Nebbiolo is a noble Italian grape usually associated with the big red stars of Piedmont – Barolo and Barbaresco – which are inevitably pricey bottles that typically take years to mature before the wines' brooding tannins and bright acidity mellow into the suave, complex drinking that collectors covet. But G.D. Vajra, which also makes one of my favorite affordable regional red blends (Langhe Rosso), is one of several wineries that make a younger, fresher, more accessible nebbiolo from vines that are younger or located just outside the designated appelation. That's exactly the case with this 2015, whose fruit was culled from four- to seven-year-old vines within Barolo and Sinio to the east. The result is a likable and versatile wine that captures nebbiolo's vibrant fruit and structure — tart cherries wrapped in tobacco leaves, pepper, and spice, with vivid aromas of mushrooms and violet — but at a measured level of drinkable tannins that are already more silky than austere. Yes, it's less age-worthy and ultimately less complex than its more prestigious big brother, but at just about $22, it's also roughly half the price of an entry-level Barolo, and a perfect gateway bottle to taste a flavorful hint of what the nebbiolo fuss is all about.
– Craig LaBan
G.D. Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo, $21.99 in Pennsylvania (code 39685).