A Mini-Guide to the Many Wines of Nebbiolo
- Written by Diana Zahuranec
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How many certified DOC and DOCG wines does Nebbiolo make in Piemonte? The answer is probably more than you would guess.
Outside of the rosy wine bubble that is Piemonte, the casual wine drinker recognizes the "3 B's" of Piemontese wine: Barolo, Barbaresco, and Barbera. Often, their knowledge stops there. Many of them might not recognize Nebbiolo, or if so they've run it through their minds like a complicated foreign word ("this wine is 85% Nebmumble and 15%...") – which, in effect, it is – and then promptly forgotten it.
It's the Nebbiolo (neb-bee-OL-oh) grape that makes up 100% of Barolo and Barbaresco. And, it has more surprises waiting in its cups: there are currently 15 different certified DOC or DOCG wines in Piemonte made from Nebbiolo.
Each wine is incredibly different, too. Though some of these territories are tiny, they vary from hill to hill. In general, some common attributes that are found in a Nebbiolo wine are: garnet red in color; scents of violets, berries, and spices; dry, and pleasantly tannic or velvety; and subtle notes of bitter almond to taste. That, of course, just skims the top.
Below are the types of wine that Nebbiolo makes. By the end you'll be thinking, "Why hasn't anyone told me this before?" and will run out to the nearest liquor store to pick some up. Don't be surprised to discover that many of them are uncommon even in Piemonte.
In order from (arguably) the most well-known to the least:
Wine Pass Zones: Barolo, Barbaresco, Langhe, Roero, Monferrato
1. Barolo DOCG is the best-known Nebbiolo wine. Its name derives from the small town in the heart of the Barolo production zone. However, it is produced in 11 hillside towns, not just in Barolo itself. The wines fall into two general categories: well-structured and full-bodied that just get better with time, and elegant wines that are enjoyable at a younger age. Barolo, a classic meditation wine, has an aroma of roses and violets, mature fruit, and spices; it's full-bodied and dry and has a distinct aftertaste of liquorice. See our Barolo Focus
2. Barbaresco DOCG is sometimes called the "cousin of Barolo," as its territory is just two steps away from Barolo. The rich soils of these hills grows grapes that make a wine with aromas of vanilla, cinnamon, green pepper, raspberries, and sometimes fruit jam and even hazelnut. Its intense flavor is immediately satisfying. See our Barbaresco Focus
3. Roero DOCG is made of at least 95% Nebbiolo and 2-5% black grapes suitable for cultivation in Piemonte. This delicate Nebbiolo has aromas of strawberry, raspberry, rose, and geranium. Charles Albert Savoy was so enamored with "nebbiolino" that he bought vineyards to make his own wine in the royal cellars of his castle in Pollenzo. Today, that castle is the seat of the University of Gastronomic Sciences and its Wine Bank is housed in the old Savoy cellars. Learn more about the Roero wine zone
4. Nebbiolo d'Alba DOC is produced between Barolo and Barbaresco, and in fact displays characteristics of both: near the two zones, the wines are full-bodied and age very well. Further away, they're delicate and best young. Both types are fragrant with flowers and forest wildberries, hints of spices, and a balanced, dry taste.
5. Langhe Nebbiolo DOC falls in the Langhe DOC territory that certifies several wines made in that region, effectively separating them from the next level of wine in Piemonte: table wine. Traditionally, Langhe certifications are limited, and because Piemonte does not have the third-tier certification IGT, wines are grouped together in the final category of the lowly table wine. The high quality of these wines, however, merited recognition and so this larger DOC region was established. The Langhe Nebbiolo must be at least 85% Nebbiolo and max 15% non-aromatic, black grapes suitable for the region. It has delicate scents of raspberry and violet, and is dry and robust with big body and soft tannins.
6. Albugnano DOC comes from a tiny town in the Asti province with the claim to fame that its belvedere, or site where an ancient lookout tower once stood, is the highest point in all the Monferrato. May be made from min. 85% Nebbiolo and max. 15% Freisa, Barbera, and/or Bonarda. It has a distinctive and delicate aroma, at times vinous, and is dry with a good body and flavors of red fruits like strawberry and cherry.
Wine Pass Zones: Torinese, Alto Piemonte
7. Gattinara DOCG is perhaps the best-known northern Nebbiolo wine, with important historical figures like Pliny and Medieval documents testifying to its quality centuries ago. 90-100% Nebbiolo is blended with max 4% Vespolina and/or up to 10% Bonarda to make a wine that is able to stand long aging. It has a violet aroma and a dry, velvety taste. Read our Gattinara Focus
8. Carema DOC is made from a minimum of 85% Nebbiolo grapes, and max 15% of non-aromatic red grapes from the winery's land that are ideal for vineyard cultivation in the province of Turin. In Carema, actually, two local variations of Nebbiolo are used, Picutener and Pugnet. Its vineyards are spectacular, clinging to terraces and concrete pillars on the hillsides. The wine smells of delicate rose and has a soft, velvet texture. Read our Carema Focus
9. Boca DOC is the northernmost wine in Piemonte. It's a blend of 70-90% Nebbiolo, called Spanna in northern Piemonte, and max 30% Vespolina and Bonarda Novarese, sometimes called Uva Rara. Its intense aroma hints of sweet violets and spices; it is dry, slightly bitter, and has an aftertaste of pomegranate. Read our Boca Focus
10. Bramaterra DOC is made in a relatively larger territory than the other northern Nebbiolos, between Lessona and Gattinara. It's 50-80% Nebbiolo plus max 30% Croatina and/or max 20% Bonarda and Vespolina. It has a persistent aroma of flowers with hints of spice and a faint almond taste with good structure.
11. Lessona DOC is made in the smallest area and produces a very rare wine. It's made of min 85% Nebbiolo and up to 15% Bonarda Novarese and/or Vespolina. The wine is fruity with a scent of violets and wildflower, dry and pleasantly tannic in the mouth.
12. Ghemme DOCG, also from a small territory, uses 85% Nebbiolo and 15% of Vespolina and Bonarda Novarese to make a fruity wine with an intense violet aroma. It's dry with a touch of bitterness and a refreshing acidity. Read our Ghemme Focus
13. Fara DOC is made in just two towns, Fara and Briona, from 50-70% Nebbiolo, max 50% Vespolina and Bonarda Novarese, and max 10% of other red grapes suitable for Piemontese cultivation. It smells of flowers and violets with a dry taste that can be bitter but balanced.
14. Sizzano DOC, produced only in the town of Sizzano, is another wine favored by documented history when the Count of Cavour praised it in a letter of thanks to the one who gave it to him. It is 50-70% Nebbiolo, max 50% Vespolina and Bonarda Novarese, and max 10% of other red grapes suitable for Piemontese cultivation. It has a delicate violet aroma with hints of cinnamon and spices, and is pleasantly dry and balanced with soft tannins.
15. Canavese Nebbiolo DOC is produced in the provinces of Torino and Biella where Nebbiolo and Barbera are the two most grown grapes. According to several sites online, it seems to come at very reasonable prices for excellent quality (around €10 and even less). It must have min 85% Nebbiolo plus max 15% other red, non-aromatic grapes suitable for cultivation in Piemonte. Garnet red with orange reflections, it is delicate and slightly floral on the nose, and dry, full-bodied, and slightly tannic on the palate.
Nebbiolo, you busy little grape, you! Count yourself lucky if you manage to track down one of these lesser-known wines; in the meantime, get to know the other Nebbiolo wines that you can find.
Consorzio Tutela Vini D.O.C. Caluso Carema Canavese
Consorzio Tutela Nebbioli Alto Piemonte
Consorzio di Tutela Barolo Barbaresco Alba Langhe e Roero
Ministero delle Politiche Agricole e Forestali: Disciplinare di Produzione dei Vini a Denominazione di Origine Controllata "Carema"
Torino DOC 2012-2013: Selezione enologica della Camera Commercia di Torino
Please note that an earlier version of this article listed 13 Nebbiolo-based wines, and Canavese Nebbiolo DOC and Albugnano DOC were included later.