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Ferdinando Principiano Nebbiolo d’Alba Montagliato 2015

Ferdinando Principiano Nebbiolo d’Alba Montagliato 2015

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Winegrower: Ferdinando Principiano
Region: Piedmont, Italy
Grape: Nebbiolo
Vintage: 2015
Color: Red
Alc: 13.5%
Available: Fall 2017

Today we’re going to one of those “next door” appellations we like talk about, mining for gold on the fringes of more ‘prestigious’ appellations. And we’re also going to touch on the topic of ‘natural’ wine. By now you’ve either accepted one of several popular definitions or come up with your own. The basic premise of natural wine is to minimize inputs. This starts in the vineyard with the elimination of chemical fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides and pesticides. It then extends into the cellar by avoiding the hundreds of legally permitted additives that can go into winemaking as well as the technology, think rotofermenters and micro-oxygenators, to manipulate it. Then there is the debate on sulphur: to add or not to add? Strict naturalists say NO! They also eschew new wood and sometimes any wood at all, during the aging process. I mention the foregoing because today’s wine tastes better than many Barolos twice the price and it’s made by one of Italy’s leading natural wine advocates. Forget the funk and rusticity, the over-the-top acidity, and other raw and primary expressions; today’s wine is clean and slick, plush and polished! The fruit for this wine comes from the Ferdinando Principiano’s Montagliato vineyard just outside of the Barolo zone. Ferdinando says it’s a great site that produces fruit worthy of Barolo, and when you taste this wine you realize how much mediocre Barolo is made. Although not a Barolo, this wine is a great introduction to Ferdinando’s Barolos and shares their aromatics and flavour complexity. Just over 300 cases were produced and we are lucky to have a few to share with you. At $34 you’ll find it hard to believe it tastes so good; this is an absolute pure expression of place at a price that can’t be beat. 

The Principiano family has lived in the heart of the Langhe since the 1700’s but it wasn’t until the 1950’s that Ferdinando’s father Americo consolidated the numerous smallholdings into one estate. At that time most of the land was used for mixed farming but it also included a small vineyard on the hill of Monforte d’Alba that dates back to 1934. Under Ferdinando’s push his father converted the estate to all vineyards by 1993 – in the midst of the Barolo Renaissance. It was also the year when Americo retired and Ferdinando took over the estate.

Ferdinando is one of Italy’s leading practicing advocates of the natural wine movement. However, his motives are not ideological nor are they oriented towards marketing, just a desire to produce great wine. “If I can make great wine with natural methods, all the better,” he says.

Ferdinando’s maturation as a winegrower is one of regression from a modern style in which the winemaking is dominated by technology to the very traditional in which there is very little to be found. Many winegrowers have crossed the line from ultra-traditional to modern, but never the opposite way around. The first wines he produced represented the fashion of the times; they were modern, young drinking and supped up to guarantee 100 point scores from American magazines. But after several years he realized they “didn’t represent the terroir, didn’t represent me, or my culture or history.” He also noticed they didn’t age well. In 2003 he did an about face and suddenly become a true, almost religious, traditional style winegrower. “Barolo has been recognized for making some of the world’s greatest red wines for centuries, well before the introduction of artificial fertilizers and chemical pesticides, micro-oxygenation and loads of new wood. Why can’t the old techniques work now?” he asks. In 2003 he started to farm organically and by 2006 all his vineyards were certified organic. But he didn’t stop there. Ferdinando then eliminated the use of copper and sulphur and started to practice what he calls ‘deliberate benign neglect’ which resulted in untamed and Edenistic looking vineyards. From the 2004 vintage things started to really change; vineyard yields dropped by 40% leading to more structured wines with greater complexity, tannins and more intense aromas. He started to use only natural, ambient yeasts, fermented without temperature control and did only manual punch downs during fermentation. Old Slovenian oak botti and 400 litre barrels replaced the barriques, grapes were crushed by foot and sulphur is not added during the wine making process. Today, you will only find traditionally made wines of incredible purity and focus, ranging from his amazing Dolcetto to his majestic Barolos.

Ferdinando’s Nebbiolo d’Alba Montagliato 2015 is from the fruit of 20-year-old vines at an altitude of 500 meters. The wine saw 2 weeks maceration in stainless steel and was aged 10 months in 20-hectoliter old casks of Slovenian oak. It is unfined, unfiltered and has no added sulphur. Pure, clean and restrained but lush with fruit and in perfect balance; like traditional Barolos it is not flashy, but very serious. It is medium plus bodied with aromas of dark berries, herbs, leather and violet. The palate is polished and savoury and delivers raspberry, spice and smooth tannins. This is a beautiful wine now but will experience further development over the next few years. Decant for a couple of hours and serve at 16˚ in Burgundy stems with these wonderful braised short ribs. A match made in heaven. Enjoy!