If you like your wines big, bold, and red, Nebbiolo needs to be on your radar. Hailing from Northern Italy’s Piedmont region, this grape is known for producing powerful, full-bodied, and mercilessly tannic wines—all while looking as pale as Pinot Noir! Most famously, it’s the grape that goes into Barolo and Barbaresco, two of the world’s most revered (and more expensive) wines. Though as you’ll soon find out, Nebbiolo is also in a number of more affordable, entry-level styles of wine from Italy and beyond.
Above the fog
Nebbiolo is an old, old grape, first being referenced as far back as the 13th Century!
The name Nebbiolo derives from nebbia, the Italian word for “fog.” This is likely from the white, powder-like natural bloom on the grapes that appears during harvest season. Or, from the fact that the best Nebbiolo sites are located above the fog that collects in the valley.
Even though Nebbiolo only makes up ~8% of all the grapes grown in Piedmont, more of this grape is grown here than anywhere else in the world.
Despite being an essential part of two of the country’s premier wines, Nebbiolo is rarely grown anywhere else in Italy. Much like Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo is an incredibly fussy variety to grow. It flowers early, ripens late, and can struggle to ripen fully. It also seems to prefer specific hillside locations and clay- and silt-based soils.
Also like Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo is considered to be a “terroir-expressive” variety, in that it picks up more of the earth, soil, and climate characteristics versus other grapes, which means it can taste wildly different depending on where it’s grown.
Not only do Nebbiolo wines look light, they also smell light too, with disarming red fruit and rose aromas swirling around the nose. That all changes the second it goes into your mouth. If you didn’t understand the concept of “grippy tannins” before, you will now as leathery goodness clings to your teeth, tongue, and gums. Expect that to be followed up with striking flavors of cherry, coffee, anise, and primordial earth.