Nebbiolo, the grape used to make Italian Barolos and Barbarescos, can seduce wine drinkers almost as well as Pinot Noir. Unfortunately, the seduction rarely comes quickly or cheaply. If you look hard enough, however, you'll find wines like Ferrando "Etichetta Bianca" ("white label") 2001, a Nebbiolo from a small producer that is just spectacular.
Of all the wines I tasted this month, none met my criteria for a great wine as well as this one. The "Etichetta Bianca" is from a traditional family-run winery that makes its wines with love and care. It drinks beautifully now but will age gracefully for at least another seven years. Finally, the wine is exceptional for the price; it drinks like a $50 bottle.
Why the amazing quality for the price?
The Ferrandos grow their Nebbiolo grapes not in the Langhe appellations of Barolo and Barbaresco, but in an obscure part of Piedmont close to the Valle d'Aosta.
Their vineyards are on the mountainsides of Carema, which is a notoriously difficult area to cultivate. Through their painstaking effort and unrelenting passion, the Ferrando family is making some of the most interesting and tasty Nebbiolos in all of Piedmont.
Wines from the appellation of Carema are more about finesse, complexity and longevity than power. Barolos, on the other hand, are usually powerful and long lived, but only the best have great finesse.
Ferrando's "Etichetta Bianca" 2001 shows beguiling scents of game, leather, tar, roses, dark cherry fruit and a wonderful animal character. It is intensely structured on the palate with remarkable concentration and finesse.
The wine truly covers every taste bud in your mouth. There is a brightness to the fruit that you do not see in its cousins from Barolo and Barbaresco and a heartiness uncommon to wines with such bright fruit. While you can drink the "Etichetta Bianca" earlier than Nebbiolos from the Langhe, it will age gracefully due to the classically structured 2001 vintage.
NV Ferrando Erbaluce Spumante Brut
The French have Champagne; the Spanish, Cava and the Italians, Prosecco, right? Not this time.
In Piedmont near the village of Caluso, the Ferrandos cultivate an ancient white grape variety, Erbaluce di Caluso, and they make a stunning sparkling version. This highly aromatic sparkler is richly flavored and mouth coating but not yeasty, and it's balanced by a fresh, clean acidity and minerality.
Serve this to wake up your guests dulled by the same old Champagne or like you would any wine - on the dinner table. It would be beautiful with lighter fare, like shellfish, or try it with our favorite pairing - fish and chips.