Nebbiolo is the reigning black grape of Italy, who overlooks his kingdom daily from his throne in the Piedmont region of Italy. His two most regal offspring are the wines Barolo and Barbaresco. These wines are of a fuller body and are loaded with extract, tannin, acidity and alcohol, which combine to make them perfect for aging before they make their regal appearance at your table.
It is a particularly challenging grape to rear. It is quite particular about its soil and requires exceptional drainage, which is why you often find them growing on south facing slopes. A moderate climate with cool nights does well by this grape. It has thin skins and ripens late, which means it needs to have the best exposure to sun. Nebbiolo’s fussiness has made it difficult for vintners outside Italy to grow with any significance.
The blood line of Nebbiolo runs deep and the Italians fiercely protect the integrity of this varietal. Attestation that this grape has been responsible for wines of distinction have been found dating back as far as 1235. Documents found in 1303 dub the “Nubiola” grape as “delightful” and “excellent wine.” A century later those found cutting down a Nebbiola vine were severely punished with retributions up to and including hanging.
The origins of the name, Nebbiolo, are uncertain, but there are two schools of thought. The references to royalty illustrate one school of thought and that is that the name derives from the Italian word “nobile,” which means royalty. The other school of thought is that its name comes from the word “nebbia,” which means fog, which either was attached to the grape because of the frosted appearance of the grape itself or because of the blanket of fog that comes into the region in the fall during harvest.
Piedmont translates to “foot of the mountain.” The region is found south of the Alps, predominantly on the steep limestone hills of Langhe. As stated, the region is perfect for Nebbiolo and it has been difficult for others outside Italy to grow this variety with any success. Among those who are trying are Argentina, Australia, and California.
The differences between Barbaresco and Barolo have to do with age. For starters, Barolo is an older wine, historically, than Barbaresco. The second difference is the time each wine must age. Barbaresco must spend a minimum of two years aging, one of which much be on oak. If it is to be labeled “Riserva” it must age four years. Barolo, on the other hand, must age a minimum of three years, 18 months of which must be on oak, and “Riserva” labeling requires five years of aging. Both need time in the bottle. If drunk too early, they taste of bitter chocolate.
Prepare for a night of indulgence and compare a Barolo and a Barbaresco. As Barolo can be a little pricey, you may try just one. Either will give you a good taste (literally) of what Nebbiolo has to offer. You may also find a Nebbiolo d’Alba. Choose also to contrast one of these wines to one produced in another country. Do you agree they are just not the same?
On The Label
Nebbiolo, Barolo, Barbaresco
It The Bottle
Red fruit, black fruit, floral, sweet spice, earth, vegetal, game - “tar and roses” is a term often attached to the aromatic profile
At The Table
Red meat, aged cheese, mushrooms
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