More than 97 percent of wine sold in the United States is drunk within 48 hours of purchase. This is understandable – and absurd. When an average wine explorer is already scouring her personal budget for the space to buy a $19 bottle instead of a $16 bottle, or pay $12 rather than $10, who would tell her to wait five years until it reaches full potential?

Still, it’s absurd. Some wines are meant to be drunk young but most are not, and drinking them before their time is like drinking cold water that’s had chopped coffee beans steeping for an hour and calling it espresso. The hint is there; the life force is not.

Most red wines and many whites benefit from several years of bottle age. “Benefit” is too weak a word: They become infinitely more complex, more satisfying, more beautiful. And not just for wine nerds who have developed the questionably useful skill of parsing a wine for its barely detectable (or made-up) flavor components. No, anyone with a tongue and a 10-second attention span will immediately appreciate what happens to a wine after it ages in a bottle for several years. It’s magical.

No one in the supply chain wants to pay for it, though. Not the wineries that need to be compensated for their hard work making wine from grapes, nor the importers, distributors, restaurants or retailers with their own cash-flow issues. A few supply-side players have the wherewithal to hold good wines a while, but it costs them, so it costs you.

This is my way of introducing a varietal whose very essence is linked to the issue of age: Nebbiolo. Nebbiolo is the great grape of Piemonte, Italy, famed godfather to the king and queen of Italian wine, Barolo and Barbaresco.

Nebbiolo is a famously finicky, late-harvested grape that needs everything – soil, climate, rainfall – just right. Grown and made in the hills around Alba, Barolo and Barbaresco typically need eight to 10 years of bottle age, and continue to develop complexity for 30 years or so. The latest esteemed vintage is 2004, but woe unto him who opens such a thing before 2020.

Like a newborn endowed with potential but needing at least two decades of external and internal development before he becomes the man he was supposed to become, Nebbiolo’s jumble of tannins and acidity take as long to wrestle themselves into a presentable wine with the body, aromas and flavors that are its birthright.

When this happens, though – I’ve learned once and so far only once – it’s a soul-shaking phenomenon, a uniquely transporting union of black earth and red flowers.

So, who cares? You’re probably not running out to buy a $40 wine you’ll have to sit on until Malia Obama becomes president. Ah, but there’s a way: Piemontese Nebbiolo from non-Barolo/Barbaresco vineyards. It’s from Piemonte, often from the same wine makers producing the nobler wines.

The terroir isn’t as spectacular, and the vinification takes some shortcuts. But the wines are drinkable now, and more importantly, they honestly reflect the essence of the grape. They don’t require deep meat roasts or aged cheeses either, but dance on the palate gracefully and match fall-harvest foods delightfully. I even had one with olive-roasted bluefish, and it was magnificent.

I love the other reds from Alba, Dolcetto and Barbera. But sometimes you just want that inimitable combo of earth and flowers, campfire and fruit, available nowhere else. (Tip: Although approachable, these Nebbiolos still become much friendlier after being open for an hour or so. Think ahead!)

Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo 2009, $21 (Pine State): This has absolutely primo, bursting fresh fruit – strawberries, blackberries – so you think how much happier you are to be drinking it than you would be even with a fine Oregon Pinot, with which it aligns somehow, though the counterpoint high-toned tension of sawdust and loam sets it apart. Truffles, the great prize of Alba, make an appearance here too.

Malot Roero Nebbiolo Valmaggiore 2007, $19 (Devenish): Significantly earthier than the Produttori. I’d need to taste more vintages to know whether this is due to its two years of additional age or that it’s from Roero rather than Langhe (both are within Piemonte). This is quite peppery, with a true pencil-shaving element that screams “handmade northern Italy.” More truffles, more wild strawberries. The tannins do what they should: Provide length and structure, not parch or intrude.

Damilano Nebbiolo, $15 to $20 (Pine State): I’ve been drinking the 2008, but there’s very little left, and the 2009 is due in Maine by the end of October. Remember that, because this is special (Damilano is a renowned Barolo producer). Let me count the ways: black figs, tobacco, dried roses, licorice. And again with the sawdust. After an hour in the glass (and even the next day), it had softened into that unique blend of candy and truffle-laden umph that only this grape, from this place, can claim.

Twenty dollars isn’t cheap, but I can’t think of many wine categories that provide this much excitement for the price. And if you’re up for it, check out the Deforville 2008 ($27, Mariner) and Ca’Nova ’08 ($23, Wicked), both from respected importers and offering windows into new worlds.

Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog,, continues the conversation, and he can be reached at: [email protected]