Walter Speller has a very simple, and effective, answer when The Buyer asks him why he is about to embark on what will be the third edition of the Nebbiolo Day tasting in March. Here’s his response: “In one word: because it is great. Nebbiolo is capable of making some of the finest and longest-lived wines in the world. It has not always been understood as such, but ‘the shock of the new’ is now well behind us and Nebbiolo’s tannins are no longer traumatising the UK.” Far from it and there will a big rush to sign up to this year’s event on March 3. Here Speller explains more of his love for Nebbiolo and what to expect next month at the London tasting.
If you would like to find out more and sign up to what will be the third edition of the Nebbiolo Day tasting on March 3 then click here.
Tell us about Nebbiolo Day tasting what can people expect?
The third edition of Nebbiolo Day was originally scheduled for March 2021, which for obvious reasons we didn’t even contemplate organising, but we did poll producers who had participated in the previous very successful editions. Almost unanimously they were in favour for the event to take place this year and 81 of them have firmly committed.
This edition sees quite a few new and some very prominent faces. It is the first time the outstanding Arpepe estate from Valtellina will be present. Across the board all their wines are of the highest quality, but especially their entry level Rosso di Valtellina, with more than 100 days on the skins, is worth singling out.
Quite a few of Piemonte’s new generation will make the journey to London. Wizz-kid Gian Paolo Colombo, probably the Langhe’s youngest consultant oenologist works with an impressive list of producers, among whom Réva and Castello di Perno, will present his Barolos for the first time in the UK. It is also a first for his protégé, Podere Fogliati, which owns an enviable slice of the top cru Bussia in Monforte d’Alba. Castello di Perno will show their new vintages, demonstrating how this estate goes from strength to strength.
Giulia Negri of the Serradenari estate will present her almost burgundian-style Barolos from this hidden corner in La Morra and Nicola Oberto from the recent Trediberri brings his prized Rocche dell’Annunziata cru. Mauro Veglio, now joined by his nephew Alessandro, will show his fantastic Arborina as well as the acclaimed Rocche dell’Annunziata.
Several top estates will be in London, the true Langhe nobility represented by GB Burlotto, Brovia, GD Vajra, Brezza, Cordero di Montezemolo, Domenico Clerico, Germano Ettore, and Serralunga’s shooting star Giovanni Rosso.
Pio Cesare, represented by the next generation, the formidable Federica Boffa and Ceretto, which after their conversion to biodynamics have shot to the very top of the denomination, will both be at the event. Among the traditionalists, Marcarini and Aurelio Settimo, a first for this estate, will be showing their wines. Francesco Versio, Luigi Oddero’s young and extraordinarily talented oenologist, harnessing the full potential of the estate’s prized vineyards in La Morra, Serralunga d’Alba and Castiglione Falletto, will show how fast this estate is rising.
From Barbaresco we will have the jewel-like Cantina del Pino, the eminences grises in the form of Produttori del Barbaresco, Poderi Colla, Marchesi di Gresy and Giuseppe Cortese as well as Dave Fletcher, Ceretto’s winemaker, who makes stellar Barbarescos under his own name as well as Nebbiolo in Australia in his spare time. There are many more and with several looking for UK representation, so importers with a keen interest in Nebbiolo but low on Nebbiolo agencies have plenty to discover at this year’s edition of Nebbiolo Day.
(Click here to access the full list of producers taking part)
You have held several focused Italian tastings now. What have you learnt from visitors that really works and makes them stand out?
With two, and soon three, editions under our belt what we have experienced compared with the first edition in 2017, is that the event helped trigger growing interest in all things Nebbiolo. Because the event showcases so many different denominations and such a wide range of styles next to each other, this has led to a much more nuanced way of looking at regions, such as Alto Piemonte, which, admittedly is still a bit of a hunting ground for Nebbiolo bargains but gone are the days that this area was seen as a ‘lighter version’ of the more famous denominations. Valtellina is probably the most ephemeral and alpine of all wines at Nebbiolo Day but even these wines can age for decades.
A very simple but extremely effective tool to show these amazing variations on the Nebbiolo theme has always been the ‘Walk Around’ tasting showing a new release from each of the participating producers. This allows trade visitors an in-depth look in styles and an instant view of the new vintages well before ProWein and Vinitaly.
We give enormous effort to the Nebbiolo Day catalogue, which is the key to unlock the Nebbiolo door, or rather, the many Nebbiolo doors and educate at the same time. Indices are organised alphabetically, by denomination and table number. In the wink of an eye anyone looking for Bramaterra, Valtellina or Langhe Nebbiolo will find all producers listed under these denominations. Maps and detailed descriptions of all major denominations are included as well as a detail portrait of the common denominator – Nebbiolo.
Why do you think Nebbiolo deserves a specialist focus like this?
In one word: because it is great. Nebbiolo is capable of making some of the finest and longest-lived wines in the world. It has not always been understood as such, but ‘the shock of the new’ is now well behind us and Nebbiolo’s tannins are no longer traumatising the UK.
But I remember different times, say 20 years ago when Nebbiolo’s tannins were almost considered a defect. These were the heady days of Merlot and internationally styled Bordeaux blend. While Barolo and Barbaresco especially have been experiencing tail winds, it took a lot of education to get there. Fundamental, at least according to me, is visiting the regions where the grape grown. This will say more than anything and will get anyone hooked for life.
Nebbiolo deserved (and still does) all of this effort, support and attention because it is one of the world’s top class red varieties and in my eyes equal to if not greater than Pinot Noir. Over the last decade Nebbiolo has been the antidote to Italy’s best-selling wines in the UK, which invariably were (and, relatively speaking, still are) cheap. Except for enriching the vinous offering of many wine lists and wine shelves, Nebbiolo is able to convince wine lovers and wine professionals to trade up, rather than down.
What do you see as the big defining characteristics of Nebbiolo that make it such a versatile grape variety?
Adaptability to Piemonte’s terroir and convey this clearly in the glass. Its high level of transparency which doesn’t allow for many errors (nor new oak, I should add). Tannins and acidity are quoted time and again as its most obvious attributes, but I think what counts far more is overall balance, length, fascinating array of flavours and aromas and its fabled ageing capacity.
What changes are you seeing in vineyards and with winemakers as to how they making and working with Nebbiolo – why are they making those changes and what impact does it have on the wines?
Nowadays, changes are less dictated by perceived market demands and more by the challenges climate change and global warming present to producers. Especially hail, a risk that was mostly limited from early to late spring, now happens throughout the entire growing cycle and with devastating consequences. This has led to the widespread use of hail nets, a necessary evil because they are ugly. Canopy management has changed from aggressive leaf plucking to creating patches of shade. Extremely low yields are a thing of the past, now that increasingly hotter summers are having a big impact on the grapes and, later, acidity levels in the final wines.
While Michet is considered a virus-afflicted Lampia, one of Nebbiolo’s main clones, controversially quite a few producers use massal selection in their vineyard to single the best Michet vines out, because they argue it makes for the best wines. Some go so far as to plant whole vineyards with Michet, with many following their example.
In the cellar, whole bunch fermentation, at least in part, has become a trend, while the maceration times, now on average more than three weeks and regularly much longer has led to finer, not more tannins. This prolonged maceration has falsified the so called ‘modernist approach’ of which its adherents saw tannins as an evil and hence employed ultra-short maceration times. However, we see the first signs of a new controversy: some producers now argue that prolonged maceration times lead to simpler wines. Whether this idea catches on depends on how much experimentation individual producers are willing to do, but some have already begun.
Who do you think will most benefit from the tasting?
Everyone, including me. Nebbiolo Day gives you the unique opportunity to literally walk from one denomination to the next, from Gattinara, to Roero, to Serralunga d’Alba and compare styles and regions directly whilst also get first-hand information from the producers themselves.
Any masterclasses that people can sign up for?
The great Alessandro Masnaghetti, Italy’s cartographer second to absolutely none and the world’s undisputed expert on Barolo and Barbaresco’s will run two seminars to be announced shortly.
For people who are new to Nebbiolo what place do you think they have on a wine list?
Nowadays I don’t think a wine list of real class can be without Barolo or Barbaresco, but for the novice an excellent entry level wine is Langhe Nebbiolo, which gives a very good idea of what to expect when trading up.
I don’t think Nebbiolo should replace any wines, it should enhance and add versatility to wine lists.
What other plans do you have for tastings and special events this year?
There are a couple of projects Jane Hunt MW and I are working on, but until we can actually confirm we’d rather keep this under wraps. However, as always, our efforts are focused on Italy’s indigenous varieties and their origins of cultivation. There is still an enormous lot to be discovered in Italy and hence to inform and educate the UK market about.
- To sign up and find out about Nebbiolo Day on March 3 from 10am to 6.30pm click here.