is considered one of the great wine varieties, bigger,
more acidic and tannic, sometimes even bitter, than most types, but consequently
long-lived and prized by collectors. Jealously guarded in
its native Italian home and most famous appellation of Piedmont,
very few nebbiolo cuttings and clones have been exported to
name nebbiolo has two probable origins. Ripe nebbiolo grapes
have a very prominent "bloom" that gives them a
"foggy" or "frosted" look, so the name
could come from from "nebbia", Italian for "fog".
It is an alternative possibility that the name simply comes
from "nobile", Italian for "noble". Nebbiolo
also goes by the names Spanna, Picutener and Chiavennasca
in various Italian districts.
since the 14th Century in Valtellina, an east-west valley
in the Lombardy region at the foot of the Alps, north of Lake
Como, this is the only region where nebbiolo is grown in Italy
Although there are dozens of nebbiolo clones
and nebbiolo is prominent in and famous for producing wines
like Barolo, Barbaresco and Gattinara, the reality is that
this variety makes barely 3% of all the wines produced in
Piedmont. There are twice as many acres planted with Dolcetto
and ten times as many planted with Barbera.
of the reason for this, in spite of its reputation, is that
nebbiolo is one of the more problematic grapes for both vineyardists
and winemakers. Although nebbiolo vines perform much better in calcareous
rather than sandy soils, they are very sensitive to both soil composition and climate
and can yield wines that vary widely in body, color, tannin and acidity,
as well as aroma and flavor complexity, when grown in only
slightly different locales.
Nebbiolo grape skins are thin, but
quite tough and fairly resistant to molds and pests. A very slow ripener, nebbiolo prefers an average seasonal temperature of between 64° and 69° F. In cooler climates, the
vines need the best exposures
in order to reach maturity.
winemakers feel that nebbiolo is even more difficult to work
with than pinot noir. It can be changeable, moody and unpredictable
while undergoing typical cellar and aging procedures. It is historically blended with other grapes (barbera is the conventional choice in Barolo) to soften the mouth feel and deepen the color.
wherever vintners aspire to producing wine inspired by Barolo,
nebbiolo is also grown, including Australia, California, New
Zealand, South America and South Africa. Argentina has the
largest acreage planted, but no region outside Italy has yet
shown much potential for high quality wine production from
Nebbiolo Smell and/or Flavor
depends upon individual tasting ability and experience
and is also affected by terroir and seasonal conditions,
as well as viticultural and enological techniques.
This list therefore is
merely suggestive and neither comprehensive nor exclusive.
Floral: rose, violet
oak, smoke, toast, tar, vanilla
anise, cocoa, licorice, nutmeg, white pepper
leather, cedar, cigar box
Mouth feel / Texture:
|heavy, rich, tannic, chewy, alcoholic
made from nebbiolo are typically tart, tannic and
alcoholic and the resulting wines can require long aging to be at their best. The classic romanticized description of Barolo is "tar and roses"; the best may also smell of cherries, violets and black
licorice or truffles and have rich, chewy, deep and long-lasting
flavors. Good Nebbiolo can harmonize with the richest, strongest-flavored
meats and stews, as well as dry, aged cheeses that may be
too strong or distinctive for other wines.
Convention on the Nebbiolo Grape
1. Jancis Robinson, ed. The Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006
2. Benjamin Lewin. Wine Myths and Reality, Dover: Vendange Press, 2010.
3. Erika Montovan, Piedmont Wines/Nebbiolo, I vini del Piemonte (winery consortium website) 2015
4. Julia Harding, Jancis Robinson and José Vouillamoz. Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours. London: Allen Lane/Penguin and New York: Ecco/Harper-Collins, 2012