Gattinara: The (Almost) Forgotten DOCG

Posted by | Posted in Wine Education | Posted on 05-03-2012

A vineyard in Gattinara.

Barolo has long been described as “the wine of kings, the king of wines.” And together with its neighbor, Barbaresco, it takes most of the Nebbiolo spotlight. It is for good reason that the two regions do so well, but they aren’t the only regions in Piedmont that successfully grow this wonderful and noble grape.

To the northeast of Turin is a region that was once regarded as the premier Italian appellation for Nebbiolo: Gattinara.

Nebbiolo is never a cheap variety, but you can find many quality examples from Gattinara at affordable prices, in the $30-50 range. Wines from Gattinara tend to present a cooler and somewhat whimsical expression of Nebbiolo.

While wines from Gattinara may not bring the power and regal nature of Barolo — nor the charms of Barbaresco — they’re often a bit prettier and more refined. This isn’t to say that they don’t bring real structure — even though producers in Gattinara can add up to 10 percent of Bonarda to their wine, Gattinaras can bring serious acidity and tannin.

Although wines from Gattinara generally express themselves as cooler than Barolos, the region actually sees higher highs — and lower lows. The larger temperature range during growing season provides more acidity to the wines.

Gattinara’s soil is also different. While Barolo and Barbaresco are situated over calcium-based Marl deposits, Gattinara is primarily volcanic rock. This is yet another reason why the wines are somewhat lighter and more feminine than Barolo and Barbaresco. This is what makes them very attractive for me.

Wines from Gattinara do a great job of showing the characteristics that make Nebbiolo so wonderful. While these wines don’t hit the heights of Barolo and Barbaresco, they were once the crowning jewel of Piedmont — and remain lovely expressions of Nebbiolo.

Here are two great examples I recently tasted that are both under $40:

2005 Travaglini Gattinara

Italy, Piedmont, Northern Piedmont, Gattinara
Nose: lovely right from the ge tgo, with perfumed tones of red cherries, red fruits, roses, strawberries and some roasted herbs.

Taste: medium/full bodied with medium+ acidity and good supporting tannins. Well balanced with feminine and pretty tones of red cherries, roasted herbs, spice tones, roses and a touch of strawberries.

Overall: this was a straight pop n pour. Has a nice dark ruby color to it and it was pretty from the get go. Good complexity on the tones, but lacking the depth that would really make this. Still, this is a great Nebbiolo to have with some food and just to have period. (90 pts.)

2006 Antoniolo Gattinara
Italy, Piedmont, Northern Piedmont, Gattinara
Nose: gorgeous and succulent nose of dark red cherries, red florals, tar, roasted herbs, berries and a touch of strawberries. Very good depth with a cooler take to it. Very well balanced as well with a good core of red fruits.

Taste: medium/full bodied with excellent depth along with medium/high acidity and some nice and plush tannins. Balanced, but seems like its holding back a bit on the palate along with savory tones of dark red cherries, tar, roasted herbs and some floral tones.

Overall: This had been decanted for about 2 hours. The nose was still tight and the palate wasn’t seeming to fully jump out. Still, this was lovely and balanced with a laid back style to it. Dark red color in the glass, this could be a real lovely wine in a couple of years when it fully comes together. (90 pts.)

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