Nebbiolo is the temperamental grape of royalty in Italy. It is used in the wines of the Piedmont region in the Northwest of Italy.
The most renowned areas using Nebbiolo are the famous vineyards around Barolo and Barbaresco villages, followed by Ghemme, and Gattinara.
Some Characteristics of Nebbiolo Grape Variety & Wines
Typical Nebbiolo wines have complex fruit, solid acidity, and often a great aging potential.
A well-made Nebbiolo has aromas of cherry, roses, oregano or other herbs. It also often displays dinstinctive aroma of tar.
The flavors are complex ranging from savory to spicy, fruity licorice, meat, and even floral flavors.
Hills, Grapes, and Sun
Galileo once said: “Wine is sunlight, held together by water.”
This pronouncement is particularly true for Nebbiolo. These grapes thrive on sunlight, and can be very sensitive to weather variations. The late-ripening character of Nebbiolo is key in retaining its acidity, which in turn allows for a slow-aging wines with intense flavor and austerity.
Nebbiolo loves the sun of the south facing slopes of Piedmont.
Piedmont’s growing regions are deftly defined by their hilly outcrops intersecting with rivers and valleys, giving grapes a fantastic climate to grow in.
The Best Italian Wine Regions for Nebbiolo
Nebbiolo best shows its charm, class, and refinement in Barolo and Barbaresco.
Barolo has a clay-rich soil with the eastern portion having a greater amount of sand and chalk. The differences in soil alter the way water moves through the soil and thus how the grapes develop.
Traditional Barolo is aged in used oak while those in the “modern” movement may use new French oak instead, and shorten the otherwise extensive maceration process (which could last up to 40 days).
The difference is critical, as the wine produced may last well past 20 years, or may last less than 10 before it begins to loose its livelihood. Depending on the manner in which the wines are produced, they may be ready much sooner than the more “traditional” counterparts.
The movement for a modern Barolo or Barbaresco with earlier drinking potential began and gained steam during the 80s, and has continued in some fashion to this day.
Similar to the region of Barolo and other areas, there is a revival of more traditional methods in wine making, and an interesting balance continues to be maintained in the market.
The relevance to a consumer of course is that research is needed to determine the best timing in terms of when your wine might hit its peak.
Ghemme and Gattinara are in the north of Italy, somewhat near the base of the Alps. The northern climate combined with the soil is a combination of sand and glacial deposits and terrain.
This key element creates prime conditions for an age worthy wine. While these wines do not necessarily share the same limelight as their counterparts in Barolo, it can be a great advantage for consumers “in the know”.
These wines often have equal aging potential and complexity, with some differences in austerity compared with their counterparts in Barolo. They are often much less expensive however, allowing a consumer on a budget to still enjoy some good age-worthy wines from the region.
Image credits: Andrea Cairone