Pale, red and elegant

With the whole world of wine to choose from, which three grape varieties would you group together for a focused red wine tasting where there is noticeable relationship between the varieties? The two Cabs and Merlot would be one obvious choice – but the range of styles around the world might lead to a loss of focus and what would you do about blends?  Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre typically make a better blend than a comparison based on single varietal wines.  Lea & Sandeman made an excellent choice with Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese.  This worked really well for two reasons. First, all three varieties make relatively pale wines which rely more on perfume, elegance and balance than just sheer power.  Second, they are (probably!) my three favourite varieties of all – think sublime red Burgundy, evolving, long-lived, tannic Barolo and Barbaresco and finally, complex, herby, acidic Chianti and Brunello.  How could it go wrong?  With this quality of wines, it couldn’t.

IMG_0067The tasting offered a superb example to compare the styles of the three varieties, mostly in their classic regions.  The Pinot from Burgundy, which travels the best of the three, was joined by a few choice examples from New Zealand and Argentina (yes).  The Nebbiolo came from the Langhe in Piemonte, that is from its unsurpassed home territory.  The Sangiovese came in its Brunello form only from Montalcino, one of its classic Tuscan expressions.  The bulk of the tasting – in fact the two sides of the table you can see – was Pinot and Nebbiolo, with the Brunello an interesting side show with the producers present. 

While these varieties all show marked, if subtle, variation from one vineyard to the next (thereby keeping wine writers in business), there are generalisations to be made. The Pinot at these levels (from generic red Burgundy up to some premier cru) were pale in colour, with fresh and attractive raspberry  and strawberry fruit, moderate oak notes, relatively light in the mouth, around 13% of alcohol, present if unobtrusive tannins; in short, elegant and refreshing.  They compliment food with their moderate flavours, refreshing acidity and poise.   Of the many excellent examples, I would pick Domaine Theulot Juillot, Mercurey Premier Cru Les Combins 2009 for its perfume and elegance, the combination of lightness in the mouth and depth of fruit, and its length (£15.60 plus VAT).  Great quality and value from a less exalted area. 

IMG_0064Having worked up the rue de Pinot Noir, you take a 180 degree turn and head down the strada di Nebbiolo.  It would be far to simple to state that you head down ‘tannin street’, but obviously this is the most marked change.  These wines made from Nebbiolo have an noticeable structure which comes from a combination of higher alcohol levels, typically 14% though right up to 15%, and that wonderful tannic rasp which, if the fruit is ripe and it is well handled, makes for great, long lived wines. To be fair to these examples, the alcohol was not at all obtrusive but was balanced by fruit and acidity.  The flavour and textural profile is rather different too:  the red fruit is there (sour cherry) but is held together with the effects of ageing in, mainly, older and larger barrels. The wine has a steely tautness.  This time two choices: an entry level wine of great quality: Nebbiolo, Langhe, Andrea Oberto, 2010 (£11.50 plus VAT) and a fine expression, Barbaresco from the Fausoni vineyard, Andrea Sottimano, 2008 (£29 plus VAT). 

And finally ‘the brown one’, ie the type of Sangiovese grown on the Montalcino plateau, at 450m above sea level which increases the day/night temperature difference and gives a longer growing season, concentrating flavours.  Most Sangiovese is not as pale as either of the other grape varieties in this line up and Brunello, with its long ageing in large oak barrels, is certainly the darkest of these three wines.  Unfortunately there was no Rosso di Montalcino on show as that would have made a better comparison with the basic Pinot and Nebbiolo; but fortunately there were seven Brunello to be tasted!  These wines (apart from the very best) do not jump out of the glass at you like some of those above – but they have a solidity, a lasting structure in the mouth which makes up for that.  Interestingly, they were refined, not bold and rustic, with subtle sour cherry and sharp black plum fruit, restrained old oak, a full palate, with weight in the mouth with refined tannins and real length.  The one that showed most promise for the future was Collemattoni, Brunello di Montalcino, 2007 (£22.25 plus VAT) with splendid refreshing sharpness; the current star, Fuligni, 2004 riserva with fabulous depth of fruit and complexity, the aromas now coming out of the glass … simultaneously rounded and demanding (£46.75 plus VAT). 


Congratulations to Lea & Sandeman for this study in pale (mostly), red and elegant. 

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