Nebbiolo — A Guide to the Basics

Without it, there would be no Barolo or Barbaresco.

Nebbiolo grapes
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Unlike many other great grape varieties, Nebbiolo is geographically limited. A handful of very good examples can be found in Baja California and Arizona, but this is a grape whose reputation is firmly rooted in Italy's Piedmont region, where it reaches its peak with Barolo and Barbaresco. These are wines that often evolve over the decades into reds of haunting perfume, unforgettable savoriness, and food-pairing magnificence.

What is Nebbiolo Wine?

Nebbiolo is the name of the red grape variety that is used to produce the great bottlings of Barolo and Barbaresco, both of which are required by law to be crafted entirely from it. It's also at the heart of the red wines of nearby Roero, also in Piedmont, as well as Gattinara. In all four places, the wines produced from Nebbiolo show both the inherent character of the grape variety itself as well as the unique attributes of the terroir and micro-climate in each.

Where Does Nebbiolo Wine Come From?

Nebbiolo is most famously grown in the Piedmont (or, in Italian, Piemonte) region of Italy, which is located in the northwest of the country. The two most famous wines from Piedmont are both crafted entirely from Nebbiolo: Barolo and Barbaresco. Traditionally, Barolo was the more powerful of the two, but painting either with too broad of a brush is inherently misleading. Since each is composed of so many constituent communes, individual hillsides, single vineyards, and more, the range of styles and expressions is remarkable. The Nebbiolo-based wines in Barolo's La Morra, for example, are very different from the ones grown in Serralunga d'Alba. In Barbaresco, the wines from Neive are recognizably different from the ones grown in Treiso. And when it comes to single vineyards and MGAs (essentially the Italian version of the French concept of cru), the parsing out of the land gets even more granular.

In addition to Barolo and Barbaresco, excellent Nebbiolo-based wines are made in Roero, also in Piedmont. There, Nebbiolo is the heart of both Roero and Roero Riserva, as it is with Gattinara, another less-famous yet still very worthy Nebbiolo-based wine. Langhe Nebbiolo is a red wine based on its namesake grape variety, and is a wonderful way to experience Piedmont's Nebbiolo-based red wines without having to spend a lot of money, or even usually wait all that long for the wine to be ready. (Barolo and Barbaresco often need several years to mature before they're at their best.)

In addition, pockets of Nebbiolo can be found in Mexico's Baja California as well as in Arizona, where Caduceus Cellars produces excellent ones.

Why Should You Drink Nebbiolo Wine?

Nebbiolo produces some of the most profound wines in Italy. Among the great reds of the country, it's typically listed alongside standouts like Brunello di Montalcino and Chianti Classico (both Sangiovese-based wines), among others. Nebbiolo not only produces excellent wine as a result of the character of the variety itself, but it also has the ability to transmit the nature of the land in which it's grown with particular clarity and profundity. It is deeply tied to this part of Italy in long-standing and fascinating ways.

Wines produced from Nebbiolo also have the ability to age brilliantly, which makes them excellent additions to personal wine collections. A good strategy for collecting wines crafted from the variety is to stock up on earlier-drinking ones, like Roero Rosso or Langhe Nebbiolo.

What Does Nebbiolo Taste Like?

Nebbiolo, for all its age-worthiness when grown in the best locations, is actually not an overtly powerful grape variety. Its color tends towards the translucent, as opposed to more opaque and dark reds from grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah. Still, these wines have plenty of complexity and structure, and the best examples are energetic with acidity and framed with assertive tannins that enable them to age for decades.

In their youth, Nebbiolo-based red wines tend to showcase berries and cherries, as well as hints of citrus along the lines of blood orange, the savoriness of minerals or tar, and hints of mushrooms. As these wines mature, however, roses and truffles often emerge, and alongside the fruit and tar, the resulting complexity and depth is nothing less than haunting.

Nebbiolo should be enjoyed from a Nebbiolo or Pinot Noir glass, and at slightly less cool than cellar temperature. Still, don't chill them down too much: Cold Nebbiolo will come off as off-puttingly tannic and astringent. Decanting a great bottle of Barolo or Barbaresco is generally a good idea, as is pairing it with food. Nebbiolo with truffles is a classic — in Piedmont, a beloved standard is the egg-yolk-rich pasta tajarin with white truffles shaved on top. Nebbiolo also works very well with beef and hard cheeses; the fat and protein in the food helps to tame the wine's structure and allow more of its inner complexity to shine through.

Five Great Nebbiolo Wines

There are countless great Nebbiolo wines on the market today. These five producers, listed alphabetically, are a perfect way to start exploring all that Nebbiolo has to offer.


One of the most iconic producers of Barbaresco and Barolo, and a leader in the renaissance of these great wines, the work of Angelo Gaja and his family enjoys a reputation that goes far beyond Piedmont. The 2019 Dagromis Barolo is built for the cellar, though with ten to fifteen minutes of air, beautifully translucent cherry notes emerge, which are joined by distinct rose petal notes and a hint of chamomile, woodsy spice, and a long, grippy finish that lingers with bergamot, allspice, and a fantastic spine of minerality. The 2019 Barbaresco needs more time in the glass–or, even better, a stint in the decanter–but hiding beneath its initial quietude is a wine of elegance and subte strength, with wild strawberries, Morello cherries, the suggestion of rose water, and raspberries alongside rooibos tea, blood orange, and a serious core of minerality that rides through the long, balanced finish. Both of these would make excellent additions to a collection.

Pio Cesare

One of the iconic producers of Piedmont, Pio Cesare has been making wine since 1881, and their lineup is well-known and highly respected. A recent tasting of their 2001 Barolo was outstanding: A pure beam of aromatic violets informed red cherries, just-fallen autumn leaves, and white truffles before a palate thrumming with licorice, lavender, orange peels, cranberries, and tar. It's silky and energetic, and at its peak right now.

Renato Ratti

Ratti produces a range of wines in Piedmont, including four standout Barolo bottlings. Their 2016 Barolo DOCG Marcenasco is at a fabulous point in its evolution, a maturing yet still vibrant expression of La Morra whose lifted aromatics of rose hips, dried orange peel, and licorice are countered by hints of forest floor, all of which tee up a palate of elegance and energy, with red berries and pomegranate seeds lent depth with dried flowers, blood oranges, bing cherries, and woodsy spice. It can certainly age for years more, but it's hard to resist right now.

Tenuta Cucco

Cucco has been producing wine since 1967, and their 2016 Barolo DOCG Cerrati is terrific. It's from a south-southwest facing site in Serralunga d'Alba, and while it's still dominated by its tannic structure, it holds great promise for the cellar: In another five to ten years, this should really shine. Right now, however, decanting will allow its singed mint and sage, fresh cherries, mountain berries, lavender, cracked peppercorns, and dried porcini broth to come through with serious appeal.


Family-owned for more than half a century, Villadoria produces reds, white, and rosés. Their 2014 Bricco Magno Langhe Nebbiolo proves that wines labeled as such can absolutely age well: This one still has time to go, but its dehydrated strawberries, cranberries, and orange peel notes, all flecked with rooibos tea, are still framed by tannins that promise another seven to ten years of evolution, and possibly more. Their 2014 Barolo del Commune di Serralunga d'Alba is also a savory treat, the dried leaves and fresh-shaved truffles joined by rose hips, white peppercorn, cherries, and the faintest suggestion of cherry pits.

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