My work in the wine business during the last 15+ years has gifted me the ability to travel to Italy. Long, winding roads, flanked by an endless sea of vineyards and farms, are common in Italy’s countryside. I have reveled in this bucolic beauty many times, but particularly when I visited Piedmont: home to the Italian grape nebbiolo. A lesser-known wine region, Piedmont is still tucked away from the massive crowds, unlike some of the larger wine areas. I like to venture to off-the-beaten-track places to uncover these hidden gems.
Nebbiolo (pronounced “nebby – o – low”) is grown in Piedmont’s Langhe region, and specifically the top-notch wine areas of Barbaresco and Barolo. When you see the words Barbaresco and Barolo on a wine label you know now it is made from nebbiolo.
Nebbiolo, an ancient grape, comes from the root word nebbia which means fog in Italian. Nebbiolo produces a full, powerful and slightly tannic wine, particularly when it is young. So do not let its lighter color fool you. It also has great aging potential – particularly the Barbaresco and Barolo wines that garner the highest price tags. So if you prefer a powerful red, then Nebbiolo can be one of your go-tos.
Nebbiolo shows a varied flavor profile of anise, plum, coffee, black cherry and often leather that coat the mouth and teeth. Because of the wine’s tannic nature, you should pair them with foods that have a high fat and protein content. I recommend Italian cuisine featuring Bolognese sauce, wild boar, rabbit and filets of beef with nebbiolo.
My Nebbiolo Picks
Here are my picks for great nebbiolo from Langhe, Barbaresco and Barolo that are all boutique family-owned properties.
Viberti Langhe Nebbiolo. The Viberti estate was born in the 1920s and today produces many selections including the prized Langhe nebbiolo. The primary fruit of strawberry and cherry come together beautifully with additional floral notes. They are well integrated with vanilla and coconut notes from one year’s aging in large wooden vats. The wine is then aged an additional year in stainless steel tanks before being bottled. It is an easy sipping wine with soft tannins and great drinkability. Should be consumed young, within five years.
Borgogno Langhe Nebbiolo. Borgogno is one of the oldest wine estates in the Barolo village, dating back to the 1760s. It is now owned by the Farinetti family which got its fame from Eataly, an Italian food and wine market that started in Turin, Italy and migrated to the U.S. Borgogno’s nebbiolo is from the Langhe area and uses the same grapes that are used in Barolo. So this rendition is quite a value. It has aromas that you might expect from Barolo – classic rose petal and tar. The taste profile is of black cherry, raspberry and herbal notes. Fresh and vibrant, this is a great selection to enjoy while young.
Cocito Barbaresco Riserva Baluchin. Made from 100% nebbiolo, this selection comes from a tiny plot of land. Baluchin is the word for “star” in Piedmont dialect and refers to the vineyard’s ideal position for star gazing at night. The wine has bright aromas and flavors of blueberries, plums and graphite. Cocito always ages the wine longer and releases it later so the mouthfeel gives us a silky, soft feeling. Aged for about two years in small French oak barrels, it displays a great focused wine that can last for 10+ years.
Cordero di Montezemolo Barolo. In the family’s 19th generation, Cordero di Montezemolo is located in the small village of La Morra. Its Barolo is a blend of different lots of nebbiolo that they then age in a mix of Slovenian and French oak barrels for 18-24 months. The result is an intense garnet color with a round, full mouthfeel of dark cherry, blackberry, cocoa and plum notes,. They are intertwined by a hint of vanilla and hazelnut. A top selection for sure that is approachable at a young age.
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