TN: 2003 Clendenen Family Nebbiolo

Astor had some 2003 Clendenen Family Vineyards “Bricco Buon Natale” Nebbiolo (Santa Maria Valley) on sale a few months ago, so I picked up a bottle to try and stashed it away for the right occasion. A few weeks back, Jim Clendenen was pouring his wines at Astor. They still had some of his '05 nebbiolo, so he was offering tastes of that, too. That was really outstanding. It could not only hold its own in a blind tasting with Barolos or Barberescos; it might fool you. It was beautifully balanced with a lovely nebbiolo bouquet.

I grabbed a bottle of the '05 and asked Clendenden how it compared to the '03. The '03 is bigger and ready to drink now, he said, while the '05 is a bit more restrained and can be drunk now or many years from now. It was clear he preferred the '05. I had the sense that he didn’t want to diss the '03 because some people might like it, but he didn’t.

So… I served the '03 blindly to my brown-bag group on Thursday. There was a big hit of VA at first – a chorus of various volatile scents, in fact. Those blew off, though, and some fairly classic nebbiolo rose hip aromas emerged. In the mouth, you get some of that VA at first and some heat, but the flavors are good and typical of Italian nebbiolo. Unfortunately, there was some heat at the back end, too. It was labeled at 14.1%, but the fruit profile seemed much riper. (I wonder if they watered back.) By contrast, the '05 is listed at 13.7% – low by Langhe standards these days.

Overall, the '03 was disappointing. Some nice flavors, but too much heat and VA and not well balanced. It wasn’t much of a hit with the group, either. I didn’t score it. If I did, I guess it would be 85/85 – fine for a cheap wine, but not for one that, even on sale, was $45 or so.

The '05, on the other hand, is really first rate, and suggests that nebbiolo really does have promise in California. I’d have given that something north of 90 if I’d been taking notes.


I agree the 05 was just superb. In fact I asked him, what was his best vintages and he was quick to mention 93,94 and 2005; with the latter being the best across the board. His 05 Pinots and Nebbiolo’s are truly spectacular and a great QPR.

Have you tried his other Nebbiolo (Punta Exclamativa)?

No. What’s that about?

I did pick up a bottle of his 2010 (!) Tocai Friuliani, also, which was impressive. Who knew?

Jim Clendenen’s “Punta Exclamitiva” is a reserve bottling. You can see the 2008 - along with several older Nebbiolos (1988, 1992, 1998) from Jim at last year’s NEB (Nebbiolo Enthusiasts & Believers) gathering. Jim told us that the 2008 “Punta Exclamitiva” was aged for seven years in a demi-muid (600-liter barrel):


From the same gathering, here’s Sam Bilbro of Idlewild Wines, Steve Clifton of Palmina Wines, Jim Clendenen of Clendenen Family Vineyards:


Thanks for the note, John!

I wonder if the California Nebbiolo wines (past & present) are stylized for extra age-worthiness, as in NW Italy, if they are better consumed <10 years, or if Nebbiolo inherently is a wine best aged…?

Thanks for the pictures, Ken, and the extra info, Subu!

Looking at the picture of the Clenenden Neb wines in Ken’s photo, does the most recent vintage bottling state that the ABV is 15.5%?!?

A little tough to see, but it’s 13.5% ABV, Drew. All four of Jim’s wines in the photo are listed at 12.5% or 13.5%. On the other hand, Steve Clifton’s Palmina Nebbiolos have tended to be higher alcohol. Looking at another photo, four wines that Steve brought to last year’s NEB - 2003 Sisquoc Vyd, 2005 Honea Vyd, 2008 Sisquoc, and 2008 “Rocca” were all in the 14.5% to 15.5% range.

As far as age-worthiness of California Nebbiolos, I think it’s all over the map - there’s just not enough experience with the grape here yet to figure out how the winemaking will work well with different vineyard sites, and of course there may very well prove to be other sites yet to be planted that will be better than what’s there now. Vintners are working in a number of styles - some for earlier drinking and some for longer-term aging. I don’t believe there are any that really require the aging of a Barolo, for example, but there are some that should certainly develop over many years.