On Nov. 18, I traveled in a virtual time machine via a vertical tasting of eight Nebbiolo-based wines from Alto Piemonte from 1842\u20131970.\r\n\r\nThe tasting, Assaggio a Nordovest (A Tasting of Northwest), was organized by the Associazione Vignaioli Colline Biellesi and took place at the stunning Villa Era on the outskirts of Biella in northern Piedmont.\r\n\r\nFull disclosure: I participated in the tasting, as I provided historical background on the area\u2019s long winemaking tradition for international attendees.\r\n\r\nEven though I\u2019ve tried older vintages from the area, this extraordinary lineup blew me away.\r\n\r\nBesides the sheer wonder of trying such old wines, the tasting offered a potent reminder that wines, especially fine bottlings destined to age for years or decades, are undeniably alive. It also gave a rare glimpse into how Piedmont\u2019s winemaking has evolved over the last 175 years.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nMost importantly, the tasting demonstrated the greatness of Nebbiolo from this unique growing area. The wines all hailed from the Biella hills, where ancient, yellow marine sands are in proximity to Alpine foothills. Here, distinct day and night temperature swings prolong the growing season, which yields intense, fragrant and mineral-driven Nebbiolos that boast vibrant acidity and firm, refined tannins.\r\n\r\nDaniele Dinoia, winemaker at Centovigne, admits no one is sure that the wines we tasted were made entirely with Nebbiolo.\r\n\r\n\u201cNebbiolo, known locally as Spanna, has always been the most important grape in the Biella hills,\u201d says Dinoia. \u201cAccording to old documents and estate registers, we know some producers in and around Lessona made wines exclusively with Nebbiolo even back in the 19th century.\r\n\r\n\u201cBut blending Nebbiolo with local grapes Vespolina, Croatina and Uva Rara has always been a popular tradition throughout Alto Piemonte. Some producers around Biella also blended with these grapes, to add fragrance and color and to soften Nebbiolo\u2019s assertive tannins. I\u2019m confident the wines are 80\u2013100% Nebbiolo.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nThe 1842 and 1896 wines were surprisingly sweet. Producers assert their 19th-century counterparts made the wines sweet \u201cto satisfy market tastes of the time.\u201d (Some things never change, apparently.) But I have my doubts.\r\n\r\nThis sweetness may result from the many technical challenges that these winemakers faced when they tried to ferment wines completely dry. But we\u2019ll never know for sure.\r\n\r\nRegardless, the 1897 example marked a pronounced shift in style, from sweet to dry wines. It was the tasting\u2019s showstopper. While extremely mature, it boasted quintessential Nebbiolo sensations of tar, roses and dried cherry set against vibrant acidity. The 1970 offering was a mere youngster by comparison.\r\n\r\nAll the wines had a family resemblance, a fantastic testament to the area's terroir. It was an incredible and, on some levels, a humbling experience to try wines with this much history.\r\nTasting Historic Wines from Alto Piemonte\r\n(Note: with the exception of the 1970 and 1965, the wines only bore the name of the winery, or the type of wine as it was called at the time. Modern-day denominations were officially recognized in Italy starting with the 1966 vintage). \r\nTenute Sella 1970 Lessona\r\nLuminous garnet in color, this 47-year-old is shockingly youthful for its age. It shows classic sensations of an adult Nebbiolo that include tar, flint, dried cherry and Alpine herb mingling with citrus zest. The salty finish is pure Lessona. Mature, but it still drinks beautifully.\r\nTenute Sella 1965 Lessona\r\nNot an outstanding vintage, this is intact, but in decline. Light garnet color that drifts to pale brick along the borders, it offers mature aromas of maple syrup, dried rose petal and balsamic notes. The palate shows smoke, earth and flint that underscore dried apricot, citrus zest and a sprinkling of aromatic herb.\r\nVilla Era 1960 Spanna di Vigliano Riserva Speciale\r\nGarnet-brick colored, with earthy, inviting aromas of flint, asphalt, smoke and a whiff of cured meat. The bright, smooth palate offers tangerine zest, hazelnut, dark spice and a hint of dried berry alongside buffed tannins. An incredible showing for a 57-year-old wine.\r\nCastello di Castellengo 1934\r\nFlint and orange-zest aromas. Definitely mature but still intact, with dried sour cherry and white-pepper notes. Acidic verve and a tangy saline finish give it energy. This needed time to open up.\r\nCastello di Montecavallo 1931\r\nWith a pale amber hue, this needed time to open up and eventually reveal aromas that bring to mind Vin Santo: spice, dried Mediterranean herb, nut and maple syrup that carry over to the palate along with fennel flavors and racy acidity. Very mature, but still alive and kicking.\r\nVilla Era 1897 Vigliano Biellese\r\nThe most impressive wine at the tasting. The garnet, bronze-tinged color belies the wine\u2019s advanced age, as do the intense aromas of tar, flint, dried rose and spice. The palate is extraordinarily youthful for its 120 years and shows delicate strawberry, grilled herb and cake spice alongside bright acidity and tannins polished to a high sheen. If only humans could age this gracefully.\r\nCastello di Castellengo 1896\r\nGold-amber in color, this was undeniably sweet, with candied citrus zest, honeyed orange drop, dried apricot, toasted almond and marmalade flavors. It still has vibrant acidity. You would never guess it was Nebbiolo, but it\u2019s definitely alive, with amazing energy.\r\nCastello di Montecavallo 1842\r\nAmber-colored, this offers aromas of balsamic herb and citrus zest that carry over to the sweet palate along with notes of orange jam, flint and honey. It may not be recognizable as a Nebbiolo and it\u2019s decades past its ideal drinking window, but it still impresses with a vein of fresh acidity and remaining flavor.