I am not shy to admit that, until last April, my love affair with Nebbiolo, the grape responsible for the wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, was not on solid grounds. But, a meeting with ArPePe's Isabella Pelizzatti Perego at Vinitaly in Verona changed that forever...
Through a tasting of 9 of her wines, all made with 100% Nebbiolo, I was struck by their elegance and restraint, their purity, and finesse. In fact, everything about the feminine side of Nebbiolo I had so often heard about came alive in a magnificent way that I had never experienced before.
Before I describe the wines, I must also admit that I have a strong fascination with Valtellina as a wine region. Located in the north of Italy, between the lake of Como and Alto-Adige, almost at the border with Switzerland, the region is not only extraordinarily beautiful but unique in its features. The vineyards grow on steep slopes, in fact, so steep that most need to be terraced and the work can be so dangerous that it is often referred to as "heroic" viticulture. In fact, that Nebbiolo ripens at all can be something of a mystery. Or perhaps not. The sun here is so strong due to the purity of the air and the steepness of the hills that a specific sub-zone of the region is called inferno so hot the temperature can be at times in summer. It makes sense because the grape has high requirements for sunlight and perhaps it can be argued that Valtellina is actually better suited to Nebbiolo?
For sure our tasting showed me how much of a little beauty Nebbiolo can be! Delicate and floral with beautiful notes of roses and tender red berry fruits. But it can also pack quite a punch, with its firm structure and high acidity.
Here is what we tasted:
Rosso di Valtellina 2014: to get in the mood. Pale ruby with delicate red fruits. Ethereal if a litle chalky. Delicious.
Grumello Roca de Piro 2011: Quite a notch up in intensity with lovely roasted wild strawberry notes. Here, even with a noticeable increase in density & grit, it is still ethereal & vibrant. Lovely!
Sassela Stella Retica 2011: yet another notch up in denisty. Pale ruby with lovely & tender floral notes reminiscent of violet & roses with a mixture of roasted red berry fruits. Perfumed & velvety with grace & elegance. Beautiful!
Inferno Fiamme Antiche 2011: wonderful proportion, this magical point on the balance scale where density & vibrancy mingle beautifully on the palate. Pale ruby with dried cherries & rose petals together with what appears to be a signature roasted wild strawberries. Delicate, intense, integrated. Silky yet firm, the finish is forever perfumed. Magical!
Grummelo Buon Consiglio 2007: more integration & noticeably more terciary complexity. Pale garnet with dried rose petals & roasted strawberries. Notes of musk, earth, & morning forest. Roundness & chalkiness at all once. A wine in middle age needing more times? Certainly. Intense & smoky finish. Suave!
Sassella Vigne Regina 2007: this bottle showed a slightly more rapid evolution than the previous with smoky & earthy notes dominating with touches of dried roses. The palate is denser & firmer yet shows more integration. Powerful but delicate & long floral finish. Fascinating!
Sassella Rocce Rosse 2007: a fist of steel in a satin glove. Pale ruby with a captivating intensity showing delicate but confident notes of rose petals & dried strawberries. Musky with a morning forest perfume. On the palate, a mesmerizing quilibirum of firmness & silkiness. An fascinating interplay of power & delicacy! Keep!
Sassella Ultimi Raggi 2007: un coup de foudre! The wine that made me fall in love with Nebbiolo... Pale garnet with a remarkable depth & intensity. Layers after layers of complexity delicately revealing itself gently, seducing, enchanting, bewitching... Engaging & ethereal with a suggestion of steeliness, but just, a whisper in the background. Dense yet delicate & uplifting. Firm yet caressing & the ultimate expression of elegance. A spellbinding finish with a crescendo of aromas from floral to red fruit notes, from musk to forest floor, from spices to leather, from here to eternity... An epiphany!
On returning to Milan, I rushed to buy a small stock to bring back with me in Hong Kong. Lovely!
In Milan, the whole portfolio can be found at Scarpiti Distribuzione. In Hong Kong, Ellerman imports these beauties. Otherwise, Wine-Searcher is always a good source if info.