What I Drank Last Night
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Morgenster Italian Collection Nabucco 2009

Beautifully composed.

Beautifully composed.

Yesterday a whizz through some examples of Nebbiolo, one of the great red grapes of Italy, typically high in acidity and firm of tannin. The variety is not widely planted in South Africa (25.09ha at the end of 2011) but Morgenster in Somerset West and Steenberg in Constantia are two producers attempting to make serious versions.

We tasted blind to keep everybody honest. Until now, I’ve tended to think that the refinement achieved by the Italians would always elude local producers but the 2009 from Morgenster showed beautifully yesterday and we are perhaps not that far behind. My scores and tasting notes as follows:

Morgenster Italian Collection Nabucco 2009
Price: R300
Red and black cherry, Ceylon tea and a touch of shoe polish on the nose. Great fruit purity, fresh acidity and fine tannins. Long finish. Already quite approachable, however.

Score: 94/100

Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco 2006
Price: R395
Ripe black fruit and a touch of tarriness on the nose. Full bodied with fresh acidity and extremely firm tannins but satisfyingly so – still far from resolved.

Score: 90/100

M. Marengo Nebbiolo D’Alba Valmaggiore 2010
Price: R215
Red fruit and some potpourri on the nose. Medium bodied with fresh acidity and fine tannins. Pretty although arguably lacks some concentration.

Score: 88/100

Morgenster Italian Collection Nabucco 2010
Price: R300
Red and black fruit, tomato cocktail plus some meaty, earthy notes. Medium bodied with fresh acidity and fine tannins. Already drinking well.

Score: 87/100

Steenberg Nebbiolo 2009
No longer available.
Red and black cherry, violets and subtle oak spice. Medium bodied with fresh acidity and firm but fine tannins. Slight green edge on nose and palate.

Score: 87/100

M. Marengo Barolo Brunate 2008
Price: R495
The nose is not atypical of the variety but not particularly enticing with earthy, tarry and shoe polish notes. The palate shows dark fruit, fresh acidity and unyielding tannins – all a bit joyless.

Score: 86/100

John Loubser Garibaldi Nebbiolo 2009
Dark fruit and some mint on the nose and palate. Oak sits a little apart. I liked this wine a lot more in the context of last year’s CWG tasting where it offered a pleasing counterpoint to the other super-concentrated, super-extracted reds but here it looked a bit basic.

Score: 85/100

Steenberg Nebbiolo 2010
Price: R187.50
Dark fruit, toasty oak and overt mint on the nose and palate. Lacks some finesse.

Score: 85/100

Comments

  1. Though I didn’t taste this line-up, I agree with Le Plonk. The Brunate 2008 from Marengo is one of the finest he has made in a while. Recently tasted, I agree with your tasting note but not your score. It certainly should have unyielding tannins!! Top Piedmont, unless from an ultra modern producer (like Sandrone), shouldn’t have accessible tannins and really need 20 years to show their best. The tannins integrate and refine with time. I had the 1996 Marengo Brunate last year and it was only starting to hit its plateau. I might need to spend a few more evenings drinking Barolo with you Christian…
    I remember the first tasting I ever partook at WINE magazine about 7 years ago, Dave Hughes and I disagreed completely on the Barolo in the lineup. His scores were 14ish, commenting on how the wines were harshly tannic and oxidised. My scores were 18ish, commenting on how they were young and unevolved. When I asked Dave how often he drank Barolo, he said never!

    • Christian says:

      I suspect I was a bit harsh on the Marengo Brunate 2008 and a bit too easily won over by the easy accessibility of the Morgenster. That said, I’m starting to wonder if I actually like Barolo…

  2. Angela Lloyd says:

    Much looking forward to Steenberg’s nebbiolo tasting come Friday. Knowing some international examples will be included, I’d love the opportunity to find out whether the Marengo is more Christian’s ‘earthy, tarry, floor polish’, or, and far preferably for me, Plonk’s ‘meaty, carpaccio, truffle [black/white P?], deep blue fruit & spices’. I’d imagine C’s would apply more on a just opened, undecanted bottle, but P’s after a good aerating.
    Yip, the ‘weightless yet deep’ is a lovely description and more helpful than reams of flavour descriptors.

  3. If I may add my 2cents – we double decanted the Marengo more than 24 hours in advance and used a Vinturi aerator. (as were all the other wines) While it may not be the same as cellar aging, it certainly was given ample opportunity to lose its tightness and show its colours

    • LePlonk says:

      My Goodness. A double decant and an encounter with a blender, and then 24 hours of wait time. I feel violated on the wine’s behalf.

      I would go as far as to say that that sort of oxygenation might favour Nebbiolo and disadvantage other varieties (and certainly lose a lot of aromatics).

      • Well, they were all YOUNG Nebbiolos, so no harm done then.

      • LePlonk says:

        That’s sort of what I mean, Hennie. I’m just trying to get if I differ so vastly from Christian’s tastes on this one, or if the bottle didn’t show well. I jot down scores when I taste, and I gave the Marengo Barolo a solid 94.

        With Advocate (AG?) and Tanzer scores of 93, I feel justified in just a little chat about this. Comments are open for this sort of thing, I guess.

        2008 was a near disaster vintage in the Barolo district with almost daily rains throughout June. And then suddenly almost two months of sun for a late ripening Nebbiolo crop saved the day. This resulted in some high acidities, that to my taste lend a certain element of freshness to the bigger wines. While I agree that Marengo makes Barolo in a slightly modern style, in good vintages his Brunate easily rivals his big named neighbors. I found his 2008 to be of the best of the whole bunch, and the acidity just elevates this big (dare I say masculine) wine to a new level.

        It’s not a big leap from CE’s “earthy, tarry and shoe polish” to my “meaty carpaccio, truffle, deep blue fruit and spices”, and I wonder if the treatment is not partly the cause.

        I like the Pinot bit in the Advocate note:
        “The 2008 Barolo Brunate is impressive. Layers of dark fruit, menthol, pine, spices and mint flow effortlessly from this impeccably graceful, polished Barolo. The 2008 Brunate is weightless yet deep in the way only Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo are capable. There is a ton of Brunate character here. Layers of fruit build to an explosive finish that saturates every corner of the palate. This is a fabulous showing from Marco Marengo. Anticipated maturity: 2016-2028″

  4. Christian says:

    Hi LePonk,

    One of the great quandaries of judging is how much leeway to give a young wine which disappoints now but may improve with age. My feeling is that ultimately you have to privilege the evidence at hand rather than speculating about the future. My instinct about the Marengo Barolo is that it is made in a modern style (extra-ripe fruit, heavy extraction) and while time will help, it’s never going to be particularly interesting.

  5. With all the discussion on scoring going on…

    Would you, had you tasted sighted, possibly have given the Barolo a different score? (I would almost hope so… as surely tasting a wine during a closed period is sort of academic at best).

    While I appreciate that you’re documenting a blind tasting as it happened, that Marengo should surely only be cracked in 4 years time (at the earliest)? Or is it therefore ok to say that at the moment, the wine is only an 86? (When in all likelihood, it could be a 94 given some nap time)

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