Nebbiolo, the King of Grapes!

Wine is made in all 50 states. But, we also import a lot of wine. France, New Zealand (Thanks Kim) and Australia are all high on the list - but at the top, as you might assume, is Italy.

This, of course, is because of Prosecco. Prosecco is protected by the Italian government, so you can only call your sparkling wine Prosecco if it’s made with at least 85% Glera grapes and those grapes come from the Veneto or from the neighboring Friuli.

While Prosecco is the most popular Italian wine here in the US, the most prized, one could argue, would be Barolo. People seek out Prosecco for good value bubbles, but most people know about the regal nature (and inherent price tag) that comes with Barolo.

Barolo wines are made with the Nebbiolo grape. Nebbiolo appears light in color but is extremely intense in aroma and flavor. It is full of characteristics like cherries, roses, leather, tar, anise and tobacco. It has wonderful acidity (to stand up to all those delicious tomato dishes) and tannin for days (so you can even have one with your ribeye).

Although Barolos (grapes grown within the limits of Barolo, in Piedmont) are often the priciest of wines made with Nebbiolo, there are other places to go for great value wines made with that same grape. Barbaresco, right next door, would be the easy answer (although still pricey). But if you go a bit outside Barolo for ‘Langhe Nebbiolo’ or a bit to the north for Nebbiolo from ‘Alto (or Northern) Piedmont’ you can still find some gems.

Ioppa, in Northern Piedmont are a 6th generation family of grape growers who started working with Cristiano Garella in 2015. Cristiano has his hands in about 20 different projects throughout the Northern Piedmont area (hint - that’s all of them). If you’re drinking quality wine from this area, he made it or told the winemaker how to make it. This new take on old school piedmont is delightful.

Their ‘2020 Colline Novaresi’ ($20) smells like cherries, roses and pine. It is light in color, medium in body, with drying tannins and a perfect blend of juicy and tart red fruit on the palate. It might be the best value Nebbiolo on the planet. But if you’re looking for something special, the ‘2016 Ghemme’ ($37) is more complex with developed characteristics of earth, tobacco, spice and dried fruits. If it was made 80 miles to the south (in Barolo) it would easily cost 3-4 times as much.

The history of the Vietti winery in Barolo dates back to the 1800s but in 1952, instead of making one Barolo from all his different vineyard sites, Alfredo Currado (husband of Luciana Vietti) began to vinify and bottle his Barolo wines under single vineyard designations.

While those single vineyard Barolos are not cheap, Luca Currado still makes some more affordable wines. The Vietti ‘Perbacco’ ($27) is one of the best values in wine. The grapes are picked and vinified from one of the most prized sites in Barolo: Castiglione.  On the east side of Barolo in the Serralunga valley, Castiglione is known for producing velvety, concentrated, more powerful styles of Barolo. Upon tasting, Lucca decides which juice will remain in barrels for the full 3 years required to label the wine as Barolo (and cost double!), and which juice will get the measly 2 years in the same oak barrels and be ready to drink today under the Perbacco label.  

No wines made with Nebbiolo grapes are cheap. It’s a tough grape to grow. Plus, the best wines made with Nebbiolo (Barolos and Barbarescos, arguably) take years to become ready to drink (they’re too tannic, astringent and bitter in their youth). But, from the Langhe hills surrounding the prized sites of Barolo, to the foothills of the Alps in Northern Piedmont, you can still find value if you know where to look.
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