Three Yarra Valley nebbiolos
Nebbiolo, like pinot noir, has a high degree of difficulty – to use an Olympic diving analogy. The Yarra Valley has only recently begun producing ‘nebb’ of any consequence. This is partly because the clones that were available were not very good ones. The wines were often thin and vegetal. If you’re Steve Webber, chief winemaker at De Bortoli, you might have seen an opportunity to make a rosé from this kind of grape. And he does – such is the genius of the man.
Another winemaker with a streak of brilliance is Luke Lambert, who has lately hitched his wagon to the substantial 80-acre Denton vineyard, View Hill. Lambert is a nebb tragic who also makes nebb under his own Luke Lambert label.
The Denton family have flown under the radar somewhat and still sell most of their grapes, but recently launched their first full range of Lambert-made wines. Lambert says nebbiolo was key to his decision to work for the Dentons. They’ve increased their nebb plantings by grafting onto existing vines and now have 7 acres. There are six clones, which means Lambert isn’t restricted to using just one or two clones, like most producers.
The Denton vineyard is in the warm Tarrawarra district and sits on ‘plug’ of granite, which is rare in the Yarra. Both the granitic soil and the meso-climate suit the nebbiolo grape.
The ’15 is a cracker of a nebb, showing great concentration and muscle, power and authority. The 2014 is currently available but is a lighter, less defined rendition with a certain vegetal character and lacking the vibrancy of the ’15. The 2015 is from a great vintage in which every grape variety excelled in the Yarra. Pepper, peat, spices, iodine, dried blood and ferrous characters. It’ll be released next year. Get on the waiting list! (AUD $48)
Soumah’s Hexham vineyard is on the Warramate foothills, the ‘dress circle’ of the Yarra Valley, where we also find Yarra Yering, Giant Steps, Coldstream Hills and Medhurst. The vineyard contains three clones of nebbiolo and the website speculates that the Yarra’s climate of hot but short summers and consistently cool nights could turn out to be ideal for nebbiolo, which prefers inland, ‘continental’ climates. The vines were planted on a north-west facing slope to give them maximum opportunity to ripen the fruit.
Nebbiolo is best matured in large barrels, and this was aged in 500-litre puncheons after a long maceration of 120 days on skins. Violets, nuts and dark fruits to sniff; a full-bodied, profound and utterly convincing nebb with a touch of licorice. (AUD $49)
A pale salmon-pink in shade, this Provençal style rosé is very dry and savoury, scented with smoky charcuterie, raspberry and rose petals, and some stony mineral notes – avoiding the shrill grapiness of so many Oz rosés. It undergoes a full malolactic fermentation, which results in a certain creaminess of texture. The finish is refreshing and it’s a rosé which has great drinkability (you’d think that would be a given with rosé, but alas, it isn’t). Steve Webber says nebbiolo is suited to rosé because, unlike cabernet and merlot, it can be harvested early without greenness. (AUD $26)