October 15, 2016

Vertical of the month: Nervi Gattinara / Spanna 2012-1950

The Gattinara region at the foot of the Alps in Piedmont, some hour-and-a-half's drive away from the prestigious Barolo region, has had its ups and downs in the past. Back when the Barolo wines were rustic, simple and sweet red wines, the perfumed Gattinara wines were the best wine Piedmont could offer. The fame of Gattinara's wines was peaking by the end of the 19th century, until the phylloxera struck the region and the vineyards were finally decimated by a series of hailstorms at the beginning of the 20th century. The vineyard area (then some 600 hectares) in Gattinara was diminished and the wines were all but forgotten. However, the region gained sudden popularity in the 1960's, followed by their own DOC appellation in 1967. Even though the wines never reached the levels of their past fame, the region was awarded with a DOCG appellation in 1990.

Now Gattinara seems to be once again regaining its fame; as the popularity (and the bottle prices) of Barolo and Barbaresco wines climb higher and higher, people who have developed a taste for Nebbiolo grape are looking for more reasonably priced alternatives. It's no big wonder these people usually find Gattinara first.

Gattinara is not a big region by any standards: whereas the world-acclaimed wine regions often cover hundreds – or even thousands – of hectares (for example Bordeaux 120,000 ha; Burgundy 30,000 ha; Barolo 1,700 ha; and even Barbaresco some 650 ha), Gattinara covers only 100 ha. That's even less than what a medium-to-large-sized winery could own on its own! Although there are some 10 producers in Gattinara, the lion's share of the region's production comes from three wineries.
  • The biggest of them is Travaglini – a family winery often considered synonymous with Gattinara, as they own about half of the region's vineyards with their ~50 hectares' worth of holdings
  • The third biggest is Antoniolo, also a family producer with some 14 hectares of vines.
As the wines were traditionally aged for extended times in large botti casks, both of these families are considered as "modernists" (a term associated with wineries using small barrique oak barrels, especially in Barolo and Barbaresco); after all, as opposed to the local style of aging wines in big botti casks, Travaglini ages a 10% portion of their wines in barrique casks, of which 10% are new – that's really "modernist" for you! Antoniolo, on the other hand, is the winery that originally brought barriques to the region, although the winery has now reverted back to the botti casks with occasional use of larger tonneaux barrels.
  • Nervi, on the other hand, has never been considered a modernist winery, but instead the standard bearer of the traditional style of the region. Having been founded over a hundred years ago, Nervi is the oldest winery of the region, and with some 25 hectares under vine, it is also the second biggest.
  • The rest of the regional vineyards – spanning less than 10 ha – are shared by a small handful of small local producers and a group of local smallgrowers who sell their crop to the local co-operative.

What differentiates Gattinara from Barolo and Barbaresco is not only the cooler climate the region enjoys further up north, but also the volcanic soil (unique to Gattinara amongst all Nebbiolo-producing regions) that in best terroirs of the region can grant bright acidity and a slightly smoky note to the wines. The wines are always made from Spanna, the local synonym for the world-famous Nebbiolo – although up to 10% of local varieties of Bonarda and Vespolina are allowed – and aged for at least 3 years (with minimum one year in oak) before release. The wines often show the perfume, complexity and the poise – and, of course, the grippy tannins – the Nebbiolo variety is renowned for, but they are often less ripe than Baroli or Barbareschi, making the Gattinara wines light-to-medium-bodied and higher in acidity, whereas the Nebbiolos of Barolo and Barbaresco are often medium-to-full-bodied and exhibit sweeter, more ripe fruit aromas and flavors.

For a long time, Nervi was considered to be at the top of the game in Gattinara; the old, traditional producer making stellar Nebbiolos at this relatively northerly location. This house was founded in 1906 by Luigi Nervi, a wine grower in a family who had produced wine in the Gattinara region since the 16th century. Luigi originally did not own any vineyards, but instead produced wine from his father's vineyards and worked as a négociant, buying wine from other local producers. The business started running well quite quickly and not long after having opened the winery, the Nervi winery had acquired its own vineyards as well. After Luigi died in 1953, his son, Italo Nervi took care of the business, and during his time the popularity of Nervi wines boomed – thanks to his friendship with director Mario Soldati, who advertised the Gattinara wines extensively. After Italo passed away in 1975 with no heirs, the winery was split up between five of his cousins and two workers at the winery, who ran the winery for 16 years, until selling the winery to the steel magnate Germano Bocciolone in 1991.

Bocciolone had high hopes for the winery, but before he could realize his dreams fully, he died in a car accident in 1992. The steel company Bocciolone took over the winery via Bocciolone's four children, who recruited oenologist Donato Lanati to make the wines. For some time the business was good, but towards the 21st century, the markets shriveled and the winery started to fall into disuse. Finally, in 2011, four Norwegian families keen on restoring the winery into its former glory bought the dilapidated winery with the Astrup family buying the majority and taking the lead. During their time the winery has started to regain footing and once again people are hailing Nervi as the top winery in Gattinara, one specializing only in strictly traditionalist style Nebbiolos.

Nervi Gattinara
DOCG Gattinara
  • Nervi
  • Country: Italy
  • Region: Piedmont, Gattinara
  • Grape(s): Nebbiolo (100%)






The technical specifications for older Nervi Gattinaras are impossible to find, but as Nervi is considered to be a traditionalist, their methods of winemaking have changed relatively little during the past century – the biggest differences are not in the winemaking methods but in the equipment that have been modernized to suit the winery's needs.

Although it is allowed to blend Bonarda and Vespolina into the Gattinara wines, Nervi Gattinaras are normally pure varietal Spanna (i.e. Nebbiolo) – although it might have been a whole different story half a century ago. The wines made today spend first 3 years in large oak botti casks, after which the wines are blended into cement vats, where they are left to settle. After short maturation period, the wines are bottled and left to age for a further year. Normally Nervi Gattinaras are not released until minimum 4 years after the vintage. This long aging before release is stipulated in the Gattinara DOCG appellation rules – minimum 3 years with one in oak for normale and minimum 4 years with two in oak for riserva – in order to smoothen down the often racy acidity and grippy tannins, that in the past might have been quite green and harsh in the coolest vintages. Nowadays the local producers don't have to worry about too cool vintages in which the grapes fail to ripen properly, but the wines still benefit from the extra aging, giving them extraordinary aging capability. Nervi prefers to use exclusively old, large oak casks of several thousands of litres so that the wine benefits from the slow, oxidative oak aging, but does not receive any oak flavors or aromatics from the aging process. Most likely the older vintages have been produced more or less the same way the winery does now under the new, Norwegian ownership.

Here are my notes over the past few years spanning several decades' worth of Nervi wines.

***

Nervi Gattinara 2012
  • Tasted on: October 17th, 2016
Translucent pomegranate color. Thoroughly attractive, even somewhat rustic and funky nose with aromas of cherry, smoke, some dried flowers, a little leather and a hint of something barnyardy – perhaps a faint touch of brettanomyces, adding some of that slightly animal and slightly phenolic complexity? The palate is dry, medium-bodied and rather acid-driven with positively rough and unpolished flavors of cherry, leather, smoke, gravelly minerality, some sour cherry, a little lingonberry and a hint of manure. The wine is quite ripe with rather prominent, but not overtly grippy tannins, resulting in quite smooth and very balanced mouthfeel. The wine finishes with a spicy and somewhat astringent note with complex flavors of ripe cherry, smoke, some gravelly earth, a little farmyard and a touch of cumin.

93/100
Summary: I got a feeling from drinking this wine that after the Norwegians took over the house, the style of the wine has shifted from more fruit-forward and polished style to one less polished and more rustic – a direction most welcome! This wine showed lovely brightness, structure and complexity, but also that nervous character too young lighter Nebbiolos tend to exhibit. Though very drinkable right now with few hours of aeration, this wine really is one that is meant to be cellared. This is all about cellaring potential. I'm thrilled by the style the new owners. Highly recommended.

***


Nervi Gattinara 2009
  • Tasted on: March 17th, 2016
Translucent, dark cherry color with a light maroon hue. Rich, ripe and expressive nose with sweet but quite brooding aromas of dark and slightly wizened cherry, dusty earth, some tar and a hint of raisin. You can notice the sweet nuances of a hot vintage even in a northerly wine like this. The moderately full-bodied palate feels ripe, but much less so than the nose. There are dark-toned, ever so slightly sweet flavors of cherry, dusty earth, some wizened cherry, a little exotic spice, a hint of tar and nuances of pruney and slightly raisiny fruit. The structure is really wonderful and quite tightly wound with moderately high acidity and firm, quite grippy tannins. The wine finishes with a very long, dark-toned and pretty tannic finish with flavors of ripe plums, slightly wizened cherries, some dusty earth, a little stony minerality and hints of exotic spices.

91/100
Summary: In Piedmont, it is rare to come by a Nebbiolo from the vintage 2009 that I'd enjoy – this hot vintage resulted in wines that tend to show some excessive ripeness and raisiny fruit in addition to often rather moderate and soft structure. Well, apparently even Nervi didn't escape this fate completely, because even in the cooler climates of Gattinara the temperatures rose that year so high that these wines tend to show some dried fruit character. Fortunately, this wine is otherwise really lovely with dry and structured palate that tends more towards austerity than richness, even though the wine is quite fruit-forward for a young Gattinara. It is drinking quite well now, but (unlike many 2009 Baroli and Barbareschi) I'd give it some more years in the cellar to give it some additional complexity. Probably not the best wine for really long haul, but one that will easily survive at least a decade, maybe even two. Definitely one of the best 2009 Nebbioli I've had.

***

Nervi Gattinara 2005
  • Tasted on: April 23rd, 2016
Translucent, luminous ruby color with a slightly maroon hue. A bit reticent and slightly dusty, developed nose with aromas of ripe, dark berries, some cherry, a little raspberry, a hint of hay and a whiff of smoke. There seems to be a slightly dirty overtone here suggesting that something's not entirely right. The wine is rather full-bodied, rich and surprisingly soft with ripe flavors of red cherry, dark-toned fruit, some sweeter red-toned notes of strawberry and raspberry marmalade and a hint of gamey meat. The acidity is quite soft and gentle and the tannins seem rather modest as well. The wine seems surprisingly ripe and fruit-forward for a Gattinara. The wine finishes with a ripe, somewhat sweet and medium-length finish with supple flavors of ripe red cherry, sweet dark berry-driven fruit and hints of sour cherry bitterness.

87/100
Summary: An enjoyable, but overall a bit pedestrian example of Nervi's style. Perhaps the wine hasn't been kept properly, as I picked this specific bottle from a supermarket in the valley of Aosta a year back – I doubt the wine had been waiting for me for a half a decade on the shelves, but probably it hadn't been aged in optimal conditions before reaching the supermarket. The nose didn't promise much, suggesting poor provenance, but fortunately the palate was a lot better and at the end of the day, this Gattinara was perfectly enjoyable. However, the wine didn't reach the level one would expect from Nervi – thus, the score here is not really representative of the vintage wholly.

***

Nervi Gattinara 1978
  • Tasted on: December 18th, 2013
Moderately translucent and slightly hazy cherry red color with a hint of orange bricking towards the rim. Lovely, complex and layered nose with attractive, fragrant aromas of barnyard funk, cherry marmalade, tar, some perfumed rose aromatics, a little iron and hints of leather. With some air, the wine develops a sweeter, slightly syrupy or caramel undertone. The palate is light-to-medium-bodied with bright, racy acidity. There are dry, developed and quite intense flavors of sour cherry, tart lingonberry, some cranberry, a little tar, hints of stony minerality and a touch of leather. The wine turns even drier towards the tightly wound and slightly tannic finish, which is dominated by tart lingonberry, sour cherry and cranberry-driven red fruit character along with hints of dried herbs, some fragrant floral nuances and smoky tar.

94/100
Summary: At 35 years of age, this Nebbiolo is only starting to show some developed character, but is obviously far from going downhill – probably the wine is peaking now, or still on its way up. The age has mellowed some of its tannins, but its acidity is high as ever, giving the wine a rather light, bright and focused appearance. Wonderful structure, balance and depth with still a little bit of room for development. The wine is drinking nicely now, but will keep for some decades more.

***

Nervi Gattinara 1971
  • Tasted on: September 19th, 2016
Translucent garnet color with a slightly maroon hue. Complex, fragrant and very attractive bouquet that feels slightly concentrated by the years. Developed aromas of sweet plummy fruit, some characterful and rustic animal notes, a little bit of meat stock, minty herbal nuances, a little cigar smoke, a hint of perfumed rose aromatics and a touch of peppermint or eucalyptus. The palate is quite light-bodied and very acid-driven with flavors of ripe cherry, some minerality and hints of tobacco; there is also a faint overtone of iron or something metallic. Even though there is some sense of concentration, the wine does not feel rich one bit. The long finish is quite bitter with tannic astringency and flavors of sour cherry, medicinal herbs and gravelly earth, with sweeter and more mellow nuances of ripe cherry and hints of tar – even slightly candied touch of Finnish tervaleijona tar candy.

93/100
Summary: These Nervi wines seem to be aging at a pretty glacial pace, as even this 45-year old wine seems more youthful than old with the main mature characteristics being the sense of concentration brought by age – not any really developed aromas or flavors. Sure, you can sniff or taste the wine and realize, it is old, but more like 10–15 years old than something closer to half a century! Wonderful example of the lighter, more lithe style. This wine has some lovely complexity, but at the end of the day, it is not as stunning as some other vintages. Very good, perhaps even excellent, but still not something exceptional.

***

Nervi Gattinara Riserva 1970
  • Tasted on: September 19th, 2016
Surprisingly concentrated and even rather opaque dark-to-black cherry color with some deposit in the glass. Dry, savory and a bit closed nose with somewhat developed, fragrant aromas of wizened cherry, peppery spice, perfumed floral notes, some dried mushrooms, a little licorice and a hint of ink. The wine feels quite full-bodied and concentrated on the palate with impressive structure of high acidity and firm, grippy tannins. There are dry, concentrated and complex flavors of dark cherry, dried herbs, licorice, tobacco, some chokeberry, a little blueberry and a hint of tar. The long, dry finish seems as concentrated and intense as the midpalate with ripe flavors of dark cherry, sour cherry bitterness, some cranberry tartness and hints of smoke, tobacco and tar.

97/100
Summary: At 45 years of age, this wine really doesn't make any sense. You should show at least some maturity, but no, not this one. There is some hints of development, but overall this could be a wine with 10 years of age for all I know. The concentration and intensity is remarkable, and the fruit is obviously on the ripe side, yet the wine feels very sleek, sinewy and bone-dry – there is no sense of weight or fatness nor there is any sweetness either from the ripeness or from what happens when the fruit gets "dried" with age. This is just really focused, complex and vibrant Nebbiolo fruit of stunning purity and beauty. One of the greatest Nebbiolo wines I've had and the wine is still remarkably youthful – I feel this wine is not peaking yet but there is room for further development. Very highly recommended.

***

Nervi Gattinara 1967
  • Tasted on: February 4th, 2016
Surprisingly dark, borderline opaque bloody red color with slightly purple-brown figgy rims. Really exciting and a bit funky nose with mature aromas of dried figs, dried roses, prunes, cherry pit, dusty earth, some leather, a little acetone, a hint of smoke, a touch of raisin sweetness and a faint whiff of balsamic volatility. There's just layers upon layers of aromas, really! The palate is rich and quite full-bodied with complex, developed, succulent flavors of sweet dark cherry, wizened forest fruits, some pruney fruit and dried dates and a little raisin with sweet volatile hints of acetone and balsamico. The mouthfeel is really silky with completely resolved, gentle tannins, yet the wine feels structured and balanced with its bright acidity. The finish is long and complex with developed flavors of plummy dark fruit, dark cherry, some allspice-driven spiciness, a hint of earth and nice tug of tannic astringency.

96/100
Summary: A gorgeous, aged Gattinara that shows some signs of both age and funky volatility, yet the first and foremost impression of this one is a wine of true elegance and sophistication. There is a lot of complexity to it and you could just sit there for hours on end just sniffing the wine and savoring small sips. Spectacular stuff that shows just how nicely Nebbiolos can age – and not just those from Barolo or Barbaresco.

***

Nervi Gattinara 1965
  • Tasted on: February 4th, 2016
Dark, slightly translucent cherry color with somewhat pale and slightly figgy purple-maroon rims. Developed, ripe and somewhat sweet nose betraying hints of oxidation and the faintest touch of volatility. Aromas of sweet figs, ginjinha (Portuguese sour cherry liqueur), some damson liqueur and farmyard hints of leather and manure. The wine feels quite concentrated and substantial in the mouth with juicy but rather dry, robust flavors of sour cherry, ripe dark cherry, dried figs, dates and a hint of earth. The tannins are there, but they feel very soft and resolved; the structure relies mainly on the balanced acidity. The wine finishes with powerful and slightly sweeter aftertaste of dried dark cherries, prunes, some raisins and damson liqueur – flavors concentrated by the age.

95/100
Summary: A really beautiful aged Gattinara that is starting to show some quite mature character, but surprisingly there is very little to none of any really aged or oxidized character – the wine mainly feels that its flavors have become really concentrated with the years, taking on a bit sweeter edge. The wine maintains wonderful clarity and focus, but has become rather smooth and mellow with age: a wine to be savored primarily on its own, not with food.

***

Nervi Gattinara 1964
  • Tasted on: February 4th, 2016
NB: This is the first DOC Gattinara labeled vintage, retroactively granted in 1967 when DOC Gattinara appellation came into effect. 

Surprisingly dark and rather opaque dark cherry color with a slightly figgy hue. Developed, crunchy and characterful nose with attractive aromas of mature figgy fruit, some prune, a little wizened cherry, a hint of raisin and a whiff of bruised apple. The full-bodied, succulent palate feels a lot younger than the nose suggests with dry but very juicy and rich flavors of dark cherry, plummy fruit, some sour plum bitterness, a hint of ripe forest berries and a touch of dried herbs. There is also a faint undertone of sweet volatility. The wine feels surprisingly ripe and rich with an almost chewy texture, yet it does not feel heavy one little bit, thanks to the balanced acidity. The wine finishes with a coarse, tannic, mouth-drying grip and with a complex aftertaste of dark cherries, ripe plums, some exotic spices, a little chokeberry, a hint of fig marmalade and a touch of sour cherry bitterness.

97/100
Summary: Stunning, just beautiful. Really a Gattinara at its peak: showing lots of developed character, yet also retaining some suggestion on youthful vigor. At 50 years of age, this wine feels remarkably young and I wouldn't be surprised if it kept for another decade or two. No additional aging necessary, however.

***

Nervi Vino Rosso Spanna Stravecchio 1964
  • Tasted on: February 4th, 2016
Pale, translucent cherry color with moderate bricking and wide, clear rim. Old, meaty and developed bouquet that has dried up with age a little bit. Aromas of rich red fruits, floral perfume, something leathery or even slightly shitty barnyard aromas, a little truffle-esque mushroom notes and hints of pine needles. The nose seems to be alive, shifting its focus every second. Lively, medium-bodied and quite acid-driven palate with mature flavors of cherries, dried dark berries, some stony minerality, a little dried dates and hints of truffle. The flavors seem to be very mature with some dried fruit character and an undercurrent of sweet oxidative nuances and syrupy caramel notes. The mouthfeel is very silky with ample, but resolved and very mellow tannins. The finish is long, complex and developed with flavors of wizened cherry, prunes, some sour cherry bitterness and cranberry-driven tart red fruits with a hint of earthy mushroom notes. The tannins give the aftertaste a nice little grip.

94/100
Summary: My guess is that if the wine is labeled Spanna, it must be a 100% Nebbiolo wine, whereas if the wine is labeled as DOC Gattinara, there must be something else in the mix – why make two different wines otherwise? Whatever the case, this wine is really wonderful example of old Nebbiolo and on par with any of the best Barolo wines capable of surviving 50 years. Though the wine seems quite mature, it is still far from being old – probably the wine has been peaking for some time and will be doing that still for some years more. No need to give the wine any more age, it is really wonderful right now and you don't want to lose that complexity under that slightly oxidative character that is starting to loom there.

***

Nervi Gattinara Riserva del Titolare 1964
  • Tasted on: February 4th, 2016
Very slightly translucent black cherry color – very deep and dark for a Nebbiolo this old. Exceedingly funky nose with aromas of bloody meat, grease, bundt cake, prune marmalade, dill, some dried mint, a little dark After Eight chocolate and a hint of fish feed. It really gets no funkier than this. The quite full-bodied and rich palate is, however, very normal with juicy, developed and succulent flavors of dark-toned fruit, ripe cherry some wizened dark forest berries and a hint of leather. The mouthfeel is lively with moderately high acidity and velvety smooth with resolved, powdery tannins. The wine finishes with a long and complex aftertaste of ripe and sweet cherry, pruney fruit, a little sour cherry bitterness and a hint of oxidative character.

93/100
Summary: Despite its really characterful and honestly weird nose, the wine turned up to be really wonderful with nicely aged, complex fruit and lovely, velvet-like mouthfeel. Lovely stuff and at the farthest end of its peak – there's no way but down from here. Very tasty right now, there is no need to age it any further and I really hope that the palate stays clean and does not turn as funky as the nose. As much as I love funky wines, enough is enough.

***

Nervi Gattinara Vino Rosso 1962
  • Tasted on: February 4th, 2016
Very dark and deep black cherry color with only a hint of translucency. Powerful, pungent aromas of apple vinegar, sweet kirsch, some sweet nail polish volatility, a hint of oxidative raisined fruit and a whiff of aldehydic Fino Sherry aromas. The palate is rich and moderately full-bodied with moderate acidity and modest tannins. The flavors are, however, completely off. Along with the lightly developed cherry and red berry aromas there are pronounced notes of vinegar and Rodenbach Vintage beer with elevated levels of volatile acidity. The wine finishes short with sweet, vinegary and slightly syrupy kirsch aftertaste.

FLAW
Summary: Well this was an obviously flawed bottle. It had not oxidized completely, as there were still a lot of moderately youthful fruit left, but apparently some bug had made it to the bottle. As yeasts and bacteria that produce acetaldehyde and acetic acid require oxygen, they probably had developed this faulty character over the decades: probably at the age of 10 years or so this wine would have been "nicely funky" with probably a hint of volatility, but after half a century's worth of getting oxygen through the cork, the bugs had rendered the wine undrinkable.

***

Nervi Gattinara Vino Rosso 1961
  • Tasted on: February 4th, 2016
Luminous, translucent and quite deep dark cherry color. Developed aromas of dried prunes, some iron and blood, a little raisined sweetness, a hint of exotic spice, a touch of sour cherry and a whiff of oxidized sweetness. Dry and robust medium-bodied palate with moderately high acidity and rather prominent, grippy tannins. Pretty straightforward and a bit one-dimensional flavors of sour cherries, tart dark berries, some dried dates and a hint of raisiny oxidation. The wine finishes with a slightly grippy aftertaste of ripe red cherry, some sour cherry, a little cranberry tartness, a hint of raisin and a touch of astringent tannic bitterness.

90/100
Summary: A Nervi Gattinara that is starting to show some signs of old age. The oxidation has dried up some of the fruit, giving it a quite raisined, sweet edge. Still, the wine shows remarkably grippy and surprisingly tight structure for a wine 55 years old. Definitely not a wine that'll keep any longer: this has peaked and has started its downhill – although fortunately it has begun either quite recently or then just at extremely slow speed. Despite its slightly surmaturé character, the wine is thoroughly enjoyable and lovely.

***

Nervi Vino Gattinara Spanna 1961
  • Tasted on: February 4th, 2016
Very similar appearance to the Nervi Gattinara sitting in the neighboring glass, although with a slightly paler and more translucent hue. Brooding, dark-toned and slightly volatile bouquet with aromas of cherry jam, bruised apple, some cloying VA, a little saline tang of acetaldehyde, a hint of rusty iron nail and a whiff of stemmy greenness. The rather full-bodied palate is slightly wild and quite tannic. Brooding flavors of ripe dark cherries, some sour cherry bitterness, a little leather and hints of acetaldehyde in the form of salinity and green apple (think of Fino Sherry). The pronounced tannins give the wine quite tightly-wound feel, whereas the moderately high acidity gives it nice brightness. The finish is medium-long with flavors of slightly wizened cherry, exotic spice, some saline tang and a hint of gravelly earth.

91/100
Summary: Whereas this wine shows less oxidized character than the Nervi Gattinara from the same vintage, this one had accumulated some acetaldehyde over the years, giving it this slightly Fino Sherry quality of salinity and green apple slices. Though a bit distracting, this character did not make the wine disagreeable in any way, and it showed a lot of lovely mature character. Nice stuff, but nothing truly memorable.

***

Nervi Vino Gattinara Spanna 1958
  • Tasted on: February 4th, 2016
Luminous and remarkably youthful dark cherry color with almost no bricking typical of old Nebbiolo. Very robust, smoky bouquet with aromas of cured meat, exotic spices, plummy fruit, earth, some dried cherry, sour VA notes, hints of dust and a little something that reminds me of lambic – probably a hint of brett, combined with the earth and sour notes, giving the nose almost kriek-like air. On the palate the wine is rather developed with medium body, bright acidity and still quite pronounced tannins. There are juicy flavors of dark cherry, dried pruney fruit, some sour cherry bitterness, a little ripe blackberry, a hint of gravelly earth and a touch of berry marmalade sweetness concentrated by the age. The mouthfeel is really elegant and velvety smooth. The wine finishes with a long, juicy and mature aftertaste of sour cherries, plums, some gravelly earth, a little dark cherry sweetness and hints of stony minerality.

96/100
Summary: A really spectacular example of aged Nebbiolo that really betrays its age – if this were served blind, it would be impossible to believe this wine is close to being 60 years of age! Lovely complexity, structure, freshness and poise. Incredibly attractive and elegant effort that still packs surprisingly much bite and structure. Very similar to the Barolos wines with similar age, but showing less ripe fruit and more brightness and focus. Simply stunning.

***

Nervi Gattinara Spanna Classico 1950
  • Tasted on: February 4th, 2016
Luminous dark cherry color, mostly devoid of signs that this wine is actually 65 years old. Brooding, dark-toned and charming bouquet with some oxidative, raisined sweetness, aromas of dried prunes and dried figs and an undertone of sweet volatility. However, the nose falls apart rather quickly, leaving behind a wine with a bouquet of a tawny port. The wine is rich and full-bodied in the mouth with moderate acidity and almost completely resolved, barely perceptible tannins that pack the slightest bite. Dry flavors of ripe, dark-toned berries, wizened sour plums, some oxidative sweetness, a little raisined fruit and a hint of plum pit. The finish is long and spicy with flavors of ripe sour cherry, some dried prunes and a slightest hint of tannic grip.

92/100
Summary: This 65-year-old Gattinara is remarkably youthful for its age and a true testament to the aging capabilities of a well-made Nebbiolo – it doesn't always have to be a Barolo or Barbaresco to survive for decades! Although the color made it almost impossible to believe the age of the wine, there was no denying it, when the nose just fell apart completely within a time span of half an hour – young wines just don't do that. Not the most spectacular of Nervi wines, but still an experience on its own.

***

Nervi Gattinara / Spanna 1950-1967

One might think that the heft and the ripeness are the keys to the long cellaring potential of the Barolo and Barbaresco Nebbioli, but Nervi here can prove some really contradicting evidence. Gattinara wines are quite light, delicate and elegant compared to the heavier, fruitier and brawnier Nebbiolo styles of these aforementioned regions – like comparing lighter Burgundy with the more opulent Bordeaux wines – but these wines can still age easily as long, if not even longer. It obviously is not just about the fruit and the extraction, but also balance and acidity as well.

With a sample this sizeable I started to notice a trend: these Nervi wines age at a glacial pace, with wines oven 65 years old are still in remarkably youthful condition – not young, by a long shot, but still much younger one would expect. Wines at the age of around 40 years only start to show first signs of age, making these wines extremely long-lived. This means that Nervi wines are definitely not wines for people lacking in patience – though these wines can be thoroughly drinkable and enjoyable in their youth, the wines start to show their true colors only after several decades in the cellar.

What you might want to do, is either start sourcing the older vintages somewhere, or then just grab a case or two of the best recent vintage or vintages you can find and let them sit in your cellar for a small eternity. My suggestion is that whatever you plan to do, you might want to do it pretty soon – the Gattinara prices are still quite low as the greater public still haven't found the region yet, meaning that older vintages are often very reasonably priced and the more recent vintages are practically free for their quality. However, if and when the people realize how tremendously good stuff one can find in Gattinara, it's high time for us fans of reasonably priced quality wines to start searching for a new hidden gem.

Update Oct 24th 2016: Added Nervi Gattinara 2012

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