The Ageability of the Wines of Piedmont - Ned Goodwin MW
Monday, July 8, 2019 in News
Ned Goodwin is a multitalented wine communicator and an Australian Master of Wine. After achieving his MW letters in 2010, Ned attended the 2012 Len Evans Tutorial and achieved the honour of being named Dux of his class. His personal wine passion has led him to the wines of Piedmont and working with Langton’s.
When studying for the Master of Wine exam, I came to identify Italian wines at large with the descriptive ‘dry structural focus’. This succinct approach saved time and served as a platform whence to determine style, origin and grape variety. When speaking of the Piedmont we are speaking principally of Nebbiolo, the region’s most noble grape variety and palpably the driest and most structured of any, with few exceptions.
Nebbiolo’s carapace of firm spindly tannins and marked acidity lays structural attributes that service a prodigious capacity for age and with that, a compelling intensity and spellbinding complexity over time. At least among its chief flag-bearers: Barolo, the King; Barbaresco, the Queen.
This said, generalisations across the tapestry of communes, weave of vineyards and thread of meso-climates that constitute the Piedmont, or ‘foot of the mountain’, fail to extrapolate on the litany of variable expressions of both Nebbiolo and the plethora of other varieties, including Barbera and Dolcetto.
While Nebbiolo reaches an apotheosis of power melded to an uncanny Burgundian-like elegance across the 11 communes that make up the Barolo DOCG, it is across the Serravallian soils of the famed sub-zones of Serralunga d’Alba and Monforte d’Alba, embedded with limestone, where it attains a strapping muscularity and the capacity for long-term cellaring. The best wines of these zones can age for decades, hitting their straps after 15 years; often well after.
Ned Goodwin on a recent visit to Langtons, facilitating a Piedmont masterclass.
Along the brittle skein of Tortonian era geologies, marked by the meagre top-soils of most of Barbaresco DOCG and sandier sections of the communes of Barolo and Castiglione Falletto, the wines reach an apogee of perfumed, aerial grace. There is less burl, less grit and less stoic force. However, there is a giddy mellifluousness to the fruit and aromas, searing themselves into the memory bank. These wines start to sing at around 12 years of age.
However, of the five most famed communes of the overarching Barolo region, it is la Morra, with the least amount of calcareous matter in its soils, that provides more forward, accessible and highly perfumed wines, often drinking well after eight-years; reaching their zenith at around 15.
Of course, there is also Langhe Nebbiolo, a category that can be made from Nebbiolo grapes grown within the overarching Langhe region, often from younger vines, declassified fruit from exalted sites or that which is sourced from the edges of Barolo and/or Barbaresco. These wines boast stellar value and an insight into the region at large, drinking well in their youth.
Moreover the style of any given producer from his or her picking window, choice of oak and approach to extraction; in addition to vintage variations, will skew these drinking windows which, in essence, are little more than a general guide to an idiom of wine that offers unparalleled age-worthiness when variety, site, sleight of hand and vintage are in confluence.
And yet as much as Nebbiolo can be beguiling, it also sets a tone for sassier, easy-going reds, particularly around a regional luncheon table. The producers’ choice is often Barbera, a variety responsible for high-toned floral wines, high in acidity, albeit, low in tannin and best drunk during the period of youthful vibrancy. The other is the pulpy, denser Dolcetto, or ‘sweet little one.’ Dolcetto’s wines are dry, glowing a brilliant vermilion while offering a dense mouthfeel of grapey fruit sluiced with firm tannins. Dolcetto, too, is best in its youth.