When we released the 2015 Gattinara from Nervi, the first time we had offered wines from this estate, Simon quoted Walter Speller, writing on jancisrobinson.com, when he commented; ‘The Nebbiolos of Alto Piemonte offer an incredible alternative to Burgundy as they play in the same corner of elegance and finely grained tannins.’
The potential of Alto Piemonte is significant – Gattinara is a sub-region, which lies about 90 miles northeast of Alba. This potential has been recognised by producers in Piemonte proper, with Roberto Conterno of Monfortino fame having bought a 90% stake in a well-regarded estate, called Nervi in May 2018. Such purchases or investments aim to return this region to former glory – back in the 19th century, Alto Piemonte was Italy’s largest region for Nebbiolo, with over 40,000 hectares covered by vines. A little-known fact is that, at that time, the region’s wines commanded higher prices than the top Burgundy estates. Today the area under vine across the four sub-regions – Gattinara, Boca, Bramaterra and Ghemme – barely extends beyond 800 hectares. The region was ravaged by phylloxera, the microscopic bug that lives on the roots of vines, in the late 1800s and this, coupled with the fact that a number of vineyards were struggling economically, led to vineyards being abandoned.
The word ‘renaissance’ is often over-used and can quickly become a cliché, but there is a sense of renaissance in Alto Piemonte, perhaps due to warmer conditions leading to a greater degree of ripeness than in previous years. After all, it is notably cooler than Barolo or Barbaresco as the vineyards extend into the foothills of Valsesia. For Simon, the wines tend towards the redder fruit end of the spectrum and the tannins seem more softly expressed and lighter, though this is deceptive as these Nebbiolo-based wines, referred to as Spanna, can age for decades as a very memorable 40-year-old he tasted once testified.
Antonio Galloni shares the growing sense of excitement in this outlying region: ‘There is no question that the most exciting development in Alto Piemonte is Roberto Conterno’s recent acquisition of Nervi in Gattinara. Nervi is the oldest winery in Gattinara and owns several choice vineyards, including Molsino. Producers of Conterno’s generation are increasingly tempted by outside projects. These winemakers are young, ambitious and well traveled. It is only natural they want to expand their horizons.’ Antonio Galloni, vinous.com, June 2018.
Due to the ageing of the wines, which are bottled after 36 to 48 months of ageing, the 2014s and 2015 bore the name Conterno on the label, despite the fact that the Roberto Conterno only had a hand in the blending and bottling of the wines. When I last visited Conterno at his Monforte d’Alba-based estate, he told me that he was surprised by the excellent condition of the vineyards – more so than when he extended his vineyard holdings in Barolo into the Crus of Ceretta and Arione.
The 2016 vintage is a vintage about which you will hear more and more as the year progresses. In short, it is an impressive vintage in which Nebbiolo enjoys very fine late season conditions – the excitement in the region, that another great vintage is on their hands, is palpable. While under Italian wine law it is possible to blend up to 4% of Vespolina and 10% of Uva Rara (Bonarda di Gattinara) into Gattinara, allowing for a minimum of 90% Nebbiolo, all of the Nervi/ Conterno wines are entirely Nebbiolo.
Antonio Galloni is yet to review this wine, so we have included Monica Larner’s note from robertparker.com
2016 Gattinara, Nervi
£185 per 6 bottle case in bond
91-93 points, Monica Larner
Tasted from the barrel, the 2016 Gattinara will be bottled in September and will hit the market one month later in October. This is a more important wine compared to the 2015. It shows more depth and substance in the mouth and more length. It's more robust too. The consumer should wait several more months for this one. Drink 2021-2030.
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