Brisk fall weather means donning cozy sweaters, assembling that first batch of chili, and drinking Nebbiolo.
Nebbiolo is the red varietal associated with the Piedmont region in Italy, and the grape from which we get the famed wines of Barbaresco and Barolo.
Unfortunately, getting your hands on these wines is pricey. Barolos, for instance, start around $60 - and that's just for a decent bottle that probably still needs some aging in order for the signature harsh tannins to soften.
To be classified as Barbaresco or Barolo, wines must be produced under strict guidelines. But not all the grapes crushed in this hilly area called Langhe make it into a classified bottle. There are other wines produced that for whatever reason (aged for a shorter time, from less mature vines, etc.) aren't classified Barolo or Barbaresco but are excellent value for the money. These fall into appellation Langhe, its own DOC since 1994.
Paolo Scavino makes phenomenal wines, including hefty Barolos, but the producer also offers a blend of Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from the younger vines for $15. The Scavino Langhe Rosso 2010 is bold and tannic, with rich flavors of cherry and baked plum - a perfect match for chili, spaghetti or pizza.
The Marchese di Gresy Nebbiolo Langhe 2010 ($25) is as beautiful and elegant to drink as it is to say. It rolls onto the tongue with flavors of strawberry and black cherry, as well as a hint of herbaceousness. This is a graceful and refined bottle, the acid nicely integrated into the fruit. Give this wine a swirl and you'll be smitten.
Innovative winemaker Giorgio Rivetti offers a bottling of young vines from the famed Starderi vineyard in Barbaresco. His La Spinetta Nebbiolo Langhe 2009 ($29) is another elegant wine, with hints of violet, cherries and citrus. There's spice and an earthy undertow. Perfect for pairing with a hunk of fontina cheese or a mushroom risotto.
Barbarescos are lighter and prettier wines than Barolos, and thus do not age as long. They're easier to pick off the shelf. If you want a beautiful example, try the Silvio Giamello Barbaresco Vincenziana 2007 ($39), imported by Kermit Lynch. It is a lovely little quaffer, as Lynch would say, with hints of rose petals, orange rind, white truffles and tar. Beware, however, that you'll become a Barbaresco aficionado if you weren't already.
Finally, if you do want to sample a Barolo, the Marcarini Barolo Brunate 2007 ($49) is a magnificent bottle for the price, and you can find in it the classic "tar and roses" combination, plus some asphalt, hay and rubber. Not good descriptions in food; highly desirable notes in a big, opulent, Piedmontese wine.
Wines available at Steve's locations, square wine co., and other local shops. Call to check availability.