Nebbiolo is an incredibly famous grape. This variety is considered to be the wine grape of the most interesting wines in the world. What’s the reason maybe you never heard about it? 75% of the global Nebbiolo plantings are grown in only one wine region of the world. And it’s in the Piedmont of Italy.

It grows on steep southern slopes at altitudes of 200-450 meters above sea level. This variety grows nowhere as it does in Piedmont’s temperate climate, characterized by rainy spring and warm, dry, sunny summers. Only a quarter of plantings are not in Piedmont. Although Nebbiolo is the signature grape of Piedmont, Lombardy may be the grape place of origin and not Piedmont.

Name origin and some history

The name of Nebbiolo is probably derived from the Italian word for fog: “nebbia”. The variety got its name from the misty weather typical of northern Italy during the October harvest. Outside of Italy, you can find small but commercially significant plantings in Australia, Chile, Mexico, Uruguay, and increasingly in the United States.

The earliest mention of this grape variety was in an agriculture book more than 750 years ago. The year was 1268 and the city is Torino. In the 13th and 14th centuries, it was a very widespread variety.

Wine characteristic

It’s even pickier than Pinot Noir. It cannot grow everywhere as it needs an incredibly long growing season. This grape is extremely fussy about soil. Winemaking experience has shown that it prefers calcareous soils over sandy soils. If you grow it in the wrong area it’s gonna be really vigorous which you don’t want. Because vigor means less flavor. Both low and high vigor can severely affect the quality of grapes produced. Therefore the best bottles of Nebbiolo from Piedmont come from vintages where you have dry weather in September and October.

Nebbiolo is a tannic grape especially when young, light in color, which orange with age. Eventually, Nebbiolo usually shows red fruit along with savory and floral aromas and flavors like tobacco, violet, earth, mushroom, and dried herbs.

Until the 1850s, almost only sweet white wine was made from Nebbiolo grapes. Thereafter Italian winemakers realized that due to the high sugar content of the grapes, it was also suitable for making large, dry red wine.

During this period, wineries began to postpone the harvest time as late as possible and, after soaking in the long skins, maturing them in wooden barrels.

Wines made from Nebbiolo

Photo credit: Lelia Milaya

The most famous wines made from these grapes are Barolo and Barbaresco. Both form the Piedmont of course. Barolo and Barbaresco are made entirely of Nebbiolo. Barolo is usually considered the more powerful in tannic expression. While Barbaresco often gets points for relative lightness as well as elegance and sophistication. Their scent is astonishingly complex, and in hours, as well as their taste, it becomes more and more beautiful. Italian winemakers swear that a fairly prepared Barbaresco will be viable for at least 20 years and a Barolo for 30 years.

Nebbiolo is also used in other parts of Piedmont, although those red wines are typically less robust there.