Essential Facts on Nebbiolo

BY KEDAR BERNTSON A fickle grape with strong ties to its home region of Piedmont , Nebbiolo is often considered the premiere grape of Northern Italy. It’s proper cultivation, especially outside of Alba, can be a feat for even experienced winemakers—but the rewards are well worth the risk. The extraordinary amount of tannins and acid in the most revered of Nebbiolo wines, namely Barolo and Barberesco , make them quite ageworthy; it’s not uncommon for them to rest for over fifty years before they’re ready. But when they are, they exhibit a complex bramble of dark, sultry, and powerful flavors: fine cigars, new leather, black cherry, peppercorn, and dried violet—the choice wine for anyone who wants to feel like royalty. To get a better sense of this kingly variety, check out these seven facts about one of Italy’s most lustrous grape: 1. There are two theories which explain the etymology of “Nebbiolo.” The first is that the grape takes its name from the autumnal “nebbia” (fog, in Italian) that rolls through Piedmont’s hills and affects the ability of Nebbiolo to ripen later in the growing season. The second theory is that “Nebbiolo” is in reference to the fog-like clouds of yeast which bloom on the grapes, signalling their ripeness. Or perhaps the fact that there are two fog-like associations to be made with Nebbiolo sealed the fate of its name. 2. Nebbiolo is odd in that it’s widely considered Piedmont’s most revered variety, but it only makes up 8% of the region’s wine production. Though, at the same time, more of it grows in Piedmont than any other place on the planet. Similar to Pinot Noir, it’s a finicky grape that’s temperamental about where it’s planted. 3. With varying levels of success, non-Piemontese vineyards have hopped on the Nebbiolo-train. Combining every vineyard that grows Nebbiolo from all over the world equates to about 6,000 hectares of land (460 of which are in Piedmont). One can find the grape in: California , Washington , Oregon , Virginia , Mexico , Argentina , Australia , South Africa , Uruguay , and Chile . 4. Though nowhere but Piedmont will one find the wine that made the grape famous. Nebbiolo is the basis of 17 different DOC and DOCG-regulated wines in Piedmont—and the most revered is Barolo. (With Barbaresco close behind). “The wine of kings and the king of wines,” Barolo’s reputation is one of luxury, which makes sense considering that it’s one of the most expensive wines in the world. 5. And this reputation has not gone unsupported throughout history. The first reference to Nebbiolo in Piedmont dates back to 1268 when a grape known as “nibiol” was mentioned to be growing in the ancient municipality of Rivoli. Only forty years later did the jurist, Pietro Crescenzi, solidify the grapes propensity for brilliance when he noted in transcripts of his that the wine of the “nubiola” grape is of excellent quality. And then, in the 15th century, in what is now the Barolo zone, statutes were passed which doled out severe punishments (including dismemberment and hanging) to those who dared cut down a Nebbiolo vine. 6. According to Clarke’s Encyclopedia of Grapes, there are over 40 different Nebbiolo clones. Of the four traditionally grown in Alba, Lampia and Michet are the most popular and respected. Lampia for its reliability and Michet for its quality and concentration. There is also the Rosé Nebbiolo (not to be confused with Nebbiolo Rosé) which produces a wine far paler than its cousins. 7. Which are pale to begin with. Nebbiolo is famously light; its coloring is closer to brick than deep ruby red. A young Barolo, for example, looks like a shimmering fruit punch. This is the case because the water-soluble pigments in Nebbiolo (the anthocyanins) contain many unstable colorants which are quick to be oxidized. Compounds like peonidin and cyanidin glycosides rapidly lose their coloration over a short period of time, resulting in wine that looks far less powerful than it tastes.

G.D. Vajra

Albe Barolo Nebbiolo 2014

Surprisingly approachable. An elegant vintage with excellent concentration and relatively supple tannins. Damp mushrooms, forest floor, dried herbs and cranberry are fairly dominant but there is a faint florality emerging as well. — 4 years ago

P, Jay and 7 others liked this

Comm. G.B. Burlotto

Vigneto Monvigliero Barolo Nebbiolo 2015

Open & approachable that has an elegant feel with lots of tart cherry, strawberry, spices & rose petal. — 4 years ago

Paul, Ira and 19 others liked this


Castiglione Barolo Nebbiolo 2015

Surprised by the generosity, drinking quite well for how young it is. Open-knit, true to place, moderately framed with some true charm to it. Really enjoyed over a few days. Deep red fruit, almost succulent, soaked cherries and lots of licorice root, cedar, cinnamon, flowers and tar. There’s a undertone of earth. From a tannin perspective these appear ripe, with moderate intensity relatively speaking. — 4 years ago

Keith, Chris and 15 others liked this

Giacomo Conterno

Cascina Francia Barolo Nebbiolo 2006

Bright cherry fruit surrounded by a fresh dense , inky and saline. Densely packed still . Young but good stuff — 4 years ago

Naoko Dalla ValleLarry Frierson
with Naoko and Larry
Keith, Severn and 13 others liked this

E. Pira & Figli (Chiara Boschis)

Via Nuova Barolo Nebbiolo 2013


Took a while to come around but that black licorice finally started to show. Funny enough I don’t like the candy form but love the wine version. — 4 years ago

with Jeni
David, Robert and 11 others liked this


Barbaresco Nebbiolo 2012

Always on fruit, black tea, savory, big tannin and acid yet so drinkable... — 4 years ago

Ryan McClellanDeb DellapostaGregory Fulchiero
with Ryan, Deb and 1 other
P, Guy and 7 others liked this
Guy Fiore

Guy Fiore


Luciano Sandrone

Valmaggiore Nebbiolo d'Alba 2016

Dinner w/Barbara Sandrone. An eye Nebbiolo from Roero. Also sampled a 2010 which was even more incredible. Fresher and more vivacious than the Langhe equivalents. — 4 years ago

Anthony, Steve and 3 others liked this

Colombera & Garella

Lessona Pizzaguerra Nebbiolo Blend 2013

Youthful rustic very enjoyable wine! I love these rustic old world wines. Cherry, strawberry, dried herbs, and cigar box with dusty tannins. Decanted for only 30 minutes but ideally could use a.longer decant if drinking now. — 4 years ago

David, Tony and 1 other liked this

Poderi Aldo Conterno

Bussia Cicala Barolo Nebbiolo 2007

Nice. Fun that there is more where this came from! — 4 years ago

Kimberly, Sharon and 5 others liked this

Cantina Del Glicine

Vignesparse Barbaresco Nebbiolo 2014

Pale ruby with garnet secondary hues. Nose has candied cherries, peat, smoke meat, leather, toast, nutmeg, and tobacco. Palate is balanced with medium acidity and tannins. Smooth and elegant finish. #barbaresco #vignesparse #cantinadelglicine #nebbiololife #nebbiolo#winesofitaly #piedmontwine — 4 years ago

with Deked1
Deked1, Clive and 24 others liked this