Posted by: tomciocco | April 9, 2014

FREISA TO NEBBIOLO: “I AM YOUR FATHER”

The advent of the latest, ultra-detailed forms of DNA testing have, in the world of wine, yielded some very surprising family relationships. One of the more famous and almost shocking findings is that the ubiquitous and prestigious Cabernet Sauvignon vine is the direct progeny of Cabernet Franc and the white (!) grape vine Sauvignon Blanc; two vine varieties, one a relatively lighter red, and the other a pale, greenish-skinned grape, that when crossed begat a deep, dark and profound grape that is dare I say radically different from its parents. There are many such stories to recount in the oenological world, and this evening’s is one that is at least as surprising as the Cabernet Franc/Sauvignon Blanc/Cabernet Sauvignon story.

Like Cabernet Sauvignon, Piemont’s Nebbiolo is always set upon a pedestal as one of the “noblest”, most complex, and long-lived red wines to be found anywhere in the world. And very similar to Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo has also been found to be born from decidedly humble and equally astonishing origins.

Tonight’s wine/grape hails from The Langhe region in Piedmont, which not surprisingly is the same overarching region that contains the most serious and celebrated Nebbiolo-exclusive appellations, namely Barolo and Barbaresco. So when DNA analysis recently revealed that the regal Nebbiolo was the immediate child of the fairly rare, “local”, and typically rustic Freisa variety, and that the unctuous and aromatic white Northern Rhone grape Viognier was also a recent ancestor, the reaction was nothing short of flabbergasting. I think that we’ve all known people whose looks and personality dramatically belie – for good or ill – the traits of their parents, so why should grapes be any different? So much for the apple not falling very far from the tree…Genetics is clearly anything but linear.

Historically, Freisa has appeared to the drinking public in the form of a sprizty and often off-dry drink that was most typically served with farmstead salumi and dishes featuring hand-foraged wild mushrooms. It was nearly always consumed at informal family dinners that went down not much more than a stone’s throw from where the Freisa vines sprang from the earth and were vinified. And while these stalwart and bucolic styles are still the norm, technological advances have allowed winemakers to produce still and fully dry examples of Freisa wine that can regularly transcend this variety’s historically homey nature. Let’s not kid ourselves however – even with these advances, Freisa does not now reach, nor will it ever reach the rarified heights that its progeny Nebbiolo does, but it doesn’t really matter, does it? All wines can shine in their proper settings, and Freisa is no exception.

So in keeping with this dictum, I matched this strapping, burly example of Freisa with a first course of chestnut gnocchi (home-made of course) with a creamy walnut and raw garlic sauce followed by polpettine di tonno e ricotta (deep-fried tuna and ricotta “meatballs”) with a side of spinach sauteed with garlic, olive oil and nutmeg.

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Pasquale Pelissero Langhe Freisa “La Ferma” 2011

Blackish, deep violet color. Punchy and pungent nose of wild blackberry and blueberry, black cherry, wood smoke, new leather, magic marker, and ground cloves. The palate is full-bodied, big, powerful, muscular and rough-hewn with a huge tannins and piercing acidity that push rustic, minerally  flavors of black currant, plum, mulberry, bittersweet chocolate, espresso, blood, and black licorice. The finish is super dry with notes of sweet and sour watermelon candy.

 

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