Nebbiolo is Italy’s great black grape, source of some of the longest-lived Italian wines—Barolo and Barbaresco—and many people do not have the foggiest idea about the grape, what kind of wine the grape makes, or even where it is from.
Named for a municipality in Piedmont region of northwest of Italy, near city of Turin, the name Nebbiolo (neb-B’YOH-low) may come from dense fog that engulfs the region in October during harvest. Deep and intense, the wine reflects the fog.
At pressing, Nebbiolo produces highly tannic red wine, thus engendering its remarkable ability to age. As years pass, Nebbiolo acquires a classic brick-orange color and opens to aromas of violets, wild herbs, cherries, raspberries, truffles, tobacco, prunes, and more.
Nebbiolo wines require years to achieve their distinctive symphony. In the 20th Century, common wisdom was to wait 10 and better 20 years before drinking. Today, techniques render the wine approachable somewhat earlier, but age remains important to turn the tannins into a plus. Nebbiolo represents brooding, lasting power, the sort of wine that commands respect even from those who don’t know wine.
Nebbiolo also is classically difficult grape, one of the first to bud and last to mature. It needs generous sunlight and often is pampered with best locations in vineyards. Italian growers would not cater to such demands if payoffs were not splendid.
Nebbiolo’s tannins mean it also gives backbone and longevity to blends. If you like a variety of Italian wines, you may notice at least a soupcon of Nebbiolo is thrown in to stiffen quality.
Enjoy Nebbiolo. Taste lasting Italian power.
• Monchiero Carbone Regret Langhe Nebbiolo. Classic profile, leather, spice, fruit, medium-to-light body. $23
• Pier Rio Sordo Barbaresco Riserva. Ruby red with light orange highlights; pure Nebbiolo; full-bodied, spices, plums, refined tannins. $36
• Prunotto Barolo. Most powerful expression of Nebbiolo, brick-orange, velvet tannins, sweet berry nose. $63