This is part of a series called Wine Words, a glossary in the works that breaks down the barrier between those in the wine know and those who have no idea what the hell everyone's talking about. A new word posts once a week, covering everything from a grape name or region, to a winemaking or tasting term.
Nebbiolo (n.) Grape Variety
Nebbiolo [nay-bee-OH-lo] is Piedmonte's prized grape behind the noble age-worthy wines of Barolo and Barbaresco in northwest Italy. It's the sole grape in the varietal wine, Indigenous Nebbiolo d'Alba 2012, I wrote about earlier this week, and in the Giovanni Canonica 'Paiagallo' Barolo 2011, a wine of lovely elegance and one of the variety's finest hours. It's a fickle grape, particular about which soils it will thrive and, because it ripens late in the harvest season, prefers hillside vineyards. It is similar to pinot noir, Burgundy's treasure, in that it easily expresses terroir, making significant the specific plots where it is grown. As with Burgundy's premier and grand cru designations, vineyards in Barolo and Barbaresco are delineated for the nuances expressed in wines from said vineyards.
The name nebbiolo comes from the Italian word nebbia, meaning fog. Some have attributed the name to the fog that hangs in Piedmontese valleys during harvest, but Jancis Robinson in Wine Grapes suggests it's more likely a reference to the grape's characteristics. When ripe, nebbiolo's color is cloudy-ish, as shown here by famed Barolo producer Elio Altare, who is one of the leaders in the "modern Barolo revolution," marked by shorter fermentation times and aging in small French oak barrels (much like they do in Burgundy).
Nebbiolo produces wines with potentially elegant aromatics, including cherry, dried cherries, tar, violets and roses. It's naturally high acidity bodes well for aging and food pairing, and the tannins, typically more prominent than pinot noir, provide structure and chew. The latter depends to some extent upon the winemaking style, i.e. Traditional vs. Modern. Barolo and Barbaresco are considered among the noblest of wines the world over.