4 wines that show nebbiolo doesn't have to be Italy's blockbuster version of Grange

Vineyard worker picks Nebbiolo grapes in Novello, near Cuneo, Italy. Barolo wine is produced in Cuneo province in Italy’s Piedmont region. Photo: Massimo Di Nonno/Getty Images

As someone raised on the vinous delights of France, I’ve been historically somewhat disparaging of Italy’s Barolo and Barbaresco wines. Made from the nebbiolo grape, they often seemed to me a bit like Italian cars: occasionally high performance, but spoilt by frequent faults and breakdowns. (It’s no coincidence that the acronym FIAT was said to stand for “Fix It Again Tony”)

Bottom line: Why spring big bucks for a wine style that way too often, at least to me, was tired and dried out before even being bottled?

Fast forward 20 or 30 years and I find an interesting situation has developed at Chez Nous: we are drinking quite a lot of Italian wine.

Qu’est-ce que pass√©? I think the change is at least in part attributable to my increasing tolerance for more pungent and bitter flavours and firmer tannins. However I’m equally sure that it is also a fair bit to do with the oenological advances in that period and the willingness of the latest generation winemakers of all countries to embrace them.

So when it comes to Italy, I’m seeing wines with greater freshness and vitality upon release compared to their forebears, even for Barolo where the DOC regulations stipulate a minimum of 38 months post vintage aging of which 18 months minimum must be in wood.

However that next generation of Piedmontese winemakers has been very savvy in recognising that earlier bottled Nebbiolo has a lot of sex appeal and can be a nice little earner while its bigger brothers do time in the cellar. Thus the home of Nebbiolo now has these “earlier openers” with the calling card of Langhe Nebbiolo, Nebbiolo d’Alba etc with relatively humble pricing.

With plenty of bang for the buck, we drink a lot of these at our place and encourage you to do the same.

Massolino Langhe Nebbiolo 2014

RRP $54

Essentially this is young vine Barolo fruit, aged in large oak for 18 months.

The bouquet is of wild berry fruits with a cool chalky/powdery backbone.

The 2014 vintage was a lighter more structured year with the lively, lightly textured red fruit and herbal notes stay tight with the chalkiness and firm tannins.

This is more reserved in shape and style than many early opener Nebbs, and demands appropriate tucker such as veal scallopine à la fungi. Buy this and the next wine and compare and contrast the styles.

Cigliuti Langhe Nebbiolo 2015

RRP $53

No wonder that Langhe Nebbiolo is on trend: the vitality and seductiveness of pinot noir combined with structure and shape akin to cabernet sauvignon.

This is a very modern delicious style exhibiting purity of fruit and transparency of origin on both nose and palate. The flavours are of the bright red fruit spectrum with a delicious bitter dark chocolate complexing note leading to an elegantly long satisfying finish. What’s not to like ?

Albino Rocca Nebbiolo d’Alba 2015

RRP $52

The 2015 vintage continues this producers successful run of yummy Nebbs.

The aromatics are of cool red berries with chalk and mineral backbone notes. The palate is lively with a pleasing burst of red fruit upon entry and continues with savoury notes of fennel and Herb coating the long fine firm tannins.

The finish is positively refreshing a bit in a way like a vinous negroni. Enjoy w mixed salumi.

Cantina del Pino Langhe Nebbiolo 2015

RRP $47
This producer is a favourite of mine and their 2015’s are knockout: This ripping good wine is a brilliant mid-red colour with a lifted bouquet of red fruits, with the classic cool backbone of Alba Nebb, thanks to the conjunction of the vintage and the winemaking philosophy.

The palate starts with bubbly vibrant bright savoury red fruit characters which glide effortlessly across the palate to finish long and fragrantly. Superbly balanced, and an exemplary modern example.

Buy it or any of the other 15’s from this producer: their Barbarescos and Dolcetto are quite superb.

* Frank Wilden is a retail food strategist and a “lapsed” restaurateur whose love of wine began nearly four decades ago.

Frank is writing this fortnightly wine column for Business Insider Australia. Get in touch with him via @thefrankreport on Twitter

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