Nebbiolo 

The pride of Piemonte but without the price

The Piemonte varieties Dolcetto and Barbera have their charm, but it's Nebbiolo that is the region's premier grape. It forms the basis for two of Italy's most famous wines: Barbaresco and Barolo. With their firm tannic structure, both can be a bit rough during their youth, but with time in the bottle they develop into something otherworldly. That quality comes at a price, but Nebbiolo from outside those two regions can be quite delicious as well (as this tasting proved), and at half the cost.

2011 Agricola Brandini Barolo, $40

Cherry liqueur aromas lead off, combining with spicy licorice, leather and black tea. This is a big but beautifully balanced wine with dark berry and plum fruit flavors, backed by anise, leather and velvety tannins. While delicious now, it will improve for years to come.

2014 Benevelli Piero Langhe Nebbiolo, $19

The aromas are a light but intriguing mix of earth, smoke, mushroom and cherry cola. On the plush palate you get ripe cherry and strawberry playing against tart rhubarb and cranberry. The finish is long and smooth with a kiss of oak and soft tannins. Made with grapes from younger vines than Piero's Barolo, making for an exceptional value.

2012 Produttori del Barbaresco, $37

There's a light touch of eucalyptus on the nose, along with soft cherry and green tea leaf. This wine is surprisingly approachable for such a young Barbaresco; the ripe tannins are not subtle, but they are well integrated. The core of bright cherry and plum fruit is surrounded by nuanced notes of earth, game, mineral and leather. Definitely has a bright future.

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