If you love flavor-packed full-bodied reds that promise to keep you coming back for more, then nebbiolo is the perfect grape for you. Known for their palate-coating tannins and ample amounts of natural acidity, the rustic red wines made from the nebbiolo grape are ideal for sipping alongside hearty cuisines.
What Is Nebbiolo?
Nebbiolo is a dark-skinned grape variety used to make red wines. The grape is grown mostly in Italy’s Piedmont region and gets its name from the Italian word for fog, nebbia, as thick blankets of it are commonly found within the region during September and October. Nebbiolo produces light-hued wines with high levels of acidity and prominent tannins, making them a bit austere to drink in their youth; these wines are best with some aging.
Where Does Nebbiolo Come From?
Most scientists agree that nebbiolo’s origins are in Piedmont, though certain evidence has shown that the grape could actually be indigenous to Valtellina, located in the neighboring Lombardy province. On the vine, nebbiolo is one of the first grape varieties to bud and the last to ripen, with harvests generally taking place in October. The grape thrives best in calcareous marl soils.
That doesn’t mean that all nebbiolo is from Italy, however. Although nebbiolo has long been associated with the Piedmont region, the grape is beginning to be grown successfully outside Italy’s borders, including in California and Oregon.
How Is Nebbiolo Made?
Nebbiolo is vinified in a variety of styles, though generally speaking, most winemakers will choose to implement some form of oak usage in the aging process. In Piedmont, the traditional aging vessel of preference is large Slavonian oak botti, which can hold many thousands of liters of wine. The traditional approach to vinifying nebbiolo also includes implementing long periods of maceration, ranging from upwards of 20 to 30 days.
What Does Nebbiolo Taste Like?
Although every wine’s specific tasting notes are slightly different, nebbiolo-based wines are known for showing flavors of cherries, rose petals, tar, dried raspberries or strawberries, tobacco, and truffle.
Are Nebbiolo and Barolo the Same Thing?
Sort of. All red wines bottled under the Barolo appellation are crafted from nebbiolo grapes. However, nebbiolo-based wines are produced under many other appellations, both within Piedmont and beyond.
Where Is Nebbiolo Grown?
Although nebbiolo is synonymous with Italy’s Piedmont region, the grape is beginning to be grown successfully outside of the country. Today, nebbiolo is planted on the West Coast of the United States (in California, Oregon, and Washington), as well as in Australia (Victoria) and South Africa.
What Are Good Food Pairings with Nebbiolo?
The high acidity and prominent tannins found in nebbiolo-based wines go well with meaty Italian-style dishes. Seek out hearty foods such as braised meats, ribeye steaks, or bean-based vegetarian chilis for out-of-this-world pairings.
These are six bottles to try.
Ar. Pe. Pe. Rosso di Valtellina
Just south of the Italian-Swiss border, the Pelizzatti Perego family has been cultivating vines in the heart of Lombardy since the 1860s. Today, Ar. Pe. Pe. is regarded as one of the highest-quality producers (if not the highest-quality) in all of Valtellina. Fruit for its entry-level Rosso comes from 50-to-100-year-old chiavennasca (that’s nebbiolo in the local dialect) vines cultivated at 350 to 400 meters above sea level. The wine’s bright and persistent palate oozes with flavors of sour cherries, strawberries, dried flowers, and tobacco.
Cameron Winery Nebbiolo
Curious for a taste of West Coast nebbiolo beyond California? Founded by John Paul in 1984, this small family winery is based in the hills above Dundee, located within Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Its small-batch nebbiolo exudes flavors of dried cherries, anise, and clove. Bright acidity and gritty tannins render the wine reminiscent of those of Alto Piemonte’s most classic appellations; think Ghemme, Gattinara, and beyond. Cameron is dedicated to sustainable farming; in addition to eschewing irrigation and becoming the first Salmon Safe winery in Oregon, the estate proudly boasts a diversity of animals on the property and encourages the planting of cover crops.
Clendenen Family Vineyards 'The Pip' Nebbiolo
Founded by the late Jim Clendenen, this estate located in the heart of California’s Santa Barbara County focuses on artisanal small-batch wines that are energetic, food-friendly, and eminently ageable. This well-made bottle features flavors of red plums, dried roses, and black cherries.
Colombera & Garella Cascina Cottignano Bramaterra
For those looking to enjoy the delights of Piedmontese nebbiolo without the high price tag of Barolo or Barbaresco, look to the diverse appellations of Alto Piemonte, such as this one. This nebbiolo-dominant blend (80%) is rounded out with equal parts vespolina and croatina. Post-hand-harvesting, the grapes are fermented in concrete tanks with wild yeasts, then the juice is aged for 24 months in used barrique prior to being bottled unfined and unfiltered. Expect flavors of red berries, iron, dried herbs, and orange peel, leading to a bright acid-laden finish.
G.D. Vajra Bricco Delle Viole Barolo
In the world of nebbiolo, Barolo reigns king. However, not all wines from the appellation created equally great. When seeking out a high-quality Barolo, we recommend steering away from big-box brands and looking to smaller family growers, such as this one. In addition to farming all 40 hectares of its vineyards organically, Vajra also encourages sustainable vinification practices in the cellar. This bottle is the cream of the crop. Layered flavors of raspberry, Morello cherry, rose petal, rhubarb, underbrush, and star anise lead to a lingering finish laden with sweet spices.
Giulia Negri Pian delle Mole Langhe Nebbiolo
This estate is located in the cru of Serradenari (La Morra), which is the highest point in all of Barolo. Like all of this producer’s wines, fruit for this tasty Langhe nebbiolo comes from estate-owned, organically farmed vineyard sites. Juice for this wine ferments with native yeasts and is aged for 14 months in a combination of stainless steel and large tonneaux. Flavors of red fruits, dried raspberries, sweet spice, and a touch of white truffle undertone jump from the wine’s lively palate. Serve it slightly chilled.