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The Nebbiolo Grape


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About Nebbiolo

(Synonyms: Chiavennasca, Picotendro, Picoutener, Picotèner, Prunent, Prünent, Spanna)

Background

Map showing the Piedmont region

Nebbiolo is a red-wine grape originating in the Piedmont region of Italy. It is the informing grape of such renowned wine types as Barolo, Barbaresco, Gattinara, and Ghemme. Indeed, it is now widely considered one of the dozen and a half or so “Noble wine grapes” of the world.

Wines from the Nebbiolo grape are typically of a relatively light color, with aromas described as “tar” and rose. Nebbiolos famously take—and arguably require to reach decent drinkability, owing to their very high tannin content in youth—considerable aging, during which they improve immensely to make some of the finest reds in the world. As they age, the wine color shifts to a tint often described as brick-red, and a host of complex flavors develop; flavor sensations often mentioned include violets, tar, wild herbs, cherries, raspberries, truffles, tobacco, and prunes; and the texture shifts from tannic to “velvety”.

In its native environs, Nebbiolo (as with, for example, Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux) was not commonly issued as a monovarietal bottling, but was blended with modest amounts of other regional grapes to make regionally named wines. Those were usually oaked, as they still are; but the modern trend is to lesser exposure times using smaller barrels than traditional, with those smaller barrels of new oak (to more quickly soften the tannins and acids). Plus new oak adds some vanilla overtones to the already complex mix of Nebbiolo sensations.

Times have, however, changed. Today, wines labelled as Barolo or Barbaresco must by Italian wine law be 100% monovarietal Nebbiolo. (There is some conjecture that many winemakers are sneaking small amounts of other grapes into their supposedly 100% Nebbiolo wines to make them more accessible when young, but that is, of course, unconfirmed.) Other regional wines based on Nebbiolo do allow small admixtures of other grapes, though not all makers bottle blends.

Even though the above-named wine types are all from the same grape grown in the same general region, there are perceptible difference in the wines and their stylings. Barolos, for instance, are generally held to be big and “brawny” wines, while Barbarescos are held to be more “elegant” (and approachable when still young). And even within those denominations, many claim to perceive sub-regional distinctions.

Nebbiolo wines tend to be very expensive, not only owing to their perceived high quality, but also owing to the fact that the grapes are difficult to grow well. One respected New World grower of the type famously says that “Nebbiolo is a grape for winemakers who have mastered pinot noir, and are looking for a greater challenge” (Pinot Noir is famous—or infamous— for being a profoundly tricky grape to reliably grow well; Jancis Robinson has written that “If Pinot Noir is the world’s most tantalising grape, Nebbiolo runs it a close second - for very similar reasons.”). Nebbiolo grapes are very late-ripening, though early-flowering (spring frosts are the kiss of death to it) and need lots of sun (among the many things they need, such as just the right soils to grow in.) Further, the vines are naturally vigorous growers, and need careful and strict pruning to produce the wanted flavors in the grapes themselves.

Nebbiolo wines being so expensive, it behooves the everyday wine drinker to seek out less-costly sources. By avoiding the prime regions, one can often get much more reasonably priced wines from grapes of nearly comparable quality. Wines likely to yield such bargains are Nebbiolo d’Alba, Langhe Nebbiolo, and Roero Nebbiolo.

Factoid: Nebbiolo has the big reputation, but it is only a tiny fraction of Piedmont grape growth: Barbera, for example, produces 15 times as much regional wine (and is reputed to be what the locals mostly drink).

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Some Descriptions of Nebbiolo Wines

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Some Nebbiolos to Try

(About this list.)

G. D. Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo
(They bottle many Nebbioli; this is the “Langhe” Nebbiolo.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Vietti “Perbacco” Nebbiolo
(Don’t confuse this with their S. Michele Nebbiolo d’Alba)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Alessandro e Gian Natale Fantino “Rosso dei Dardi” Nebbiolo
(Don’t confuse this with their “Vigna del Dardi” bottlings.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo
(Don’t confuse this with any og their actual Barbaresco bottlings of Nebbiolo: this is the Langhe.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Renato Ratti Ochetti Nebbiolo d’Alba
(This is the d’Alba, not either the like-named “Langhe” or their basic bottling.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks

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For a Splurge

Our nomination is the Produttori del Barbaresco “Asili” Barbaresco Riserva.

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks

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This page was last modified on Monday, 23 March 2020, at 3:52 pm Pacific Time.