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Tasting Note

Posted January 31, 2013 Shows a bit more structure than typical, offering finely layered notes of pure cherry, plum, wild strawberry, tobacco and spice, with refined tannins and fresh acidity. Subtle, with a lingering floral note on the finish.

And the answer is...


Our mystery wine seems to have it all: fruit, floral, herb, spice, and a solid structure. Keeping in mind that this wine is “a bit more structured than typical” while considering the other descriptors, we should be able to crack this grape.

Notes of pure cherry, plum and wild strawberry are definitive descriptors that can be applied to a certain few varieties. Syrah, however, tends to be associated with darker fruits in addition to notes of black pepper, espresso or olive. Since none of these flavors are found here, we can eliminate it.

The hearty Austrian grape Zweigelt is known for producing wines with soft and subtle tannins, which makes it a great wine for all seasons. It does tend to showcase notes of red fruit, floral and spice, but the herbaceous flavor of tobacco is rarely used to describe a Zweigelt. It is safe to take Zweigelt out of the running.

Cabernet Franc, aka the “little brother” of Cabernet Sauvignon, commonly appears in blended wines. In certain regions, like the Loire and northeastern Italy, Cabernet Franc makes an excellent varietal, with elements of berry and spice. This typically medium-bodied wine, though, is usually linked with flavors of red licorice and currant, which does not sync up well with our mystery wine's tasting note.

Sangiovese, the rustic Italian grape, can often be associated with flavors of tobacco in addition to notes of red fruit. Sangiovese’s grippy tannins and high acidity make for a very well-structured wine. Our tasting note suggests that our wine can range in levels of structure. Sangiovese’s structure, depending on the location, can vary, but only slightly, and it's less tannic than its Italian counterpart, Nebbiolo, making Sangiovese the less likely pick.

This leaves us with Nebbiolo. Nebbiolo is responsible for making the “wine of kings and king of wines,” Barolo, and it remains the most valued grape variety of Piedmont. Its high acidity and prominent tannins are usually accompanied with a variety of flavors including red fruit, roses, herbs and spice. The intensity of Nebbiolo's structure, however, is dependent on the location and altitude at which it is grown.

This wine is a Nebbiolo.


Since Nebbiolo is not prominently grown in Austria, France, Spain or Washington, we can eliminate all of these winegrowing areas as the origin of our wine.

Italy is the home of Nebbiolo. Nebbiolo thrives in northern Italy, especially in Piedmont, Valle d'Aosta and areas of Lombardy. These regions provide the cool nighttime temperatures and the sunny days this grape needs to ripen.

This wine is from Italy.


Nebbiolo is one of the more difficult grapes to grow and vinify. With its high acidity and structured tannins, it can sometimes take years for these elements to settle down and mesh. We can therefore eliminate the 1- to 2-year-old option.

With its array of ripe fruit, this mystery wine is still on the youthful side. But there are some developing flavors such as tobacco and spice, which indicate a little age, putting this wine safely in the 3- to 5-year-old range. Any older, and we’d expect to see dried, not ripe, fruit, more integrated structure and additional secondary and tertiary notes, such as leather or a hint of salumi.

This wine is from the 2008 vintage, making it five years old.


The two Italian appellations we are presented with are Barbaresco and Valltelina Superiore.

Barbaresco and its neighbor Barolo are located in Piedmont, the most famous region in the world for growing and vinifying Nebbiolo. One aspect that differs between these largely similar regions is that Barbaresco receives a slight maritime influence. This causes the grapes to ripen earlier and therefore become a slightly more approachable wine at a younger age than Barolo. While tannins in Barbaresco may soften earlier than Barolo, these wines are still powerful and require cellar time in order to show their true potential.

Valtellina is a region located in Lombardy’s Alpine north. It’s here where Nebbiolo, locally referred to as Chiavennasca, is grown at altitudes of 1,000 to 2,300 feet on small, steep terraces. The Valtellina Superiore appellation was upgraded to DOCG status in 1998. The region is blessed with long hours of sunshine followed by cool nights. The pronounced diurnal temperature variation helps Nebbiolo retain its acidity and aromatics. These high-altitude versions of Nebbiolo do not have the sheer power of those from Piedmont. Instead, Valtellina Superiores are more subdued, with a graceful acidity and approachable tannins backed with layers of typical Nebbiolo aromatics, which sounds a lot like our mystery wine.

This wine is from Valtellina.


It’s the Nino Negri Valtellina Superiore Quadrio 2008, which received 90 points in the July 31, 2012, issue. It retails for $24 and 1,000 cases were imported. For more information on Valtellina wines, see Alison Napjus’ Northern Italian Tasting Highlights.

—Gillian Sciaretta, associate tasting coordinator

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