Full Pull Un-carefully Guarded Secret

Hello friends. Here’s something I’ve heard probably a dozen times now since starting Full Pull: “You know, wines from Alto Piemonte were actually more expensive and more highly regarded than Barolo and Barbaresco 100 years ago.” Usually that statement comes right before someone pours us a shimmeringly beautiful, utterly unsellable Nebbiolo from Gattinara or Ghemme or Boca. (If only we had a time machine…)

I say unsellable not because of the current obscurity of the regions (although that certainly doesn’t help), but mostly for the price points, which seem to be stubbornly high (think $40s and $50s and up from there). So you can imagine my delight a few weeks ago when I was poured another of those shimmeringly beautiful Alto Piemonte Nebbiolos, but this time at a considerably more accessible price point:

2011 Alberto Crespi Nebbiolo Luporosso Colline Novaresi DOC

Okay, an admittedly obscure part of the Piedmont, so let’s get oriented. We’re here, far in Italy’s north, and within spitting distance of the Alps (you can actually see the mountains in the background of this vineyard pic. Compare that to Barolo, which is here. Not really all that close. Both Piedmont, yes, but that’s where the similarities end.

As you can also see from the vineyard picture, this does not look like Barolo/Barbaresco, where such a high proportion of the land is in vines. Here in the Colline Novaresi (the hills of Novara), small vineyard plots are intermingled with large swaths of cool green forestland. The differences extend to the soils as well. The Colline Novaresi are slopes carved out by glacial retreats. They’re essentially big moraine piles, much higher in acid than alkaline Barolo/Barbaresco. This is also further north, higher altitude, and (no surprise) cooler.

The combination of soil type and climate makes for a very different expression of Nebbiolo here. The biggest difference is accessibility. The tannin levels in Colline Novaresi are nowhere near the big Bs, so Nebbiolo here is actually quite charming at 4-5 years past vintage, which is what we have today.

Luporosso (the red wolf, reflected in the label) is the work of father and son team Giuseppe and Alberto Crespi. They’re farming estate vineyards smack in the middle of the big moraine rockpile of the Colline, and their Nebbiolo spends two years in big old Slavonian oak botti before bottling. Then nearly another two years in bottle before being direct-imported into Seattle. Fortunately, one of our stronger import partners brings this wine in directly. That helps explain why the pricing is so competitive, and it also makes me wonder if this wine is coming into the United States anyplace other than the northwest. A bit of quick internet research makes me think not.

Which is a pity for the rest of the country, because this is a real autumn house wine candidate, full of charisma. It begins with a nose of pure/fresh red fruit (red cherry, red plum), blood orange, and terrific earthy/leafy notes. Immediately noteworthy in the mouth for its transparent expression of Nebbiolo character, it offers a version of the grape where the structure (especially the tannin) is dialed way down, leaving plush fruit and earth notes to fill the gaps. This is such friendly Nebbiolo; friendly to humans and certainly friendly to food. I’d drink this with everything from fancy osso bucco to takeout pizza on Friday night. Versatile in the extreme, this is Nebbiolo for the people.

To wrap up, I’d like to quote the wonderful New York Times wine writer Eric Asimov, who wrote an article about lesser-known Piedmont Nebbiolos last April. In that article, he asserted that “these alternative nebbiolos have long been a sort of secret of those who prize the grape, though not a carefully guarded one.” I couldn’t agree more. He goes on: What you get are producers, generally from family estates, who make the case for distinctive wines from indigenous grapes made with painstaking care. If you are a fan of Barbaresco and Barolo, you already understand how elegant, nuanced and soulful nebbiolo can be. These wines showcase the grape as expressed in different terroirs. If you are a fan of Burgundy, you already appreciate the beauty of terroir, and of perfumed, subtle, haunting wines. Here is an opportunity to discover how much nebbiolo has in common with pinot noir. And if you have not yet made the journey in a glass to Piedmont and Valtellina, then I envy the gorgeous discoveries that await you.

First come first served up to 36 bottles, and the wine should arrive in a week or two, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

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