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by Tom Hill

A self-admitted wine geek, Tom lives in Northern New Mexico and works as a computational physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory doing numerical neutron transport & large scale code development. He has been tasting wines since 1971, participates locally with a couple of large tasting groups in his area, and is practically a fixture at most California wine festivals, such as the Hospice du Rhône, Rhône Rangers, and ZAP. Other interests: Tom is heavily into competitive sport fencing (foil & epee), biking, cooking, basketball, skiing, backpacking, mountain climbing.

2nd NAP (Nebbiolo Advocates & Producers) - August 23, 2011

2nd NAP (Nebbiolo Advocates & Producers) GetToGether (8/23/11):

I've long had a fondness for the Nebbiolo grape ever since DarrellCorti first started selling them to me back in the early '70's. But more it evolved into sorta a love/hate relationship. I love the aromatics of the grape. It can be ethereal at times. The perfume has a distinct floral character of lilacs and violets and dried rose petals. It can sometimes smell of pungency and fresh road tar and licorice. And often those components can be intertwined. Especially when they have some age on them, they can be incredible and complex. But it's when it hits my palate that the problems begin. In their youth, the high acidity and tannin levels can be fierce. So you're always admonished to give them time to age. Sometimes yes/sometimes not. Sometimes the evolve into something ethereal and magical. Sometimes they never shed those fierce tannins. So I've become sorta conflicted when it comes to Piedmonte Nebbiolo.

I've long felt that Calif could do a better job w/ Nebbiolo than the Piedmonte. I'm still convinced that that's the case. PinotNoir was once considered a temperamental and problem grape in Calif. That thought was long ago put to rest. We can do the same w/ Nebbiolo I feel.

The first Calif Nebbiolo was produced in 1982 by NickMartin at MartinBros wnry in PasoRobles, using some old Nebb out of a vnyd in the SanJoaquinVlly. It was a pretty decent Nebb, especially considering it's lowly provenance. In the early '80's, Nick planted Nebbiolo Michet in his EastSide Paso vnyd and produced the first one in 1986. It was actually pretty darn good Nebb....not great Barolo..but good/tasty wine that spoke of Nebbiolo and was the first indication that Nebbiolo had a future in Calif.

Since those early years, there has been a quiet/under-the-radar interest in Calif in growing Nebbiolo. I think much of that interest was spurred by a comment that Parker once made at a talk afore some winemakers in which he flat-out declared Nebbiolo to be a failure in Calif. So some of the interest in Nebbiolo is driven by contrarian winemakers.

Several yrs ago, I was visiting with both EmilioCastelli/GreenVlly/RRV and KenMusso/ElDorado and suggested that it might be a good idea to get some of the Calif Nebb producers together and taste the wines and talk about them. So, in August 2009; we got together at WindGap wnry for our Inaugural NAP (Nebbiolo Advocates & Producers). This was reported after that event (www.grape-nutz.com/recent.html).

Since that first meeting, things have been sorta quiet on the Calif Nebbiolo front. More producers are giving Nebbiolo a shot. Last Spring, Ken thought it was time to have another NAP#2, to which I readily agreed. He agreed to host it at Silenus Wnry, a small custom crush facility on the North outskirts of Napa where he makes his DueVigne wines, including a Nebbiolo and Dolcetto from his ElDorado vnyd. After some false starts, we got a date set in Aug the week after the Family Winemakers tasting at FtMason and started inviting. It was on a rather short notice, so many of the winemakers were unable to attend.

Attendees were:
  KenZinns/HarringtonWnry/SanFrancisco/cellar rat
  BryanPastini/Freemont/home winemaker/Nebbiolo fan
  Ken&AnneMusso/DueVigne/ElDorado grower/winemaker
  Pietro Buttitta/Rosa d'OroWnry/Kelseyville/winemaker
  Scott Meadows/Silenus vineyards
  Brad Smith/Silenus vineyards/production manager

    It was a very casual gathering in the outside courtyard at Silenus under pretty warm temperatures. We just pulled together two picnic tables, sat outselves down, introduced ourselves, and started talking Nebbiolo. After that, we started pulling corks, passing bottles, and talking about the wines. My sketchy notes on the wines we tasted are below. Such as they are. After over an hour of this high-level/intellectual discussions, we adjourned to some light dinner fare and popped a few more corks. And then we adjourned into the dead of the night.

  1. Castelli MayBlush Nebbiolo DryRose GreenVlly (12.5%) 2010: Pale copper/orange color; flowery watermelon/spicy slight earthy nose; dry lean slight tannic spicy/watermelon/juicy rather tart finish; a clean bright attractive rose for food in a Provencal style.
  2. Madrona NebbioloRose ElDorado (13.5%) 2010: Darker copper/salmon color; pleasant/simple slight floral/spicy/earthy nose; bit soft maybe off-dry light floral spicy flavor w/ little tannins; not the lean/angular style of the Castelli and a bit on the simple side, but pleasant enough.
  3. DueVigne Nebbiolo MussoVnyd/ElDorado (14.4%; + Barbera) 2007: Med.color; slight herbal rather floral/lilacs quite pretty fragrant nose; bit tannic/hard floral/lilacs/perfumed slight earthy more lush/Calif-style fairly tart flavor; long tart fairly lush bit tannic/hard floral/lilacs finish; lots of pretty floral character; still needs several yrs.
  4. DueVigne Nebbiolo MussoVnyd/ElDorado (14.4%; 8% Barbera) 2008: Slightly lighter color; tighter bit alcoholic lovely floral/lilacs/violets some perfumed/fragrant nose; more tannic/acid bit tighter lovely floral/lilacs/violets flavor; long fairly tart/tannic attractive floral/lilacs finish; clearly a bit tighter than the '07 and needs more age; not quite as rich/lush & more lean than the '07.
  5. Rosa d'Oro Nebbiolo Riserva ClearLake/LakeCnty (13.8%) NV(75% '08/25% '09): Light color w/ slight bricking; slight funky/earthy/pungent slight herbal/roasted chile/pungent/tarry light floral/lilacs slight alcoholic nose; rather lean/tannic/hard light floral/lilacs some pungent/herbal/earthy/tarry flavor; med.long light floral/lilacs some pungent/herbal/earthy/tarry light floral finish; needs more age; shows more of the pungent/tarry side of Nebbiolo than most of the others; maybe road-tar Lite; interesting Nebb in a different style.
  6. Karmere Empress LaPetiteMorgan Nebbiolo ShenandoahVlly (14.3%) 2007: Med.light color; bit alcoholic some briary/ShenandoahVlly/berry light lilacs/floral nose; soft fairly lush light tannic briary/berry some floral/lilacs/perfumed flavor; med. soft/ripe lush berry/briary/floral/lilacs nose; speaks of ShenandoahVlly/briary mostly and quietly of Nebb.
  7. Karmere Empress LaPetiteMorgan Nebbiolo ShenandoahVlly (14.6%) 2008: Med.colr; stronger more fragrant/perfumed/aromatic strong blackberry/briary light floral/lilacs nose; bit more hard/tannic strong briary/berry light floral/lilacs soft/rich/lush perfumed flavor; med.long some hard/tannic strong briary/blackberry light floral/lilacs/perfumed slight pungent finish; speaks of ShenandoahVlly but more Nebb on the palate; needs some age.
  8. BuonaVitaCllrs Nebbiolo RRV (14.8%) 2007: Med.light color; lots of toasty/oak slight floral/lilacs/ perfumed some licorice/pungent attractive nose; soft fairly lush/ripe some floral/lilacs/licorice/pungent somewhat toasty/oak bit tannic flavor; med.long some toasty/oak light floral/lilacs/aromatic light pungent/licorice finish w/ modest tannins; rather Calif in style but speaks of Nebb.
  9. Castelli Nebbiolo Estate/GreenVlly/RRV (13.3%) 2007: Med.color; bit pungent/earthy/dusty lovely floral/fragrant/lilacs/violets/Nebb very light toasty/oak slight tarry nose; tart/lean/acid some pungent/herbal/licorice/tarry strong floral/violets/lilacs/perfumed fairly lush bit tannic/hard flavor; very long strong floral/lilacs/violets rather tart/lean light licorice/tarry fairly tannic finish; needs 2-5 yrs age yet; lovely floral aromatics.
  10. Harrington Nebbiolo PasoRobles AJB&LunaMata vnyds/WestSide (14.3%; 30% whole cluster) 2008: Med.light color; ripe/lush some Paso/jammy light floral/lilacs/Nebb slight licorice/pungent rather perfumed nose; softer/lush bit plummy/jammy/Paso light floral/violets/lilacs modest tannins light oak flavor; long bit softer/lusher floral/violets/Nebb light toasty/oak some plummy/jammy finish w/ light tannins; lots a pure fruit and some jammy Paso character.
  11. Harrington Nebbiolo PasoRobles (14.1%) 2009: Med.light color; light toasty/oak quite fragrant/ perfumed/lilacs/violets/floral aromatic lovely nose; tarter bit more lean/tannic/structured quite fragrant/floral/violets light toasty/oak flavor; very long floral/violets/lilacs bit hard/tannic/tart finish; the jammy Paso character is beaten down by the lovely/perfumed fragrance.
  12. Gang of Six plus One Nebbiolo PasoRobles (14.5%; 50% whole cluster) 2009: Med.light color; fairly floral/perfumed some Paso/jammy light pungent/smokey nose; tart/lean light floral/lilacs bit pungent/smokey/tarry finish w/ modest tannins; med.long tart/lean some tannic light floral/perfumed light smokey/pungent/tarry finish; needs more age; more bass notes than the Harrington version.
  13. Giornata Nebbiolo LunaMataVnyd/PasoRobles/WestSide (14.5%) 2007: Med.color; rather ripe/overripe/jammy/Paso light smokey/pencilly/cinammon some grapey/ripe little floral nose; soft/lush/ripe plummy/grapey/jammy/Paso some smokey/pencilly/oak very light floral/lilacs slight tannic flavor; med.long ripe/jammy/Paso/plummy/grapey light pencilly/oak finish w/ light tannins; seems on the ripe side and the Paso terroir trumps the Nebb aromatics.
  14. Giornata Nebbiolo LunaMataVnyd/PasoRobles/WestSide (14.5%) 2008: Med.color; some pencilly/ smokey/oak less jammy more floral/lilacs/perfumed nose; bit less soft light floral/lilacs slight plummy/ grapey light pencilly/oak flavor w/ some tannins; long bit tart/tannic somewhat floral/lilacs/perfumed finish; speaks more of Nebb and less of Paso/jammy terroir.
  15. Novy Nebbiolo StolpmanVnyd/SantaYnezVlly (14.1%) 2006: Med.color; strange funky/wet dog fur light toasty/oak some pungent/licorice very light floral/lilacs/grapey nose; softer/lusher some pungent/ licorice light toasty/oak very light fruity/grapey/floral bit funky/earthy some tannic/hard flavor; med.long bit funky/earthy slight grapey/floral/lilacs some toasty/oak bit tannic finish; not nearly as good as last one I had and seems a bit off.
  16. Palmina Nebbiolo SantaBarbaraCnty (14.9%) 2006: Med.light color; slight tarry/pungent bright/floral/ cherry/cherry cough drops/spicy bit pencilly/oak nose; slight tarry/pungent light cherry/cough drop/floral bit tannic/hard flavor; med. light cherry/cough drop/floral slight tarry/pungent/earthy some tannic/hard finish; almost a tutti-frutti or Pinot-like style to this wine and not a lot of Nebb character.
  17. Palmina Nebbiolo HoneaVnyd/SantaBarbaraCnty (14.3%; Michet) 2006: Med.color; rather strong pungent/oak/smokey some floral/lilacs bit earthy/dusty light pungent/tarry attractive nose; rather tannic/hard/tart strong pungent/smokey/oak fairly floral/lilacs/violets/grapey bit road tar/pungent/earthy flavor; long tannic/hard/angular light floral/lilacs/fruity some smokey/pungent/oak finish; needs some age; bit on the wirey/sinewey side compared to the Sisquoc.
  18. Palmina Nebbiolo RanchoSisquocVnyd/SantaBarbaraCnty (15.5%; Michet) 2006: Med.color; some smokey/pungent/licorice light road tar fairly floral/fragrant/lilacs/violets/grapey some toasty/smokey/oak bit alcoholic nose; softer rather ripe/grapey/floral/lilacs bit licorice/pungent/tarry some smokey/oak rather hard/tannic flavor; long some grapey/ripe light floral/lilacs light pungent/tarry/licorice some smokey/oak slight alcoholic fairly hard/tannic finish; some like a Sfursat w/o the earthy Valtelline character; very interesting Nebbiolo.
  19. ClendenonFamily Nebbiolo BriccoBuonNatale BienNacidoVnyd/SantaMariaVlly (14.1%) 2003: Med.light color; lovely floral/lilacs/violets/licorice/perfumed some smokey/pungent slight tarry very aromatic nose; somewhat hard/tannic/lean/acid very floral/lilacs/violets/perfumed slight tarry/licorice flavor; very long hard/tannic/tart/lean/austere very floral/violets/lilacs/perfumed bit tarry/licorice/pungent finish; needs age and should go for more than 10 yrs or so; probably the most varietally correct and my favorite of the Calif Nebbs.
  20. Madrona Nebbiolo ElDorado (14.5%) 2008: Med.color; earthy/dusty gout de terroir nose w/ little fruit or fragrance; soft earthy/dusty slightly fruity flavor; med. soft earthy/dusty lightly fruity/grapey finish w/ slight tannins; not much Nebb character and mostly speaks of ElDoradoCnty.
  21. NadaFiorenzo Barbaresco (13.5%) 1996: Med.light color w/ some bricking; rather tarry/pungent/classic Barbaresco very slight floral/violets fruit nose; tight/tart/hard/tannic rather pungent/tarry light floral/fruit flavor; long/lingering tarry/pungent/road tar slight floral/lilacs some tart rather tannic/hard/lean finish; not a lot of fruit left but classic Barbaresco tarry character; needs age to take down the tannins but not sure what will be left.
  22. L&L Nebbiolo mandolina SantaBarbaraCnty (14.3%) 2007: Med.light color; fairly grapey/lush slight floral/aromatic bit earthy nose; soft/lush/ripe grapey/fruit bit soupy slight floral bit toasty/oak flavor; med.short grapey/fruity/lush light toasty/oak finish w/ slight tannic bite; pleasant enough SBC red but a bit on soft/soupy side and not speak a lot of Nebb
  23. Ca'Nova Bocciolo DOC: CollineNovaresi Nebbiolo (13.0%) 2006: Med.color; lovely floral/lilacs/violets fairly rich/lush light tarry/pungent nose; bit hard/tannic lush/floral/lilacs/violets ripe light road tar/pungent flavor; very long ripe/lush strong floral/violets/lilacs/rose petal somewhat hard/tannic bit tarry/pungent finish; needs some age; if Calif winemakers want to make Italian Nebb, this one is it; my favorite of the Italian Nebbs by far.

    and from my FriuliFest notes in July:

  24. Ramsay NorthCoast Nebbiolo 1992: Med.light color; lovely floral/lilacs/Nebb bit tarry/earthy/pungent
    old Gattinara complex nose; tart still some tannic/hard lovely floral/Nebb light tarry/pungent slight faded
    rose petal/old Gattinara complex flavor; a lovely complex old Nebb/old Gattinara nose but still rather hard/tannic on the palate and not likely to outlive them.
  25. IlPodere Dell'Olivos SantaBarbaraCnty Nebbiolo 1988: Med.red color w/ no bricking; lovely floral/lilacs/violets slight smokey/tarry quite complex rather old Gattinara-like nose; lovely smooth light cedary/oak/pungent quite floral/lilacs/violets/Nebb very slight tannic complex flavor; long floral/violets/lilacs/Nebb slight pungent/ tarry smooth complex finish w/ slight tannic bite; a really lovely example of an old Nebbiolo much like an older Gattinara.

    And a wee BloodyPulpit:

    1. I thought all of the above Nebbiolos were sound/well-made wines. They spoke, with varying degrees of strength, of Nebbiolo. In some cases, the terroir (SantaBarbara, ShenandoahVlly, ElDorado, Paso) tended to sublimate the Nebb character. It is not at all obvious to me that any region in Calif can lay claim to being a superior site for the variety. At least not yet.
  26. My easy favorite of these Nebbs was the Ca'Nova CollineNovaresi. Of the Calif Nebbs, my favorite was probably the Clendenon, primarily because of the aromatics. But it has the tannins on the palate you expect from Nebbiolo and I see little reason it won't easily go out 10 or even 20 yrs. This btl was a gift from MichaelWild at BayWolf who wanted me to toss it into the mix when he heard what we were up to. Close behind were the Castelli, DueVigne, and the two Harringtons.
    2. The Calif Nebbiolo future: I think many of the folks out there buying wine share Parker's perception that Nebbiolo is a loser in Calif. I think that perception is flat-out wrong. But it will be a tough challenge to turn that ship around. As AdamLee suggested at NAP#1, Nebbiolo is probably going to remain a niche market for some time and that Italian restaurants are probably the best place to target for the market.

    People who are aficianodos of Piedmonte Nebbiolo seem to have pretty closed minds and if it doesn't taste like Barolo/Barbaresco, they're not likely to accept the Calif renditions. If Calif Nebb winemakers want to look to Italy for a model, I've long suggested the Novara Hills, Lombardy, and the Valtelline are where they should look. Not Barolo/Barbaresco and the Langhe. But the key is to get people to just try the wines, with an open mind, and not have any preconceived notions as to what a Calif Nebbiolo MUST taste like.
    3. I think most of the participants at NAP#2 left w/ a great deal of enthusiasm for Nebbiolo in Calif. KenMusso wants to put together a mailing list and do a quarterly Newsletter, an ambitious but worthy goal. I can see this effort starting out much like the ViognierGuild, just a gathering of winemakers. And look at where that effort took Viognier and Rhone varietals in Calif. I hope these get-togethers can become an annual event. Maybe...someday.. even a FtMason tasting event??
    4. The moniker NAP sucks big time. A better, catchier name must be come up with for this sorta rag-tag group of winemakers. Maybe we can get some of the best minds in Science to work the problem.



[Additional Wine Reviews from Tom Hill]


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