Friday, November 02, 2007

Barbera D'Alba, Nebbiolo D'Alba

The Italian town of Alba is located in the heart of Piedmont, one of Italy's most famous wine regions. Overshadowed by Barolo to the west and Barbaresco to the east, the wines of Alba don't receive the same level of attention. Sure we've all seen Dolcetto d'Alba, Barbera d'Alba, Nebbiolo d'Alba in the shops, but they are not top of mind for most wine drinkers. Notably, the Nebbiolo d'Alba is produced in vineyards adjacent to the Barolo zone, thereby presenting a potential source of reasonably priced Nebbiolo?

With guests over dinner and a roast beast in the oven, I decided it would be a neat opportunity tonight to compare, unblinded, two very different wines from Alba - same vintage, different grape. Tonight's Nebbiolo and Barbera are related only by geography so I would not have expected them to be comparable, but I tasted them side by side for "calibration", as Edward would say.

On my left was the 2003 Fontanafredda Marne Brune Nebbiolo D'Alba. A shiny, cherry red in the glass, it smelled of cough syrup and rubber (Cam described it as a warm pink school eraser), some blackberry and spearmint. Later in my INAO glass all I could discern was a very "industrial" nose. On the palate were powerful, harsh, rip-the-tastebuds-off-your-tongue tannins, lively acidity - structured, but not polished, with very little fruit. Now of course I should know better than to open Nebbiolo from Piedmont barely 4 years old - what else can I say? I am pretty sure this will improve with some cellar time, but I have little experience with generic Nebbiolos. My guests were kind enough to leave the rest of the bottle behind.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 14/20
Price: ~C$19 (LBCO)

On my right was the 2003 Sandrone Barbera D'Alba. Like stepping in from the harsh winter and warming up by the fire, this beautiful Barbera cheered the crowd after the cold Nebbiolo above. Deep cherry red in the glass, it showed pleasing notes of white flowers, blueberry jam, and vanilla, with some nice green pepper/vegetal notes and only a hint of fuel. Very dry, with fresh acidity and firm, supple tannins, this medium- to full-bodied barbera was very nicely made and very well balanced with a nice long finish. This modern-styled fruity (but not over the top) barbera was so silky smooth, it was happily gulped down by all.
cork. 13.5% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$32 (SAQ)

Overall, the biggest surprise for me was the Nebbiolo. I have had great Fontanafredda before (Barolo and Barbaresco), so what should I make of this? Even if it improves with age, at that price point I think drinkers are looking for something ready, or nearly ready to drink. One sip of that wine could turn those new to the grape off Nebbiolo forever. Anyway, if I ever find another bottle I will stick it away and see what happens in a few years...


Temporal said...

If you want to try a truly great and value Nebbiolo try one of these.

Mauro Veglio - Nebbiolo Langhe

Gianfranco Alessandria - Nebbiolo Langhe

Cavallotto/Bricco Boschis - Langhe Nebbiolo

I would recommend decanting at least 1/2 hour before drinking.

Joe said...

Hi Temporal. Thanks for the tips. None available locally at present, but I will look for those on my next trip to NYC. FYI - I have a bottle of Sandrone Valmaggiore and Giacosa Valmaggiore in my cellar - I will report on those another day.

Temporal said...

The Babera D'Alba from the above producers are very good also. Mauro Veglio produces a Barbera d'Alba Cascina Nuova (super Babera) and Alessandria does a Barbera d'Alba Vittoria which are worth seeking out also.

Joe said...

Thanks, Temporal, will keep an eye out for it.