Can’t believe it is almost Thanksgiving (Thurs. Nov. 22, 2018), November has flown by. If you aren’t from the US and have never experienced an American Thanksgiving, it is worth it just to take a holiday to Chicago (of course) and book a table at say, The Cherry Circle Room and enjoy a family-style Thanksgiving meal with turkey, stuffing, cranberry, sweet potatoes, onions, green beans, brussel sprouts (to name a few things) and pie galore (apple, pumpkin, mincemeat). For some reason, all these items just don’t taste the same unless they are eaten on Thanksgiving day. With such a mixture and abundance of food, pairing wine is always a question. The Beaujolais Cru are one of the popular choices and a good one, but now that I am spending so much time in the Italian wine world around one of my favorite grapes, nebbiolo, I have rediscovered some off the beaten path pockets of nebbiolo wines that are a bit more restrained than the big, beautiful Barolos and Barbarescos, are really good value (QPR) and are a perfect fit with a meal like Thanksgiving. So if you are still going back and forth between what wines to serve for your Thanksgiving meal, here are some beautiful wines, reasonably priced that will certainly be a hit at your table.
The Short of It
Travaglini Gattinara 2013 – 100% Nebbiolo (known as Spanna) Dark cherry, red berry, coffee, anise, earth, leather with aromas of roses and a strong but soft tannic backbone. This wine can stand up to the Thanksgiving meal without overpowering it. It can age incredibly well, so you can buy a bottle this year and save it for next year or years to come.
The Gattinara D.O.C.G. is a region in the Alto Piemonte, the far north of Piemonte, near the border with Switzerland (the Valais region). The vineyards of Gattinara (a wine name, region and commune) lie on the south side, of the second highest moutain in Europe after Monte Blanc, named Monte Rosa in the Alps. The D.O.C.G. requires 90% Spanna with up to 10% Bonarda di Gattinara and no more than 4% Vespolina. In the case of Travaglini, who has been producing wine here since the 1920s, it is 100% Spanna. The DOCG requires the wine to be aged 18 months in oak barrels and 38 months total before release. According to the Oxford Companion to Wine, the Gattinara wines at times in history, have been more admired for their ability to age than Barolo. The interesting aspect of this mountain wine, it obviously has a strong tannic backbone but it is softer than the robust Barolos and almost has a Pinot Noir character to it. The soils are different here, mostly granite and porphyry (volcanic, red, crystalline soil) which create a leaner, softer wine as compared to the limestone and clay of the Langhe. Cinzia Travaglini manages the day to day operations at the winery and her husband, Massimo Collauto is the winemaker. He is able to craft a really delicious cherry and berry character from the grapes. For wine curious tourists, they welcome visitors to their winery. From the pictures below, I think it is a place you want to put on your “to visit” list.
I can’t mention Travaglini without talking about their unique bottle which fits in the palm of your hand to pour, catches sediment for aging and the dark-colored glass protects the wine from light.
Vinous gives a very detailed rundown of the other appellations (8 all together including Gattinara) in the Alto Piemonte, all using nebbiolo in their wines.
Ar.Pe.Pe Rosso di Valtellina 2014 – Bright wild cherry, mountain herbs, earth, leather, fine-grained soft tannins, roses on the nose, more angular profile than the Gattinara, pinot noir like character.
The Valtellina Superiore D.O.C.G. lies in the northern part of Lombardia, northern Italy, right on the border with Switerland near St. Moritz and the Engadin Valley. The incredibly steep vineyards lie on the south-facing slopes above the river Adda which runs east-west. The viticulture here is labeled “heroic” because the terraced vineyards (to keep the soil in place) are so steep you need to be a mountain climber to harvest the grapes, everything is highly labor-intensive but at least you have breathtaking views while you are picking the grapes.
The Valtellina region is another pocket of mountain Nebbiolo here called Chiavennasca. The D.O.C.G. has 5 subzones which are all slopes along the river Adda, in ascending order going east up the valley along the river, Maroggia, Sassella, Grumello, Inferno and Valgella). I think of these subzones as the 5 dwarfs. For me, they have dwarf sounding names and we are in the mountains, afterall, which is where dwarfs live (note of humor). The D.O.C.G. wines have to be 90% Chiavennasca with 10% other non-aromatic red grapes grown in the region: Superiore, 24 months aging with 12 months in oak and Riserva 3 years ageing. There is ,also, a D.O.C.G. for Sfurzato di Valtellina, a very delicious, amarone-like wine made with nebbiolo.
Eric Asimov at the New York Times wrote about the wines of Valtellina which has slightly more than a handful of producers including Ar.Pe.Pe. Arpepe which stands for the current generation’s grandfather, Arturo Pelizzatti Perego and the family has a long history of winemaking in the area. The winemaker is Isabella Pelizzatti Perego, 5th generation. Their subzone D.O.C.G. wines from Grumello (slate, limestone, more finesse and minerality), Sassella (red rocks, clay, power) are renowned and the deserved price shows it. Their Rosso di Valtellina (100% Chiavennasca, 100 days maceration in wooden vats, 9 months in 50Hl barrels) is delicious and an incredible value for the winegrowing and winemaking. It is “slightly” lighter bodied than the Gattinara, still with a tannic backbone, its still nebbiolo and a strong core of berry and cherry fruit with a bit more of an herbal note.
La Kiuva Arnad- Montjovet AOC Rouge de la Vallée 2017 – Black cherry, wild raspberry, mountain herbs, pomegranate, leather, mouth-filling due to a long maceration on the skins 70% Nebbiolo locally called Picotendro and 30% other local reds in this case, Cornalin, Fumin, Neyret and Gros Vien grapes.
La Kiuva is a cooperative winery with about 60 members and a restaurant that they are very proud of if you look at their facebook page. It is located in the Valle D’Aosta region which you can tell by the name if you speak French, is right in the very far northwestern corner of Italy right next to the French and Swiss borders in the Alps. The French Alp ski towns of Grenoble and Albertville are fairly close. Ian D’Agata at Vinous wrote an extensive piece on what a treasure trove of quality wine resides in this region. I have only just started to explore the wines from this region on our shelves at the store. Gargantuan Wine wrote a detailed piece on La Kiuva, in which they call this wine, “a QPR wrecking ball” which I will agree. The wine is a Arnad-Montjovet DOC wine (Valle D’Aosta has no DOCGs) from the 2 small communes of Arnad and Montjovet which are in the southern part of the region closer to Piedmont. Yet again, since La Kiuva is a cooperative, the grapes are sourced from many small growers and the vineyards are so steep, everything is done by hand. This wine has a definite mountain personality with the addition of 30% indigenous grapes to the region, giving it an herbal, “ricola” personality, you may even start to yodel after drinking this wine.
Well, this is the short of it. Happy thoughts of delicious mountain nebbiolo wines!