Nebbiolo is a powerful little red grape originating from the Piemonte region of Italy. Its roots lie in the heavy-hitter reds of Barolo and Barbaresco, where its intense tannins and high acidity are tamed through oak and bottle aging. The grape is finicky in which soils and climates it takes to, so it isn't widely produced many places; however, there are a few other pockets around the world where it grows well and expresses distinctive red-fruit aromas and a rich complexity.
Nebbiolo Flavor Profile and Characteristics
This medium-bodied wine is earthy and structured with high acidity and grippy tannins. It is the perfect candidate for aging for an extended period, allowing the tannins to soften and develop complex tertiary aromas of tobacco, prunes, and leather. It is an elegant, rich wine that is relatively high in alcohol. One of the most fragrant red grapes, nebbiolo smells of cherry, cranberry, rose, red plum and violet all at once. On the palate, it is full of red-fruit notes along with rose petal, dried leaves, leather, tar, and licorice. Younger vintages are deeper in color and can even have an almost purple hue, while older vintages become surprisingly light in color and appear nearly translucent at the edge of your glass.
How to Serve It
While you can drink your wine from whichever vessel you like, nebbiolo is one that warrants a true red wine glass if you have one on hand. The large round bowl-shaped glass captures the aromatics, granting you the best tasting experience. Aged nebbiolo will likely need to be decanted to allow some oxygen back into the wine. Start with 30 minutes; however, some may need up to 2 hours. Serve between 55-60°F (12-15°C).
Nebbiolo's bold tannins can be a bit much on their own, but when paired with rich, fatty foods, they are just what you'll want. Think about matching this elegant wine with hearty meat dishes such as rack of lamb, braised duck, or beef tenderloin. Rich, butter-forward dishes are also a great pairing for this wine; gnocchi with Castelmagno DOP cheese, truffle risotto, earthy roasted mushrooms, and grilled winter vegetables all go well.
The most well known nebbiolos are from the towns of Barolo and Barbaresco in northern Italy. The vineyards in these tiny, hilly towns are situated as high as 2,000 feet above sea level on steep south-facing slopes, above the fog that often covers the valleys below. The grapes here take the entire season to ripen fully. These famous appellations produce full-bodied wines with developing perfumed aromas of sour cherry and dried flowers. Both Barolo and Brabaresco benefit from bottle ageing, and the bottles labeled DOCG each have minimum aging requirements.
Outside of Italy, nebbiolo is grown in Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico, Central California, and parts of Australia. It is particularly terroir expressive, so while it is challenging to grow, if done well, it expresses its soil and micro-climate characteristics thoroughly compared to other grapes.
Finding a Reasonably Priced Bottle
Nebbiolo often comes with a high price tag, particularly Barbaresco DOCG and Barolo DOCG. If you are looking for a more reasonably-priced bottle, look for a nebbiolo from a sub-region like Gattinara DOCG or Langhe Nebbiolo DOC. The Lombardy region of Italy also produces quality nebbiolo. Valle de Guadalupe is also producing surprisingly smooth, younger nebbiolos in their own style. Keep in mind that the Barbaresco and Barolo appellations ensure that 100% nebbiolo is used for these wines; other regions may blend the grape. A few producers to start with are G.B. Burlotto and Vietti from Piemonte (the Piedmont wine region), Italy and Duoma from Mexico.
A Statement Wine
Nebbiolo is an astonishing grape, producing some of the most impactful red wines in the world. Austere in its youth and gaining complexity with age, this expressive wine is certainly the statement piece of a dinner party.