Nebbiolo: I hate and I love. You might well ask me why…

Devo dire grazie di cuore al mio amico (via Web, non ci siamo ancora conosciuti di persona, ma lo faremo di sicuro quest’estate in Abruzzo) Terence Hughes, Terry per gli amici, che con il suo bellissimo blog Mondosapore, svolge, da vero ambasciatore (senza incarichi ufficiali, unicamente spinto dal suo entusiasmo), un fantastico lavoro di apostolato a favore del vino italiano negli States.
Letto un mio recente post dedicato al Nebbiolo

Terry mi ha fatto il magnifico regalo (thank you!) di tradurlo in inglese, rendendolo dunque comprensibile ai suoi lettori e a tutti gli amici del vino made in Italy di lingua inglese.

E’ con legittimo orgoglio che segnalo la mia dichiarazione di amore per il vero Nebbiolo (e per il vero Barolo, ça va sans dire) resa fedelmente nella sua lingua da Terry su Mondosapore

Franco Ziliani, pre-eminent Italian wine writer and commentator, recently published this article on his blog Vino al Vino.  He is a passionate supporter of traditional winemakers in the Barolo-Barbaresco zone, believing that the old ways are the best for bringing out the finest essence of the Nebbiolo grape.  And he is a well-known polemicist in the "war" against innovators who, in his opinion, slavishly follow shifting international taste.  With his permission, I have translated the piece into English.

Nebbiolo: I hate and I love. You might well ask me why…

It’s already been a month since Nebbiolo Grapes, an international gathering dedicated to this noble variety, but I keep returning to a part of the program entitled “Nebbiolo as seen by the producers.” I think of the fervent… declarations of love for this grape, and for the terroirs where it is grown. One by Eugenio Arlunno, president of the Consorzio tutela Nebbioli Alto Piemonte, who greeted the “people of the Nebbiolo” with something like a battle cry, urging them not to let this grape “go global.” And by Massimo Martinelli with his white mustache, the storied vigneron from La Morra—he spoke of his “bolt of lightning” moment with Nebbiolo, swearing that “you can fall in love with a grape!”

I think back on Teobaldo Cappellano. As always, he spoke with an open heart, like a true artist, as a producer of “Nebiolo” (“it’s softer with one b”). He enjoined us to rediscover the emotions and pleasures of the wine, reminding us how critical the color of Barolo is: “E’ il colore del Barolo e basta.” (The color of Barolo is everything, loosely translated.)

And I keep remembering the emotional reminder of the beauty and nobility of Nebbiolo, delivered not by an Italian, but by Chrystal Clifton of Palmina Wines, the gorgeous young producer from Santa Barbara, California. She and her husband are searching for the true “spirit of place” for Nebbiolo all the way out there.  And they are spreading the word about California wines to us in Italy.

More memories, more thoughts warmed by friendship and respect. Sandro Sangiorgi, my colleague, spoke about the wine as “food for the spirit,” warning us to respect the “essence and soul” of Nebbiolo, the “variety most capable of arousing passions.” He declared his “complete and total love” for it—even if it can’t quite love him back. And there was the enthusiasm for Sardinian Nebbiolo—actually, the pride—expressed by Gian Giuseppe Cabras, who is president of the Confraternita’ del Nebbiolo di Luras.

I recall quite sharply what Giacomo Oddero said, too: “Nebbiolo is the strongest expression of winemaking in Piedmont and especially Alba. This grape requires a clean, honest marketplace in order to assert its quality.” I remember these ringing words, and the powerful sense of togetherness, of community, and the fierce pride of all these people with the good fortune (and the burden, at times) of dealing with Nebbiolo day in, day out.

“Let’s forget about the past”

I also recall, with some astonishment and chagrin, the session of Giorgio Pelissero, a producer of Barbaresco, who declared, “The people who think they’re at the center of the world, just because they’re in Langa—they’re wrong. Today we have to compete by controlling prices as well as quality, to find out what the market wants and give it to them.” He told the gathering not to get “bent out of shape uselessly” about this but to “let each producer figure out for himself what he thinks is best.”

Even now I’m dogged by a certain disbelief, and a kind of embarrassment, when I consider the speech of Marco Fay, a producer from Valtellina endowed with splendid vineyards. He identifies with the “Langa new wave,” recounting his love-hate relationship with Nebbiolo, which he now views as “the enemy”!

Young Mr. Fay went on to “challenge the old guard, who oppose every single change,” with his discovery of Pinot Noir, “the first fine wine I have drunk”, and its suitability for the climate of Valtellina. This he realized during a trip to Argentina, where he decided to take a big chance and to “understand where we are and to forget about the past.”

I do have a hard time with such pronouncements, although his opinions are understandable and legitimate, given the difficulties of coaxing great wine out of such a finicky grape. It takes nerves of steel and plenty of guts to stick with Nebbiolo.

Still, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Fay and his peculiar love-hate relationship with Nebbiolo. It’s in dramatic contrast to the dedication I’ve seen in old-timers from his own neck of the woods, men like the weathered vigneron who has stubbornly tended his vineyards for decades. He told me how he had literally wrestled his vines from the underbrush, by hand, inch by inch.

Fay’s anti-Nebbiolo manifesto has made me smile as I’ve thought of other stubborn “vestiges” of the past—men who tend vines that are almost perpendicular to the valley floor, up in the Maroggia district; through their grit they have brought the area’s wines back from the dead. Those old crocks (as Fay might call them, off camera) have the patience, toughness and smarts to know when to shut up, listen and learn. They’re the real deal, and I have to name them, to give them their due. Fermo Forno. Lino Gusmerini. Elia Bolandrini. Matteo Tarotelli. With their hard work and dedication, they are keeping an ancient winemaking tradition alive for those yet to come.

Respect the grape!

There are various ways of relating to the Nebbiolo grape, even of “living” it. You just have to love and respect it. There are also a lot of ways of building your dreams, realizing your ambitions and so on. Sandro Sangiorgi acknowledged as much, saying, “Sure, there were mistakes made in the past, and we can’t ignore them. But we are going forward.”

Even so, to go forward you need a discernible style and identity. To be credible you need to keep the past in mind—and remember the men who held tough and stuck with Nebbiolo and the wines it produced. Who held on when the wines weren’t so easy, when they weren’t in fashion, when nobody was lining up to buy them.

Odi et amo. Quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.
Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

I hate and I love. You might well
ask me why.
I don’t know. But I do and
it’s agony.

Catullus, Carmen 85

0 pensieri su “Nebbiolo: I hate and I love. You might well ask me why…

  1. “Acrostico al Nebbiolo”

    N ella generosa terra di Piemonte
    E merge questo prezioso vitigno
    B astassero le mani dell’uomo!
    B aci di Dama lungo i filari
    I nvocano vendemmie ottobrine
    O de al vino che sa infiammare
    L e notti d’attesa, mentre riposa…
    O ro rosso a scivolar in gola.


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