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The grape used to make Barolo and Barbaresco, which may be Italy's finest and most age-worthy wines. Primarily planted in the Piedmont region of NW Italy. Also used in Nebbiolo d'Alba and Spana. Does not seem to achieve greatness outside of the Piedmont region, which may be due to climate, soil or clonal variation. Nebbiolo requires a long growing season with cooler nights to slow down the ripening.

Primary flavors are Cherry (red or dark) and Tar with a lot of variation on the balance between them. On the lighter side you get Tea, Rose & Violet; On the heavier side, Leather, Mushrooms, Iron or Blood. Well-balanced acids and strong tannins when well made.

Traditional vinification methods may have extraordinarily long macerations of 6 or 8 weeks and aging in large vats; modern styles only a week or so with greater utilization of smaller, oak barrels. Cultivation and winery techniques have improved greatly in the last decade.

Lighter styles from a normal year can be accessible in a few years and fade within 10, but highly-extracted, well-made, single-vineyard Barolos and Barbarescos frequently shut down until 10 years or more of age, and have a 10 or 25 year drinking window. Shut down means tannic and not much fruit. Modern styles may be drink easier when younger, without losing much longevity. Also unusual is the need for a longer decanting time: usually several hours, but on a younger Barolo the fruit might not come out to play for 24 or even 48 hours, and a great Barolo can sometimes sit open on the counter for a week without fading. This number-of-days-to-open is one measure of how many years left before you should try the next bottle in your cellar.

Color is toward ruby-red, but characterized by orange or brick, especially at the edge of the glass. Sometimes can be pale, almost pink, or as dark as brown-ruby. But, light colored may still be intensely flavored.

Pricing has gone up a lot, in part due to the great vintages of 1996 to 2001. Aside from Nebbiolo d'Alba it's rare to find Barolo or Barbaresco below $30. Great quality is available between $50 & $100. Only the cult producers are approaching the $200 - $500 range. But, even a lower priced Barolo may require a number of years in the cellar, and a younger Nebbiolo d'Alba may suffer from harsh, green tannins.

Varietal character (Appellation America)

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Edited December 12, 2007 (diff)

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