27 October 2021
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Italian stallions

Angus Hughson
5 March 2010

As autumn approaches in the town of Alba in north-western Italy, the frenzy and excitement of a new harvest grips the local population. While the local white truffles sit under the soil waiting to be gathered, there is another reason that bon-vivants across the globe worship these beautiful and ancient hills, that being the rows of Nebbiolo vines and the majestic wines they spawn. It is no exaggeration to say that at their best, from the towns of Barolo and Barbaresco, the wines are wonderfully charismatic and among the finest on the planet.

For over 700 years, Nebbiolo has been grown in the hills South of Turin. In Italy, the wines are revered and saved for special occasions with the most famous, Barolo, known as the Wine of Kings and King of Wines. They are not for the faint hearted.

Robust, especially in their youth, the wines show massive concentration and structure, and are built for the long-term. But the most enchanting part of Nebbiolo is its wonderful bouquet with aromas of tar, rose, dried flowers and tea. The best examples from Barolo and Barbaresco are not inexpensive but from producers such as Gaja, La Spinetta, Roberto Voerzio, Luciano Sandrone and Bruno Rocca they are more than worth it.

But like all great wines they also pose a question. What makes them so special? The simple answer is time and place. While Nebbiolo used to be planted all over this part of Italy, it is now restricted to only the best hillsides. Lesser vineyards are used to grow the other local staples, Barbera and Dolcetto.

This culling of poor sites over time combined with modern winemaking and viticultural technology make the current wines on the whole better than any that have preceded them.

This is where many countries with a greater vinous history than our own have an advantage in that the best hillsides and flats have been discovered and exploited. In Australia and New Zealand, many great vineyard/grape combinations are undoubtedly waiting in the wings for their moments in the sun.

The second important factor and one that is often mused about is place, or the natural environment of which the vineyard is part. The quality of wines is intimately connected with the vineyard from where they are grown. The soils, the climate, the geography as well as a host of other factors each have their own input on what finally makes it to the table and glass. In addition, some grapes are perfectly suited to particular natural environments and one such combination is found between Nebbiolo and the hills of Piedmont.

Think Barossa Valley and Shiraz, and you get my drift.

In Australia, there are plenty of producers wrestling with Nebbiolo with dreams of greatness well and truly fixed in their sights. Only time will tell whether they will hit the mark.

To date, Southern Australia has produced some good wines although many are from young vines so will certainly improve in the future. The best come from places where the climate is closest to Nebbiolo’s native Alba, such as Longview and Arrivo from the Adelaide Hills or more particularly Pizzini in the King Valley. Beechworth on the edge of the Australian Alps is also a region to watch. But one thing that is for certain is that with its irresistible charms Nebbiolo is one Italian star that true wine lovers can not afford to ignore.

Important information:This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.


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