A couple weeks ago, while having dinner with some friends in Seattle, our waiter told me they had a couple bottles of wine available from the Baja Peninsula, a portion of Mexico. While I knew this to be an up and coming wine region, I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to try wines from the area. First, the waiter brought me a sample glass of a Sauvignon Blanc. I was shocked at the aromatics. They were very reminiscent of a SB from the warmer climate of Wairau Valley in the Marlborough region of New Zealand. The aromas were coupled with a level of acidity slightly less than the typical SBs from Marlborough but still quite high. After I tasted that, the waiter informed me they had another grape variety from the same area, this was Nebbiolo. Nebbiolo is most notably grown in the Piemonte region of Northern Italy, where it makes Barolo and Barbaresco. Nebbiolo requires long sunny days to fully ripen its tannins but the best versions are grown at some elevation to provide cooling influences. This allows the grapes to maintain their acidity, as well as slowly ripening the tannins. Elevation also increases the complexity of the wine by imparting additional aromatics to the wine, such as herbal and perfumed notes.
The Nebbiolo was a 2020 vintage from Casa Jipi (pronounced like hippie) winery. First, wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco are legally required to have minimum aging times in oak and bottle before being released. Barbaresco has the lower requirements of the two being 9 months in oak (usually part taking place in new oak) and 24 months of total aging. Oak maturation allows a slow but controlled amount of oxygen exposure to the wine, which can soften the tannins and impart additional flavors into the wine. When I looked into the wine specifications for the Casa Jipi, I noted it was only fermented in oak (since it did not specify, I will assume that was used oak). The wine was then placed in an inert stainless steel vessel to age for 9 months. By doing this, the wine is not exposed to oxygen during this time. This will preserve the fruit flavors and aromas from the ripe grapes. It is a very common practice when making wine with aromatic wine grapes such as Riesling or Gewurztraminer.
When I poured the wine, it exhibited a deep purple color. The grapes had undergone significant color extraction as the wine stained the bowl and legs. Typically wines made from Nebbiolo are lighter ruby in color because while the skins are black, they do not contain as much of the color compound anthocyanin as other dark skinned grapes. The ruby color is due to the aforementioned mandatory aging requirements for wines such as Barbaresco and Barolo. Next, there were obvious aromas of baked and dried red fruits such as plums, cherries with aromas of hints of vanilla, and potpourri of rose and lavender flowers. On the palate, this dry wine had the tannins that were quite grippy but the trademark acidity of Nebbiolo lacking. Instead, it was more like a moderate acidity wine. The wine was still full bodied like I’d expect though. The most prominent flavor was a red berry note of thimbleberry, which I haven’t tasted since picking them in my yard as a child. There was also a thimbleberry bramble note to the wine. Other flavors I noted were those of herbs such as sage and fennel, as well as red apple. Unlike on the nose, the condition of the flavors in the mouth were fresher. The finish had an initial bitter note that faded and gave way to red fruit. I am curious how this wine will age and if it will develop the same earthy notes other nebbiolos take on. Time will tell!