Friday, April 12, 2013

Grape Variety Report - Nebbiolo

Where Nebbiolo is grown and grapes on a vine

Nebbiolo is a red Italian grape that predominately makes Barolo, Barbaresco, Gattinara, and Ghemme wine. The grape’s name comes from the Italian word “nebbia” which means “fog”. There are a few explanations to whereas this name may have come from. The grapes are usually harvested in late October, and a very dense fog sets into the Langhe region during harvest. Also, it could refer to the “fog-like” milky covering that forms over the grapes as they reach maturity.
            Nebbiolo grapes produce lightly colored red wines, which take on a brick-orange hue as they age and is an extremely notable characteristic of Nebbiolo wines. These wines can also be highly tannic, with scents of tar and roses, in the earlier stages of aging. As they age, they reveal other scents and flavors such as violets, tar, wild herbs, cherries, earthy, roses, wild cherries, plums, raspberries, truffles, tobacco, and prunes. They also have high acidity. The skins are also thin, but quite tough and fairly resistant to molds and pests. These wines can also take many years of aging to balance the high tannins that these grapes have in their youth. 
Nebbiolo grapes

            Nebbiolo is most notably associated with the Piedmont region in Italy, which is in the northwestern part of the country. Although, it is not the most widely grown grape in Piedmont.
There are around 5,100 hectares of Nebbiolo producing 3.3 million gallons of wine, which sounds like a lot, but actually only accounts for a little over 3% of Piedmont’s entire production! In comparison, there is about 15 times the amount of Barbera as Nebbiolo in Piedmont. Nebbiolo is also grown in the Val d’Aosta region, Valtellina, and Franciacorta.
Piedmont and where Nibbolo is found

            Outside of Italy, the United States is also producing the Nebbiolo grape. California, Washington, and Oregon are the top producing states, with the Northern Region of Baja California, Mexico having over 1,100 hectares of the Nebbiolo grape. Argentina has a small amount of the grape, with 81 hectares. There’s a small amount in Australia as well in the region of Victoria.
Nebbiolo thrives best in continental climates, which are characterized by the very marked season changes that occur throughout the growing seasons. For example, hot temperatures during the summer season and temperatures occasionally below freezing in the winter. Although, these conditions cause some viticulture hazards such as frost and hail. The reason Nebbiolo thrives so well in the Piedmont region is due in part to the continental climate and the Tanaro River that produces a lot of water for the inland region. A lot of the soil here is dominated by sand and limestone, with some clay deposits that add to the tannic structure. 
Vineyard with an area specifically for Barolo wines

            In the Piedmont region the Nebbiolo grape is used for Barolo and Barbaresco wines and other DOCG regulated wines. These wines have relatively high alcohol content (12.5%-13%) and are aged in oak for a specific amount of years dictated by the DOCG. They produce powerful concentrated wines that are very full bodied, and have a perfume scent and a silky texture. Ghemme and Gattinara wines in the Novara and Vercelli hills of Piedmont are also made of the Nebbiolo grape. These wines tend to be lighter, earthier wines. These producers in this part of the region are allowed to blend a small percentage of Bonarda, Croatina, and Vespolina into their Nebbiolo wines. The cooler climate in the northern part of the region produces wines with a lot of perfume scents. Wines produced in nearby Alba tend to have more complexity and body, while wines produced in Roero, which is also close to the Tanaro River, tend to be less tannic and lighter. Alba has been known to have the best Nebbiolo wines. Finally, outside of Piedmont, Nebbiolo plantings in Valtellina tend to lack ripeness and can have a very off putting acidic taste to them.
            Nebbiolo is also produced in the United States, specifically in the jug wine producing region of the Central Valley in the California. Although, there has been problems with finding the right soil and area in California to produce high quality Nebbiolo grapes, which is why they’re usually used for jug wines since California wine producers aim for high quality wines.
            Australia has a small amount of plantings of Nebbiolo, but they have found out that the climate in Australia isn’t ideal due to the warmer climate. Although, the Victoria region’s King Valley has a cooler climate and is where Nebbiolo is grown there. They have a small amount of production there.
            Mexico, Chile, and Austria have been experimenting with growing Nebbiolo as well. Although, Mexico has found they have low yielding plants, but with very good color and fine qualities. Chile has produced Nebbiolo with high acidity and poor color, but with extremely high yields, so they are working on different clones that are better suited for their climate. Austria has just begun plantings. 
Nebbiolo from Langhe

            Generally Nebbiolo wines are big, bold, tannic red wines. These wines are paired well with grilled meats and stews and dry, aged cheeses. As stated before, Nebbiolo wines are often aged for a while to balance the tannic structure and to achieve that brick-orange hue around the edge of the wine, and this aging process makes it go well with the cheeses. You could also pair with venison, beef wellington, lamb, ribs, and cheddar cheese.    



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