Mark Andrew is the Senior Wine Buyer at Kensington- based merchant Roberson Wine. In addition to their award- winning shop on London’s Kensington High Street, Roberson supply wine to many of the UK’s top restaurants. When Mark is not travelling Europe seeking out interesting new wines, he runs Roberson’s wine school and fine wine tastings, judges at numerous wine competitions (including the Decanter MagazineWorld Wine Awards) and is currently studying towards the Master of Wine qualification.
This enigmatic red grape is responsible for some of the world’s finest and most long-lived wines, with a reputation for quality and complexity that is familiar to wine lovers throughout the world. Why then is Nebbiolo so rarely seen planted outside of its native north-west Italy? Why has Nebbiolo’s global status as one of the wine world’s treasures not led to the same internationalisation as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir or Pinot Grigio? The answer lies in Nebbiolo’s sensitivity to its surroundings, as this is a variety with a fondness for its homeland and the ideal growing conditions found there.
The grape has an almost unique introduce them to the techniques required combination of high acidity, high tannin and lots of dry extract – the upside of which is wines that can age prodigiously, but the downside is that the grape needs a long and warm growing season to ripen properly. It flowers early, giving small berries with thick skins that need as long as possible on the vine to develop ripeness levels to balance the tannin and acidity. Piedmont’s long autumns may not always be hot, but they are dry enough to give Nebbiolo the time it needs – sometimes the harvest doesn’t finish until November! Another indicator of Nebbiolo’s delicate constitution is its sensitivity to the soil in which it is grown. Ideally, the vine will be grown in vineyards with high calcareous marl content, which in turn give the wine its charming perfume and mineral density.
The heartland of high-quality Nebbiolo production is the areas of Barbaresco and Barolo in Piedmont, a region of north-eat Italy. Until the 1850s, the hills around the village of Barbaresco were used to grow Nebbiolo and produce sweet red wines of dubious quality. It took a Frenchman to to make tasty dry wine and another 130 years before the revolution in quality began that established the reputation that the region enjoys today.
The vineyard area in Barbaresco (680ha) is about half the size of Barolo and the calcareous soils are at much lower altitude than its neighbour. The result is easier ripening and more open and fruity wines that are ready to drink relatively early.
While the top producers of Barbaresco can often produce stunning wines from Nebbiolo, it is in the high hills of Barolo that the best examples of this variety are to be found. Barolo, like all of the finest wine regions, is a melting pot of winemakers with different styles and approaches. The traditional approach was to produce muscular wines of incredible density that would spend many years in large old oak barrels before continuing their development for decades in bottle, while the modernists are making wines aged in small (and new) barrels that are full- bodied, but supple and forward enough to enjoy in their relative youth.
2009 Langhe Nebbiolo; GD Vajra
(Langhe is the name of the wider region around Barolo)
If you don’t want to cough up for a Barolo or Barbaresco (and they can be eye-wateringly expensive), then here’s a tip: look for the ‘Langhe’ Nebbiolo of a good winemaker. It will usually be one of the cheaper wines in their range and lighter in body, but it will still be packed full of dark cherry fruit and hints of the rose petal perfume you find in the more expensive versions. This wine is a case in point – delicious and vibrant, full of Nebbiolo character and great value for money.
Available at Roberson Wine (£22.95) or on the list at Theo Randall (W1) & Le Café Anglais (W2)
2005 Barolo; Germano Ettore
This is a serious wine, full of dark minerals and leathery notes to go with the classic cherry fruit. But it is so fragrant and elegant that it is a joy to drink right now, especially with red meat dishes like a really posh stew or a good steak.
Available at Roberson Wine (£44.95) or on the list at Fifteen (N1) & Tate Modern (SE1)