Nebbiolo: The Complete Guide

Nebbiolo is a really great wine that is produced mainly from grapes that come from the Piedmont region of Italy. Nebbiolo is a deceptive wine that is translucent and has a delicate smell but ends up being high on the tannin and acidity scales.

Nebbiolo: The Complete Guide

As they mature they can grow quite complex, not to mention the brick-orange color the wine takes on at the top of the flute, but also the unique flavors and aromas it opens up with maturity such as tar, tobacco, truffles, and other unique flavors.

Nebbiolo is notably high in tannins too which requires a lot of balancing.

All in all, there is a lot to cover with this unique and complex Italian grape that is used in many popular grapes such as Barolo.

We plan to cover everything today so that you are up to score on Nebbiolo grapes, where you are trying to impress a date or at a wine tasting, find out more about the grape below.

History Of The Nebbiolo Grape

Nebbiolo is thought to have derived its name from the word ‘nebbia’ in Italian which described fog. During harvest in late October a deep fog settles in the vineyards of the Langhe region where many of the grapes are grown.

The botanical name for the Nebbiolo grape is Vitis vinifera (Also check out Chambourcin: Everything You Need To Know), many botanists suggest that the Nebbiolo grapes produced by this plant are indigenous to this region, meaning they have only really ever been grown here and have evolved within this region.

Itw was enjoyed in the Piedmont region of Italy for a long time but in the 18th century the British were looking for alternative wine sources due to political conflict with the French.

While it seems they knew about the grape back then it was particularly hard to export from Italy to England during this time period.

In the 19th century Italian wineries had to deal with a phylloxera epidemic that was caused by aphids from North America.

While this affected many French wineries it also ruined many vineyards in Italy and other grape varieties were tried in the region to help, which is mainly where the Barbera grape would become popular as a result.

Today, Nebbiolo only makes up around 9% of Piedmont varieties while 30% is assumed to be Barbera.

What Does Nebbiolo Wine Taste Like?

Nebbiolo grapes are perhaps most well known in the winetasting world for being deceiving in their looks. The look of the wine can suggest it is quite floral and light due to its color and the fact it is translucent.

In fact the flavor of Nebbiolo grapes is much stronger than suggested thanks to its high tannin content and high acidity. 

With Nebbiolo wine you can expect flavors such as rose, cherry, leather, clay, and anise. While style can have a large effect on the grapes, the gripping tannin structure has the largest effect on the flavor.

Nebbiolo is often called the thinking person’s wine, it’s subtle and simple but can be very complex and bold, if you want to really nose out some flavors and think about your wines and grapes Nebbiolo is a good one to get the sommelier in you thinking about the complexities of wine.

Nebbiolo Wines

Nebbiolo has been understood to be a wine that is particularly conducive to aging. Many of its high quality wines can require some significant aging before becoming palatable, due to the high tannic and acidic content. 

As Nebbiolo ages it can become particularly complex and appealing. It develops some unique and complex flavors as it ages, like tobacco, dried fruit, damsons, mulberries, liquorice, and potentially more.

An aged Nebbiolo has characteristic orange hues that are much different to the boldly purple grape.

Barolo is arguably one of the more popular Nebbiolo wines you might see more commercially produced for grocery stores, but also Barbaresco, these two are particularly heavy and in need of maturing.

This said more modern wineries have started to be able to make younger Nebbiolo wines more palatable. Lighter styles of wine from this grape, from regions such as Carema, Langhe, and Gattarina, can require much less maturing.

How To Pair Food With Nebbiolo Grapes

How To Pair Food With Nebbiolo Grapes

It’s worth noting that Nebbiolo is totally a grape for food wine, and is coveted as such. Its unique flavors allow it to pair with all sorts of interesting food, being both high in tannin and acidity. 

The high acidity can be really great for palate cleansing and as a result is really good for foods that are fatty and creamy, like ricotta. As a result, Nebbiolo could be ideal for a cheese board.

This said, Nebbiolo is still extremely versatile as well due to the wine’s tannin content. 

The tannin in the grape is high because of the grape’s thick skins. Tannins can go well with lighter fare such as fruit and other vegetables, but also is pretty good for heavier foods like meats and game.

Matching the flavors is a good way to go, the truffle flavor of aged Nebbiolo wine can go down well with a truffle dish, or mushroom dish, and the same goes for reb berry or raspberry flavors too.

Anything sweet and smoky goes well with the tobacco notes, and so on.

It’s also a good idea to contrast flavors too, being acidic it can be a good contrast with sweeter things like a dessert or cake. Similarly it is really good with pasta too because pasta can also share many flavors as well as contrast the flavors of the Nebbiolo grape.

One thing that Nebbiolo pairs well with is Asian food. The latter is spicy and savory and often deep and umami but also has acidity, and interplay between sweetness and sourness.

As a result  it can be really fun to pair Nebbiolo with Asian food as the versatile flavors that this wine provides can match with many of those in Asian cooking.

In many ways Nebbiolo might be considered a good beginner food pairing wine. It’s kind of hard to pair the wine incorrectly because it is just so versatile as a wine when pairing with foods, it pretty much goes with anything.

If you buy a nice Barolo and make yourself some nice pasta, you are basically guaranteed to have it paired perfectly and you have a delicious dinner. 

This said, Nebbiollo grapes might not be the best beginner food pairing wine as while it is easy to pair the wine itself can require some experience with other heavy wines before.

Put another way, while it is easy to pair, the wine itself might be a bit too fancy and unique for a wine skeptic. But if you know you are serving people who know about wine, you can’ really go wrong with Nebbiolo.

Nebbiolo By Region

The Nebbiolo grape is mainly produced in the Piedmont area of Italy, but there are some different terroirs and regions within this area that produce different varieties of Nebbiolo grape with different features and advantages.


The Langhe region, pronounced ‘long-hay’ is a unique region with many valleys and hills that provides it with a rich variation of soil types and altitude.

This means that the region of Langhe can produce some different wines within this one area so it can be worth keeping an eye on wine producers rather than just region when Langhe is involved. Barolo, Barbaresco and Roero are all from this region.

An example of this is the fog of Langhe, where Nebbiolo perhaps gets its name. The valleys and slopes of Langhe collect the fog in the early morning which provides a unique growing condition for the grapes, good for some varieties and not for others.

Slow ripening grape varieties are one that don’t appreciate the fog particularly.

This said, the wines from Langhe are reasonably priced for some decent vintages should you be looking for a Nebiollo wine of a cheaper class.

Barolo And Barbaresco

The regions around the villages of Barolo and Barbaresco are carpeted with vineyards, and these villages produce some of the most popular Nebbiolo wines which can go for a quite a pretty penny.

The reason these two villages are beloved in the Nebiollo wine world is that they lie in a terroir just above the fog. As we mentioned the longer maturing grape varieties don’t particularly enjoy the fog, and the longer they are matured the more they cost.

Moreover, these wines that are aged above the fog generally have bolder flavors, more complex and unique flavors, higher tannin and also a higher alcohol content.

As mentioned, some of these grape varieties need to be matured to develop their unique flavor and also to become more palatable.

These grapes are generally those in these two villages as their escape from the fog allows the slower maturing varieties more time and a better environment.

Barolo DOCG has two classifications, from ‘normale’ Barolo which has around 38 months of aging including 18 months in a wooden barrel. While Barolo Riserva DOCG has around 62 months of aging including around 18 months in wood.

Similarly, Barbaresco DOCG has two classifications also. ‘Normale’ Barbaresco has 26 months aging with 9 months in a wooden barrel, while Barbaresco Riserva DOCG has 50 months aging and 9 months in wood barrels.

As you can imagine, with both riservas requiring between 50 – 62 months aging periods, they aren’t super cheap. This is also a result of the location being quite unique, they have to come from their respective villages, which are also the only terriers where these grapes grow the best.


This is a little known region just north of the village of Barolo in Langhe. They make high quality versions of the Nebbiolo wine that are a little lighter and more approachable. 

Wines from Roero naturally have reduced tannins and this region creates some of the lighter versions of the wine that can be really approachable for those who aren;t super keen on the heavy and tannin heavy side of Barolo and other Nebbiolo varieties.

Roero Rosso DOCG must be at least 95% Nebbiolo grapes, have around 20 months of aging as well as 6 months in an oak barrel.

Ghemme, Gattinara, And Colline Novaresi

The further north we go in this region, the closer to the Alps we get, generally the wine becomes much lighter and much French in its style, but these are still Nebbiolo grapes.

If anything the variation in Piedmont demonstrates how much different terroirs and even altitude can have a huge effect on the final result of the wine.

In the northern part of Piedmont both Ghemme and Gattinara straddle the Sesia River on the east and west respectively.

They have much more floral notes with a tart and earthy finish, but still retain the high acidity we understand of the grape. Some of the younger wines are quite cheap while the more mature versions can cost a little more.


Nebbiolo also grows in Lombardy where it is called Chiavennasca, although it refers to the same grape just grown in a different region.

Near Lake Como where the Nebbiolo creeps up the south facing slopes you will find the most elegant version of the grape. Here the wines are floral and sophisticated with less tannins and dark notes but much more fruit and aromas.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, Nebbiolo grapes are particularly unique. Due to their thick skins they have a particularly high tannin content and are also quite acidic.

Often they can be expensive as in the popular regions they are matured to be more palatable. Due to being high in tannin as well as acidity Barolo and other Nebbiolo wines are particularly good to pair with food as they are quite versatile and can work with a lot.

Wines from the villages of Barolo and Barbaresco are considered to be the most sought after regions for this grape.

Sarah Perez
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