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Top 12 non-Italian Nebbiolos

A recent db article reported on Hill of Grace producer Henschke’s decision to release its less well-known varietal Nebbiolo – The Rose Grower – in the UK for the first time. This gave us the idea of highlighting other non-Italian producers who were doing good things with this wonderful but pernickety grape.

Nebbiolo is, of course, Italy’s most noble variety, whose value to the growers of central and northern Piedmont over the centuries has been such that in the Middle Ages, people could be heavily fined – and recidivists actually hanged – for cutting down a Nebbiolo vine.

Nebbiolo is hard to grow and as hard to succeed with as Pinot Noir. Also, as with Pinot, the grape tends to appeal to the purist, for many of whom drinking Neb from anywhere outside Piedmont really ought to be an arrestable offence.

Even those who do manage to overcome that extreme bias are faced with the additional obstacles of extremely limited production and, by extension, the amount of wine being exported.

Nevertheless, the beguiling, perfumed deliciousness of good Nebbiolo from Barolo and Barbaresco has inspired producers all over the world to take on the challenge of producing great wine from the variety.

In terms of where in the world, other than northern Italy, the grape has been turned into wine worthy of note, Australia leads the way by far – in particular Adelaide Hills – with small but significant areas of plantings in California (c.150ha – Wine Grapes, 2012), Argentina (176ha), Chile (9ha) and South Africa (18ha).

Indeed, the rise of ‘alternative’ varieties in Australia is becoming an increasingly important topic for the country’s winemakers.

Kim Chalmers is viticulturist and winemaker at Chalmers Wines in Heathcote, Victoria. Chalmers’ work in the field of alternative, particularly Italian varietals has played a key role in the growth of this movement in Australia in recent years. 

Chalmers imported nine clones of Nebbiolo in the late 1990s which were selected from the Gaja vineyards in Piedmont. “Nebbiolo is a challenging grape to grow and make anywhere in the world and Australia is no exception,” she told db.

“It’s a bit like Pinot Noir in that it attracts a kind of fervent passion and requires dedication and patience to master.  As with any variety, the choice of suitable site/climate/aspect is very important.”

According to Wine Grapes, the first Australian Nebbiolo vines were planted in the Hunter Valley in the early 1980s, then later that decade in the King Valley, Victoria, by Pizzini. The first Nebbiolo produced in Australia was from Brown Brothers in 1990.

They were followed by Crittenden and, more recently, a growing number of producers in the Adelaide Hills, where longer, cooler growing seasons and poor, loamy sand soils are producing some very interesting results.

In the pages that follow, we present 12 producers from here and other winegrowing regions of the world who are leading the way in the production of non-Italian Nebbiolo… 

1. SC Pannell Nebbiolo, Adelaide Hills, Australia

Stephen Pannell is regarded as one of the best producers of Nebbiolo in Australia. He spent a decade working as chief red wine maker at Hardys before starting his own project in 2004. Pannell draws from experience gained at Aldo Vajra in Barolo, as well as at Domaine Dujac and Pousse d’Or in Burgundy.

Pannell’s Nebbiolo uses blend of five different clones of the variety from Gumeracha in Adelaide Hills, all of which he himself has planted. Vinification involves hand-harvesting of the grapes, which are then left for 20 days in small open-top fermenters with no additions other than yeast for fermentation. The wine is aged in large old oak barrels for 24 months before bottling.

2. Giornata Nebbiolo, Paso Robles, California

A decade ago Stephanie Terrizzi, then vineyard manager of Luna Matta in Paso Robles, launched Giornata, a wine project working with Italian grapes with her husband, Brian.

Using the same clones employed by Italy’s top producers, the pair have won plaudits for their Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Aglianico and Barbera.

“Nebbiolo is the hardest grape to grow and the most mischievous in the cellar,” Terrizzi says, citing Trentino-based Elisabetta Foradori as her winemaking inspiration. “It has taught me patience and has pushed my creativity to make it work.”

Intended as an homage to the great wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, Giornata’s Nebbiolo matures for 24 months in oak and more than six months in bottle prior to release. The current 2013 is made with a long post-fermentation maceration on its skins, giving it a powerful tannin profile and making for seriously cellar-worthy wine. 

3. Luke Lambert Nebbiolo, Yarra Valley

Lambert worked on three vintages in Italy, including stints with Barolo’s Giacomo Brezza and Cordero di Montezemolo, before embarking on his own Yarra Valley project on a shoestring.

Speaking to db in 2014, Lambert said: “If I made wine like I learned at wine school I wouldn’t be making wines like I do today. To see how they made Italian wines was wild. You go to a winery in Italy and it’s a pig sty, very rudimentary and agricultural; there’s a complete avoidance of temperature control or inoculation.”

The winemaker said that, although finding the right clone was challenging, he was optimistic and excited about the potential of Nebbiolo from Yarra.

“If I look forward 10 or 20 years it could be something seriously exciting from Yarra Valley. Does it have the drive and length of a great Barolo? No, but it has the perfume,” he said.

His results so far have garnered high praise form critics – Jamie Goode went as far as to call his neb a “new Australian classic”. US importer Vine Street Imports called it a “game-changer”.

Fermented with wild yeast and held on skins for 30 days before pressing, Luke Lambert’s Yarra Valley Nebbiolo is matured in 30-year-old, large-format oak barrels and bottled without fining or filtration.

4. Henschke The Rose Grower, Eden Valley, Australia

Something of a departure for the Hill of Grace producer, the Rose Grower Nebbiolo is a light, low-extraction style of Neb made from Nebbiolo grapes from a single vineyard in the Eden Valley, along with small proportion of Barbera. It has just been made available through UK distributor Enotria.

The wine is made from Nebbiolo vines planted by the Henschke family in the Eden Valley in the early 2000s. The first vintage was produced in 2010, when the proportion of Barbera was 8%. This had been reduced as the Nebbiolo vines had matured, winemaker Johann Henschke said.

The fruit for the wine was destemmed, with hand-plunging and gentle extraction producing a pale-coloured, elegant style of wine. The 12.5% ABV wine was aged for 12 months in used oak barrels and a further year in bottle before release.

Henschke explained that the Rose Grower was a wine informed by the winemaking experience he has gained in Italy from working with Chianti Classico pioneer Paolo De Marchi, who owns the Sperino estate in northern Piedmont.

The aim with this wine is not to imitate the often high-tannin, high-extraction Nebbiolos often associated with Piedmont, but to produce a more elegant and approachable style.

5. Adelina Eternal Return, Adelaide Hills, Australia

The Adelina vineyards are situated in Spring Farm Valley, just south of the township of Clare. Adelina Wines was started 2000. Col McBryde and Jen Gardner (daughter of Will and Elaine Gardner, the property owner) took over responsibility for the vineyards in 2002.

As well as producing some juicy, fine-tuned wines from Shiraz, Grenache, Mataro and Riesling, Adelina produces some extraordinarily good-value Nebbiolo from two clones planted in 2002 in Adelaide Hills.

For the Eternal Return (a reference to Milan Kundera’s irritating but compelling novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being) the fruit hails from the Bowe Lees vineyard in Woodside, Adelaide Hills.

This vineyard, also the source of Adelina’s Arneis, lies on sandy brown and grey loams at 390 metres above sea level and was planted between 1998 and 2002. Recently, the vineyard has started moving towards biodynamic practice.

The fruit for the wine was handpicked, destemmed and fermented with indigenous yeast. Maceration on skins was followed by racking into barrel for 18 months.

6. Blank Bottle Raw, Rawsonville, Western Cape, South Africa

Maverick South African winemaker Pieter Walser produces a staggering range of wines – upwards of 30 at any one time – from grapes sourced from across South Africa.

Walser loves to find (for South Africa) unusual plantings – his bottlings include Fernao Pires, Cabernet Franc, Clairette Blanche and Verdelho, among many others.

He also produces a snappily named Orbitofrontal Cortex 2015 – a wine blended according to statistical analysis of Walser’s subconscious using an EEG monitor, as you do.

The grapes for his Raw Nebbiolo 2013 were sourced from Goudini, Rawsonville in the Breede River Valley of the Western Cape. The wine has spent two years maturing in steel tank and used barrels, then a further 12 months in bottle.

7. Giaconda Nebbiolo, Beechworth, Victoria

Queensland-born winemaking veteran Rick Kinzbrunner worked at Stags Leap and Matanzas Creek in California before moving back to Australia to work at Brown Brothers. He set up boutique winery Giaconda in the 1980s, making a name for himself in particular for his Chardonnay.

Barolo has long been an interest for him, however. He has produced wine from the iconic Italian variety since 2008.

Five vintages came from Nebbiolo grown on a site he no longer owns; but, significantly, in 2011 he planted more Neb close to the Beechworth township at Red Hill. The 2015 will be the first from this site and it’s one Kinzbrunner is excited about.

The winemaker goes for the powerful, concentrated style he admires from Italy, maturing his wine in traditional large-format Italian-made botti for as long as 42 months.


8. Fletcher Nebbiolo, Adelaide Hills, Australia

Winemaker Dave Fletcher is about as deeply into Nebbiolo as its possible to be.

He lives in one of the small towns of Barolo, Monforte D’Alba, and produces four Nebbiolo’s from different regions: Barolo and Barbaresco in Italy, and Adelaide Hills and Victoria in his Native Australia.

He worked his way up to being the lead assistant winemaker at Ceretto winery for a number of years and currently makes his Fletcher wines there.

Using Nebbiolo grapes from the Ann Lees (for his Adelaide Hills wine, featured) and Malakoff Estate (just south of Landsborough, on the slopes of Victoria’s Pyrenees), Fletcher ferments naturally in open-top fermenters and ages his wine in used barriques and botti, with a small proportion of new wood.

The Ann Lees vineyard was planted with a small acreage of mixed clones of Nebbiolo in 1998 – making Fetcher’s Adelaide Hills Nebbiolo some of the oldest Neb in Australia.


9. Ravensworth ‘Hilltops’ Nebbiolo, Canberra, Australia

In 2004 Bryan Martin, who runs Ravensworth in Murrumbateman with his partner, Jocelyn, and brother, David, became the right-hand man of Tim Kirk at neighbouring Clonakilla. Martin makes his wine at the Clonakilla winery.

All the grapes for Ravensworth’s Hilltops Nebbiolo come from one of the vineyards of Brian Mullany – viticulturist for Grove Estate, a joint venture of Mullany, Kirk and Martin – in Young, half an hour north of Canberra.

Martin describes his Nebbiolo as “a work in progress”, but says it is “a lot of fun to have access to a terrific variety like this”.

This deep and complex wine is made with minimal intervention, long maceration of skins, using only seasoned oak with no additions other than a small amount of sulphur dioxide at bottling. There is no filtration.


10. Barboursville Nebbiolo, Virginia, USA

Barboursville’s resident winemaker since 1990, Luca Paschina, hails from Piemont and has always felt the terroir of his adopted Virginia would have great potential for Italian varieties. As well as Nebbiolo, he also grows Barbera and Sangiovese on the estate.

On a west-facing parcel located at an altitude of 300m, Barboursville’s Nebbiolo grows in low-vigor, well-drained Davidson clay loam soil formed from weathered greenstone. The subsoil is a slightly acidic dark red permeable clay.

Yields are low, with grapes being crushed, destemmed and cold-soaked for two to three days before fermentation between 27-30ºC for six to 10 days, followed by post-fermentation maceration for up to 15 days.

Malolactic fermentation takes place in stainless steel, then the wine is transferred to 40% new and 60% used Allier French oak barrels for 12 months. The wine sees a further six months in stainless steel and six to 12 months in bottle before release.

11. Botalcura Nebbiolo, Maule Valley, Chile

Still Chile’s only commercially available Nebbiolo, Botalcura’s bottling comes from a vineyard located in the central Maule Valley toward the coast, an area protected from the influence of the sea by the surrounding hills.

The soil is sand/clay/silt texture with moderate to poor permeability and drainage, and a flat topography.

In this dry region, irrigation is sometimes needed to ensure that the fruit reaches full maturity. Vineyards rows are planted north-south, which provides Botalcura’s Nebbiolo vines with optimum sun exposure.

Two years in a mix of American and French oak.

This concentrated Nebbiolo was modelled after the wines of Barolo wines, with the makers saying that great care was taken to preserve its Chilean identity, referring to it as “the first truly great Chilean Nebbiolo”.

12. Castagna Adam’s Rib, Beechworth, Victoria

Working practically next-door to Rick Kinzbrunner in Beechworth, Julian Castagna works from grapes grown in his Castagna Vineyard, situated at an altitude of 500m, 5.5km outside Beechworth in northeast Victoria, in the foothills of the Australian Alps.

The soil consists mainly of decomposed granitic loam on a base of clay. The climate is Mediterranean with hot days and cool nights during the important part of the growing season. The land is farmed biodynamically.

Adam’s Rib is actually a blend but with Nebbiolo predominating – 70% Nebbiolo/30% Shiraz. The Nebbiolo comes from Catasgna’s own vineyard, while the Shiraz is grown by a near neighbour.
The wine is fermented in open-top fermenters with wild yeast following a cold soak. It spends 20 months in fine-grained French oak – 10% new – with two rackings. The wine is bottled without fining or filtration.


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