Nebbiolo wine is perhaps one of the most unknown famous wines in the world.
Let me explain.
Two of the most famous wine regions in the world, making many wines considered amongst the best in the world and fetching stratospheric prices, produce exclusively wine that is 100% from the Nebbiolo grape variety. Barolo and Barbaresco are both in Piedmont, in northern Italy. Many other famous wine regions have lead to a proliferation of the grapes grown there around the world. For example, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from Bordeaux have seen widespread transplanting to almost every wine producing region in the world. Pinot Noir from Burgundy is widely planted in California, Oregon, Italy and other areas.
However, Nebbiolo, despite the fame of its wines from Piedmont, has not seen very much excitement in other areas. Part of the reason for this may be that it is a finicky grape which is hard to grown and seems ideally suited for growth in the cool, foggy hills of northern Italy. Grown in other regions, it is often excessively tannic, green and austere. While a small handful have had success, for the most part this has remained solely an Italian grape. Therefore, the wines of Barolo and Barbaresco are famous, while the grape itself, Nebbiolo, remains relatively unknown to the average wine drinker.
Where Is Nebbiolo Wine Made?
As mentioned above, most of the important Nebbiolo wine produced in the world comes from Piedmont in the north of Italy. Besides Barolo and Barbaresco, several surrounding areas produce Nebbiolo-based wines, labeled as Spanna, Carema, Gattinara, Langhe and others. Some is simply labeled as Nebbiolo, such as the Giacosa wine pictured above.
Outside of Piedmont, probably the largest region producing Nebbiolo wines is further north in the Valtellina.
Small amounts of Nebbiolo have been grown in other countries, such as in the state of California. Most of this has been done as an experiment by winemakers who are infatuated with the wines of Piedmont. While a few have had a modicum of success, for the most part these wines have failed to catch on and are not much more than a curiosity.
What Styles of Wine Does Nebbiolo Produce and What Do They Taste Like?
Nebbiolo almost exclusively produces dry red wines
. It is a light colored wine, but with a high level of acid and tannin. It is finicky to grow and requires a long, cool growing season to ripen optimally. In a sense, it can be compared to Pinot Noir in that it produces lighter colored, aromatic wines with high acid. However, Nebbiolo wine tends to be more tannic and can be quite austere and unforgiving in their youth, the best examples often requiring decades to reach their peak where there is a balance between the aromatic complexity, subtle fruits and the vibrant acids and tannin.
In their youth, wines made from Nebbiolo often have a perfumed aroma which classically includes scents of rose petals, tar, earth and tart red and black fruits. As they age, they often open up to show a dazzling aromatic complexity with a perfume not unlike aged Burgundy. The complex aromas can be kaleidoscopic with earthy scents of truffles and mushrooms, dried flowers, herbs, spices, tar, leather and tobacco. The actual power and body of the wines varies depends on the style and region they are produced in. While Barolo can be quite muscular and dark, Barbaresco tends to be more feminine (while still intense and age-worthy). The wines from lesser appellations can be even more light in body. Despite their lighter color and body, the wines can be quite tannic, wound up and tight in their youth.
In the Valtellina there is a light, ethereal (at its best) dry red made from Nebbiolo. However, the region also produces a dark wine made from air dried Nebbiolo grapes, known as Sforzat or Sforzato. It is made in the style of Amarone the more famous wine made in the Veneto region from different grapes.
Some Famous Examples:
Many great Barbaresco and Barolo including, but not limited to:
Single-Vineyard bottlings by Bruno Giacosa (Falletto, Santo Stefano, Rocche, Asili, etc.), R. Conterno (Monfortino) and Gaja (Costa Russi, Sorí Tilden, Sorí San Lorenzo, Sperss, etc.).
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