Nebbiolo is a red grape that is mostly grown in the Piedmont section of Italy. This grape has been around for centuries and was enjoyed by the Romans in the Roman empire. The grape is probably best known for its used in the production of the DOCG wines of Barbaresco, Barolo, Ghemme and Gattinara. The Nebbiolo grape produces lightly colored red wines that are high in tannins in their youth. They can require years of ageing to mellow and balance the tannins with other flavors of the wine.
Nebbiolo is thought to be a native of the Piedmont region. Wines produced using this grape can be traced back to at least as early as the thirteenth Century, with records from 1268 making reference to ‘Nibiol’ wines. The name itself is thought to stem from the word nebbia, which is the Italian word for fog. Heavy fogs descend on many Nebbiolo vineyards during harvest time.
Nebbiolo grapes are world renowned today, but for centuries they were one of Piedmont’s best kept secrets. The grape first received international attention in the 18th Century, when British viticulturalists went to Italy in search of alternatives to the red wine grapes of Bordeaux in France. Nebbiolo was to their liking and its reputation soon spread.
This new found international demand saw plantings grow during the 18th and 19th century. When the Phylloxera louse reached the area it devastated the Nebbiolo vines. Many producers choose to plant Barbera grapes in place of Nebbiolo, and plantings shrunk. In 2000 Nebbiolo only accounted for around 3% of piedmont's entire production.
Nebbiolo is found predominantly in the northwest Italian region of Piedmont where it forms the base of many of the regions most well known Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) and DOCG wines including Barbaresco, Barolo, Nebbiolo d'Alba, Ghemme and Gattinara. Despite the prestige and acclaim of Nebbiolo based wine, it is far from being the most widely grown grape in Piedmont. In 2000, there were just under 12,700 acres of Nebbiolo producing 3.3 million gallons (125,000 hectoliters) of wine which accounted for a little over 3% of Piedmont's entire production. There is nearly 15 times more Barbera planted in the region. Outside of Piedmont, the grape can be found growing in the neighboring regions of Valtellina, Franciacorta in Lombardy and the Val d'Aosta region of Donnaz. In the Veneto, there is a small amount growing which some producers use to make a Nebbiolo recioto wine. Outside of Italy, producers in the United States are experimenting with plantings in California, Washington and Oregon. There are also plantings in the Northern Region of Baja, Mexico, with around 2,700 acres of Nebbiolo grown in the country. In Argentina there are approximately 200 acres planted in the San Juan province and Australian producers in the King Valley region of Victoria have small amounts of Nebbiolo plantings.
Nebbiolo wine is typically intensely aromatic, developing an extraordinarily bouquet in which, cherry, mint, roses, Violets, woodsmoke, autumn undergrowth, tobacco and tar can often be found. On the palate, the wine is typically high in acidity and tannins. These wines need plenty of age, anywhere from 10 years upward, to come into their own. The tannins mellow and the wine takes on rich sophisticated flavors and aromas. These wines pair well with beef braised in red wine, but it can be excellent with game birds and pasta with shaved white truffles.