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When we think about Nebbiolo, we're transported to "the boot's" northwestern corner — Piedmont — one of Italy's great wine growing regions.
In the Barbaresco and Barolo villages, the vineyards' subtle angles and not-so-lofty heights produce a truly unique taste. Piedmont's vintners are prolific in consistently making some of the best wines in the world.
The vine itself is productive, but the Nebbiolo grape can't just grow anywhere — it's far from easy. To produce top wines, site selection is crucial. The grape provides good yields and thrives on calcareous soil that contains limestone and chalk. It generally ripens during late harvest — depending on the country.
The grapes are small, but their thick skin gives good phenolic qualities and helps with disease resistance. They are roundish in shape and a deep blue to black in colour. The high tannin and acidity of the grape, when ripened, needs to be handled with care.
The blending of different sites and barrels, plus bottle age, help these wines express their powerful flavours. With cellar age and patience, vintners can produce layered and complex wines — stressing the importance of resting them and letting time do its job. Wherever a vintner is in the world, the aim is to produce a wine that will evolve in the bottle.
The styles vintners produce from Nebbiolo vary as much as the grape's plantings around the world, which stretch from Italy, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, and the USA — all the way to Australia. One of the main focuses of Nebbiolo wine is its bright and pure fruit flavour potential.
Youthful and juicy styles show off the fragrant blackberries and bright cherry-ripe plums. Some producers blend Nebbiolo with Sangiovese to make rosé — showing off the fruits' qualities.
What the grape is most famous for is aged reds. Wherever a vintner is in the world, the aim is to produce a layered and complex wine that can age and evolve in the bottle with patience.
In Australia, Nebbiolo can go relatively unnoticed compared to other wines, even with plantings in the Adelaide Hills, King Valley, and Heathcote — to name a few. Some of these subregions have been growing Nebbiolo for over 30 years. Yet, the vineyards are only just coming into their prime.
One of our favourite producers here at Plonk — Pizzini Wines — is one of Australia's most fantastic Nebbiolo producers. The family-owned company demonstrates four styles: a rosé, a village level, a super-premium expression, and a vibrant and fresh red.
The rosé has pronounced aromas of fresh strawberries, raspberries, cherries and plums with a dry and crisp palate. The Nebbiolo gives a bright pink colour and length — lingering on your palate.
Check out Pizzini's Rosetta, which comes from selected Sangiovese and Nebbiolo vineyards. They're known for producing soft, delicate and fruity grapes, which are harvested, crushed, and left on their skins for eight to nine hours. After pressing, the juice is cold fermented at 15˚C to retain the grapes' aromatics.
The La Volpe Nebbiolo offers King Valley's best value for money, with selected vines that naturally produce more flora, rose, and violet bouquet. The Pizzini family crush and ferment the grapes in open-top fermenters for around five days before pressing the juice to mature in large, old oak barrels.
The Nebbiolo grape has numerous types and clones. Nebbiolo 230 is the clone that the Pizzini plant on their highest vineyard, which hits an altitude of 350 metres above sea level. The best and most perfectly formed grapes go into this. Yet, interestingly, the yeast strain they use to inoculate the juice is from Barolo wine.
Try these wines alongside some Italian counterparts. The subtle nuances and climate differences will be easy to detect. The surprising thing is that Nebbiolo offers such good value for money. It's not mass-produced but made with care, love and passion, which is evident in the glass.
Nebbiolo's high acidity and tannin make it great with cheese and fatty meat — a staple part of the traditional Italian diet. It also complements a steak from the barbeque on the opposite side of the world.