Nebbiolo wine guide
Nebbiolo is a delicate vine that is difficult to cultivate: it has a slow ripening that lasts until November and is often harvested in the autumn mists. In this regard, it seems that the name Nebbiolo derives from the mists that envelop the hills of the Langhe, creating metaphysical landscapes with vineyards floating on a white sea. Another, much less fascinating theory has it that Nebbiolo comes from the typical bloom that covers the bunches with an opalescent patina reminiscent of fog.
Nebbiolo production areas: Piedmont, Valle d’Aosta, and Lombardy
Two of the finest wines in Italy are produced from Nebbiolo: Barolo and Barbaresco, whose names come from two small villages in the heart of the Langhe, not far from Alba, where the grape is supposed to have been born. But that’s not all, because to the left of the Tanaro river, which cuts the southern part of Piedmont in two, we have the Roero, an area in constant growth for the production of high-quality Nebbiolo, which will not be emblazoned and structured like those of the Langhe but offer excellent drinkability. A trip to Canale is a must to taste the Nebbiolo by Marco Porello, Malverà, and Monchiero Carbone.
Ghemme and Gattinara, two tiny oases in the north of Piedmont between Vercelli and Novara, are additional realities to take into account.
Nebbiolo is called Spanna here, and it is often blended with Vespolina. Even though the production is small—100 hectares for Gattinara—there are a lot of surprises.
This is because the soils are less heavy clay and more rocky, and the climate changes—called thermal excursion—make the wines sharper, putting more emphasis on the bouquet and mineral notes than on tannin concentration.
Emblematic is the Boca from the Le Piane winery, where we have a very fine tannin: a breath that flows between leaves and stones covered with moss, tickling the tongue with wild strawberries in alcohol.
The altitude becomes even more extreme when we talk about Carema, a town on the border with the Aosta Valley, which gives its name to a production of great depth but is limited to two wineries: Ferrando and Nebbiolo Producers.
The difficulties that the cultivation of vines imposes in this area have prompted many to abandon the vineyards, but it would be a shame to lose these vines, which cost so many sacrifices and which can give extremely intense Nebbiolo, with evolved tannins, with notes of cherries in alcohol, pepper, and cocoa, rose petals and the classic earthy notes that fade into a mountain flavor that has no equal.
Small note: in the Aosta Valley, Nebbiolo is called Picoutener or Picotendro.
The same scenario of steep terraces carved into the mountains can be found in Valtellina, the only true bulwark of Nebbiolo, here called Chiavennasca, outside Piedmont.
In this case, we are also talking about a niche product. The fact that the minimum refinement is only 25 months makes us understand that the grapes do not have and do not aim for the same polyphenolic richness as the Piedmontese ones, but they compensate in acidity and depth of aroma thanks to a considerable temperature range.
From west to east, the best wines are Sassella, which has very fine qualities, Grumello, which is fresh and has mineral notes, Inferno, which is probably the strongest and most grumpy, and Valgella, which is lighter and has a lot of flowers.
Also excellent is Sforzato di Valtellina, or Sfurzat, a wine produced from the best grapes harvested and then left to dry for three months on racks, followed by a long vinification to extract everything possible from the Nebbiolo skins and at least 12 months of aging in barrels. Note the very evocative names of the wines, which recall the efforts that the farmers must undergo.
As with any other Italian grape, we cannot speak of a link with the territory, so much so that outside Piedmont and Lombardy, Nebbiolo struggles a lot, not only in finding a precise identity but also in taking root.
All these difficulties derive from the fragility of the plant, but also from the long ripening of the clusters, which need heat, an altitude of between 300 and 450 meters (no more, otherwise the cold slows down ripening), and good ventilation to prevent them. Very compact bunches are attacked by molds or swollen by autumn rains.
The traditional method involves only the best bunches, a very long maceration to extract a great polyphenolic charge, and aging in large barrels to allow the tannins and all this extract to evolve into austere, tannic wines with round fruit, which rarely come to market ready to be drunk, or at least they are ready from an enological point of view, but it would be a crime to drink them immediately.
Organoleptic characteristics of Nebbiolo wine
How do I recognize this noble wine?
What are its main characteristics? Let’s start with the base wines, such as Langhe Nebbiolo and Rosso Valtellina, two wines that focus on a less exasperated concentration, notes of wild berries, tobacco, leather, and violet, and not so massive tannins, even if there is no lack of ethereal hints. The color is transparent, so you can’t go wrong.
And then the bouquet, which must contain all the scents of the Langhe in autumn: truffles, toasted hazelnuts, and earth, mixed with small berries that prick the nose, such as currants, raspberries, and strawberries, cherries in jelly, chocolate with sour cherry, and Mon Chéri
The acidity is never exuberant, and there is a clear call of leaves, anise, undergrowth, tobacco, tea, and mint, all set in a powerful tannin, full of streaks of cocoa and licorice root to underline its depth. Think of the finesse of a Pinot Noir and add tannin, earth, and ethereal notes like lacquer, wax, enamel, and maraschino liqueur.
The aging capacity of Nebbiolo is legendary, and with age, it develops its full potential: from ruby to orange, the flowers wither in an even more complex potpourri, notes of goudron, smoky, sweet spices and wood, incense, and cinnamon and nutmeg emerge; the tannin is refined, develops other bitter suggestions: infusions of herbs and roots, tamarind, cola, and coffee, opening up to an immortal evolution.
Serving temperature of Nebbiolo wine
For young and light wines, a temperature of 16–18 degrees is excellent. If you need to serve aged and more structured wines, the temperature should be 18–20 degrees. For great Nebbiolo vintages, 20 degrees is the ideal temperature.
Tannins, fruit, and earthy hints invite the classic pairing with truffles, game, and braised meats, but it is also excellent with smoked meat, mixed paella, veal with tuna sauce, gnocchi with meat sauce, chicken curry, ribs with barbecue sauce, oven, truffle risotto, pulled pork, empanadas, hamburgers, Wellington fillet, and Wellington fillet.