Sottimano Langhe Nebbiolo 2021
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Type NebbioloRead About the Wine
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I once drank a bottle of Sottimano’s Langhe Nebbiolo and could’ve sworn I saw a bearded Italian god smiling down on me from the clouds up above. Was I inebriated? Surely (otherwise I would question the effectiveness of the product at hand). But any wine that parts the clouds a la Monty Python surely deserves to be drunk again.
So I did drink it again. But this time, I conducted a scientific experiment! Barbaresco’s most famous producer is Gaja. Those wines retail for $300+ a bottle. And they are delicious. So I opened a Gaja, and a Sottimano (this guy). While Gaja held the edge, this bottle of Sottimano came darn close.
And, given the price difference (see below), dare I say the Sottimano is more charming? I dare. And that, my friends, is the point. Dig on in to this every man’s wine of kings (and queens).
When I first met Barbaresco grower and producer Andrea Sottimano, he, like many other Nebbiolo producers, was fermenting his wines with skin contact of six to 10 days. This maceration time is designed to preserve fruit freshness while also extracting power, elegance, and depth of flavor from the skins.
Being an inquisitive man, Andrea began experimenting with longer maceration times. Unfortunately, the skins broke down into a slimy pulp after 10 days – they just weren’t strong enough or healthy enough to sustain a longer maceration. So Andrea embarked on a now-10-year-long experiment in the vineyards.
Later, as I Andrea’s vineyards in spring of 2016, I noticed a couple of things. First, they are green. Think of the difference between my desert-brown, desiccated leaf-strewn front lawn and your green-thumb-neighbor’s garden. Andrea’s vines are a bright green garden. Second, his vineyards are full of life – bumblebees, worms, slugs, wild boar, you name it. I hate insects (yet find boars tasty when appropriately cooked), but what it all means is the natural inhabitants of Barbaresco choose to live – and can live – in Andrea’s vineyards. Third, his soil was moist and soft, like the kind you’d find at a spa treatment. Now I don’t often put dirt on my face, but if I did, I’d want it to be soft and moist, not compacted and rough.
And the real proof is in the bottle. Nowadays, Andrea ferments his grapes with not just 10 days of skin contact, not 20, not 30, but 40 full days of skin contact. The grapes are now so healthy that they deliver four times the flavor, aroma, and complexity as his neighbors’. And his “mere” Langhe Nebbiolo reveals just that:
If a dark red cherry and a rose could get it on, their love child would be a lot like this bottle of wine. It is so powerfully perfumed by red fruits and red flowers that I could enjoy nosing it all day. But it gets even better. Andrea says the long fermentation time extracts a subtle spicy note, an underlayment of savory flavors centered around black truffle, and a succulence of dried black cherries dusted with sumac. Further, the long fermentation binds tannins together, so while this thing is packed and stacked, it’s also as smooth as a dancer, with a finish that harmoniously ties together its fruit, structure and acidity into a perfectly balanced form.
That, and it will also make you see God. Why wouldn’t you want to drink this?
By Italian law, Langhe Nebbiolo is the lowest classification of Nebbiolo. But that’s not this wine. Andrea’s Langhe Nebbiolo is from a single vineyard called Basarin. It’s a famous place, and most producers make a “Barbaresco Basarin” for around $80 a bottle. For years (over ten vintages now) Andrea has told me he keeps this wine in the lower legal designation because he wants to see how the vineyard develops.
So be it. He’s a small farmer, and I’ve urged him to up the price. But he hasn’t. So hey—I’d love to drink $300 bottles of Gaja every night, but that’s not sustainable. This bottle comes close to it in greatness, at a dazzling price we don’t deserve. We didn’t get much of this gem. Don’t miss it.