Summertime Nebbiolo is a subtly different title to the other one Chris and I toyed with; Nebbiolo in Summer? The latter almost asks if we should forgo on Nebbiolo
And mulling over (to misuse a rather more wintery term) the way to talk about Nebb at this time of year, I realised I was provided with inspiration not once but twice recently during the hottest of days of this festive period.
The conventional wisdom or just instinct might be that we shelve Nebbiolo for the moment until the really hot weather passes, that it’s just too tough and tannic – too red – to be appropriate? Even the food we tend to at this time of year isn’t right?
Well no, it seems there’s plenty of room for our beloved Nebb at this time of year! A Barbaresco had on Christmas Day (remember that stinker!) and a Nebbiolo with some age and from the vicinity of Barbaresco as well, on a scorching and humid, Wednesday at a very under-airconditioned restaurant, went down well with a range of ages and expectations, both times.
So here are some suggestions and proven faves;
Oz makers have recognised reasonably quickly that the way to our hearts (and onto our tables) is via a) lighter, softer and no more than mid-weight versions of Nebbiolo, and b) by being pocket-friendly – always a good idea. Longview, with perhaps the longest-established Nebb plantings here lead the game with wines fighting in different weight divisions; their quite well known Longview Nebbiolo Rosato, formerly known as ‘Boatshed’ is fresh and crackling, but with that little bit of grip/savoury edge as hinted by the slight tinge of orange colour. Weightier and with more colour and flesh, but still easy-drinking is the first release of Longview ‘Fresco’ Nebbiolo, described as a “vino novella”. You get enough lightness, enough redness and enough Nebb-ness (yes, it’s a word…now). Another delicious and weightier soft red comes from the First Drop lads, who put Nebbiolo together with some complimentary Barbera in 'The Big Blind' . It’s a well thought-through idea. Make ‘em work together…
Light, but intense, with Barbaresco-like strawberry and orange Nebbiolo characters (and real weight and structure) is the Henschke ‘Rose Grower’ Nebbiolo a very limited release from their little Eden Valley Nebb patch. Quite exciting wine. Has rose characteristics too, of course. But the main thing is, it’s a red that you could trot out on pretty well the hottest day. Even 40 minutes in the fridge wont make the tannins too furry, as happens with chilled-down Cabernet for example.
From closer to Barolo-land itself, Piedmont and the Valtellina in far north Lombardy, provide a number of these lighter styles, most of which still have their essential Nebbiolo personalities – of structure, real mouth zip, complexities and fascinating things going on with the aromatics, while ultimately remaining good food wines. In fact the essential style of Valtellina’s Nebbiolo (where it’s mostly still called Chiavennasca) is a relative plush, softness on the finish. This is making the whole category pretty popular year-round. A light and easy version, but still a juicy red for this weather is the Sandro Fay Valtellina Superiore ‘Carteria’ mentioned here before, while the same maker’s entry-level Valtellina Rosso is lighter again, but still a ‘red’, if you know what I mean.
In Nebbiolo’s heartland of the Langhe (‘Barolo-land’) there are more possibilities for warmer weather Nebb drinking than ever before. At their lightest, wines like the delicious, radiant Trediberri Langhe Rosato (20% Barbera) and Brezza’s Langhe Nebbiolo (without quite being rose) maintain all those desirable characters (grip, zip, flesh and aromatics) but will easily partner summer foods and settings; one of these Hawaiian Poke fish salads becoming all the rage, works wonderfully well, as would a tuna steak with salsa, any barby offering, or anything with a bit of fire.
The weightier, shall we call them conventional Langhe Nebbiolo’s, including Nebbiolo d’Alba and Barbaresco – not sure I can quite aim us at Barolo itself – also provide surprisingly summer-friendly wines. The Brezza Nebbiolo d’Alba ‘Santa Rosalia’ would perform in mid-winter, just as easily as now, and wines like Bera’s Langhe Nebbiolo 'Alladio’, Umberto Fiore Nebbio d’Alba, and the big, complex but quite soft Giribaldi Nebbiolo d’Alba ‘Conca d’Oro’ would be quite at ease on our tables, during more lunch or dinner occasions than not, over the summer and early autumn period. In fact the two I called ‘inspirational’, Nebbiolo's performing just fine on the hottest of days recently, were an aged Bera (a 2009 in magnum) and a Barale Barbaresco ‘Serraboella’, a serious Nebb of Cru level by any standards. Both with a little time en ‘fridge, as it were, were gorgeous. Inspirational!