The whole point of wines labeled “Langhe Nebbiolo” is to offer an earlier-drinking but otherwise evocative snapshot of a world-class terroir (the Langhe, home to Barolo and Barbaresco) and grape variety. Barolo and Barbaresco wines are designed to be powerful, and even after they’re aged a few years in barrel and bottle before release (as required by law), they can be forbidding as young wines. Langhe Nebbiolo is meant to be the much-more affordable, and approachable, alternative.
It is typically released the year after the vintage year, which means considerably less oak influence in comparison to Barolo/Barbaresco. And yet, it’s important to remember that this is Nebbiolo: If you are looking for a light, fruity, soft-shouldered quaffer, this isn’t your wine. Even in its ‘lightest’ (and least expensive) incarnations, as in the case of today’s 2014 from Bovio, Nebbiolo can’t help but be a little serious. There’s always going to be loads of mineral savor alongside the fruit. There’s always going to be a little bristle of tannin that needs to soften with time open. And there’s always going to be much more pleasure to be derived from it if it’s served with food. This is not a ‘cocktail’ wine; it’s just priced like one. The expression “more than meets the eye” doesn’t begin to cover it!
This offer is a prime example of one of the cardinal rules of value-hunting: The greatest producers don’t skimp on their ‘lesser’ wines. Yes, there are some venerable names attached to mass-produced, uninspired wines; with Bovio, you get both venerable and artisanal, which is the key: with just 6.5 hectares of vineyards in total, Bovio’s quantities are minuscule by any standard. This Langhe Nebbiolo is the opposite of generic, even if its price doesn’t reflect that.
The Bovios were restaurateurs first and farmers second, but in the mid-1970s, Gianfranco Bovio started putting serious time and effort into revitalizing his family’s small collection of vineyards, the majority of which were (and are) in La Morra. Their first commercial vintage was 1976, and their calling card has always been traditionally styled, high-toned Barolo wines from the “Rocchettevino,” “Arborina,” and “Gattera” vineyards—three of the best-known sites in the commune of La Morra. These days, the winery and vineyards are overseen by Gianfranco’s daughter, Alessandra, whose husband, Marco Boschiazzo, runs the Bovio ristorante. Alessandra continues to work with the famed winemaking consultant Beppe Caviola, who respects the family’s desire to make old-school wines aged in very large, used Slavonian oak vats known as botti.
Historically, the Bovios have crafted this Langhe Nebbiolo bottling with fruit from the Annunziata vineyard, but in 2014 there are also some Rocchettevino grapes in the mix (they did not produce a single-vineyard Barolo from Rocchettevino in ’14). The backbone, nevertheless, is old-vine Nebbiolo from a lower-lying section of Annunziata, which offers reliably ripe and less-tannic raw material than the upper slopes. The wine is vinified in stainless steel and aged a little under a year in large, used casks.
In the glass, it’s textbook Nebbiolo—a reflective, medium-garnet color moving to brick orange at the rim, with a heady, woodsy nose of dried strawberry, cranberry, blood orange peel, black tea, leather, warm spices, rose petals, and lots of underbrush. Medium-bodied and resolutely savory, with lots of crushed-rock minerality and a hint of iodine, this is no shrinking violet and should be treated accordingly: Decant it at least 30 minutes before serving in large Burgundy stems and keep a careful eye on the service temperature. This wine at 60-65 degrees, like many heartier styles of red wine, is immeasurably better than it is at 70-75 (which, by the way, is what most “room temperature” is). Although the alcohol content here is modest by Nebbiolo standards, the cooler temperature magically mitigates the zing of alcohol/acidity and allows the wine’s myriad complexities to shine through. As for food, this wine is best served by something rich, maybe a little gamey, and with more than a hint of grill char. If you can get your hands on some quail or squab, prepare it simply (as in the attached) and, if eating outside, keep an ice bucket at the ready in case the wine needs a ‘correction.’ Most importantly—enjoy!
Large Slavonian Oak 'Botti'
Limestone & Clay