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From the label to the wine in the bottle, everything about this Gattinara screams “old school.” But, just so we’re clear, that doesn’t mean dirty, funky old school. Nope, this wine is old school in the most delicious way, blessed with a nice core of clean, ripe Nebbiolo fruit balanced beautifully by an unmistakable Northern Piedmont earthiness. When you put your nose in a glass of this soulful ’18, it’s like a crash course in terroir, the wine seeming to gain more aromatic complexity and mineral depth the longer the bottle is open.
Long before Barolo and Barbaresco became the international sensations they are today, Gattinara was Piedmont’s Nebbiolo-based calling card, and there isn’t a more authentic modern interpretation than this well-priced rarity from Franchino. Although there have been some high-profile investments in this historic appellation, Gattinara is still mostly defined by tiny, farmstead operations like this one—and we’re extremely fortunate to have acquired some of the few bottles that made it to the US. Nebbiolo-heads, assemble!
Despite being the most famous of the “Alto Piemonte” (“Upper Piedmont”) wine appellations, the Gattinara DOCG just isn’t very big: At one time, Alto Piemonte was Piedmont’s commercial winemaking epicenter, but a combination of phylloxera, the exodus of workers to industrial jobs in Turin and Milan, and two World Wars all but wiped it all out. Today, the entirety of the Gattinara growing zone covers only about 100 hectares of vineyards. The Franchino estate—run by local legend Mauro Franchino and his nephew, Alberto Raviciotti—has just three of those hectares, and even some of that fruit is sold to others (in a typical year, they bottle less than 30% of their crop).
Gattinara is distinguished by its volcanic soil, which is mixed with some glacial moraine and contains a high percentage of iron, giving it a reddish hue. The region’s reds undergo a similar aging regimen to that of Barolo—35 months minimum, compared to 38 for Barolo, with Gattinara spending a minimum of 24 of those months in wood barrels compared to 18 for Barolo. Gattinara, however, is not required to be 100% Nebbiolo, but must contain a minimum of 90%; Franchino’s is 100% Nebbiolo, fermented in stainless steel with 20 days of maceration and aged in large, neutral casks for 24 months. The estate’s first vintage was 1967 (an excellent year for Gattinara, FWIW), and nothing about the production methodology has changed since.
This 2018, blessed with a bit of bottle age, is deeply classic Nebbiolo: rosy, leathery, earthy, and persistent, with heady aromas that charge out of the glass upon pouring. It displays a deep garnet-red core with only a slight hint of orange at the rim, perfumed aromas of dried black cherry, cranberry, blood orange peel, black tea, leather, turned earth, wood smoke, and coffee grounds. Compared to most Barolos or Barbarescos, you’ll find the tannins to be a little gentler, but still very much present, along with refreshing acidity; there’s a kinship to some Côte de Nuits Burgundies here, although the overall profile still skews more earthbound. It’s imperative to pair this with something woodsy and classically Piedmontese, whether it’s a mushroom or truffle risotto or maybe game birds of some kind. It’s ready to enjoy now and over the next 3-5 years in Burgundy stems at 60-65 degrees—if you’re a Nebbiolo aficionado, this is a must-have!
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