On April 27th, after my study group tasted two white wines (an Arneis and a Gavi di Gavi) a Dolcetto d’Alba, two samples of Barbera d’Alba, a Barbaresco our last two wines were a Barolo (a Nebbiolo from Piedmont, Italy) tasted side-by-side with a Nebbiolo from Sonoma, California. While the Barolo was a “grid wine” in preparation for the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Advanced exam the California Nebbiolo was not but was tasted in order to compare Old and New World versions of Nebbiolo.
Nebbiolo and the Barolo DOCG
The Nebbiolo grape is the most prestigious grape in Piedmont, in Northwestern Italy. In the Novara and Vercelli hills of northern Piedmont Nebbiolo is known as “Spanna” and in the Lombardy region of Valtellina the grape is known as Chiavennasca.
Nebbiolo is the central grape for four DOCGs (Barolo, Barbaresco, Gattinara and Ghemme) and eight DOCs in Piedmont, of which the most important are the Barolo DOCG and Barbaresco DOCG (10 miles northeast of Barolo). In the Barolo DOCG and Barbaresco DOCG the wine must consist of 100% Nebbiolo. But in the Gattinara DOCG up to 10% Bonarda may be added and no more than 4% of Vespolina. In the Ghemme DOCG up to 25% of Bonarda and/or Vespolina may be added.
Barolo is produced in eleven “communes” or village territories, all situated on the scenic Langa hills shaped by centuries of vine cultivation and dominated by medieval castles. The other communes included in the Barolo production area are: La Morra, Monforte, Serralunga d’Alba, Castiglio Falletto, Novello, Grinzane Cavour, Verduno, Diano d’Alba, Cherasco and Roddi. However, while Barolo and Barbaresco are 100% Nebbiolo these communes are only permitted to cultivate Nebbiolo for Barolo on a part of their territory.
Barolo must be aged a minimum of 3 years before release, 2 of which must be in barrel. Barbaresco must be aged for a minimum of 2 years (including at least 9 months in cask) prior to release, or for a minimum of 4 years if labeled riserva.
The Winery: Cavallotto
The Cavallotto family winery was founded in 1948 and is now in its fifth generation of winemakers. Production is overseen by the great-great-grandchildren of founder Giacomo Cavallotto, Laura, Giuseppe, and Alfio. The winemakers are Alfio and Joseph Jumper. The winery is situated on the top of the Bricco Boschis cru, just outside the village of Castiglione Falletto, in the heart of the Barolo region. All of their grapes are made from their estate vineyards. The Bricco Boschis estate consists of 23 hectares (56.83 acres), with approximately 50% of the vineyards planted to Nebbiolo. The rest of the vineyard is planted to Dolcetto (5 acres), Barbera (2 acres), Freisa, Grignolino, Chardonnay, and Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir). The vines are trellised using the Guyot method with pruning done at 8-10 buds for Nebbiolo and 5-7 for the other varieties. The vineyards are planted to approximately 5000 plants per hectare. In 1961, the Cavallottos divided the Bricco Boschis estate into three sub-crus: San Giuseppe, Colle Sudovest, and at the highest elevation with sandy soils is Punta Marcello.
While there are many Barolo producers that are making wine in a more modern style, the Cavallotto family maintains a modified traditionalism profile of age-worthy wines using Slovenian oak while incorporating some of the more modern vinification practices without changing the style of the wine.
In order to discern the distinctiveness of the Nebbiolo grape grown in its homeland from another terroir, we sampled side-by-side a Barolo and a Nebbbiolo from Sonoma, California - both of which are from the 2008 vintage. Both of these wines were decanted at least 2 hours before they were tasted.
The 2008 Cavallotto Bricco Boschis Barolo is a clear, light ruby red at the core to garnet at the rim, with just a hint of burnt orange around the edge with medium+ viscosity. On the nose strawberries, bramble berry, baked pie, layers of spice, olives, leather, mocha, chocolate powder, coffee, purple and red flowers, tar and blacktop asphalt, and a very distinctive aroma of old world barnyard. It has well-integrated high tannins, medium+ acidity, medium+ alcohol and a complex medium+ length finish. This wine sells for about $60 per bottle.
The 2008 Jacuzzi Nebbiolo, Sonoma Coast, is a clear, light ruby red at the core to garnet at the rim, with just a hint of burnt orange around the edge with medium+ viscosity. On the nose it has subtle aromas of macerated dried red cherries, dried figs, licorice, spice, mushrooms, beef bullion, cloves, dark soil, hint of mint and eucalyptus. It has high tannins that have an aggressive attack on the front of the palate, it has medium+ acidity, medium+ alcohol and a moderately medium length finish. This wine sells for about $28 per bottle.
The 2008 Cavallotto Bricco Boschis was the preferred wine between the two as it was much more complex and layered with distinctive old world earthy notes, but of course it costs twice as much as the 2008 Jacuzzi Nebbiolo. The following day I sampled these wines again and the additional time greatly improved the Jacuzzi Nebbiolo as the tannins, while still very high, were not as seemingly aggressive on entry.