Nebbiolo Grows On My Desert Island #ItalianFWT

Can my desert island look something like this? I could live in a castle there.

Can my desert island look something like this? I could live in that castle there.

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!

New vines can be propagated by staking a runner from the old

My desert island vines would look pretty wild

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…

Pale red in the glass - Nebbiolo

Pale red in the glass – Nebbiolo

Why Nebbiolo?
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.

Chiara Boschis Barolo

Barolo from one of the greats

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.

A group of alternative Nebbiolo wines

Who needs the B’s? There are lots of Nebbiolo choices

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.

Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo

You can find Langhe Nebbiolo in almost any well stocked shop, even in ski country!

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.

Matteo Correggia Roero - a bargain and always delicious

Matteo Correggia Roero – a bargain and always delicious. Red fruit, herbs and flowers on the nose.

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.

The Travaglini Gattinara sports a cool, asymmetric bottle

Strawberries and oranges with touches of flowers and leather. This wine would get even better with more age.

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.

– 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.

United States?
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!

A big wine with a modest color














10 Responses to “Nebbiolo Grows On My Desert Island #ItalianFWT”
  1. culinarycam says:

    Your posts are always inspiring, Jeff. And I am ever envious of your wine choices. Can’t wait to track some of these down. Cin cin.

  2. So many new wines to search out – and the perfect dishes to accompany them. Thanks Jeff! Now I am both inspired and hungry!

  3. Jill Barth says:

    This post is sure to be referenced by many wanting to learn about Nebbiolo. Great idea information here, very week done.

    The meal at the bottom of the post, looks like a risotto, how is that prepared? So satisfying!

    I love the shot of the wine swirling in the glass!

    Thank you for hosting. Sorry I missed the chat!

  4. Vino Travels says:

    I love how you dove into a variety of different nebbiolo and dishes. Best way to learn! Bravo!

  5. Definitely your desert island wine! Great article.

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] duly impressed. I saved the Nebbiolo for a future round-up. Finally, my opportunity came with our Italian Food Wine & Travel […]

  2. […] Fun With Nebbiolo Here’s another great food pairing and a couple of enjoyable examples of Nebbiolo “beyond the B’s” of Barolo and Barbaresco. The high acidity and tannins in Nebbiolo make it a great partner for rich […]

  3. […] Castelli Vineyards. Tiny production, no advertising, no media coverage. I explained I’m a Nebbiolo fan and I found him in the NEB (Nebbiolo Enthusiasts and Believers) group on facebook. NEB are an […]

  4. […] Langhe Nebbiolo DOC or Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC Barolo, Barbaresco, Langhe Nebbiolo and Nebbiolo d’Alba are all red wines made in the Langhe subregion of the Piemonte region in Northwest Italy. All are made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes. Langhe Nebbiolo and Nebbiolo d’Alba are typically made in an easier drinking style. Think of these as wines to enjoy while you wait for your Barolo to mature! The wines are pale red in color with bright acidity and moderately astringent tannins (compared to much more aggressive tannins found in young Barolo and Barbaresco). They are also an easy way to see if you enjoy Nebbiolo wines as they are often available for under $20 in the US. If you find Nebbiolo is your thing, you might enjoy a prior post of mine here. […]

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