Lower-abv Nebbiolo

Got a Piemonte trip planned with the wife in November of this year and I’m a Nebbiolo newbie. Most of my knowledge and enthusiasm up to this point has been France-focused (Beaujolais, Champagne, Loire, Red Burg) but I have had a few old bottles of Nebbiolo that I loved so I know it’s possible. Looking for visitable producer recommendations that might fit these parameters:

  • Sub-14% abv. I know that pretty much rules out Barolo/Barbaresco these days.
  • Minimal or no new oak.

Are there any Nebbiolo producers in the region that manage to keep abvs lower? Maybe Alto Piemonte or Langhe Nebbiolo?

Fun topic :popcorn:

I’m trying to remember the legal min alc% for Barbaresco and Barolo, and I recall it’s either 13% or 13.5% and it’s possible to find some at 13.5%, but sadly not that many. Perhaps some Langhe nebbiolo might be a fraction lighter in alcohol.

Roero worth checking, but I think it’s alc% is pretty similar to Barolo and Barbaresco DOCG.

Ghemme, Gattinara, Fara, Costa della sesia and the other tiny DOCs along the Sesia river are often a little lighter in alc% with from memory 13.5% being reasonably common. Not sure what min % is

Best bet of all though will be to head further north, initially to Carema and then further north into Valle d’aosta for Donnas.

Also a hop across into Valtellina will also find some lower alc% nebbiolo, but avoid Sfursat / Sforzato, as these are higher alc wines made by drying the ripe grapes.

It’s something of a delicate balancing act, as whilst I get frustrated with 15+% Barolo and Barbaresco that can too often be heavy / ponderous, 12-12.5% can also be a bit of a shock to the system with tannin & acidity, but without the textural richness offered by fruit & alcohol. If the fruit has enough depth, then age can fix that, but in youth they can be a bit spiky.

Alternatively, explore the wonderful other red grapes such as grignolino, freisa, ruchè (but alc can be high here), Barbera (some are low, some very high), pelaverga (head to Verduno for this), vespolina and many more. Finally for very low alc% (but sweet/fizzy, with good balancing acidity) Brachetto became my aperitif of choice as a pick-me-up after a busy day.

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for the min / no new oak, the wonderful wiki-style resource curated by Pat Burton should prove invaluable. It’s intentionally not definitive or strident in classification, but used as a rough guide, should be a big help.

Going north, into alto Piemonte, there’s a broad mix, and I noted a very broad mix within their own production at a favourite producer Antoniolo. Not that it was as noticeable in the wines as you’d expect, and it’s there that the age of the oak plays a big part.

Why are you looking for sub 14% Neb? I think it still shines just fine at 14-14.5. Even 15% :hushed: It’s a grape that naturally gets up there pretty high in alc but it retains nice acidity when grown in the right places. Nebbiolo is pretty much my favorite red despite it getting more boozy than I would like. Ian is correct in that you will have better luck finding sub14% in the north in places like Boca, etc. Same for Valtellina but it’s a different expression.

Why are you looking for sub 14% Neb?

Just a personal preference thing, not a value judgement! The ones I’ve tried in the 14+ range have just been too heavy for me.

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This is exactly the sort of response I was hoping for, thank you!

  • Alto Piemonte definitely seems like a worthwhile couple nights. Any producers you particularly like?
  • Pelaverga does sound extremely like my jam, bought a couple bottles to try.
  • Valtellina is seeming like a good option if I can convince the wife to alter the itinerary a bit (and if I try the wines and like them). Heard good things about Ar.Pe.Pe

Hi eric
No problem

Alto Piemonte
Tim Heaton has a huge wealth of knowledge in the area, so will be able to give suggestions more closely aligned to your preferences, and he has a very good website of TNs from his visits (and drinking).

Antoniolo are my favourite (Gattinara), but others are very good as well. Travaglini have quirky shaped faux vintage bottles, a small problem for cellaring, but I do really like the old-school shape. I also like the wines, but think Antoniolo are more my style. Franchino and Torraccia della Piantavigne are both also worth a look. Franchino feels very old school (in a good way), whilst TdP are a side project of a bigger grappa producer with very historic roots in the region. In Ghemme (Anticha cantina di) Cantalupo are probably the top estate and the wines very good indeed and age. We have a soft spot for a small producer called Mirù in Ghemme (winemaker Marco Aulunno who is also making wine elsewhere now), as they made us feel more welcome than any other winery in Italy, which is a remarkably difficult achievement given Italian hospitality. Their Ghemmes are decent, but it’s their modestly priced vespolina that stands out for me. It ages at least a decade and acts something like a somewhat less aromatic nebbiolo.

Outside of there my knowledge weakens, but special mention to Vallana. They’re not the winery they were in the 1950s and 1960s, where for whatever reason (lax grape origin rules often speculated as the reason) they delivered very modestly priced wines that could age for 40, 50, 60 years and be very special indeed at such age. Still good and well worth trying, with possibly my favourite wine labels.

In Carema, the co-op are a good source of value

Finally if staying near Ghemme, Gattinara etc. and even more so if flying into or out of Milano Malpensa, I’ll recommend the agriturismo Cascina Cavenago (was Il Cavenago, but it looks like they changed the name when a winery took Il Cavenago as its name). Ideally staying on a Saturday or Sunday where they always do wonderful mini-banquets with stunning risotto always a highlight for il primo, but if they have a private booking on another night, they’ll also cook for guests as well. Grounds are lovely, especially a courtyard with resident bats giving a fine display at dusk. Rooms large / tall with lots of solid old oak, but bathrooms modern. Ghemme has a small historic area, but otherwise isn’t much to look at / much else to see there. It does however have a relaxed feel and despite the criss-cross of roads, there’s rarely a car in motion to be seen (it’s now bypassed by a newer trunk road). A small highlight is the lady in the gelateria. The gelato is good but not top notch, but we just loved her attitude of being amazed she was so lucky to have the best job going, and determined to enjoy every minute.

Pelaverga Definitely a grape seeing a revival and there are plenty to try. I’ve drunk the Basadone from Castello di Verduno and long-time forum favourite Burlotto’s pelaverga and both are very good imo. Not nebbiolo, nor trying to be, but interesting in its own right.

Valtellina I have too little knowledge here, but others will have good knowledge. Quite a mix of styles from the lean mountainous feel to those Sforzato wines

As far as travelling goes, I prefer Valtellina to Piedmont but it’s way more about the mountainous beauty than the wine. Don’t get me wrong, Piedmont is beautiful and the Valtellina has some wonderful wine but they’re quite different in both respects. I like to hike into the hills outside of Sondrio. It’s pretty easy to get into some spectacular and fairly remote territory there. In Piedmont there’s more wine tourism. Depends on what you want. If the wife isn’t all that much into wine but would enjoy a spa, the Valtellina is good for that although I haven’t gone to any. Not a whole heck of a lot to do there outside of nature, spas, and visiting the incredible terraced vineyards and wineries.

Paging @Tim_Heaton

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In Valtellina, Ar Pe Pe, Rainoldi and Sandro Fay make fantastic wines.

For Barolo look to Roagna, Fratelli Alessandria, Josetta Safirio, Giovanni Canonica and Fabio Gea.

I cannot vouch for abv % but these are all natural producers.

Nebbiolo is probably my favourite red varietal and I’ll echo a love for wines from Alto Piemonte and Valtellina, in addition to Barbarescos and to a somewhat lesser extent Barolos. But I would first ask why you are already limiting yourself to certain criteria when you are new to the grape (and possibly to Piemonte)? I’d suggest going in with an open mind and tasting as much as you can before setting boundaries on yourself. You may be surprised–or not, but at least you’ll have a first-hand basis for your criteria.

I thought Saffirio were pretty modernist, so an issue for Ed’s preference for low oak influence (but with wonderful labels it has to be said)?

Ferrando white label is a stand-out wine.

Add Balgera to Valtellina.

Canonica can reach 15-15.5%. I still think they are very, very good wines, but I also like Tecce. Also, unsure how easy of a visit it would be to set up.

You may be right. Josetta’s daughter is running the cantina now. I know they are bio and organic, but read they employ some modern techniques like criomaceration. I’m not familiar with the oak program.

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Rainoldi is a nice visit especially for the very old cellar and some of the biggest botti I have seen. There are many really good, very small producers who are not exported that are worth a visit in the Valtellina. But, again, other than winery visits, a spa, hiking, and plugging oneself on pizzoccheri and bressaola, there isn’t much to do there and it’s a decent drive from Piedmont.

I can’t echo this strongly enough. Piedmont is not Bordeaux where I would be more inclined to seek wines staying under 14%, although I still think it’s good to keep an open mind especially if you’re not very familiar with the region’s wines.

To say sub 14% rules out Barbaresco and Barolo “these days” is pretty accurate but that could be just as accurate by leaving out “these days” as we can see here in the words of Mr Lynch.

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Cascina Fontana’s Barolo’s are often in the 13-14% abv range and not modern in any way. Basically what you are looking for. Pure elegance.

One of my favourite winemakers in Piemonte.

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Fontana’s Langhe Nebbiolo is a good buy.