottle to soften its tannins.  The Barolos on the shelf were young, most were 2007s, and I wasn’t comfortable choosing them for immediate consumption.  The only other choices they had were locked inside the same display case as the Chateau Latour, and the price point, while not in the range of Latour, was higher than I generally spend .  I ultimately decided to splurge (after all, it was a special occasion) on a single bottle of the 2001 Gran Bussia Barolo and to round out the tasting experience with a close cousin, a Barbaresco, that I had learned was lighter and more approachable in youth.  The sommelier at the store recommended the 2005 Tenute Cisa Asinari Dei Marchesi Di Gresy Martinenga.

        I opened both bottles a couple of hours before I served the main course and decanted them.  Matt and I put our wines class heads together and decided that we should serve the younger, lighter Barbaresco first, and follow it with the Barolo.

        The Barbaresco was lovely.  Ruby, with bright flavors of sour cherry and subtle spices, it was round in the mouth, pleasant and easy to sip, without any trace of overbearing tannin.  When we had drained the Barbaresco, we poured the much anticipated Barolo.  It was truly sublime and reflected the same sour cherry character, but the Barolo was so much more complex.  The sour cherry was layered with aromas and flavors of leather, tar and flowers and was velvety on the palate.

        I simply loved both wines.  We ultimately regretted our failure to serve the Barbaresco before we began the main course.  We were nigh finished with our osso bucco before we poured the Gran Bussia, and all agreed that it would have been even better with food.  By comparison, we felt as though the Barbaresco would have been equally delicious, with its fresh ripe fruit and easy feel in the mouth, with or without food.

        I did some research on the Gran Bussia and learned that it comes from a historic Piedmont estate, Aldo Conterno.  It’s a blend of their single vineyards and is only produced in exceptional years.  Unlike many Riserva wines, it is not designed to be the most powerful expression of the estate, but rather the most elegant.  We certainly experienced that elegance in the glass.

        Bottom line, I’m highly motivated to add more Barolo and Barbaresco to our cellar, to have and enjoy through the coming decades.  I’ve definitely made a new BFF, and what a great way to welcome 2012!

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