Ah, Nebbiolo, one of my all-time favorite grape varietals. There is often little question what is in the glass when it comes to Nebbiolo. It’s unique and distinct color is the first indication - brick red-orange, light and luminous in the glass. An absolutely stunning wine. The intense aromatics are the next giveaway, with a young Nebbiolo consistently showcasing fresh cherry, raspberry and rose petals, gradually maturing over time to include notes of dried cherries, leather, tar and truffle. A complex, structured, age-worthy wine.
Thomas Jefferson, America’s first Sommelier-in-Chief, was noted amongst the admirers of Nebbiolo da Barolo during his travels through the region in 1785 (although the wine at this time was much different and notably sweeter).
Despite its noble character and stunning wines, Nebbiolo has a surprisingly limited diaspora. Nebbiolo is notoriously temperamental and demanding (or perhaps simply neurotic). As such, it only truly thrives in its hometown hills of Langhe, Piedmont, in northern Italy. For budding Nebbiolo enthusiasts, it is best to stick close to home.
Nestled between the French Maritime Alps to the west and the Apennines of the Italian Riviera to the south and east, the region of the Langhe has a temperate continental climate with characteristically hot summers, cold winters, and excellent diurnal temperature variation, particularly in the summer months. This combination contributes to a long growing season that is ideal for Nebbiolo - the first grape to bud in the region and the last to ripen.
Due to its late-ripening and fussy tendencies, combined with its high market value, Nebbiolo commands the preeminent hillside sites in the region that consist of calcerous marl soils and optimal sun exposure. Nebbiolo, like its more famous colleague, Pinot Noir, is extraordinary in its ability to express the subtleties of terroir, which creates demand for very specific vineyard locations. With Nebbiolo, as with real estate, it is about location, location, location.
Nebbiolo particularly shines in the Lange Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) subregions of Barolo and Barbaresco. The best Nebbiolo from these appellations unequivocally rivals the finest wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy and Montalcino. Unfortunately, they carry a similar price tag. Want to enjoy fabulous Nebbiolo without breaking the bank? The Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) of Langhe, with less stringent requirements than Barolo and Barbaresco, is your vinous destination.
This wine carried all of the classic elements of Nebbiolo at a value price point. Wonderful aromatics of raspberry, cherry and floral elements of rose petals burst from the glass. The palate is structured and complex with firm tannins and wonderful red fruit. Admittedly, the wine is lighter, less tannic and did not rise to the level of complexity found in Barolo and Barbaresco. One cannot, however, always enjoy the best Nebbiolo at the weekday table. At approximately $23, this wine isn’t necessarily cheap, but nonetheless well worth the price tag for a noble grape that drinks fabulously on its own, and pairs easily with a variety of cuisines.
Speaking of food, Nebbiolo pairs excellently with white truffles, which are local to the region, funghi and other earthy elements. A few of my local favorites are mushroom rice-otto for date night at BYOB friendly The Rice Place and Hamakua Mushroom Mania Pizza from Fendu Boulangerie.
Distributed locally by Flavors of Italy, you can pick up a bottle at Fujioka's Wine Times.