A WINEMAKER FORTUNATE ENOUGH to have a vineyard within a prestige appellation is entitled to the cachet the name conveys and earns a correspondingly high price for his wine. Another, whose property may be right next door but in different, more ordinary appellation, enjoys neither the cachet nor the higher price – despite the fact that he may use the same blend of grapes and vinify them in a similarly conscientious way. In making these distinctions the rulemakers aren’t off base. They’re only paying homage to what might be called winemaking’s founding principle: Place matters and all places are not created equal.
Savvy wine buyers know this, of course, but they know something more. While all places are not created equal, some are distinctly more equal than others. Producers of prestige wines often own plots of ground in lesser appellations. Thus, a winemaker renowned for his $80 Chateauneuf-du-Pape may also make a $20 Cotes-du-Rhone and a Burgundy house with grand cru property in Clos de Vougeot will likely also make simple village-level wines. While working-class vines can’t achieve the finesse or complexity of their elite counterparts the family resemblance alone can make them worth seeking out. When the resemblance is marked and the price right, you’ve got real value. Call it shopping one tier down.
Those interested in testing the theory should look at Piedmont – that region of northern Italy bisected by the Po where the delimited Barolo and Barbaresco districts represent the gold-standard for the region’s nebbiolo-based red wines. Many world-class producers there also make wines under Langhe Nebbiolo or Nebbiolo d’Alba designations which, while not approaching the top crus in quality, mimic the vaguely forest-y aromatics, penetrating sweet-savory fruit, and agreeably nappy textures that make the primo stuff so sought after.
Not gold, maybe, but with a glitter all their own.
Guidobono Langhe Nebbiolo 2009 Entry-level for the category; rather sweeter and less nuanced than others but in no way devoid of character. Agreeable cherry-like fruit with some texture and an earthy garnish. Around $12.
Dirupi “Ole’’ IGT Terrazze Retiche di Sondrio 2009 Valtellina, in the foothills of the Alps, is in Lombardy, but it wouldn’t be right to exclude this captivating little wine on a technicality. This is mountain wine, pale and showing less of that sweet fruit core you find in lower altitude nebbiolo, but firm and shapely and nicely mineral. Acidity pretty busy, too. Around $24.
Aldo Bianco Langhe Nebbiolo 2009 Lovely package of sweet, cherry-tinged nebbiolo fruit, nicely poised acidity, a silky feel and a complex of aromas and flavors so varietally and regionally typical you could teach from it. For an introduction to straight-ahead Barbaresco, start right here. Around $24.
Renato Ratti “Ochetti’’ Nebbiolo d’Alba 2008 Typical though rather high-toned aromas; solid core of vivid fruit; pleasingly nappy texture; nicely structured. At the price, a fine bundle of quality and value. Around $20.
Vietti Langhe Nebbiolo “Perbacco’’ 2008 Deep brownish-ruby hue; beguiling spruce, anise, and balsamic aromas; a somewhat bigger, more overtly modern nebbiolo expression with some hunky fruit and a chewy feel. Around $22.
Elio Grasso “Gavarini’’ Langhe Nebbiolo 2008 Fruit expression brightly emphatic; elements of forest and balsam add interest; clean, firmish acids; each element in balance and clearly articulated. Just awfully nice. Around $23.
Originally published in The Boston Globe on October 26, 2011
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