nebbiolo

The king

The 'king' of Piedmont, and thus the basis for Barolo and Barbaresco wines. The name was derived from the Latin 'Nebbia', meaning mist. Those fog banks rise normally in autumn, during the harvest from the river Tanaro in the hills around Alba. This is a typical grape of Piedmont, experiments in other regions and countries have had little to no success up to now.

Nebbiolo is often compared to Pinot Noir from Burgundy, and it’s true: there are some similarities. Nebbiolo is a real terroir grape, so that a lot of single vineyards can be found in Barolo and Barbaresco, bearing the name of the parcel. Furthermore, they both give little color extraction (though they do have a thick skin, which often gives many tannins), and they both require a lot of work, both in the vineyard (eg. by green harvesting) and during vinification. 

There are two styles of vinification. The ‘traditionalists’ choose big Slovenian casks (the ‘botte’), but in the late 70's some innovators (the "Barolo Boys" with Angelo Gaja, Barbaresco as the first trendsetter) started to use a much shorter fermentation in temperature controlled stainless steel rotating tanks, and ageing their wines in smaller barriques of French oak. These ‘modernists’ became a hit and caused the international breakthrough of Piedmontese wines. 

Nowadays, most growers use a combination of the two methods. So if Nebbiolo is properly exposed and treatment in the vineyard gets combined with the a proper vinification, he is able to generate complex aromas, a strong taste and a huge ageing potential. 

The best terroirs can be found in the hilly Barolo, where more marl and limestone is found. The higher vineyards facing south produce world top. They are often harvested quite late during the season. Barbaresco soil contains more sand, creating warmer and somewhat harder wines, with less terroir reflect and less ageing potential. Usually, these wines are a little bit cheaper. Other parts of Piedmont (Langhe, Roero, Gattinara, ...) have a more sandy surface, but can still produce very nice wines (with a very interesting price / quality ratio), but often miss the complexity and elegance of Barolo and Barbaresco wines. 

Aromas: what kind of things can you smell in a wine made with Nebbiolo grapes?

  • red currant, raspberry 
  • leafs of roses
  • after aging: truffle, game and leather 
  • typical for Barolo: violets, withered roses and tar 

Pairing: what kind of food combines well with a wine made with Nebbiolo grapes?

  • if in barriques (modernists): fried or grilled red meat 
  • if in casks (traditionalists): slow cooked meat dishes, risotto based on mushrooms 
  • cheeses: local cheeses such as 'grana padano' and 'toma' 

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nebbiolo

Wineries that focus on nebbiolo: