Varietal Article


Last edited on 12/12/2007 by ParkHill
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Varietal character (Appellation America)

The grape used in Barolo and Barbaresco, perhaps Italy's finest and most age-worthy wines from the Piedmont region of NW Italy. Also used in Nebbiolo d'Alba, Spana. Seldom presents good wines 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 (even harsh) tannins when well made.

Traditional vinification methods may have extraordinarily long macerations of 6 or 8 weeks, more modern styles only a week or so with more utilization of smaller, oak barrels.

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. 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.

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.