Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Best known as the red varietal behind Barolo, the wine of Kings and the King of Wine in Piedmont, Italy, Nebbiolo is a site sensitive, high tannin, high acid varietal. Tannins, those compounds in a wine which cause the mouth to pucker and dry out, are either from grape skins, or, much more commonly from oak barrels. Winemakers extract color as well as tannins from the skins, leaving them in contact with the grape must for extended periods or employing other techniques for maximum extraction. This deeply colored base wine, then, is also full of the heart-healthy antioxidants, as is the case with apples – the health benefits are in the skin. From here winemakers then leave the new wine to sit in barrels. The newer the wooden barrels, the more tannins are absorbed by the wine. If the wine is older, little or no tannins are absorbed. Current trends for deeply colored, lavishly oaked wines impact even the most traditional wine regions of the world, including Piedmont.

Piedmont is the most famous of Italian wine regions, not only for Barolo, but also for Nebbiolo-based Barbaresco, as well as less significant wines Ghemme, Gattinara, and Nebbiolo d’Alba. 

Nebbia means fog in Italian, and fog does cover these rolling hills each year, giving the grapes an extra long ripening season. Nebbiolo is a late ripener and does in most years reach full physiological maturity here. Where it is planted greatly impacts its final character. Only in the most ideal sites (hillside exposures facing south) does it give its full expression. 

The combination of substantial flavor – orange rind, black licorice, cherry, violets, truffles, “tar and roses”, saddle, and earth –with mouth-puckering grip from high fruit tannin and high acid content is one that is not easily appreciated by the novice. Nebbiolo wines in general benefit either from some time in the cellar, or from decanting a few hours before serving.

In Mendoza, Argentina and the Sierra Foothills, California the grape has moderate success It is also planted in New Zealand and South Africa, but never reaches the same heights as it does in Piedmont.

Elio Altare Barolo Vigneto Arborina, Piedmont (Italy
Pio Cesare Barbaresco Il Bricco, Piedmont (Italy)                                                                           Poderi Aldo Conterno Barolo Riserva Gran Bussia, Piedmont (Italy)
Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato, Piedmont (Italy)
Luciano Sandrone Barolo, Cannubi Boschis, Piedmont (Italy)         
Paolo Scavino Barolo, Carobric, Piedmont (Italy)    
Gaja Barbaresco Sori San Lorenzo, Piedmont (Italy)
Vietti Barbaresco Masseria, Piedmont (Italy)
Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili Riserva, Piedmont (Italy)

Best Value
Produttori di Barbaresco Barbaresco, Piedmont (Italy)        
Prunotto Nebbiolo d’Alba, Piedmont (Italy
Viña Alicia Nebbiolo, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza (Argentina)

© Copyright 2014 Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis, Planet Grape LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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