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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Nebbiolo and the Fog


The fog. I hardly understand what thing is the fog, and I don't like it. It makes things grey, it limits my sight, but when I discovered how it feeds and protects the acids of the grapes from which comes my favorite wine I changed my mind.


Those poetic words were written by a Piemontese friend to explain the Nebbiolo grape to me. Nebbiolo, which grows in a relatively small region in Piemonte, is something you should get to know, if you don’t already, when here in northern Italy, as it is considered by many to be the most noble of all Italian grapes. Nebbia means fog, and each autumn, when the intense fog comes rolling in and hangs over the Langhe region where the Nebbiolo grows, it creates conditions that have been impossible to duplicate anywhere else on Earth, and wines considered among Italy’s best. As my friend describes it,


The fog has a reason. Nebbiolo, precisely. We Piemontese have grown up with the Nebbiolo. It is the wine of Sunday, of holidays, to open on special occasions, and on the Nebbiolo have we developed our fine taste for wine in general. Perhaps it is for this that it is so difficult for us to find a wine better than this. More than 30 different wines are made with the Nebbiolo grape, all of them particular in their own right, but the Barolo, Barbaresco, and the Gattinara represent the best, the excellence that can be achieved. Its brilliant ruby red color, that tends toward garnet with reflections of orange with the years, its perfume elegant and delicate, of rose and violet, its taste dry and velvety, with good body and medium tannens, of fruit and pink berries, especially raspberry, all of this over time assuming a hint of tobacco, all combine together like a romance in a glass.


Truly an elegant description of an elegant wine. As a rule Nebbiolo wines are dark red and have a high level of alcohol. They have a rich aftertaste. They take a long time to mature fully; when they do the wine takes on its characteristic brownish-red color at the rim. These wines go well with strong flavored meats and stews and with strong cheeses that may overpower the taste of other lighter wines. For all the different wines produced from the Nebbiolo it still only amounts to 3% of the wine production in Piemonte. The Barolo and Barbaresco, so called for the towns of the same name, are given the most respect; wines from outside the designated region go by Langhe Nebbiolo and Nebbiolo d’Alba, among others. For all these reasons, a bottle of Nebbiolo wine will tend to cost more than other Piemontese wines such as Barbera or Dolcetto. One pays for rarity. I'll let his words summarize it for us,


It's been attempted to cultivate the Nebbiolo in other places in the world, but it has always failed. In the way that God has fixed the stars in their certain points in the sky to guide millions of travelers, perhaps he has also put the Nebbiolo here, in Piemonte, with the fog and the perfect conditions, as a fixed starting point, the reference point, for other wine to look to.

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