When you have the chance to follow a Masterclass on Nebbiolo with David Gleave (MW and huge expert on Italian wines) you don't want to miss it.
And when the wines to be tasted are big Barolos from producers of great tradition and prestige, you don't want to spit.
Nebbiolo is a high maintenance grape: no doubts about it.
It's the first variety to bud but the last to be picked. It needs the right sites; it needs south facing slopes. It has to be produced in low yields otherwise the wine will result diluted and the tannins will not be ripe and soften enough. It needs to be treated the right way. It needs people that know how to handle it: how to make a great wine from a difficult and sometimes austere and unfriendly grape.
Finally in the right hands, in the right place (mainly Piemonte - even if it can be cultivated as well in other parts of the world) it will reward you with unforgettable wines such as Barbaresco and Barolo or the less famous appellations of Ghemme and Gattinara.
Nebbiolo has normally a quite light color and it can be strongly aromatic. When young it often has fresh red fruit and flowery intense flavors such as raspberry, cherries, plums, violets and rose petals. With the aging it develops tertiary aromas of leather and tobacco.
It is normally characterized by a lively, vibrant acidity, often balanced by intense fruitiness and a good body depending as well on the wine production and on its age.
But nothing will impress you more than its tannins. They can be harsh and almost unbearable. Young and explosive but under control or they can be extremely subtle and velvety. Once again this will depend mainly by the winemaker's touch and the cares that he (or she) gives to the vineyard.
Love it or hate it but Nebbiolo is a grape that gives wines with strong personality.
Wines that need their time to be waited and their occasions and company to be tasted.
For sure food is probably the best companion, but try it with a book: I am sure it won't disappoint you.
Personal pick of the night was the Vajra Bricco delle Viole 06 a deep, full on, vigorous Barolo with intense and ripe forest fruit aromas and a perfectly integrated smokey hint from the oak aging. Extraordinarily elegant, you would struggle to keep in the cellar!
Thanks to David Gleave and Liberty Wines for the inspirational masterclass and the outstanding wines tasted (Massolino, Conterno, Vajra, S.C.Pannell)