Grape: Nebbiolo. Though Pliny the Elder spoke highly of a grape in the Piedmont area which matches the description of Nebbiolo, it didn’t appear in written records until the 13th century when it was referred to as “Nibiol”. Speculations on the origins of this name differ. Some associate the name to the word “nobile” (noble) while others suggest the name derives from the Italian word “nebbia” (fog) due perhaps to the hazy or foggy appearance of the grape’s skin as it ripens or the foggy nature of Piedmont mornings.
Grape Color: Black
Favourite Colors: Light ruby red, brick red, and orange.
Also Known As: Nebieul, Spanna, Picoutener, Chiavennasca, Picot, Picotendre, Monferrina and Femmina are among some of this popular grape’s numerous nicknames.
Personality & Quirks: Nebbiolo hates to leave its comfort-zone, preferring familiar ground rather than traveling. Despite being thin-skinned and sensitive, this grape doesn’t mind foggy weather or molds that might get other grapes down.
Favourite Music: Guns & Roses and Rosemary Clooney.
Dreams of: visiting the tar pits of Los Angeles, and maybe spending part of the year in Australia.
Grape Relatives: Freisa, Viognier, Vespolina, Bubbierasco, Brugnola, Negrara, Rossola Nera would be found at a Nebbiolo family reunion.
Location(s): Believed to be indigenous to Italy, specifically the Piedmont area. Nebbiolo wines can also be found in some parts of the neighboring region of Lombardy such as Valtellina. Due to its extremely finicky and sensitive nature, Nebbiolo has had no notable success anywhere else in the world though there are some continual plantings internationally in places like California and Australia.
Typical Characteristics: Highly tannic, full bodied, and having distinct and potent aromas, Nebbiolo wines tend to have a surprisingly light color that turns orange-brown with age. Nebbiolo wines can range from young and approachable (Nebbiolo d’Alba, etc) to downright undrinkable for 10+ years (some Barolo’s). Aromas and flavors can include roses, violets, dried herbs, earthy, tar, cherries, tobacco, prunes, and even truffles.
Wines with Nebbiolo: Sometimes named after a region, sometimes after the grape and area, there are a handful of Nebbiolo wines to look out for:
Barolo DOC/G – $$$-$$$$, often referred to as a wine for Kings, or wine fit for a King, or some variation therein, we can understand that the Barolo is a pricey and celebrated wine. Barolo is an area in the southern and central part of Piedmont, among the Appenines, home to vine covered hills and many subtle variations in terroir (=environmental elements) even within this same zone. Barolo wines are made of 100% Nebbiolo and go through extended ageing in barrels prior to release (38 to 62 months depending on the wine). Barolo wines need a decent amount of time to get ready for drinking, generally 10 years or more before they are even approachable. Times may be changing however, as some vintners are aiming to make Barolo’s which can be enjoyed much sooner in order to appeal more internationally and in an increasingly impatient market.
Barbaresco DOC/G – $$-$$$, not far from Barolo, geographically and stylistically speaking, Barbaresco wines are also made entirely of Nebbiolo. Some subtle yet extremely important differences between the terroir of the Barbaresco area and the Barolo area create two distinguishable wines. First of all the soils of Barbaresco are primarily limestone-rich marl, rendering softer drinking wines. Secondly, there is less diurnal range (=variation in daily temperature highs and lows), meaning the grapes of Barbaresco ripen faster and make wines with a more approachable (less tannic) characteristic.
Valtellina DOC/G – $$-$$$$, a wine of the neighboring Lombardy region, this wine is as high class as it is high in altitude (vines often grow up to 2,500 feet/765 meters above sea level!). Made in a variety of styles, including an Amarone-esque called “Sforzata” made from raisined grapes, this is a great expression of Nebbiolo and its “tar and roses” characteristics.
Gattinara DOCG – $-$$, named after the Comune of Gattinara, located in the northern area of the region, Gattinara wines are composed of 90-100% Nebbiolo. These wines are often described as “pretty” and also more elegant compared to their regional counterparts like big, bold Barolo. Some choose to add a small portion of Bonarda to these wines.
Langhe Nebbiolo DOC/Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC – $-$$, think of these as declassified Barolo or Barbaresco, offering all the great characteristics that Nebbiolo has to offer but in a leaner and more affordable form. These wines are lighter in color than you might expect (a typical characteristic of Nebbiolo wines) yet full bodied and full of bright fruit and floral flavor.
Who Nebbiolo’s a good wine buddy for:
Red wine lovers of all types, Italian wine lovers, truffle-hunters, wine-collectors or wine-guzzlers alike.
Food Friends: Risottos, pasta dishes with tomato based sauces or pesto, truffles and foods they accompany (think pasta with truffles shaved over it), roasted duck, lamb, or pork, steak.