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by Staff Writer - B. Scottenberg | June 29, 2011

Nebbiolo is a dark, bold, tannic and sometimes tart red wine. Nebbiolo has aromas of black licorice, cherries, chocolate, prunes and violets, with a long lasting flavor. Nebbiolo is characterized by high acidity, high alcohol and high tannins. Nebbiolo is best when allowed to age because the aging process releases the wines complexity. Nebbiolo based wines, like Northern Italy’s Barolo and Barbaresco (Italian wines made from the Nebbiolo grape) hold up well for long term cellaring. Barolo wines will age for fifteen to forty years, and Barbaresco wines will age will age for a little less period of time. Nebbiolo wines are traditionally aged in large Slavonian oak barrels (large barrel sizes with a tight grain), but there are some modern producers choosing to use barriques (small oak barrels found in Bordeaux).

It is believed that the name Nebbiolo has two probable origins. The first origin comes from the Italian word “nebbia” or “fog” because the Nebbiolo grapes have a prominent bloom that gives them a “foggy” look; or the fog that blankets the Piedmont area in late October. The second origin comes from the Italian word “nobile” or “noble”. Nebbiolo also goes by the names Chiavennasca, Picutener and Spanna in various Italian districts.

Nebbiolo Grapes

Nebbiolo is a thin skinned grape that is rather tough and fairly resistant to molds and pests, and is grown mainly in Italy’s Piedmont region. It is produced as a varietal (a wine that is produced from one variety of grape and carries the name of that grape) and for blending with other Italian wines. It is also grown in small quantities in Argentina, Australia, Switzerland, Uruguay, and California. Nebbiolo is most well-known and often considered the most important red grape varietal for making some of Italy’s other great red wines, Barolo and Barbaresco, Gattinara (in Piedmont), and Valtellina (in Lombardy). Nebbiolo wines generally need long aging in wood in order to soften them.

Nebbiolo is one of the more challenging grapes for both vineyards and winemakers because it is very sensitive to both geography and soil. Nebbiolo grapes can yield wines that vary widely in acidity, body, and tannins, as well as aroma and flavor complexity, when grown in only slightly different locations. Nebbiolo is a very late-season ripener. In order for Nebbiolo grapes to reach maturity, the vines need the best sun exposure, especially in cooler climates. It performs much better in calcareous soils (soils with a high amount of calcium carbonate) rather than sandy soils.

Although there are dozens of Nebbiolo clones, the reality is that this variety makes barely 3% of all the wines produced in Piedmont. There are twice as many acres planted with Dolcetto (black wine grape variety widely grown in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy) and ten times as many planted with Barbera (a red Italian wine grape variety from Piedmont).

Nebbiolo Food Pairings

Nebbiolo is a grape varietal that goes well when it is paired with strong, flavorful meats and cheeses and will compete well with spicy Italian meats and well-aged Parmesan cheese. Nebbiolo's classic partner is beef braised in red wine, but it can be excellent with chicken cacciatore, beef tenderloin, mushrooms, game birds, pasta and truffles.

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