Gattinara, a misunderstood DOCG red wine made from the Nebbiolo grape (called spanna by the locals), is revered for its earthy yet gentle flavors of tobacco, dried herbs, and violets. You’ve seen this wine – its most famous maker, Travaglini, bottles it in those iconic wobbly asymmetrical bottles. You’ll appreciate how its scents of tar, roses, red berries, and forest floor seduce you instantly.
Why consider Gattinara when Barolo and Barbaresco are more well-known and cousins in grape and region?
Firstly, it is available at a more modest price point, typically $35-$50 per bottle.
Secondly, the Nebbiolo grape, from which it is produced, is similar to Pinot Noir as it’s very sensitive to the soil. It is grown in volcanic soil, which shades the subtlety and gentleness of this great wine. Barolo and Barbaresco have different soil profiles, so the Gattinara is going to provide a new perspective.
And finally, it is often released when it’s older since, by Italian law, it must be aged 24 months in oak barrels with another nine months in the bottle. Therefore you get a more aged wine right off the shelf.
Related: Schioppettino: A Basic Wine Guide
Gattinara is a red wine that presents a light or bright ruby when in its youth. The color will be clearer and less concentrated than wines made from other red grapes. They take on brick and even orange tones as they age.
The unique “tar and roses” scent is synonymous with Nebbiolo grapes. Notes of red berries, violet, herbs, and tobacco are present. You will smell a soil-like earthiness akin to “the forest floor,” which is an expression of the volcanic soil it is grown in.
Bracing acidity and food friendliness is a notable feature due to wide temperature fluctuations during growing. The volcanic soil of northern Piedmont gives it a complex minerality. Tannins can be powerful in young wines, growing silky with age and lending the wine its structure. Gattinara tends to be lighter in body and earthier in flavor than Barolo and Barbaresco. Alcohol levels are typically moderate, starting around 12.5%.
Gattinara is produced in the northern Italian Piedmont region known as Alto Piedmonte, just south of the Alps. This high altitude and wide temperature swings from day to night contribute to its delicate nature. The soil is rocky and volcanic, and it’s free of limestone and clay. Winds can be harsh, so damage to the delicate buds must be contained.
Nebbiolo is typically known by the nickname spanna locally. An ancient varietal, production dates back thousands of years. The name derives from the Italian nebbia which means “fog”, which refers to Piedmont’s climate or possibly the foggy coating on mature fruit.
Vineyards in the Gattinara appellation may blend up to 10% Bonarda and Vespolina varietals in their production. However, most choose to incorporate 100% Nebbiolo.
The Nebbiolo vines are typically harvested in late October once the temperature begins to drop. Grapes are left to macerate for 3-4 weeks. Afterward, the fermentation rooms are heated to encourage malolactic fermentation, which tames its bracing acidity.
Modern-style winemakers use smaller, new oak barrels for more pronounced vanilla and spice notes. The older, more traditional approach uses larger, used oak botti barrels that preserve its delicate rose petal aromas.
By Italian law, Gattinara DOCG must be aged at least 35 months, with 12 of those months in oak barrels. An additional year in the barrel is required for riserva wines. Additionally, the alcohol level must reach 12% by volume (13% to be labeled riserva).
Roasted meats and game stand up well to the prominent tannins. White truffles dishes pair well for their luxurious earthiness. Parmigiano Reggiano is a good choice for pairing a cheese, as are other strong, hard, mature cheeses.
Try it Out
Gattinara can be somewhat hard to come by, but you will likely be rewarded with great value for your money if you search it out. 2015 and 2016 were particularly good years for the Piedmont area generally.
Anzivino Riserva 2015 – This wine is slim, elegant, and alluring, not to mention well-balanced with fine integrated tannins. Complex minerality compliments red fruit and notes of the forest floor.
Travaglini Gattinara Riserva 2015 – Look for the unique bottle shape. A deep pomegranate red wine with a delicate fruity and mineral fragrance with hints of cherries, rose, licorice, and pepper. Fresh, with silky tannins, with a long and smooth finish. It also earned 93 points from Wine Enthusiast.
Travaglini Tre Vigne 2015 – This “Three Vines” example is a textbook quality Gattinara. Earth and tobacco mix with cherry and licorice for a classic experience.
Torraccia Pianta Vigna 2016 – A symphony of intense floral scents with notes of leather and tar. It’s also a prime candidate for aging.
A Pinot Noir or Burgundy glass with a wide bowl is a must for Gattinara with its interesting scent and complexity. Wine slightly warmed from a drinker’s hand will tend to exude its aromas more readily, as will aerating it through swirling.
Possessing almost all of the features of the prestigious Barbaresco except the hefty price tag, Gattinara is one of Northern Italy’s best-kept secrets. It’s racy and perfumed while young with aging potential of 10 years or more and food-friendly enough to keep your dinner guests talking about its mysteries.