Most Nebbiolo fanatics I know, myself included, were introduced to the varietal via a bottle of Barolo or Barbaresco, its two most famous sources. I distinctly remember an uncle of mine carefully and reverently decanting a bottle one Sunday afternoon before an early winter dinner in Naples many years ago, all the while explaining why this was such an important wine. If i recall correctly, it was a good vintage of Giacosa Barbaresco and both the wine and I were about 18 years old. One thing I’m sure of was that it was the most interesting thing, food or wine, that I’d ever smelled. In fact, the entire dining room was quickly perfumed by this wine. I’d only had inexpensive (inoffensive if we were lucky) local wines by that point in my life and this was truly exciting. it was also the most powerful wine I’d ever drunk and a couple of glasses later I was probably slurring my words.
Unfortunately, wines like that are becoming scarce due to demand for high quality traditional Nebbiolo and, rather paradoxically, by the fact that more and more producers are making less and less traditional renditions of Nebbiolo in most areas of Piedmont. I’ve yet to come across an aged “modernista” bottling of Nebbiolo that displayed anywhere near the elegance or perfume of the traditional examples which is why I don’t typically buy or sell them. No need to name names.
Gattinara is a small town and winemaking zone in northern Piedmont’s Sesia Valley, an area which descends from the glaciers of Monte Rosa, the second highest peak in the alps. An area famous for it’s textile industry, viticulture was much more important here before phylloxera decimated the vineyards. With higher paying jobs in factories and textile mills in nearby Novara and Milan luring workers away, there wasn’t much of an incentive to replant and as a consequence, the area of land planted to vines dropped from 100,000 acres to roughly 3,000 where it stands today. Vine for vine, this tiny area more than makes up for quantity with with both style and quality. These wine aren’t merely good, less expensive alternatives to Barbaresco and Barolo, the best are worthy rivals.
The Antoniolo family owns roughly 40 of those acres in Gattinara, the jewel in the crown amongst the myriad Nebbiolo growing areas of these hills, and the 3rd generation of Antoniolos are now in charge. The 2008 vintage was a classic one in Piedmont with a healthy Nebbiolo crop producing wines generous in both body and structure. The Antoniolo Gattinara is a reference standard wine with all of the complexity, elegance and power of great Nebbiolo along with the pronounced minerality and fine tannins this zone is known for. Notes of violet, raspberries spice and almonds with fresh red fruit flavors. Medium to full bodied and strong, finely tannic finish.