Nebbiolo, The Color Blue, Truth, Beauty & Non-Binary Wine

Nebbiolo, The Color Blue, Truth, Beauty & Non-Binary Wine

A long time ago a beautiful woman told me her favorite color was blue. When I asked why, she told me because it’s the only color that can be both sad and happy at the same time. In that moment I became aware that beauty, truth and love are not binary concepts but layered mysteries. They reside outside the prison of human language, “beyond good and evil.”

Real wine-great wine, like the sound of a Stradivarius, like the blue hue of Picasso’s “Old Guitarist” or like the blue eyes of my female companion, operate on a multitude of emotional levels within a mosaic of primal impulses. Great wine like great art has a beauty that waylays within the moments without words, hiding within the quantum stillness between the staccato notes of a symphony. It has a truth that operates within the moment before lips touch lips, or lips touch glass to take another sip. If it’s love, when your eyes re-open, it is as if one fell through the mantle of the universe in a single moment, immediately returning tongue tied, yet all knowing.

The great wines of the world can often inspire this experience. Sometimes great company and an average bottle can get you there too. More often than not, if I want to experience Truth, Beauty and Love in a glass, I turn to the noble Italian grape Nebbiolo. The great Nebbiolo based wines of Northern Italy such as Barolo and Barbaresco, and those of Alto-Piedmont are certainly emotional wines “beyond the cage of words,” but often expensive. While kisses are free, Nebbiolo is not. However, in the world of wine as in the tribulations of love and truth, there are always exceptions. I have found one such exception in the wines of Andrea Oberto, specifically his simple yet beautifully mysterious Langhe Nebbiolo bottling.

Andrea Oberto has run the family estate in the La Morra and Barolo since 1978, when he left his job as a truck driver after the death of his father. We carry several offerings from Andrea including his Dolcetto, Barbera and Barolos, but it’s his Langhe Nebbiolo offering that I often find myself going home with. Like the color blue, Nebbiolo can often be “sad and happy” at the same time. Often limpid in the glass it’s gritty tannin structure can be assertive and powerful. Offering an uncommon juxtaposition between sight and sip. It is neither light nor full, but layered. In the glass, Nebbiolo as Jancis Robinson notes has “the most extraordinarily haunting bouquet in which, variously, roses, autumn undergrowth, woodsmoke, violets and tar can often be found.”

Though Andrea’s 2017 Langhe Nebbiolo bottling does not have the depth of his Barolos it does radiate many of the same layered notes of violet, black cherry, tar and baker’s chocolate. Like all good Nebbiolo it expands aromatically as it opens and leaves the taster in a state of wonder. “What is that note, that aroma?” “It seems familiar, yet alien at the same time.” My eyes re-open. It’s late and everyone has gone to bed. There is a cold tranquility in the kitchen. My glass is full of Oberto Nebbiolo, and my heart is adrift in the stillness.

-David Govatos

Spanish Wine With A Soul

Spanish wine with a Soul.

At the start of every week, the endless ritual of tasting wine with sales reps begins anew. It’s a continuous exercise in sipping, spitting and bullshitting, all in the hopes of possibly finding something special that will eventually make it to Swigg’s shelves and eventually into your glass. Finding wines that fits our philosophy, or our wine “Weltanschauung” can often be an arduous task. The practice of tasting with reps, suppliers and winemakers has become a cliché in our business, and often the products being presented can be forgettable.

I’m often reminded of a passage from Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. “(How many times had he made love in his life?) Only two or three were really essential and unforgettable. The rest were mere echoes, imitations, repetitions, or reminiscences.” This is the vinous dance marathon that takes place every week…romance is sadly sacrificed for mere exercise, often in the end leaving both participants more exhausted than elated.

However, sometimes you find some platinum amongst the plonk in these unfortunately essential affairs. I’ve been doing this for a while, but every now and again I find something new, something important. To quote a Devil Wears Prada, “There’s a scale. One nod is good, two nods is very good. There’s only been one actual smile on record and that was Tom Ford in 2001.”

Today I met with David Sampedro, winemaker at Bodegas Bhilar. David and his wines certainly had me smiling. David and his wife Melanie Hickman own Bodegas Bhilar, a supremely positioned boutique winery in the town of Elvillar in Rioja Alavesa, Spain. The lineup David showed me today included some of the most compelling and interesting wines I’ve found this year, radiating with personality, purity and an unshakable aura of place. David was also “super chill”, passionate, down to earth and carried himself with a quite intensity. David simply presented himself as a farmer, and said all he had to say through his wines.

In the vineyard David farms biodynamically, and in 2014 even replaced tractors with horses. According to his website,” When you witness horses working in the vineyards it’s truly transforming…you truly live in the moment.” In the winery he is a not an interventionist, “allowing the land to speak for itself.” You hear this last part a lot from wine makers, but David’s wines in the glass are simply beyond any form of cynicism.

I had purchased some of David’s wines several months ago, but had tasted the wines piecemeal and really never got to explore what he and his wines are all about, even though I was certainly moved and intrigued by the initial offerings I tasted.

I was tipped to Bodegas Bhilar by the great wine writing sage Matt Kramer, by one of his last writing assignments for the Wine Spectator, “The Last Postcard from Spain.” In Kramer’s brief article, he mentions only five producers of note, Bodegas Bhilar being one of them. Described as a “rabble-rouser from Rioja,” Kramer goes on to describe Bodegas Bhilar as “Biodynamically grown Rioja wines of exceptional quality for the money,” and after today’s tasting I couldn’t agree more. I am simply smitten with the wines from Bodegas Bhilar.


$23 Nero D’Avola, Albert Camus & Happiness

$23 Nero D’Avola, Albert Camus & Happiness

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me, there lay, an invincible summer. And, that makes me happy.”-Albert Camus

A new decade has dawned and we roll into the 20s bleary-eyed and seasonally battered from the recent Holiday. This is my least favorite time of year. My Vitamin-D levels are as depleted as my bank account, and the warmth of family gatherings has been replaced by the lonely cold minutia of American working life.

During this time of year, I often find happiness in wine’s bottled sunlight. It’s wine that reminds me that pitchers and catchers report in 6 weeks, and if the NFL playoffs come, “can Spring be far behind?”

I love Mediterranean island wines this time of year. As I swirl the wine in my glass, I think of the shimmering sun reflecting off of turquoise water and wind blowing through golden hued country sides. These thoughts warm me and make me happy.

I had been searching for another Sicilian producer to work with over the past several months. There’s a menagerie of serviceable yet innocuous bottles of both red and white Sicilian wine. I was looking for something that expressed more than just sun-kissed fruit, I was looking for something with a “somewhereness” (Thank you, Matt Kramer). I found the wines I was looking for in Feudo Montoni.

Feudo Montoni is located more than 50 miles southeast of Palermo within the heart-land of the Island. Along with grape cultivation, the area is synonymous for wheat production. During antiquity the region was known as the “granary of the Roman Empire.”

Feudo Montoni’s geographic positioning is unique to the island and lends a strong and unique character to the wines produced on the estate. The property sits at rather high elevation (500-700 meters above sea level), and the wines in the glass reflect a warm influence, rather than a scorched or baked note present in many other wines from Sicily. Fuedo Montoni’s wines also taste clean and unmanipulated. The estate is certified organic, and cultivates both wheat and olives on the property as well as grapes.

Tonight I’m opening a bottle of Feudo Montoni Nero D’Avola “Lagnusa” 2017. In the glass, the wine displays loads of ripe cherry into black cherry, “squishy plum,” warm earthenware, hints of spice and black pepper on the finish wrap up what is a silken and sumptuous example of Nero D’Avola. It’s a joy to drink while my sausage and peppers simmer on the stove, and in the recesses of my imagination its summer in the “hinterlands” of Sicily. This makes me happy.

-David Govatos