Grape of the month
At the foot of the Alps in the most Northern reaches of Italy, where the morning fog covers the landscape like a soft carpet, grows a very special grape by the name of Nebbiolo. The name is said to have been inspired by the Italian name Nebbia, meaning fog. Since its discovery by British Wine merchants in the 1800s, the Nebbiolo grape has risen to become the pride of the Piemonte region, and has become the grape of choice for wine connoisseurs all over the world.
The history of the grape, however, can be traced all the way back to 1268 with the written mention of the word Nibiol. Even though the Nebbiolo grape is now also grown in North America, South America, and Australia, the wines are still very different from the legendary Barolo and Barbaresco wines from Piemonte.
The grape is grown all over the region from the white truffle town of Alba to the legendary king and queen of Piemonte, Barolo, and Barbaresco. It is also grown all over the Langhe area and beyond.
The weather in Piemonte is very Northernly meaning a cooler climate than most of Italy. It is a continental climate with hot summers and very cold winters. A big problem in Piemonte is the danger of late night frosts in the spring that can destroy the young buds on the vines and fierce hail storms that can lay entire vineyards to waste.
Nebbiolo is a grape with thick skin and small berries, this creates very tannic wines. It is also a very hard grape to grow, with many clonal variations to choose from and a high degree of mutations in the vineyards.
Wines from Barolo are some of the most tannic wines in the world and they need several years in barrels to soften the high degree of tannins. Historically wine growers in Barolo were split in half when it came to deciding on new or old oak for their Nebbiolo wines, creating two very different styles of Barolo. The disagreement between the winemakers was so great that the modernists with their new oak and the traditionalists with their old oak refused to speak with each other.
Today winemakers are split between two different methods when it comes to winemaking. There is the traditionalist way with a very long maceration of ups to 20-30 days creating extremely tannic wines in need of a very long ageing. Then there is the Modernist method with a much shorter maceration of 7-10 days and storage on new smaller oak barrels. This creates less tannic wines that are easier to drink without the need for a very long ageing. The new oak will also give spice flavours from the new oak in the form of vanilla, cloves and cedar.
The flavour of Nebbiolo
Young Nebbiolo wines will be dominated by notes of flowers in the form of roses and violets. The nose will also be dominated by red berries like cherries and raspberries but also with hints of herbs. With age flavours of tar, truffles and forest floor will start to emerge and also more savoury aromas of leather and dried fruit. When stored in new oak barrels there will also be hints of cedar tree, vanilla and cloves on the nose.
Marius has worked in several parts of the wine business for the last 16 years. He is currently working as a Category Coordinator for wine and spirits in the Travel Retail business. He is also a part of a tasting panel for the financial newspaper in Norway and writes articles and lectures in his spare time.Marius has a huge passion and dedication for the wine and spirits industry. He is a certified Sommelier and is currently undertaking the WSET Diploma in wines and spirits education.