Nebbiolo grapes produce a light-colored red wine that traditionally requires years of aging to tame its powerful tannic qualities. Nebbiolo d”Alba is produced primarily in the vineyards surrounding Alba, a town in the Piedmont region of Italy.
Nebbiolo d”Alba gains its name from the Piedmont word nebbia, meaning fog. There are two possible sources for the name. The most poetic story suggests that nebbiolo gains its name from the thick fogs that often cover the vineyards in late October, during the nebbiolo d”Alba grape harvest.
The other possibility, and one that many vintners subscribe to, is that the name comes from the milky white, frosty “bloom” that covers mature nebbiolo grapes.
Mature Nebbiolo Grapes
Nebbiolo grapes are overwhelmingly tannic in their first years, and require several years of aging to mature and mellow.
A mature Nebbiolo is light colored, and produces a brick-orange tint on a glass rim. An aged Nebbiolo maintains some of its tannic strength, but develops a wide range of complex flavors. Flavors found in a mature Nebbiolo can include:
- black licorice
- wild herbs.
Nebbiolo for Sale
When you find mature nebbiolo for sale, expect bottles to be relatively expensive. Winemakers generally consider nebbiolo wine a difficult wine to work with. Words such as “moody” and “unpredictable” are often used to describe nebbiolo”s aging process.
While a popular wine in the Piedmont region, relatively few nebbiolo grapes are grown: nebbiolo wines account for only three percent of the region”s output. Add to this the need for a lengthy aging and a late harvest (late October) and it becomes apparent why nebbiolo commands relatively high prices.
In response to these challenges, some winemakers are trying to produce palatable nebbiolo wines that don”t require as much aging, using smaller oak barrels to produce nebbiolo with predominately fruity flavors.
Nebbiolo Palladino and other Varieties
Nebbiolo grapes are traditionally grown around Alba, and like many wine-lovers, the Italians guard their favored vines with some jealousy. Nonetheless, nebbiolo grapes are now grown in Argentina, Australia, California, New Zealand and South Africa. The bulk of nebbiolo wines, however, still come from Italy.
Within Italy, Nebbiolo Palladino is one of the most prized nebbiolo d”Alba vineyards. Nebbiolo is also known as Spanna, Picutener, and Chiavennasca in different Italian districts.
Growing Nebbiolo Grapes
Nebbiolo grapes require specific growing conditions: one reason the grapes have not done as well in other countries as they have in Italy.
Conditions around Alba are perfect for nebbiolo production. The vines require good exposure in cooler climates that nonetheless allow for their late harvest. Nebbiolo is best suited for calcareous soil, another trait that favors wine production in Alba.
Pairing Nebbiolo d”Alba with Food
Nebbiolo grapes produce a strong, tart and forceful wine. As such, a mature nebbiolo d”Alba is best served with strong meats and hearty stews. The wine”s strong personality lends itself to drinking with aged cheese that would overpower wines with subtler flavors.