Nebbiolo – Lifting the Fog

Dr Michael Ryan, 16 May 2016

Published in AUSTRALIAN MEDICINE

Why Nebbiolo? I asked this question of Karen Coats and Dr Prue Keith, owners of Virago Estate in Beechworth, Victoria. They both replied that the serendipitous exposure to this red grape variety left an alluring wine experience, something akin to the sirens of Homer’s Odyssey.

Why Nebbiolo? It’s such a finicky, lesser-known red grape that is tricky to grow, with early bud burst and late ripening often requiring soils dominated by calcareous marls. It requires meticulous hands-on effort. Perhaps Karen, an ex-tax accountant, Dr Prue, a practicing orthopedic surgeon and winemaker Rick Kinzbrunner (owner of Giaconda), a retired Engineer, had between them enough OCD to tackle these vagaries.

Why Nebbiolo? It seems fitting that an ancient grape variety is finding its place in the ancient soils of Beechworth. This pocket of paradise must surely be tied in a kindred spirit to Burgundy and Piedmont. Beechworth exudes its own array of amazing local produce and wine producers, including some of the country’s best vignerons, such as Savaterre, Castagna and Giaconda. Just like Piedmont, the fog forms in the valleys of Beechworth after picking season. Karen and Dr Prue are the type of wine growers who keep passionate authors writing about wine. There is the enthusiasm and pride of newly expectant parents. There is the sense of focus and determination. There is the sense of artistry in producing Nebbiolo. I firmly believe that Nebbiolo is the next journey of discovery in wine in Australia.

2011 Virago Nebbiolo Beechworth – Light garnet, with tinges of brown in colour. The initial bouquet includes rose petals, sun dried fruits and herbs. A complex vanillin aroma hides in the background. An hour after opening, the bouquet developed into dusty glazed cherries, rose petals and some earthy funk characteristics. An amazing transformation. The palate dances and flitters on the taste buds. It surfs easily over the palate, with supporting tannins and acidity. Will cellar for a decade.

 2012 Virago Nebbiolo Beechworth – Brighter garnet in color, exuding youth. Brighter red fruits, with essence of smoky notes. As the wine opened up, candied fruits with herbal notes, more delicate than a Grenache, were released. This is quite a youthful, camouflaged beast of a wine. The wine stands up boldly in the anterior palate then pauses slightly, enough to give space for the structured tannins to shine. Cellar 15 years or more.