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Nebbiolo Part IV - The Alternatives to Barolo and Barbaresco

Finally, after two months of Hiatus , as I travelled throughout US, visiting new Wineries and meeting people in the wine trade in New York City, we are back in Piemonte.

We visited Barolo and Barbaresco regions and now I would like to introduce the other Nebbiolo regions which produce great Nebbiolo based wines at a lower cost than Barolo and Barbaresco wines. So lets jump right into it.


Northern Piemonte

Northern Piemonte is also known as "Alto Piemonte". It is of course Nebbiolo Territory but here the grape is called SPANNA; it is a very small percentage of the overall production from Piemonte ( 5%) and the most important areas are the Novara and Vercelli Hills. There is also another region called Canavese, home of the famous Erbaluce di Caluso wines.

Novara and Vercelli hills are the very northern portion of Piemonte, bordering LOmbardia. They lie at altitudes between 650-1600 feet over soils of glacial origin.

During the last ice age, the entire area was covered in Glaciers. When they retreated , they left a series of moraines , which now for a topographical link between the Alps and the Plains. The soils tend to be acidic and are composed of sand, clay and gravel. Often, a layer of red, iron rich clay is also present. The subsoil are vulcanic, containing igneous porphyry rocks and granite.

Sesia divides the territory in two halves , it separates the Vercelli Province from the Novara Province.

Among the few appellations in the Novara province, the best known is Gattinara DOCG appellattion. But others to remember are : Bramaterra and Lessona.


Gattinara DOCG

Gattinara is without a doubt the best expression of Nebbiolo of Northern Piemonte , in fact for the longest time Gattinara was considered the most prestigious wine of Piemonte. History of Gattinara wines goes well beyond the arrival of the Romans and between the 14th century and the 19th century they acquired a fame of excellent wines. The area under wines is quite small ( 250 acres), the vines are planted on elevations of 800-1800 ft with Southern/South-Western exposure. Given the perfect exposure , the Nebbiolo ripe better than other region and the wines are therefore made mostly with Nebbiolo. Gattinara is made from a minimum of 90% Nebbiolo and possibly with Vespolina or Uva Amara as possible blending partners. The wines are austere and hard when young, therefore the Disciplinare requires a minimum of 35 months of total aging, of which 24 to be made in oak. Riservas must age for 47 months, with 36 months in oak.

The best examples develops a silky texture with complex tertiary aromas. Gattinara shows the typical Nebbiolo profile with aromas of violet, bright red berry fruit, tar, spices, forest floor and leather. Compared with Barolo Barbarescos the wines have more acidity and lighter color and body.


Located in the heart of Gattinara, Travaglini was established in the 1920s by Clemente Travaglini.

In 1958 Arturo Travaglini followed in his father’s footsteps and took over the helm at the winery.

The family’s passion and commitment to winemaking has not diminished through the generations; Cinzia Travaglini, great-granddaughter of Clemente, manages day-to-day operations at winery. Her husband Massimo Collauto is the chief winemaker, a role he inherited from his late father-in-law and beloved mentor, Giancarlo Travaglini.

Throughout the years, Travaglini has established itself in Gattinara as the most esteemed producer of traditional, limited-production wines from the Nebbiolo grape.

Travaglini wines illustrate the full range of expressions Nebbiolo can achieve.

Tre Vigne

  • Country: Italy

  • Area: Northern – Piedmont, 3.500-5.000 vines per hectar

  • Altitude: 320-420 meters (1.050-1.360 ft.)

  • Exposure: South – South-West

  • Varietal composition: 100% Nebbiolo

  • Yield output: max. 7000 kg per hectar

  • Cultivation: Guyot

  • Soil: rocky and abundant minerals of iron which give the typical reddish colour to the indigenous rock

  • Climate: typical of the piedmont area, in respect to that of the plain. It permits an even distribution of precipitation between both spring and autumn, and a ventilation of the vineyard supported by almost daily “descending” winds brought about by the Alpine bow. In the winter, snow is frequent, which supports the slow process of sedimentation of the soil

  • Harvest: first part of October

  • Winemaking: crushed and macerated for about 15 days in stain-less steel tanks at controlled temperature. The wine is aged for 40 months. 30 months in Slovenian oak casks and 20 per cent aged separately for 10 months in French Barriques and then rests in the bottle for 8 months. The Travaglini TreVigne is the result of extensive research of the best characteristics of soil, and marriage of three “historical” vineyards

  • Wine Description: this wine is produced only in the best vintages. A deep pomegranate red wine; delicate fruity fragrances, warm, remindes jam, plum and tamarind. Fullbodied, soft, silky tannins, with a long smooth finish

  • Food matches: perfect with, roasted meat, game and ripe cheese

  • Serving temperature: 18/20° C

  • Shelf life: 12-15 years, if correctly stored

  • Alcohol: 13.5%Vol.

  • Acidity: 5.8 g/l

  • Sugar residual: 1.3 g/l



Nervi is the oldest winery in the Gattinara DOCG area. It was founded by Luigi Nervi in 1906 and covers 28,5 hectares of Nebbiolo vines in the Casacce, Garavoglie, Molsino and Valferana vineyards. Our 13 hectar Molsino vineyard includes one of Piedmont’s finest south facing amphitheatres and Valferana can be traced back to 1228 as the Val Florana vineyard in Gattinara’s municipal deeds.

At the foothills of Monterosa, Europe’s second highest mountain, the vines enjoy sunny days, cool nights, thermic breeze and good drainage in steep slopes. With plenty of volcanic gravel and high clay content in the soil, Nervi’s vineyards are unique in an Italian oenological context. The mineral rich soil lends itself to producing elegant Nebbiolo wines of particular sapidity and longevity, a characteristic of Nervi´s Gattinara.

Nervi Gattinara 2005

Variety: 100% Nebbiolo Vineyards: Molsino, Valferana, Garavoglie, Casacce at 290-420m a.s.l. Vinification: Gentle destemming and crushing, fermentation in stainless steel vats at controlled temperatures Ageing: 3 years in large oak barrels; further ageing in traditional cement vats; 1 year bottle ageing Alcohol content: 13.5% vol. Food pairing: Pasta and rice main courses (first and foremost, risotto), red meats, lamb, game, aged cheeses Serving temperature: 16-18° C


Ghemme DOCG

The Ghemme DOCG is situated opposite of Gattinara on the other side of the Sesia River. Although the wines were historically overshadowed by the fame of the its neighbor, it too enjoyed a fine reputation until the end of the 19th century , when the Nebbiolo of the North were eclipsed by their southern counterpart. The appellation gradually fell into decline until it was granted DOCG status in 1997.

The wines are produced mainly in the towns of Ghemme and Romagnolo Sesia in the province of Novara, the area under wines is very small (125 acres) the wines must have a minimum of 85% of Nebbiolo and up to 15% of Vespolina and Uva Amara , the wines must be aged for 34 months of which 18 months in oak. Reserve must be aged for 46 months ( 24 in oak).

Like Gattinara , Theme is higher in acidity than the Nebbiolo of the South, it also shares the same tannic structure and the typical Nebbiolo profile. Theme wines tend to be more austere and sturdy. They need time in the bottle to matureT.

Antichi Vigneti Cantalupo

The aromatic profile changes continuously in the glass, but includes underbrush, iron, dark spice, rose, tilled earth and a balsamic note. On the firm, radiant palate, an intense mineral vein wraps around dried dark-skinned cherry, cranberry, licorice and chopped herb. A backbone of vibrant acidity and assertive but refined tannins provide structure and impeccable balance. Give this time to soften and develop even more complexity. Drink 2018–2031.


Other Northern Piemonte Nebbiolo Appellations

Of course there are many more appellations in Piemonte that produce Nebbiolo based wines, wines less expensive but that keeps the Nebbiolo characteristics of their more famous cousins.

Like Lessona DOC, which can make 100% Nebbiolo based wines. Their bouquets present a uniquely mineral and sanguine character.

Bramaterra DOC, between Lessona and Gattinara, it is the only appellation in the North to allow up to 30% Croatina in the blend. This make the wines light and approachable at early age.

Carema DOC withe their famous Topia, the pergola training system very characteristic of the area. It produces the famous Vino di Montagna , a Nebbiolo based wines. They are well known for their fragrant and delicate perfume of roses and violets, high acidity and a pronounced mineral character.

Nebbiolo D'Alba DOC

The Nebbiolo D'Alba DOC is 100% Nebbiolo based appellations incorporating more than 30 communes on both Banks of the Tanaro River. Remember ? It is the river that separate Barolo and Barbaresco regions.

It includes the hills of Roero but not the area of Barolo and Barbaresco, that therefore can't declassify their wines into Nebbiolo D'Alba, but rather in Langhe Nebbiolo DOC. It offers a more approachable and less expensive version of Nebbiolo but is still redolent of the classic aromas of red flowers and fruits with less austerity.

To conclude the Nebbiolo series, keep in mind and an eye on Langhe DOC, one of the most dynamic and newer appellations, where all the big names experiment new blending and new exciting wines. Of course it can make wines in all the grapes of Langhe, but important is the Nebbiolo, because some of the grapes come from the most famous areas of Barolo and Barbaresco.


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