Nebbiolo Grows On My Desert Island #ItalianFWT
Nebbiolo Beyond The Famous King & Queen
Our Italian Food Wine and Travel group is dedicating this month to the Nebbiolo grape, but with a twist. We’re exploring versions outside of the most famous Barolo and Barbaresco. These lesser known brethren deserve a month of their own! Scan down to the bottom of this post to see what my #ItalianFWT buddies have discovered.
My Desert Island Wine
I love variety, and I love learning about grapes and wines from all over the world. That said, like every wine lover, I have a favorite, a “desert island wine”, and it’s a wine made from the Nebbiolo grape. As long as I’m picking my desert island, I’d ask to have a vineyard planted to Nebbiolo, so I could make a few different types of wine from the grapes we grow!
My Desert Island Weather
Nebbiolo is a very finicky grape to grow, and it won’t do well just anywhere. It is both early flowering and late ripening, so it needs a long growing season with little risk of spring frost or early fall rains. It needs lots of sun to ripen. For soil, we might be luck, as Nebbiolo likes either calcareous marl (from an old seabed, imagine that!), or a mix of calcareous marl with a bit of sand. On my desert island, we’ll plant south facing slopes for our premium botti aged Nebbiolo, and we’ll also plant some less favorable exposures for our rosato and even a sparkling wine. I guess I’m going to need a Hungarian oak forest and access to stainless steel on this island…
Nebbiolo strikes me as a unique combination of power with modest weight. In the glass, the wine is as pale as Pinot Noir, with an orange tinted edge. Note: dead giveaway in blind tastings. It simply doesn’t look like a powerful red wine. The wine is very aromatic with either red or black fruit and often floral,herbal, and evergreen undertones when young. It’s famous for evolving aromas as it ages with leather, mushrooms, and earth over the younger fruit. As a food wine, it’s both highly acidic and highly tannic. You’ll rarely hear a Nebbiolo based wine as “plush” or “smooth”. Again, as it ages, the tannins will resolve and become more accommodating, although they’ll never disappear entirely.
Kings, Queens and Supporting Casts
Among wine lovers, Barolo and Barbaresco are known as the “king” and “queen” of wines from the Langhe sub-region of the Piemonte in northern Italy. They are made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes grown only on south facing slopes in their well-defined DOCG boundaries. Nebbiolo grows elsewhere in the region, and in a few other areas in northern Italy, as well as a handful of vineyards elsewhere in the world.
Looking forward to hosting this event, I have been acquiring Nebbiolo based wines from Italy and the US. Over the last month, we’ve enjoyed several of them and I’ll be following up with individual posts. Today I’ll offer a travelogue of sorts with a few observations.
Piemonte to Valle d’Aosta
Langhe Nebbiolo and Nebbiolo d’Alba – grown in the same area as Barolo and Barbaresco, these wines are typically from younger vines or vines planted on slopes outside the strict DOCG rules. They are often made in a more easy, early drinking style. Buy plenty of these to enjoy while you wait for your Barolo to mature! They are also an easy way to see if you enjoy Nebbiolo wines as they are often available for under $20 in the US.
Roero – Immediately across the Tanaro river from the Barbaresco region lies the Roero region. The soil on this side of the Tanaro is sandier than in Barbaresco, which yields grapes more amenable to early drinking. Roero wines are one of my favorite under-the-radar values on winelists. They are the top red wine from this little region, and they are often available for around $20 in the wine shop, so they are an affordable and delicious choice in a restaurant.
Ghemme, Gattinara, Carema – Going further north, there are a number of communities in Piemonte which grow Nebbiolo and make wine. They are also worth trying, and will typically be a top wine showered with the winegrower’s love and available for a reasonable price.
Valtellina – Up in the foothills of the Italian Alps in northern Lombardia, there is a little valley called Valtellina. They grow a grape there known as Chiavennasca which is, in fact, Nebbiolo. While still recognizable as Nebbiolo, they come from a much more mountainous region so they have their own unique character and they are well worth seeking out. There is even a passito style wine called Sforzato made similarly to Amarone except from the Chiavennasca grape. This one bears little resemblance to the normal Nebbiolo wines, but again, worth a try, especially as that rare Nebbiolo fireplace wine.
Just like me, there are US winegrowers who are passionately in love with Nebbiolo. Obviously, they are crazy, which I love! They have sought out or just plain experimented with growing Nebbiolo in the US, and have produced wines with true Nebbiolo character. Bravo!
Food Pairing with Nebbiolo
Wines based on Nebbiolo are rarely what you’d call fireplace wines. With their acids and tannins, they beg to be enjoyed with food. At apertivo time, salumi and charcuterie are good choices. If you’re serving cheese, stick to aged cheeses. Pasta is a natural, the acidity will balance tomato based sauces and the tannins will play nicely with any rich meat or cheese sauce. Our smoked mushroom & cheese pasta was perfect. For the main course, braised meats are a traditional winner. Look for a few posts with details over the next few weeks!
Posts from the Italian Food Wine and Travel Group
The posts below will go live on Saturday, Feb. 4. Our group will get together for a chat on Twitter 10-11am that day to discuss our finds. Join us at #ItalianFWT on Saturday morning!
- Jill from L’occasion shares The Test in Life is Unity: G. D. Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo
- Susannah from Avvinare shares Discover Off the Beaten Path Nebbiolos from the Carema and Canavese DOCs
- Lauren from The Swirling Dervish shares Breaking out of Barolo: Nebbiolo from Alto Piemonte
- Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares Zuppa di Cipolla al Vino Rosso + Bava’s “Gionson” Nebbiolo
- Mike from Undiscovered Italy shares Let’s Go Grumello
- Jen from Vino Travels shares The Land and Soul of Ceretto
- Gwen from Wine Predator shares Silver and Gold: Nebbiolo from Santa Barbara and Italy
- Jeff from FoodWineClick! shares Nebbiolo Grows On My Desert Island