About that Nebbiolo…

My brother told me the other day that Nebbiolo is named after the Italian word for fog.  The fog is that dusty film that covers the outside of all grapes, whether they are ripening on the vines in Piedmont, or in a plastic bag in the supermarket.  Blueberries have these fog clouds, too.  This fog is the yeast colonies that settle on the outside of the fruit, drawn the sugar stored behind the skins, I imagine.  This yeast is the yeast that eventually ferments the wine.  As any homebrewer knows, when you make beer, you have to add the yeast yourself.  When you make wine, the yeast comes to you.


Nebbiolo is the grape, and I will be paying it a visit in a few weeks with my sommelier chef brother.  The wine that is made from these Nebbiolo cloud grapes is Barolo.  I have tasted Barolo before with my brother.  And last week I tried a Nebbiolo d’Alba.  Both of these wines are made in Piedmont, and both of these wines are from 100% Nebbiolo grapes.  And they are so different.


Here is a random smattering of some other people’s word attempts to capture the personality of the Barolo:


a stern-faced ‘worthy’ of Italian wine; a big, tough, terrifying red; a giant of propriety; dark, chewy, and exhausting for the first few years of their life, yet which can blossom out into a remarkable shower of flavours; a class apart; massive


To me, a Barolo tastes like a very old house with glass windows that have started to waver with time.  The windows face east, and the sun is shining into them at an angle, and as a square of the wood heats up under the sun, it comes alive with the smells of time.  And it changes.  A carpenter once told me that wood is a vein. It changes with water, and it absorbs from the air.  The older the wood is, the more life it has absorbed and can breathe out.


This is almost, very nearly, what a Barolo tastes like when it’s ripe. An earlier version of the Floor Scrapers by Caillebotte.