The Circolo Divino (CD) is a group of sommeliers and wine buffs that gets together to taste wines. Our intimate wine tasting group casually meets once every few months and brainstorms about everything food and wine.

I organized a Nebbiolo Tasting at the Liverpool House restaurant on Notre Dame Street. Liverpool house is where Ryan works as the sommelier. As always, everyone brings a bottle of wine made from the grape being spotlighted that evening. Once seated we were nine tasters with nine different glasses of nebbiolo in front of us. Pretty daunting and pretty exciting !

Nebbiolo is a grape found almost exclusively in Piemonte. Literally nebbiolo means 'littly foggy one' and Piemonte « mountain foot » These two words describe a little about the region. Tucked in the north west corner of Italy, Piemonte borders France and Switzerland. The region is full of hills and mountains. The Langhe hills and the Monferrato hills where most of the great wine is produced and the Alps are a big tourist attraction. During grape harvest, the hills are blanketed with intense fog.

Nebbiolo has been cultivated since the 14th Century in Valtellina. This valley in neighbouring Lombardia region at the foot of the Alps is the only region where Nebbiolo is grown in Italy outside Piemonte.

Nebbiolo has many aliases. In Valtellina it is called Chiavennasca. In the Langhe hills, three clones are popular. Michet, Lampia and Rosé.
Clones or no clones, nebbiolo makes world class wines. Barolo, Barbaresco and Gattinara are a few. In Lombardia the Valtellina Superiore is a softer less tannic version of a very fine nebbiolo with often gets less fanfare.

Once everyone was finished sniffing swirling and spitting, we took turns discussing each one and took a stab at identifying the wines that each of us brought. Most of us agreed there were 4 wines that were clearly above the rest in terms of quality.

I brought a wine in which i thought would surprise the group. Turns out I was the one that was surprised. We were three that brought the same wine ! Two were the Valtellina Sfursat 5 Stelle from Nino Negri. A 2002 and a 2003 and one was a Valtellina from the Sassela vineyard in the Lombardian valley from the same producer ! I thought we were going to taste Barolos and Barbarescos the whole way but there was aslo a Gattinara, and a Nebbiolo grown in Mexico!

After the chairs were stacked and the glasses were put away, we learned that nebbiolo is truly a remarkable grape variety. Its naturally high tannin and high acidity lend itself to long aging. It produces wines with wonderfully complex mushroom, cherry, tar and tobacco notes. On the palate despite its tannins and elevated acidity it can be elegant and caressing. The older 1998 Barbaresco and the …….that we tasted was proof that Nebbiolo on the right terroir can be truly one of life’ s great pleasures and that makes me happy.