Gattinara stands tall

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Nebbiolo's expresses itself in an almost lost corner of Northern Piedmont

By Robert Camuto -- Wine Spectator April 30, 2015 At first glance, some of the vineyards above the medieval town of Gattinara bear a striking resemblance to the hillsides of Barolo, 90 miles to the south. Tall-growing Nebbiolo vines hug a collection of steep, rounded slopes with exposures in all directions.

But less-apparent differences, in climate and soil, give the wines of Gattinara their own distinctive character. The Alps loom closer, most notably the glacial peak of Monte Rosa, cooling the nights and bringing frequent rain. The earth itself is nothing like Barolo's clay and sand: The ground is a tough, stony mixture of red volcanic porphyry and granite.

"We are in the heart of an ancient volcano," explains Anna Schneider, a University of Turin ampelographer and authority on Nebbiolo. "What distinguishes Gattinara is the geology."

This combination of volcanic, acidic soils, hotter days and cooler nights yields Nebbiolos that are lighter, leaner and softer than Barolos or Barbarescos. They have less tannic structure, but their higher acidity typically requires years of cask aging to find balance, and the wines can stand up to long cellaring in bottle.

Gattinara remains overshadowed by its more prestigious neighbors in southern Piedmont's Langhe. The small appellation counts only 250 acres under vine, compared with more than 4,800 acres in the Barolo zone. Its top wines sell for about $70, compared with $150 or more for some top Barolo crus. But the dozen or so producers of Gattinara Nebbiolo—traditionally known as Spanna—do not consider themselves second-class.

"We are not a B-series Barolo," says Alberto Zoppis Antoniolo, winemaker at Antoniolo, considered by many to be the area's leading quality producer. "We are different Nebbiolo, with a different and long history." And it is just that difference that makes Gattinara a leader in the recent renaissance of northern Piedmont's Nebbiolo-based wines...Read the full story at