Ask an Italian wine enthusiast to name a DOCG wine that hails from Piedmont and you’re likely to elicit Barolo or Barbaresco as a response. That’s hardly wrong, but many make the mistake of thinking those are the only DOCG red wines coming from the region. *That* would be wrong. Today we’re going to shed some light on another zone that gets far less recognition than it deserves.
Gattinara is produced in and around the Commune of Gattinara in North Western Piedmont. Produced mainly from the Nebbiolo grape, by law Gattinara must be at least 90% Nebbiolo with the balance permitted to be Bonarda (10% allowed) or Vespolina (up to 4% allowed). Since 1967, Gattinara retained a simple DOC status until promotion to DOCG in 1990. Despite the blending regimen permitted, most serious winemakers produce Gattinara from 100% Spanna, the local name for Nebbiolo.
Founded in 1920 by Clemente Travaglini, Travaglini is perhaps the most recognized producer of Gattinara. Today, the estate is run by Clemente’s great granddaughter Cinzia and her husband Massimo who handles the winemaking duties. The family owns 59 hectares of property within the zone, 44 of which are dedicated to vines. Gradual replanting over the years has resulted in the vines being aged from 6 to 45 years old. The family crafts 7 wines all based upon Nebbiolo including a 100% Nebbiolo sparkling wine. Recently, we had a chance to test the lineage of Nebbiolo that hails from Gattinara. An interesting juxtaposition of identical wines born 49 years apart.
The average price of a home was $12,000. Yuri Gagarin blasts into space. JFK is alive and creates the Peace Corp. IBM introduces the typewriter. Construction begins on the Berlin Wall and the Bay of Pigs invasion fails miserably. Travaglini also made wine.
None of us knew what to expect when my friend Steve grabbed a bottle of 1961 Travaglini Gattinara Riserva from his cellar. Would we have been shocked if it were dead? No. Pleased if it were drinkable? Naturally. Yet we were surprised to find that not only was this drinkable, it was fresh, lively, complex and interesting.
Given the age of the wine, we chose not to decant it. Instead, we poured it carefully being wary of decades of sediment. In the glass, the wine is a light brownish, brick color that faded to sunburst orange at the rim of the bowl. Immediately you are struck by a wonderful symphony of aromas. Deep cherry fruit, that takes on an orange rind note was the first scent noticed. After some swirling, dried fennel, hay and horse hair are funky and interesting. Not at all off-putting. I loved the way it smelled.
On the palate, the wine is fresh and lively. Wonderful acidity backs the warm cherry compote and orange flavors. It’s amazing how fresh the wine felt and tasted. Hints of cured meat peek through and the wine is essentially devoid of tannins. Over the course of the evening, we kept going back to this bottle. The color deepened, the wine picked up more savory herb notes and the horse note persisted throughout. In all, the wine was consumed over about 4 hours and never fell apart. Simply an amazing experience and I thank my host for allowing me to join him. The one and only way to time travel. 95 points.
My friend is not an Italian wine expert. He opened this for me. That said, despite grabbing this wine from his cellar, he didn’t immediately associate this bottle with the Gattinara now marketed by Travaglini in the odd shaped bottle used today. It was in 1958 that Giancarlo Travaglini first began designing what is now the current shaped bottle. The family explains that the shape is not a gimmick, but that the bottle is designed to catch sediment as you pour, thereby eliminating the need to decant the wine.
The 2010 Travaglini Gattinara is a wine befitting of the reputation the vintage garnered. Vinified in stainless steel, the 2010 was aged for 3 years in total, 2 of which were in various sized Slavonian barrels. More approachable than you might expect, in the glass this was a bright ruby color through to the rim. Aromas of crushed cherry, but especially violets and fresh flowers are prominent and very attractive. Balanced well, this picks up some sage notes on the palate that join the red fruit flavors. Fresh acidity and only moderate tannins make this very enjoyable now. Medium to full in body, even though this is the estate wine and not the Riserva, I suspect this will cellar effortlessly for 3-5 more years. The value is excellent. 91 points. About $25.
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