Nebbiolo Grape Variety: A Guide to the Noble Piedmont Vine
Nebbiolo is considered amongst the noblest Italian varietals and one of the most mysterious. The “one that grows in the fog” produces exceptionally complex wines that are both elegant, and powerful wines, often with excellent aging potential.
The red Nebbiolo grape is the most famous variety in Piedmont, a northern region in Italy. Despite accounting for less than 4% of the total vineyard area, Nebbiolo is the most famous grape in the region. Unlike its stablemates, Dolcetto and Barbera, Nebbiolo only thrives where the conditions are right.
Nebbiolo has been cultivated in Piedmont since the Middle Ages, perfectly adapting to the region’s climate and soils. Nebbiolo is the source of some of Piedmont’s (and Italy’s) most prestigious wines, Barolo and Barbaresco, two appellations dedicated exclusively to red wines made with the grape. The grape plays a role in many other appellations in the surrounding area. Still, wine lovers and connoisseurs covet the wine of Barolo and Barbaresco as the grape’s most successful expressions.
Origin and Cultivation
The term “Nebbiolo” is most likely derived from “Nebbia,” which is the Italian word for “fog.” Because Piedmont’s vineyards are frequently shrouded in dense fog. Others attribute the grape’s name to the white-gray veil that envelops the berries in their final stage of ripeness.
In the winery, producers in Piedmont are often categorized as traditionalist or modernist, although the line that divides them is not as evident today as it was in the past. Traditionalists encourage long pre-fermentation macerations, producing robust, highly concentrated wines that can take decades to soften. Modernist winemakers produce more approachable wines, sometimes infused with oak that are better able to be consumed young.
Despite Nebbiolo’s popularity, the grape only thrives in vineyards with the proper orientation, inclination, and sun exposure, often above the fog line. The vineyards around Barolo and Barbaresco have the ideal conditions for growing the grape, but there are others. The DOCs Alba, Boca, Bramaterra, Carema, Gattinara, Ghemme, Langue, Roero, and many others produce high-quality Nebbiolo.
Small amounts of Nebbiolo can be found outside Italy, mainly in France, Switzerland, Austria, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Uruguay, Brazil, and South Africa. Still, the most significant Nebbiolo plantings are found in Italy, with 5,536 ha, 81% in Piedmont, and the rest in Lombardy and Val d’Aosta.
Nebbiolo’s Flavor Profile
Nebbiolo produces tannic, light to medium bodied wines with excellent aging potential and, thus, ranks among Italy’s best and most well-known red wines. Its complex aroma entices the senses with notes of dark fruits, roses, violets, tobacco, truffles, chocolate, and spices.
In their youth, most Nebbiolo wines are quite tannic, mainly if produced traditionally, and this invites connoisseurs to cellar their wines for many years. Of course, many wines made with Nebbiolo come out into the market ready to drink. Knowing the region’s producers pays off since every winery has a unique style.
Nebbiolo and Food Pairings
Nebbiolo has high tannins that make it compatible with protein and fat. Hearty meals based on red meat and game are typical Nebbiolo companions, along with rich stews and broth. Mushroom- and truffle-based dishes go well with Nebbiolo, thanks to the wine’s earthiness.
Nebbiolo is best enjoyed at around 16°C (60.8°F) in large wine glasses that can capture the wine’s complex bouquet. Decanting Nebbiolo or aerating it can also improve the wine. There’s undoubtedly great pleasure in every bottle of Nebbiolo.
7 Facts About Nebbiolo
- The name ‘Nebbiolo’ is derived from the Italian word “nebbia.” It translates to fog, so Nebbiolo means ‘little foggy one,’ a name given due to the foggy nature of the region in which it is grown.
- One of the grape’s most notable characteristics is its thick skin, which gives the wine high tannins and incredible age potential.
- Nebbiolo is an early budding, a late-ripening grape that requires a lot of sunlight to ripen fully – most vineyards are planted on southern-facing hillsides to maximize sun exposure.
- Nebbiolo is an ancient grape, with the first mention of it dating back to the 13th century.
- Nebbiolo goes by different names in diverse regions, including Spanna, Chiavennasca and Picotener.
- Nebbiolo, like the ancient Pinot Noir, is considered a terroir wine. It displays noticeable differences from one vineyard to the next, exhibiting unique expressions of the local micro-climate where the grapes were grown. The climatic condition in any given vintage also affects the wine significantly.
- Nebbiolo is often a pale red wine, and it develops a brick color when aged. Despite the wine’s diluted appearance, Nebbiolo is a light to medium bodied red wine with high tannins and acidity. Nebbiolo might lack pigments, but it makes it up in every other category.
Key dates in Nebbiolo’s History:
1268: Nebbiolo was first mentioned in writing in 1268 when a wine is known as “nibiol” was said to be grown at Rivoli, close to Turin.
1304: In his work Liber Ruralium Commodorum, the Italian lawyer Pietro Crescenzi praised the high calibre of “nubiola” wine.
The 1700s: In the 18th century, when the British were seeking for alternatives to Bordeaux because of protracted political issues with the French, the grape became well-known outside of Piedmont.
2004: Nebbiolo and Piedmont are connected by two fragrant grape varieties: Piedmont’s Freisa and the French Rhone variety Viognier, according to a 2004 study from the University of California-Davis and the Istituto Agrario di San Michele all’Adige.
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A Date for the Diary:
National Nebbiolo Day is March 5, 2023.
Want to know more about Italy’s wine regions? Check out these books!
- Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours. Jancis Robinson 2012
- Wine. Years. People. Events. Massandra Wine Collection 2010
- The World Atlas of Wine: 8th Edition. Johnson, H & Robinson, J. 2019
By Agne27 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,