I think it’s inevitable that vineyards at altitude, which may in past cooler times have struggled to consistently ripen grapes, are going to become more and more important contributors to the world of fine wine. Case in point: Alto Piemonte. Barolo and Barbaresco have several obscure little cousins (Gattinara, Bramaterra, Lessona, Boca, Ghemme – basically any place where the wine is called Spanna) that have grown up fast, making serious nebbiolo that starts to rival the famous names in the hills to the south. The recent purchase by Roberto Conterno of the historic Gattinara estate Nervi – and the prompt adjustment of pricing to levels that Conterno feels appropriate for what is in the bottle, that is to say alto – has boosted the profile of the entire region into something that’s becoming pretty fashionable. Taking a little tour around the region with three quality examples this evening.
2010 Antoniolo Gattinara ‘Osso San Grato’. I think, along with Nervi, regarded as the best address in Gattinara, which is arguably the best of the Alto Piemonte villages. So this should be pretty good (as Galloni’s 97 big points would lead one to expect). Clear dark ruby. Clean, quiet nose, notions of red fruit but really not very fragrant. Lots more going on in the mouth: fresh red fruits, long. Dense and concentrated wine, high toned. But a subtle character, not a show-off by any stretch. Still, the class of the flight.
2011 Le Piane Boca. Another top example (Galloni 96 here). Light floral, again very quiet nose. Clean, sweet floral profile. Nice sweetness in the mouth. Very fine powdery tannins, feels like it’s drinking perfect now in terms of structure, but it’s not showing much evolution of flavor or aroma yet.
2015 Colombera & Garella Bramaterra. A shade lighter than the others. More fragrant, red fruit, roasty character. On the palate less concentrated and well-knit than the first two. Acidity is a bit pointy and there’s less mass and richness overall. Still, it’s not an expensive wine – a pretty good place to look if you want a cheap nebby fix.
Pretty nice wines. But to be fair, the first two are in the same price range as excellent Barolo and Barbaresco. I enjoyed them, but am not as enthusiastic as Galloni. Both are pretty reserved in character; I appreciate subtlety but I also look for a bit more wow. My suspicion is that one can do better lower down in Piemonte.