SommSelect Editorial Director David Lynch returns with a stunning Nebbiolo value from the famed Barolo region of Piedmont:
Young Barolo, like young red Burgundy, can be magical. But, more often than not (and more often than with red Burgundy), young Barolo is brawny and a little forbidding. This is not a ‘pop and pour’ kind of wine, even in ultra-ripe vintages like 2015 (the Barolos from which have yet to be released). When we tasted today’s wine, blind, in our offices, we were convinced it was either a Barolo or a Barbaresco, leaning toward the latter because of its accessibility. When we learned that it was a relatively “humble” Nebbiolo d’Alba—and an inexpensive one at that—the die was cast. Offering this 2015 was, for me, perhaps the biggest no-brainer of the year so far: It walks like a Barolo, talks like a Barolo, but doesn’t cost like one. The Bruna Grimaldi estate, based in the Barolo village of Grinzane Cavour and sourcing the fruit for this bottling from neighboring Diano d’Alba, made the absolute most out of what is clearly a great vintage. I can’t wait to try their ’15 Barolos when they’re released next year, but in the meantime, I’m more than content to drink this extremely classy “little brother.” That, of course, is the whole point of the Nebbiolo d’Alba classification, but still—this one goes well above and beyond.
Wines labeled as Nebbiolo d’Alba, or, alternately, Langhe Nebbiolo, are earlier, easier-drinking expressions of this famously tannic variety. Barolo wines are aged a minimum of 38 months and are released on January 1 of the year four years after the vintage year; Nebbiolo d’Alba, by contrast, is only aged a year before release. Today’s wine from Grimaldi is aged between 12 and 15 months in 500- and 700-liter French oak tonneaux barrels, then six months in bottle before release. Their Barolo wines, meanwhile, spend at least two years in barrel and sometimes more.
Grapes destined for Barolo must have the structure to stand up to that aging regimen, but that aging regimen also adds to the structure, in the form of tannins extracted from the wood staves in the barrel. So, when you have a powerful grape to begin with, then age it for a while in wood, chances are it’s going to be a little challenging to drink when first released.
Although the Grimaldi family’s viticultural roots in Grinzane Cavour go back generations, Bruna Grimaldi and her husband, Franco Fiorino, only began commercializing their wines in the late-1990s. They’ve since been joined by their son, Simone, who’s fresh out of the enology school in nearby Alba and adding his youthful energy to the 14-hectare property, which has been moving towards organic farming in recent years. The family’s vineyards, which include pieces of several well-respected Barolo “crus,” are scattered across the villages of Grinzane Cavour, Serralunga d’Alba, Roddi, and Diano d’Alba. As mentioned above, grapes for the Nebbiolo d’Alba “Briccola” come from an estate vineyard in Diano d’Alba first planted in 1940 (many Nebbiolo d’Alba/Langhe Nebbiolo bottlings are from younger-vine fruit, so this is a noteworthy point of distinction for this wine). Another distinction worth noting is that Nebbiolo d’Alba wines are from a more geographically specific area than Langhe Nebbiolo—only a handful of villages in northern Barolo and further north in Roero can use the designation, whereas Langhe Nebbiolo spans a much broader area.
Of the 11 villages that comprise the Barolo DOCG, Diano d’Alba (only a portion of which falls within the appellation boundaries) is situated just north of Serralunga, on the eastern side of the zone—where soils contain more sandstone mixed with limestone marl and wines tend to show more powerful structure. The 2015 “Briccola,” while certainly easier to drink than its Barolo brethren, doesn’t lack for power: In the glass it displays a medium garnet-red core moving to pink and orange at the rim, with a textbook Nebbiolo nose of dried black cherry, red currant, raspberry, blood orange peel, tobacco, tar, rose petals, leather…the full monty. Medium-bodied, with firm but well-integrated tannins, the wine’s structure and considerable length on the finish was one of the features that had us all guessing Barolo/Barbaresco in our tasting. This is not a ‘quaffer’: decant it about 30 minutes before serving in Burgundy stems at 60-65 degrees and pair it with something suitably woodsy. If you can get your hands on some black truffles (no truffle oil!), the attached recipe for fonduta is as classic as it gets. Salute! — David Lynch
500-700 Liter Tonneaux
Limestone Marl & Sandstone
Organic (Non Certified)