Nebbiolo is like a noble Pinot Noir. It is certainly less widespread than Pinot Noir on a global level. In fact, it is one of the most localized varieties. Its homeland is a small corner on the foggy hills of northern Italy.
In Italy, Nebbiolo is celebrated as producing majestic, acidic red wines with an assertive tannic texture that need a long aging time to reveal a complex interweaving of aromas such as rose, violet, plum, bitter chocolate, persimmon, cherry jam, licorice, cinnamon, tar and truffle.
The first dry Nebbiolo wine was created in the nineteenth century on the initiative of Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour following the assignment given to a French oenologist to develop a wine capable of aging well based on the model of Bordeaux wines; the enlightened politician requested it both for his own cellar and for that of the Marchesa Falletti of Barolo, who was also the enthusiastic and motivated promoter of the new aristocratic wine, Barolo. It was to be called and recognized "The wine of kings and the king of wines".
On the viticultural level, the Nebbiolo grape requires the most ideal exposure otherwise it does not reach adequate maturation and lends itself less than other varieties to excessive yields.
Nebbiolo is a small grape with a thin and resistant skin and a composite bouquet with classic and common hints of withered roses and violets, raspberry, balsamic tones, tobacco leaves, spices and tar.
It is worth taking a tour across the different areas where the Nebbiolo grape is grown, starting from the most historic district.
The aromas of Barolo
Two small tributaries of the Tanaro river divide the Barolo area into three hilly ridges defining themselves particularly for the different types of soils: the sites of Barolo and La Morra have limestone marls from the Tortonian era and produce fragrant wines from the most renowned crus of Brunate, Cerequio and Cannubi; it is here that the high mineral content explains the expressiveness of the bouquet with clear nuances of licorice. The area that includes Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d'Alba and Monforte d'Alba, has pedological varieties rich in sandstone producing a more robust and long-lived wine in which the aromatic bouquet takes on spicy and toasted characteristics, and from which the Villero crus Lazzarito, Bussia and Ginestra are distinguished.
The aromas of Barbaresco
Barbaresco holds less than half the surface of Barolo with vineyards at lower altitudes enjoying a more temperate microclimate that guarantees an early harvest; the denomination is characterized by homogeneous limestone marl soils similar to Tortonian soils but which change the mineral composition giving the wine different aromas: the municipality of Barbaresco producess wines with a magnificent aromatic balance with aromas of violets and fresh berries; the Neive site, further east, has more austere wines that are initially more introspective on the aromatic level; further south there is Treiso with heavy soils in which the Nebbiolo is more tannic but at the same time more open, elegant and fragrant.
Barolo and Barbaresco can combine smoky notes, leather, spices, leaves and jam. The more aged versions suggest aromas of incense and wax, of mushrooms, of truffles.
The aromas of Nebbiolo in its variations
The hills of the Roero extend on the left bank of the Tanaro, a more sandy and less elevated district with wines already reputed and favored in the past by the aristocratic circles of Turin and the Duchy of Savoy; the prototype is a less austere wine, more fruity and fragrant: violet, raspberry, strawberry and peach are its predominant aromas.
And then in the upper Piedmont, we find Spanna, the local name of Nebbiolo in a territory unified by geology, pedology, climate and history, albeit manifested in different declinations: each declares its strength.
Gattinara, which is produced on the right bank of the Sesia river in large volcanic gravel soils, produces a wine of character marked by a flowery bouquet with a typical note of gentian.
Ghemme on the opposite bank in the Novara area, historically appreciated, offers a pleasant wine with typical aromas of violet and ripe cherry.
Bramaterra, further north, thrives on volcanic soil with a full-bodied wine whose aromatic tone reflects an elegant bouquet of violets and roses.
Boca is the representation of a vigorous and tannic wine with a transversal and temporal bouquet, first of violet and pomegranate, then black tea and rust.
Lessona, which covers a smaller area within the boundaries of its municipality and rests on gravelly soils, produces a robust wine with a mineral and brackish bouquet.
Further downstream still in the Novara hills, Sizzano and Fara deserve a review. Being among sinuous morainic hills and heterogeneous soils that include calcareous gravel and volcanic porphyry, the wines are generally produced with the addition of other grapes complementary to Nebbiolo and therefore they reflect the typical Nebbiolo varietal to a lesser extent.
Nebbiolo changes its name again before entering the Aosta Valley where it is known as Picutener. Steep terraces on gravelly soils and about forty hectares, produce the already famous Carema from the Roman era with an extremely clear and expressive bouquet of withered roses, mint and tar!
The Aosta Valley is the home of the Picotendro, aka Nebbiolo, one of the most representative of the red varieties which enjoys successful ripening thanks to the hot summer climate and above all to the terraces planted with vines that exploit the sun's rays; the area of interest is the central and southern stretch of the valley crossed by the Dora Baltea up to six hundred meters above sea level, which produces Donnas or Donnaz, and Arnad-Montjovet; sometimes rustic and acidic wines whose bouquets claim notes of violet and aromatic herbs, blackberries and raspberries, followed by a suggestive aroma of ground pepper.
The Nebbiolo of Valtellina known as Chiavennasca is grown on the steep slopes of the Adda valley with adequately exposed terraced vineyards; the wine as a whole is lighter than its Piedmontese counterparts and there is a common denominator in the five cultivation sub-areas with notes of flowers and herbs that with age develop sensitive hints of almond and hazelnut. The Sassella expresses a more refined bouquet, then there is the more toasted Grumello, the more spicy Inferno, the more floral Valgella and the more delicate Maroggia; The Sforzato or Sfursat di Valtellina also stands out, a wine made from Nebbiolo grapes dried for a few months whose result dictates suggestions of dried plum and morello cherry, cinnamon, cloves, coffee and chocolate.
Abroad, the Nebbiolo grape is registered in cultivation areas in California, Baja California in Mexico, the San Juan district in Argentina and in Australia.
Nebbiolo is a grape which produces fine, complex and memorable wines, and it remains faithful to its land of origin. It is a grape of superior variety, albeit pretentious and unusual. Called the "queen of black grapes", it has always been an authentic flag bearer of territorial value.