Mention Nebbiolo, and most wine lovers think of the Langhe, the hills southwest of Torino in the province of Cuneo, which yield Barolo, "the wine of kings and the king of wines," and its more genteel cousin, Barbaresco.
But there's much more to Nebbiolo that the Langhe: though the grape is quite temperamental, it also grows very well in some areas of northeastern Piemonte, where it provides the backbone for a number of wines. One of the most interesting of is called Ghemme, and is produced in the foothills north of Novara.
Unlike the vini langaroli, which are Nebbiolo in purezza, Ghemme's disciplinare specifies a minimum Nebbiolo -- locally known as Spanna -- content of 75%, and lets the winemaker take it from there; the other grapes that can go into the wine are Uva Rara and Vespolina. Why the blend? Local tradition, probably derived from the need to have something to fall back on if the vintage was such that Nebbiolo, which ripens late, failed.
The wine cannot be released until the third year after the harvest, and must be aged for at least 20 months in wood -- the Disciplinare says botti, but doesn't specify their volume -- and 9 in bottle. In other words, in terms of potential target audience, it's on a par with its southwestern cousins. But different; with respect to the Nebbioli of the Langhe the Nebbioli of the Alto Piemonte tend to be more vegetal when young, with aromas of bell pepper and other herbs mingled with the fruit, which tends to be bright; I also often find them to be more acidic than their more southerly cousins. The major reason behind the differences is likely related to the way the grapes ripen -- we're further north, and it's cooler here.
So if you purchase a bottle of Ghemme, don't expect it to be like Barolo, because it won't. But it will be very nice, in a greener, perhaps more aggressive key. And it will age very well, as I discovered when I tasted through this vertical of Antiche Cantine Cantalupo's Collis Breclemae in the course of the Nebbiolo Grapes meeting held a while back.
Collis Breclemae is one of the Antiche Cantine Cantalupo's single vineyard wines, and is a Nebbiolo in Purezza; the vineyard is mentioned in documents dating to 1200, when it belonged to the Canonici living in the Basilica of the Isola di San Giulio D'Orta.
Cantalupo Collis Breclemae Ghemme 1983
Deep almandine with black reflections and lam rim. The bouquet is mature, with balsamic notes mingled with saddle leather and leaf tobacco, and underlying sea salt; there's quite a bit going on and it does invite repeated sniffs. On the palate it's full, and rich, with lively cherry plum fruit supported by balsamic plum acidity and by ample sweet tannins that have a velvety steel core and flow into along bright sour plum finish with some balsamic tannic overtones. Quite elegant, and has held up very well; it's a wine I would be tempted to drink far from the table because it has quite a bit to say and distractions would, well, distract.
Cantalupo Collis Breclemae Ghemme 1986
Brownish almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is smoky, with balsamic notes and some iodine -- a fellow taster says quinine -- mingled with dried mushrooms, leaf tobacco, and underlying sea salt. On the palate it's full, and a touch tired, with warm balsam-laced plum fruit supported by smooth tannins that once had a lively burr that has softened, though traces still remain, and it all flows into a long warm balsamic finish. It's obviously long in years, but pleasant, and still has quite a bit to say. Enjoyable, though you have to like older style, more aggressive wines.
Cantalupo Collis Breclemae Ghemme 1990
Deep brownish almandine ruby with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is powerful, with quinine and wet tree bark mingled with iodine and some sea salt, and moderate acidity as well. Also some leaf tobacco. On the palate it's full, with fairly bright decidedly balsamic berry fruit that gains definition from mineral acidity, and is supported by tannins that have a surprisingly intense youthful greenness that leaves the tongue squeaky clean, and leads into a long greenish tannic finish. Lively in a sprightly aggressive key, and will drink well with foods, though I don't think I would want to open a bottle by itself. Impressive aging capacity, and it will age well for many more years.
Cantalupo Collis Breclemae Ghemme 1996
Deep black almandine ruby with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is fairly intense,with ith balsamic notes and hints of stable straw mingled with sea salt and some green leather. Pleasant in a rather distant and austere way, and though I often think of this combination as rustic, it isn't here. On the palate it's full, with bright sour berry fruit supported by ample tannins that have a warm slightly salty burr, and flow into a long clean savory berry fruit finish. Quite nice, and has a great deal to say; one could listen to the wine by its lonesome, or enjoy it considerably with succulent red meats. Unless you like studies in smoothness, you will like this.
Cantalupo Collis Breclemae Ghemme 1997
Deep black almandine ruby with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is elegant, with green leather and leaf tobacco mingled with some balsamic notes and pleasing slightly sour iodine laced berry fruit with sea salt undertones; there's quite a bit going on in a mature key. On the palate it's full, with rich spicy red berry fruit supported by clean bright berry fruit acidity and by tannins that lave lively peppery overtones and flow into a long spicy finish. It's quite charged, and will drink well with succulent red meats, be they roasts or stews, and will age well for many years more; as it stands because of the spiciness of the tannins I wouldn't drink it far from the table.
Cantalupo Collis Breclemae Ghemme 1998
Deep almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is fairly rich, with red berry fruit mingled with greenish notes and some vegetal overtones, and underlying spice. On the palate it's full, with fairly rich slightly sour red berry fruit supported by clean sour cherry acidity that flow into a clean berry fruit finish with some savory overtones. Pleasant, and though I wouldn't drink it far from the table it will go nicely with succulent red meats.
Cantalupo Collis Breclemae Ghemme 1999
Deep black almandine ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is bright, with a mixture of red berry fruit and some vegetal notes -- bell pepper -- and ample youthful airy spice. Quite a bit going on in a sunny youthful package. On the palate it's full, with bright vegetal-laced red berry fruit supported by moderate acidity and by tannins that have a spicy youthful green burr, and flow into a long clean slightly greenish finish with tannic underpinning. It's quite young, in a pleasingly brash key, a wine that looks one in the eye and doesn't blink at all; it will drink well now with succulent red meats, but also has much to offer those who have the patience to set it aside for a few years. A pleasing combination of elegance and finesse that is well worth seeking out.
Want to know more? The Antiche Cantine Cantalupo's website has all sorts of interesting information on the wines and the area.
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