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When Pliny the Elder is used as evidence, all alarm bells ring: Wherever one is not quite sure and puzzles over times that go back 2000 and more years, the scholar, general and administrator from the time around the birth of Christ - or at the beginning of our era - is quoted. He, too, is said to have provided the first references to particularly good wines from the area of today's Piedmont. Well - anyone who has compiled so much about wine knowledge of that time in the comprehensive work "Naturalis Historia" certainly also has something to contribute about the wine from Piedmont, the Nebbiolo. And Pliny is certainly capable of quoting, since he also coined (if it is true) the favourite quotation of many wine lovers: "In Vino veritas" ("In wine lies the truth"). But for a long time I wanted to know whether I could find the "truth" of a good wine in Nebbiolo.

Piedmont% as we know it - there% where Nebbiolo is at home (Photo: P. Züllig)

For a long time I avoided this grape variety, which is actually at home almost on Switzerland's doorstep. Somehow I found the wines from Piedmont (generally speaking) to be full of tannins and acidity that usually bit away at the fruit. But then - a good year ago - I did go on a wine trip to Piedmont, at the good coaxing of my friend Peter, the Barolo lover. Even then, I came a little closer to the Nebbiolo region (and its wines). Now, however, another friend - his name is also Peter (what a coincidence) - has invited me to a Nebbiolo tasting, and not just anywhere, no, under a cedar tree on the island of San Giulio in Lake Orta. The only downer is the remark on the invitation - thick and bold: "Nebbiolo senza Barolo". Where am I - an Italian wine volunteer - supposed to find good Nebbiolo wines if Barolo (and probably Barbaresco too) are excluded? But the rule of the game for the tasting is: bring along one or two bottles on the subject.

Fortunately, Wein-Plus helped me and presented some good tips and ratings: "BEST OF Piedmontese Nebbiolo beyond Barolo and Barbaresco: the noble unfamous". A welcome meeting. At least now I know where to look!

The parade of wines tasted - including the pirate (Photo: P. Züllig)

"Seek and you shall find." That was not said by Pliny, but is probably borrowed from the Bible in Matthew. And there it should continue something like this: "... and when he has found, he will be amazed and will rule over all this." Do I now rule over my slightly expanded knowledge of Nebbiolo? No, not by a long shot. But I have experienced (both in the tasting and in the preceding exploration for my two bottles) that Nebbiolo is not (only) tannic and full of acidity, but can also be fruity, elegant, aromatic and, and.... can be. I found - in the extremes - two types of wines: Power wines just as much as slender, fruity, yes, filigree pleasure wines. Examples, please! They will come in a moment. Of course, I did not taste 200 wines like the strict and trained tasters at Wein-Plus. My respect for their achievement.

We already drank the Gattinara San Francesco by Antoniolo - awarded 91 points in the BEST OF list - the evening before with Italian food on a roof terrace above the rooftops of Orta, albeit the 2007 vintage. Only now I read the notes by Wein-Plus and can agree with them: comprehensible, beautifully formulated, actually much (and even more) than what went through my mind while drinking, completely unscientific, unproven, simply enjoying wine with good food.

Enjoyment above the rooftops of Orta (Photo: P. Züllig)

Why do you think we, the small group with which I am a guest, chose this wine at the very first meeting? Like so many others, it is one of the "usual suspects" that wine connoisseurs can pick from any wine list. But what about the many lesser-known wines, the "noble unfamous"? Do they all have to wait until day X when they will (maybe) be famous one day? I can't wait that long, my two bottles have to go with me to Orta, subito. So I try the coincidence factor, and lo and behold, I find what I'm looking for. At a good wine merchant in my area, who deals mainly with Italian wines, I particularly liked "Printi" by Monchiero Carbone (Roero). Not a complete unknown, but not (yet) in the spotlight of the "usual suspects" at wine tastings of wine lovers, the so-called laymen, among whom I also count myself.

A power wine: "Printi" from Monchiero Carbone% Roero (Photo: P. Züllig)

A "power wine", powerful, aromatic, with flavours of raspberry, blackberry, cinnamon, precious woods, but also with nutty, leathery, tobacco notes - everything is there, but a bit too much of all that, power wine. However, I have to say that the 2009 vintage is still much too young for me, unfortunately I could not find a more mature wine.

A pleasure wine: "Nebbiolo" 2007 from I Vinautori% Veltlin (Photo: P. Züllig)

I suspected that this wine would be convincing. Power and presence are required in such cases. And so it is - it won "second place" among the eight wines tasted. I certainly did not want to be satisfied with that - even in the run-up to the tasting. I definitely also want to bring in my idea of a quieter, multi-layered, filigree Nebbiolo. In another region - Valtellina (Veltlin) - this has become concrete at I Vinautori (The Wine Authors): "Nebbiolo" 2007. It is only the second vintage that was grown biodynamically and vinified in this way, obtained from old vines (60 years old on average). Not a powerhouse, but rather an "author's wine" (I Vinautori) from the winemaking duo Stefan Keller and Piero Triacca, vinified by Ticino's top winemaker Christian Zündel (who converted his own farm to biodynamic long ago).

And once again it turned out as I had suspected. "My" Nebbiolo ranks at the bottom of the point scale: "Watery" is still in my memory as a spontaneous comment, while the power wine made it to the top. But they do exist, the delicate, nuanced, "quiet" Nebbiolo, which do not draw their quality from power, but rather from aromatic authenticity and diversity. It is often those Nebbiolos that get lost in the noise.

I am grateful for the invitation of the wine friends under the cedar in Orta. Even though I still perceive wines from the Nebbiolo grape variety as somewhat tannic and with quite a lot of acidity, the Nebbiolo image in me is beginning to change. The "sublime" from Barolo are getting competition. They are not Barolo nobles, but come from other Nebbiolo regions, such as Ghemme, where we quickly visit two idiosyncratic, (very) good winegrowers, the Rovellotti brothers, before the tasting.

Paolo% one of the two Rovellotti brothers in Ghemme (Photo: P. Züllig)

Their "Ghemme DOCG" 2007 (85% Nebbiolo and 5% Vespolina) is further proof for me that prejudices and experiences once made are not very reliable. I quote Marcus Hofschuster (tasting director at Wein-Plus): "As different as the styles may be, the best wines of all these lesser-known Nebbiolo appellations have one thing in common: the beguiling, tart fruit, the underwoody, tobacco and sometimes tarry spiciness, as well as the incomparable, racy tannin for which we love Nebbiolo." No, I don't love Nebbiolo for its tart fruit and racy tannins - to which I would add the dominant acidity - but rather for the independent, small "works of wine art" - not overaged and not smothered in strength - that are also created here, senza Barolo.


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