Clive Hartley

Nebbiolo is a bit of a chameleon of a grape variety – it has many disguises. It is often described as a full bodied wine, but has similarities to pinot noir, especially being so light coloured. Traditionally it was known for its longevity and tannic grip; yet modern examples are more softer. Classic descriptions are summed up in two words, tar and roses. How can a wine have such diverse smells? One nickname ‘pinot on steroids’ is a fitting description.

The grape arrived in Australia in the 1970s. It’s a bit unclear as to who first planted it – either it was Dr Edgar Riek at Lake George in the Canberra District or it was Montrose Estate winemaker Carlo Corino who planted cuttings in Mudgee that were smuggled back from Italy in his suitcase. It has taken us up to now to start to produce some good wines and for decades Australian examples were best described as ‘experimental’.

Nebbiolo is an early budding, late ripening variety. It can suffer from poor fruit set and is extremely site specific needing a warm, but not hot site, and cool nights to build up its remarkable acid levels. Whilst it is now grown across the country, the cooler regions of Victoria have the potential to be a right site, along with the Adelaide Hills and Eden Valley.

Locally, Heathcote producer Vinea Marson make an excellent nebbiolo. Their current release is 2017 and has flowers, herb and tobacco on the nose. On the palate there is cherry and liquorice flavours. Overall, it is elegant and supple, with fine grain tannins on the long finish. Close by, Jasper Hill make a great wine, although seldom seen. Other recommended Victorian examples come from Billy Button in the Alpine Valley and Pizzini in the King Valley.  Protero vineyard in the Adelaide Hills, owned by McLaren Vale winemaker Steve Pannell, is renowned for its nebbiolo. Henschke also does a good nebbiolo. In NSW Freeman Altura Vineyard Nebbiolo in the Hilltops region are also highly recommended.

Nebbiolo often needs a lot of aeration/breathing time before drinking. Double decanting wouldn’t go amiss. This applies to the wines of Piemonte as well as our Australian drops.

Clive Hartley is an award-winning wine writer, educator and consultant. Check out his fortnightly radio show on Hepburn Community Radio called “put a cork in it”.  Want to learn more about wine? Try his book the Australian Wine Guide (7th ed) – available for purchase from Paradise Books in Daylesford or through his website –