Mike Bennie on why Australians are increasingly drinking the nebbiolo variety.
Nebbiolo is a finicky grape variety, rarely seen outside of the famed wine-growing regions of Barolo and Barbaresco in Piedmont, Italy, but there’s a sect of Australian wine producers who are obsessed with it. The best examples thrill drinkers with their haunting fragrance redolent of char, tar, decaying rose petals, pot pourri and cherries. The wines made from the dark skinned grape groan like Gregorian chants on the palate with firm, sinewy tannins. It’s a grape responsible for what could be argued are some of the world’s best wines, and longest to live in cellar.
“I think it makes the most perfumed, rustic, beautiful wines in the world,” says Luke Lambert, one of the young guns of Victoria’s Yarra Valley. “And there’s no other variety that compares to nebbiolo for food compatibility. It just makes you want to eat.”
Most winemakers agree it’s also one of the most challenging grape varieties to grow, needing plenty of time to ripen properly – preferably slowly – and it needs just the right amount of sunshine to negate the full force of tannin from its thick, chewy skins.
Australian grape growers are canny, however, and plantings of nebbiolo are found widely around Australian wine regions, albeit in generally small quantity. Wine merchant David Matters of Sydney’s Best Cellars sells plenty of examples from the spiritual home of Piedmont, but also reckons there’s potential Down Under. “When nebbiolo is grown in the right place in Australia, and handled judiciously by good winemakers, it’s fantastic,” he says.
“We’re seeing increasingly good wines, cellar-worthy wines, that stack up to the Italian yardsticks,” he continues. “There’s now a raft of Australians who are choosing to carefully work with nebbiolo, and the resulting wines should be firmly on the radars of those seeking medium weight, savoury red wines defined by tannin and fragrant perfume.”
To date, the best regions in Australia for growing and making nebbiolo are the Yarra Valley with its small clutch of producers including Luke Lambert and Mac Forbes, the cool reaches of the Adelaide Hills where Ngeringa and Adelina produce thrilling examples, King Valley where Pizzini create a mature release, heavy hitting style, and the Pyrenees of Victoria where a gaggle of younger generation producers like David Fletcher (who lives in Piedmont, but also makes Australian nebbiolo), works alongside Joshua Cooper, Lethbridge and Latta Wines, as examples.
Winemaker Colin McBryde brings to life nebbiolo under his Adelina label, and has several vintages under his belt working with vineyards in the Adelaide Hills. His fine, elegant expression of the variety is wildly perfumed and succulent in texture. “I like the disparity between that gentle colour and the often commanding tannin profile,” says McBryde. “I like tasting the grapes and being left with the flavour for near hours.”
“It seems like the ultimate challenge – to make varietal, expressive, savoury, perfumed nebbiolo here in Australia,” says Lambert, “There’s a long way to go but I think there will hopefully be some very serious Nebbiolo made here.”
Four to Try
2014 Luke Lambert Nebbiolo
(Yarra Valley, VIC, $55)
The Yarra Valley and nebbiolo are easy bedfellows, especially the Denton Vineyard where Lambert sources his fruit from. Perfume of red berries and pickled cherries with pepper, savoury nuttiness and dried herbs. The palate has a juiciness, brisk acidity and chompy tannins. Wonderful to drink and will cellar for a long time.
2014 Ravensworth Nebbiolo
(Hilltops, NSW, $33)
Winemaker Bryan Martin keeps the grape juice in contact with the grape skins for longer than most winemakers, and the result is a wine that shows ripeness of fruit, mouthwatering acidity and ropes of firm, dusty-textured tannins. It’s also wildly aromatic with briar and berry fruit. Stunning with red sauce pasta dishes.
2014 Latta Malakoff Young Skin No.1 Non Dos (Zero SO2) Nebbiolo
(Pyrenees, VIC, $40)
Young winemaker Owen Latta sources from the Malakoff Vineyard, ferments naturally, uses no additives, and finishes it off without adding sulphur as a preservative. Superb to drink – shows amaro, earth and dark fruit in bouquet, and is supple in the palate with soft, powdery tannins. Yum.
2012 Adelina Nebbiolo
(Adelaide Hills, SA, $40)
This is the kind of nebbiolo that Italianophile naysayers of Australian examples need to see. Bold perfume. Heroic tannin. Succulence. Complexity. Impossibly long in flavour. It flushes the palate with savoury yet brooding fruit flavour. It works with charred steaks, stews, terrine, pizza. Bravo.