Over Christmas last year I was attempting to convert my father into a Nebbiolo-person. He's currently a Cabernet-Pinot-person and for the record I am very much a Nebbiolo-person which can be an impoverished state of self but still may be a slightly better financial option than being a Pinot-from-Burgundy-person. Anyway, he was an eager pupil but struggled with the lack of immediacy and the very direct firmness of the wine. He became frustrated and punished himself a bit over not getting it. While that's an entirely typical Riley family response, this was a left-field subject matter and the example I used wasn't perfect. It wasn't bad either, but just that and with my accompanying emphatic explanation wasn't going to be enough for a successful conversion. It's a very difficult wine to explain even for the fully indoctrinated (who become so annoyingly devout they may start refusing other drinks), but I'll make an attempt that may help enlighten you as to Nebbiolo's virtuosity.
Nebbiolo isn't like any other red grape or red wine so it needs to be viewed through a different lens. It involves a different literacy*: a language where tannin is not only structural (hugely structural) but provides a sweet nuttiness of flavour and a complicated woody 'fruit skins' character. It has abundant acidity and often alcohol too, which when combined with all that tannin is capable of creating an extraordinarily mouthwatering and penetrating saturation of flavour. Fruit flavours and aromas seem to come along for the ride and their spectrum is more unexpected and complicated. Forget about colour, it's often lousy and misleading anyway. In fact a psychological phenomenon called autosuggestion gets in the way of your brains ability to separate it from flavour**. This is something we also encounter in Pinot Noir but have perhaps become a little better attuned to its pretty sweetness (Just because you lack a few of the five coloured anthocyanins doesn't mean you lack flavour - think about white wine..🤷‍♂️).
Another more abstract way of explaining the organoleptic facet of Nebbiolo is to think of it as tasting the whole fruit, not just its juice. If Syrah is the sweet glass of orange juice, then Nebbiolo is the whole orange, pith, skin and all, or maybe even a dessicated slice of orange. Nebbiolo rejoices in the tougher pithiness and acidity of fruit and when it's great the fruit flavours are deep, wild, foresty and seriously compact.
Once upon a time, amidst a tasting set of special Nebbiolo (Nebbioli?) at something called the Advanced Wine Assessment Course***, a small part of my brain was formed and I became a Nebbiolo-person. The course was instructed by Dr Peter Godden, a remarkable palate and  perhaps the proto-Nebbiolo-person in Australia. He explained how the climactic feature of a good Nebbiolo is the crescendo that culminates in an amalgamated acid-tannin-alcohol fissive impact of super-saturated flavour. It's not heavy, bulky, thick or broad. It's not lavish or maybe not even rich, but instead a purely powerful, tightly twisted and focussed unleashing of flavour-plasma in the centre-back palate that just keeps going and going. If you take a mouthful of Syrah afterwards it's like someone has given you a piece of confectionery. Take a Cabernet next and its presence seems colder and doesn't penetrate quite the same despite having some tannin muscle. It's hard to equal the sheer traction of this grape. All that tannin, acid and alcohol is substrate for an incredible aging potential as long as the concentration of flavour and balance is there too. (It's worth noting that when Nebbiolo is not good it's often harsh, tough, lumpy, thin and or acrid).
It can be tricky to find an archetype to best exemplify all this gas-bagging about Nebbiolo, especially an affordable one... and then 2016 happened. Thanks God. Thanks like so much. Thank you. 2016 was a perfect vintage in most of Piedmonte (Barolo, Barbaresco, Langhe etc.). You'd have to be a bit of a banana to make a bad wine in 2016 and if you're any real chop your Langhe or Nebbiolo d'Alba should be very very good, not just your Barolo and Barbaresco. At circa $45-55 AUD (so thats like €3 or something, ha-ha) Vietti's Perbacco is an exceptional example of what Nebbiolo does: sappy woody tannin, dried peach, nectarine skin and that bit of flesh close to the pip of a cherry, pomegranate, a little pepper, lingering aniseed and that whistling turbo wind up of acid-tannin-alcohol... brrrrap. There are lots of great examples in 2016 so if you want to better understand this grape then get stuck in, but the Vietti does have a very pretty label so that makes it better of course. (Thanks to Nebbiolo-person John Saunders for supplying the wine btw, very kind!). www.vietti.com
*Even the viticulture is really unusual: funny tall triffid vines on very high trellises with all the bunches hanging nude down low near the cordon. Nebbiolo even likes conditions many other grapes fail in, higher humidity, warmish nights and some heavy slightly damper clay based soils. The vinification also tends to enjoy some measure of oxidative handling which destroys delicate aromatics in most varieties. There is so much tannin to sacrifice that it acts like a mop for oxygen in the wine, so it's ultimately very stable.
**In sensory practice 'autosuggestion' is when your eyes suggest to your brain that your palate is experiencing something it isn't.
***Hosted at the University of Adelaide's Australian Wine Research Institute.