Last week, in my article on exploring winter wine, Nebbiolo (“Nebby-oh-low”) came up as a winter favorite for its bold tannins and high acidity. Today we’re going to spend a little bit of time getting to know this wondrous grape a little better. Thank you to Wine Folly, Jancis Robinson and VinePair for their help with this article.
Getting to Know Nebbiolo
Wine Folly says that “Nebbiolo is a full-bodied red wine more famously known by the two production regions of Barolo and Barbaresco in Piedmont, Italy. Nebbiolo wines are translucent (like Pinot!) and have a delicate smell, but when you taste them you are greeted with robust tannin and high acidity. Nebbiolo is a thinking person’s wine: subtle yet bold, simple yet complex…”
Eight years ago, I wrote an article on the Piedmont region of Italy, where I quoted Karen MacNeil, the writer of the The Wine Bible, who said that Barolo and Barbaresco are “Italy’s most majestic and powerful red wines.” Wow!
As I mentioned, Nebbiolo (and Barolo and Barbaresco) is from the Piedmont region in northern Italy. Barolo and Barbaresco wines sell for hundreds of dollars per bottle. According to VinePair, “Often times, the Nebbiolo grapes used to make Barolo and Barbaresco are grown within feet of the grapes used to make Nebbiolo, and the only difference is the perceived quality of one vine over another…”
This wine is known for having a striking rose scent. In addition to its rose scent, it has notes of violet and tar, a lot of acidity, mouth-drying tannins and earthy flavors.
Wine Folly says that “Despite its tannic structure, the wine’s fruity flavors of cherry and raspberries, supported with aromas of rose and anise, always seem to shine through.”
Robinson says that this is one of the “few grapes you can sometimes identify simply by its color alone, for it tends to take on a brick-orange tinge at the rim of its blackish ruby relatively early in its often-long life.”
Barolo vs. Barbaresco vs. Nebbiolo
Barolo and Barbaresco can only be made in a few villages in the Piedmont region (in the Barolo and Barbaresco sub-regions). These wines are much more expensive than wines labeled simply as Nebbiolo, even if all three taste somewhat similar.
When looking at the two famous wines, WineSpectator says that “Barolo [because it’s grown on steeper, cooler sites] is the more massive, tannic and rich of the two, while Barbaresco is considered more elegant and approachable.”
I’ve heard that Italians tend to ship out their expensive wines and keep the less expensive Nebbiolos at home.
Joie de Vivre by Suvie says that “Nebbiolo is fairly versatile when it comes to food pairings, but be sure to pick foods that work well with the high tannin content and acidity. Fatty meats are a good option as they will neutralise a fair amount of the tannins. The wine also pairs well with salty dishes with large amounts of vinegar-based sauces.”
Commonalities between Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir
Other than the fact that the two wines look alike, there are some additional similarities between the two grapes:
- Both are very difficult to grow and very sensitive to the soil.
- Both have been in their homelands (Piedmont and Burgundy) for centuries.
- Both are genetically unstable, resulting in many clones.
According to Robinson, “Top-quality Barolo made in the most traditional way is one of the slowest-maturing wines in the world, easily withstanding four decades in bottle.” Wow!
Please share your experiences with Barolo, Barbaresco and Nebbiolo. Thanks. Saluti!
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I have had several different Nebbiolos over the years, most of them from the Paso Robles area. The tended to be just what your article has stated: bold, very high in tannin and acidity. Only a few of them have I enjoyed. I will have to explore the Italian ones to compare.
Thanks for the information.
I’d like to compare those both to Italian Nebbiolo and Italian Barolo and Barbaresco. Also, I’m wondering if ageing the wine would help. I’m guessing it would.