[Billet vins] The gender fluidity of “black nepinolo”

The terms “masculine” and “feminine” have become, at least as metaphorical entities to describe wine, words on the index today. Is it barely still socially tolerated, but only with the curved tip of the lips, to stammer the words in “m” and “f” to illustrate the DNA of a thought, from then on amputated from irremediably confined words to the medical profession to talk about physiological gender.

For example, it will seem presumptuous, not to say out of place, to affirm that the Nebbiolo grape variety, appreciated among other things for the structuring configuration of its tannic framework, is most generally associated — in an overall perspective — with a type of wine said to be “masculine”, whereas the Pinot Noir grape variety finds in the description “feminine” an evocation linked to the suppleness, charm and voluptuousness of wine sap which translates both emotion and tactile subtlety. As attractive as this last proposition is, what do we think this time of this popular belief that a wine is masculine or feminine depending on whether it is produced by a winemaker or a winemaker?

Male or female

This state of affairs is, in short, a blessing. Because here is the opportunity, at the beginning of the millennium, to kill two birds with one stone by settling once and for all the disputed case of the words in “m” and “f” while inviting these nurserymen crazy about nebbiolo and of Pinot Noir to push grafting to a level never before achieved by creating the first “Nepinolo Noir” in the history of mankind. Fans of the two illustrious grape varieties will not complain!

But enough of the ethical rhetoric and let’s get practical. This black nepinolo exists only in our imagination. An attractive proposal, certainly, but which we are far from seeing the grounding.

Besides, who would wish for the pure and simple disappearance of Chambolle-Musigny “Les Amoureuses” from Madame Lalou Bize-Leroy, in Côtes de Nuits, or the Cannubi cru from the Scavino house, in Barolo? Certainly not me! Because, in one case as in the other, whether from Burgundy or Piedmont, the best wine made from pinot noir and nebbiolo has far exceeded the status of cult wine, as if the strong singularity it finds in his favorite lands made him automatically iconic, untouchable, imperishable. It joins Man in his very universality.

All this came back to me since this meeting with Elisa Scavino — 1fourth generation at Paolo Scavino — at the chic restaurant Il Pagliaccio, Laurier Avenue in Montreal, 10 years ago now (June 21, 2013), who had brought his best nebbiolos. His agent put the cover back this week with his Barolos, which not only have not aged a bit, but whose acuity, precision, finesse and emanating emotion have never been so evident.

Of the 23 hectares distributed at the time in six municipalities, the estate now has 30, located in eight municipalities, for a production of 200,000 bottles, of which 60% in the Barolo appellation. Here we touch on the exception. But whoever says exception also says disappointment, because these wines are highly prized by amateurs, who snap them up. My advice: get your hands on the first three, very representative of the style and potential of the house, at a friendly price.

Vino Rosso 2021 ($21 – 12448902). This blend of four grape varieties, including Merlot (here at 50%), sets the tone without hesitation. It is dynamic, of average constitution and of a generous fruity chewiness. Very nice deal! (5) ★★★ Nebbiolo 2021 ($30.50 – 12921632). This “downgraded” Barolo (two vineyards on the Morra side) already has finesse on the menu with floral notes and fresh cherry juice. A jewel of subtlety. (5) ★★★1/2

Barolo 2018 ($56.25 – 12533525). The business card of the house. Nine vineyards (in four towns) vinified separately for a delicate and precise aromatic flight (orange, rose, fine leather) on a full-bodied frame that is barely structuring, fresh and endowed with fine bitterness. (5+) © ★★★1/2

Barolo “Bric del Fiasc” 2010 ($175 – 11992543). This cru (2.5 ha) on three well-exposed contiguous plots has been part of the house since 1921. More than 10 years in the bottle, but what a youth! It’s detailed, subtle, as fine and detailed as an artistically folded piece of origami. (5) ★★★★

Barolo “Cannubi” 2016 ($127.75 – 14581969). This cru has the air of Corton Bressandes so much the fusion of tannins and fruitiness takes place here with harmony and, above all, with elegance. Note here the use of the original Michet qualitative clone planted in 1946. (5+) ★★★★1/2

Barolo “Carobric” 2006 ($105 – 13098297). The sum of the parts (three vineyards here) crowns the whole with unparalleled majesty! Authority and distinction, but above all great complexity, with ripe, abundant, mellow tannins, with an imperishable sap… Great! (5) © ★★★★1/2

Barolo Riserva “Roche dell’Annunziata” 2010 ($259 – 14072312). Produced in great years only on two plots (1.5 ha, south-south-east for 5,000 bottles delivered), considerable in scope although once again extremely tannic civility. A grand cru that breathes, through successive contractions and expansions, pulsating in depth and at length. (5+) © ★★★★1/2

Barolo Riserva “Novantesimo” 2011 ($476 – 13825298). The best fruits from seven vineyards are harvested the old-fashioned way (open 350-litre barrels with submerged caps) and marketed after a minimum of seven years. Relief, substance, confusing black and red fruitiness, a sustained tannic structure, but never drying, on the contrary! A monument. (10+) © ★★★★1/2

Grab while there’s some left

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