Any wine expert can sing the praises of the Nebbiolo. Considered as one of the best varieties of wine that can be produced, with a dark and full body packed with tannins but also very durable, Nebbiolo was rarely seen outside of its Italian homeland before the turn of the 19th Century, and even now it is very unusual to find it outside the European Union. Outside of Italy, it is probably most planted in Argentina, but the quality of Nebbiolo produced here has been very disappointing, and it may take several decades of growth to develop a good Argentinean Nebbiolo wine. This does not mean that the grape has been neglected in South Africa, with some brave growers prepared to make the attempt at creating a South African Nebbiolo.
The wine itself is considered to be very difficult to make well, with the grape being rather unpredictable, and liable to change even in the midst of the maturing process. It has been said that Nebbiolo is even harder to manage than a Pinot Noir, which makes the former grape more of a risk than a reward. There are a number of reasons why Nebbiolo is so difficult, and at the same time so desirable as a wine.
The grapes themselves are very sensitive to the slightest changes in soil and temperature, and this can mean that a vine producing a good quantity of grapes one year will make hardly any the next. The grapes themselves are variable in size, acidity levels and flavours, even in farms which are only a few miles away from each other. The vines also need to be kept exposed to warm temperatures, particularly in cooler areas, otherwise the grapes will not become ripe. On the plus side, the grapes and vines are both relatively tough, and are less effected by mould and disease than similar red grape varieties.
In South Africa, the demanding nature of the Nebbiolo means that only a handful of wineries are willing to try creating Nebbiolo wine from South African crops. One of the places, Dagbreek in the Breede River Valley, make a good wine, known as Du Toitskloof. The 2009 version of this wine, ‘Dimension’, was made from only 20 tons of Nebbiolo grapes, with the product being crushed and then left to ferment in the skins for three days in order to keep all of the flavour and colours in the wine. At the end of fermentation, the wine was left to age for 10 months in barrels made from French oak. It should be no surprise that this wine has won a number of awards, including a 2011 silver medal from the Veritas Wine Awards. The wine has a strong fruit and spice based taste which complements the deep tannins that have been absorbed by the wine when it was left on the skins. This wine goes best with steak, pork, and barbeque meats, as well as a number of pasta dishes and strong, mature cheeses.