Nebbiolo is the best red grape variety in the world next to Pinot Noir and who says anything different is a wine ignorant. It certainly isn’t the best grape variety to grow as it buds early and ripens late giving many vignerons major headaches but when everything goes well, wines from Nebbiolo can reach gates of heaven. In a good vintage Nebbiolo offers everything you want – distinctive and mesmerising aromas and flavours, freshness and longevity, power and elegance, structure and subtlety and it is super food-friendly.
Now Australia is the second biggest producer of Nebbiolo in the world after Italy! Isn´t it great news? Well it looks good on paper but the fact is that there is one hundred times less Nebbiolo in Australia than in Italy so yes, second biggest but still miniscule. Realise, only roughly 120 hectares (of very young vines) is enough to become the second largest Nebbiolo producer in the world…
What about quality? Are any Australian Nebbs comparable to Piedmont nobility? Two Aussie winemakers gave me their opinion on why there is no (or almost no) Nebbiolo in Australia to be good enough to proudly stand next to Barolos and Barbarescos.
Statement 1: Australian Nebbiolo producers mostly don’t understand the variety as they haven’t tasted enough great Nebbiolo expressions from Piedmont and Valtellina and moreover, they often don’t have any experience with growing and processing this grape in a respected Piedmont winery. Simply, no one can make great Nebbiolo without knowing and understanding the grape in its original region.
Statement 2: It is possible to make serious Nebbiolo in Australia right now but it is almost impossible to sell it. Nebbiolo is still something very new to Australian consumers who would struggle to approach wines that aren’t immediately approachable and need to spend considerable time in cellar. Therefor we prefer to produce more simple, approachable and affordable Nebbs hoping for a later demand for big, structured and long living Nebbiolos. Simply, lets offer customers some quaffable and juicy decently priced Nebbs, get them accustomed to it and then push for more serious and challenging wines.
Who of these two winemakers are right? I would say both, but I would add: If you don’t want to make serious wine from Nebbiolo just don’t grow it and go plant some Gamay. Howgh!
Following semi-blind tasting of seven Australian Nebbiolos from seven different GIs should reveal whether there is a reason for planting more of this beautiful grape in Australian vineyards.
La Petite Mort Nebbiolo/Ballanolo 2014, Granite Belt, RRP $60
Flinty as hell! Swirling, swirling, swirling… yes it´s there, somewhere far behind but it´s there I can sense it! After eighty years of vigorous swirling Ballanolo reveals its magic – incredibly elegant and subtle aromas of cherries, raspberries, rosehips, roses, some mulberries plus lots of tar, oh yes. Fantastic palate, rich, deep, smooth yet with extra back bone (all of that with 12,4 % of alcohol!). When slowly opening the wine shows extraordinary array of flavours from cherries and blackberries to liquorice, char coal and tar. Mineral and long finish. It is just delicious.
But there is a catch. La Petite Mort is a side project of Bent Road Winery in Ballandean focusing on experimental/trial batch winemaking therefor the consistency of this wine might be questionable. Anyway, this wine is something special – hiding behind a hideous label and a wall of reductive aromas – it will reward open minded drinkers and few centuries of decanting. Buy it if you can!
Luke Lambert Nebbiolo 2015, Yarra Valley, RRP $65
I heard a lot about this Nebb and maybe that’s why I expected nothing less than an exceptional experience. Well, it´s not an exceptional wine but ´only´ a damn good wine and the most serious Nebbiolo in this line up.
Elegant, clean and intensive on the nose with aromas of mulberries, rose hip, dark cherries, rubber eraser, liquorice and tar – very typical. Darker in colour, bit of a heavyweight, ripe and juicy with smooth and elegant yet numbing tannins. Flavours of cherry juice, strawberries, raspberries, and Provence spice plus vanilla. Some sweet oaky heaviness decreases desired level of energy in the finish which is a shame but let´s see what happens after couple of years when the oak will be fully integrated.
This wine is a small conundrum – it´s quite approachable and smooth, not aggressively tannic or acidic but still not ready to drink or able to be fully enjoyed. Buy it and forget about it for a couple of years.
L.A.S. Vino Nebbiolo 2015, Margaret River, RRP $60
A decadent Nebbiolo acting like a stripper in a nun´s dress. There´s not much of a show on the nose. Cherries, strawberries, liquorice, bit of yeastiness and some dry herbaceous tones reminding a meadow with no rain for three months. But there is something seductively naughty underneath this nun´s dress – it´s not a specific aroma, it´s just a feeling that a show is about to start.
Lights on, clothes off. The wine is inappropriately approachable, silky smooth (for Nebbiolo) with tamed yet sexy ripe tannins. There is cherry jam, strawberries, currants, as well as liquorice and pralines, coffee and smoke. Complex and balanced, ripe and juicy with a good finish.
Grapes for this wine were destemmed but not crushed, very cold fermentation and half of the wine spent 400 days on skins in oak barrel. Very naughty! This is entertaining wine, bit too upfront, bit too showy but still sophisticated. Perfect example of how to make Australian Wine lovers love Nebbiolo. Go for it.
Topper´s Mountain Wild Ferment Nebbiolo 2012, New England, RRP $38
Second oldest Nebb in the flight still very young and vibrant. Pale in colour, light on the nose – cherries, sour cherries, tar, touch of stalkiness, liquorice and anise, typical. The nose reflects cool climate of New England as well as the palate. This Nebb is just medium bodied, extremely juicy, savoury and quaffable. There is high and furious acidity, lower alcohol and considerable tannins but all in balance, smooth and tamed – I suggest that five years of aging will have a beneficial effect on the wine. Flavours are driven by red berries: red cherries, raspberries, sour cherries and anise again. Tannins are little bit dry and grippy but there is enough energy in the wine to provide reasonably long finish. Valtellina styled Nebbiolo, vibrant, fresh and so easy to drink. Bottle is gone in a minute. Entertaining and fairly priced, buy.
Moppity vineyards Cato La Promessa Nebbiolo 2015, Hilltops, RRP $35
Pronounced, sweet and very fruity on the nose. Strawberry jam, dark ripe cherries, red and black currants, roses and something metallic as well, not really varietal but charming. Ripe and juicy red fruits flood the palate culminating with considerable tannic bite which fortunately doesn’t cut the flow. It is definitely longer but somehow clumsy on back palate because all the finish is about oak flavours of cocoa, dark chocolate and charred wood.
This is nice and food friendly Nebbiolo, welcoming on the nose, with very good structure and good finish. Tannins might be challenging for Nebbiolo beginners. It would be much more entertaining if there was a more intensive fruit drive on back palate.
Out of Step, Malakoff Estate Vineyard Nebbiolo 2015, Pyrenees, RRP $30
Pale garnet colour probably scares the crap out of Australian drinkers who are used to staring into the black holes of South Australian Shirazes. It smells like Rosé too with heaps of strawberries and cherries in cream plus touch of liquorice. Not really complex but fresh, youthful and welcoming on the nose. This Nebb is easy to drink and easy to understand. Juicy and quaffable with smooth but less sophisticated tannins and medium long sweet finish. There are lots of sweet flavours indeed – ripe cherries and black currant, cherry pie and vanilla, St. John´s-bread and dry date. Fairly priced juicy and quaffable wine.
The Hairy Arm Nebbiolo 2011, Heathcote, RRP $45
Six-year-old wine proving Nebbiolo´s longevity. Still fresh and not going to pass away any time soon. Unusually dark garnet colour indicates high extraction. Most dominant aroma after couple of swirls is a brown bandage and pine tree accompanied with floral/violet scents, ripe blueberries, liquorice and cherry jam. It is quite seductive. The wine is bit rustic on the palate where nice sweet and savoury juicy sour cherry and red currant flow is cut by rogue drying tannins which are not as high as they are aggressive, almost bringing tears to my eyes. Fruit flavours don’t make it far, struggling to reach the back of my tongue. It’s a good wine but there is no elegance in it as its rampant tannic structure takes over the finish.