Nebbiolo is one of those grapes that does well in one part of the world and that is about it. In California and Australia they are trying to introduce the grape but neither match where it’s home is in a corner of northwest Italy in an area known as Piedmont.
Flanking the town of Alba is where you will find the stars of the grape , Barolo and Barbaresco. Barolo being the powerful and long lived one while Barbaresco the gentler version and not as long lived. These wines are so popular within Italy they were the first to be elevated to the DOCG level which is a step up from DOC.
The name itself is said to be derived from the word “nebbia” which means fog that rises from the warmer valley in late October when the grapes are picked.
Because of the long growing season necessary to ripen Nebbiolo as it is an early budder and late ripener it is planted on south-facing slopes at the highest altitude possible. This ensures that conditions are cool for the grape throughout the growing season so it has the time to fully develop. The long autumns does much to ensure that the high acid of the grape is met with as much ripeness as possible. Additional sunlight from the south facing slope does much to ensure ripeness along with some Cabernet Sauvignon that is being tried out in the area.
Highly resistant to parasites the main problem with growing Nebbiolo is coulure which occurs after bud break when barely formed berries dry up and drop to the ground due to a lack of essential nutrients caused by wet and dry conditions in the Spring.
Nebbiolo makes for a tough wine with it’s high acidity , tannin , and dry extract. To tame the wine the winemaker has to be skilled and know what he is doing. Fermentation can last up to two weeks with the skins submerged to give the wine even more colour and tannins.
The wine has to be aged for many years to soften it and it usually is done in Slovenian oak so as not to give the wine too much wood tannins and leave the fruit tannins to dominate.
Even after 10 years in cask the wines are a deep colour with a noticeable orange rim caused by a slight oxidation while it was aged in oak. Full of acid and with some noticeable tannin you will still get on the nose some violets , dried fruit and herb , truffles and tar , and even some prunes and dark chocolate. Truffles being grown in Piedmont and featured in local cuisine makes for a perfect food match.
Big dishes such as game stew and rich beef dishes are matches for the big Barolos , while the lighter , more perfumed Barbaresco would go good with a rare roast beef dish , or liver and kidneys.
Hope you enjoyed this post on Nebbiolo….