When it comes to Piedmont, though there are some great white wines to be had, when you get right down to the nitty gritty, this a place that is famous for its reds and as well it should be: the big guys like Barolo, Barbaresco, Gattinara, and then supposedly “lesser” wines like Dolcetto and Barbera, and then “down” to the semi- and totally obscure wines like Grignolino and Freisa and Pelaverga not to mention varieties like Avana` and Avarengo that go into blends that even seasoned winos don’t know from.
So onto this august list, let me drop another name: Lessona. In a way, Lessona is an odd cross between Piedmont’s “big guys” and its totally obscure labels. Let me explain. Lessona is situated in the northern part of the region in the hills around the small the city of Vercelli. Like the world-famous names in Piedmont, Lessona is made from predominantly Nebbiolo, but like the no-name esoterics, the region is teeny tiny and the world-beating Nebbiolo juice is often blended with other viticultural obscurities like Vespolina and Uva Rara (this particular cuvee` is made from 80% Nebbiolo and 20% Vespolina) which serve to soften the even more than usually wiry and rangy Nebbiolo due to the cooler northern climes from whence these wines hail. But there’s a second factor that for this guy makes Lessona and its neighbors like Boca and Bramaterra the prettiest, most elegant and most drinkable of all Nebbiolo-based wines and that is the soil. The Vercelli hills are made up of packed, folded and re-folded sea-bed sands, a soil composition that exalts the more curvaceous, lithe and fragrant side of the great Nebbiolo vine.
And a producer like Tenute Sella (the maker of our wine) is a great one indeed (a strong case can be made the greatest of them all), and one that cleaves strictly to the traditional side of winemaking (25 days of fruit maceration and 2 years aging in large used and re-used Slavonian oak casks) while unambiguously avoiding even a trace of ham-fisted rusticity. And though it might be a minor exercise in heresy to say so, I’d take a Vercelli- area wine like Lessona over the Langhe’s blockbusting Baroli and Barbareschi nindays out of ten, and that’s without any consideration of price (hint – the Lessona is a lot more affordable), so next time you need a fix of Piedmont’s most noble grape, leave the “big boys” on the wine shop shelf, and go for something like this supremely-comfortable-in-its-own-skin natural beauty.
To go with this really wonderful wine I served a first course of home-made potato gnocchi with a Gorgonzola/Mascarpone cheese sauce with a touch of garlic and nutmeg, followed by floured and pan-fried boned chicken thighs with Shiitake mushrooms, scallions and parsley in Marsala wine sauce and a side dish of cubed braised parsnips and peas.
Tenute Sella Lessona 2006
Sexy chestnut-garnet color. Supremely elegant yet totally affable nose of black cherry, red currants and dried cranberry fruit beautifully supported by notes of tree bark, moss, brown spices, toasted almond, juniper berry, black licorice, tar and a very elegant florality. In the mouth the wine shows a medium body with a superb balance of refined acidity and sweet, polished tannins wrapped in a wonderfully silky texture overall that perfectly sets off clean but still pastoral flavors of strawberry preserves, crushed blackberry and red plum fruit with strong and perfectly integrated secondary tastes of black truffles, mocha, eucalyptus and a salty minerality. Very long, soft and warm finish. Superb.