Northern Nebbiolo a.k.a. Spanna, Picoutener, Chiavennasca... Say what?

Posted by CrushWine

While Piedmont's Langhe superstars Barolo and Barbaresco hog much of the spotlight, Nebbiolo grows and makes good - even great - wines under various aliases throughout Northwestern Italy. The wines may lack the muscle of Barolo and Barbaresco, but they make up for it in perfume, nervosity and delicacy.

Northern Piedmont: This region includes Gattinara, Ghemme, Bramaterra, Fara, Lessona, Sizzano and, of course, Boca. Nebbiolo (called Spanna here) is often blended with Vespolina and Uva Rara.

Carema: Also in northern Piedmont, but just southwest of those mentioned above. Carema sits in the shadows of Mt. Blanc and is on the border of the Valle d'Aosta region. Nebbiolo (here called Picoutener or Picotendro) grows at high altitudes in fantastically terraced vineyards rooted in poor stony soils. Compared to the wines from Gattinara, Lessona, Boca, etc., the wines of Carema are even more brisk and ethereal.

Valtellina: In Lombardia and bordering Switzerland, these vineyards reach over 2,000 feet. Nebbiolo (locally called Chiavennasca) can be blended with other grapes (Rossola, Pignola, Prugnolo and Pinot Nero). This is the most "nervous" Nebbiolo, full of flowers and sometimes subtle gamey notes. The four Crus are Sasella, Grumello, Inferno and Valgella, which may appear on labels. There's also a tradition of beefing up the region's light wine by drying grapes, Amarone-style; they call this Sforsato.

Donnas and Arnad-Montjovet: From the eastern section of Valle d'Aosta near Carema, these are light and crisp Nebbiolos (called Picoutener or Picotendro).