Barbera and Nebbiolo: California vs Piemonte

Well, I write a lot of notes but have neglected to document one of my most important nights in Italy last fall. Part of me is disappointed and part of me relieved. At the sacrifice of finding every little nuance in every wine I tried, I took the opportunity to just be present and appreciate the moment.

It was a dinner party and blind tasting I’d been planning since the summer. Every year I bring a handful of interesting California wines with me to Italy and this time I had chosen some of my favorite Sierra Foothills Barbere* (2009’s & 2010’s) and Santa Barbara County Nebbioli* (2006). I asked my invited guests to bring a Piemontese Barbera and/or Nebbiolo from a comparable vintage.

before prima

At the table were Renato and Lili of Renato Corino (they graciously offered to host), Giuliano and Stefania of (Giovanni) Corino, Mauro, Daniela, and Roberto of Mauro Veglio, Tess from Elio Altare, Marco and Genny from Mario Marengo, along with some other good friends, Fabrizio and Irene.

My plan was to place my (brought) wines head-to-head with analagous wines from Piemonte and see if the Italians could pick out the California ones. I also wanted to see how the wines compared to each other in flavor and quality. I’d never tried more than one or two California and Piemontese Barbere and Nebbioli together and I knew none of them had either.

And so, we discovered (and drank) a lot together! The best part of the evening was realizing that I was at the table with some very dear friends. Over the years I’ve overcome distance and language barriers in order to get to know them. It is and always has been the wine that brings us together (and luckily it’s good wine!).

As I sat there, listening to the Piemontese dialetto dashing about the room, I might not have understood every word, but I began to realize that I understood what was being said. While we have different sounds and words to express ourselves, in the end, we are all saying the same thing.

The coolest part was hearing California wines described in Piemontese. Usually it’s the other way around: I’m describing Piemontese wines in California English.

We started with the Barbere, all covered, mixed up, numbered, and poured two-by-two. We unveiled in pairs and then moved on to the Nebbioli in the same way. (Needless to say, I don’t remember the order in which we opened them.)

The Barbere were:

Scott Harvey Mountain Selection Barbera “Red Label” 2009. Shenandoah Valley, Amador County. This is a long time favorite of mine.

Noceto Linsteadt Barbera 2010. Sierra Foothills.

Hovey Walker Cuvée Barbera 2009. El Dorado County.

Elio Altare Barbera d’Alba 1993. Barbera d’Alba DOC Impressive!

Mario Marengo Pugnane 2009/10(?). Barbera d’Alba DOC.

Mauro Veglio Cascina Nuova 2009/10(?). Barbera d’Alba DOC.

Corino Ciabot dù Re 2010. Barbera d’Alba DOC.

The consensus was that the Scott Harvey Barbera was the best of the California Barberas. However, the California Barbere, as a whole, impressed the crowd. In fact, many of them were mistaken for the Piemontese ones. (I was a little biased because I’d had all of the California Barbere before. I guessed all of California Barbere but not all of the Piemontese ones.)

I did not foresee the same mistake being made with the Nebbioli, however.

The Nebbioli were:

Palmina Nebbiolo 2006. Santa Barbara County.

Palmina Sisquoc Vineyard Nebbiolo 2006. Santa Maria Valley.

Palmina Stolpman Vineyard Nebbiolo 2006. Santa Ynez Valley.

Renato Corino Rocche dell’Annunziata 2006. Barolo DOCG.

Gianfranco Alessandria Barolo 2006. Barolo DOCG.

Mario Marengo Valmaggiore (vintage?). Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC.

Mauro Veglio Gattera 2008. Barolo DOCG.

Corino Giachini 2008. Barolo DOCG.

Corino Arborina 2008. Barolo DOCG.

In my opinion Palmina has the most reliably commendable California Nebbiolo so that’s why I brought only theirs. That’s not to say others aren’t good—I’ve certainly had and written about many of them. But even while Palmina is my front man for “Califormia Nebbiolo,” I believe deep in my heart that Piemontese Nebbiolo is the very best Nebbiolo in the world, and will be for a very, very long time. Even so, I thought it would be interesting to introduce some of these marvelous producers to what is going on with their grape, half way across the world. They enjoyed them but there was very little mix up between the two.

Despite not remembering every detail about the wines, I remember the night very well. Life is delightful when you take the time to stop and pay attention to it. If you try too hard to capture and analyze every individual component, or are too busy preparing for the future, you are more likely to miss what is most important: now.

Enjoy today.

PS- The “line up” the next day.

after dopo

*  I’m using the Italian spelling of the plurals here. Barbera becomes Barbere and Nebbiolo becomes Nebbioli.

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