A box arrived a few weeks ago from Michael Twelftree, the proprietor of Two Hands winery in Australia. Michael and his winemaker, Matt Wenk, not only bottle a raft of outstanding Shiraz wines, they experiment restlessly with other grape varieties. Inside the box were some of their beta tests.
Commercial bottlings include Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon, Rieslings, plus a few cases of a lovely Muscat made into a lightly sweet, fragrant Moscato d’Asti knockoff and a rich, dessert-style Cane-Cut Sémillon. They also have tried some one-offs, sold only at the winery cellar door. A Pinot Noir flopped, but the latest effort surprised me.
It’s a 2005 Nebbiolo called Fool's Paradise, sold only at the winery so most readers won’t be able to get their hands on any. But any time someone outside the Piedmont region of Italy gets it right with this grape, it’s worth knowing about.
Nebbiolo is not unknown to Australia. Several dozen wineries, usually with names like Arrivo, Casa Freschi, Di Lusso, Maglieri and Stefano Lubiano, even specialize in it. I’ve had some pretty good ones from them and others, but to me they usually come off as nice red wines with little of what we associate with Barbaresco and Barolo.
Amused by the drawing of a jester on the label, and with modest expectations, I unscrewed the top on the bottle and poured a glass. The rose petal-tinged, wet earth-infused, tarry berry and plum smells sent my mind right to the Langhe. In the mouth, the wine had the crisp, slightly drying tannins common to the grape, but seemed to weave them through the wine like the stiffness of a sturdy sweater, not rough, but present and comfortable. The flavors kept their refinement, balanced deftly against the tannins and acidity, persisting impressively on the finish. As the wine warmed and aired in the glass, it got richer and smoother. Always, the fruit was the prime element but all the other pieces fit around it like a snug puzzle.
Non-blind, I would rate it 91 points, the first non-Italian Nebbiolo I’ve ever liked enough to kick up past 90 points.
Too bad there isn’t more of it. I e-mailed Twelftree to ask if it were available to U.S. consumers, and could he do it again?
“Just cellar door,” he wrote, “and to be honest, sales on it have been slow. Australians in general don't get dry structure.”
And he’s not planning a reprise. “Matt was making an Adelaide Hills Viognier and he mentioned some Nebb planted next door,” Twelftree wrote. “I asked him to grab me a few bunches and I got excited. I walked the site and picked it on the button; 2005 was the right year. I learnt from traveling through the Piedmont to get the seeds out of the ferment, so we got 1 1/2 wheelbarrows full of seeds out of 1.5 tons.”
That’s an example of the devotion that it takes to make good Nebbiolo. You see it in Barolo and Barbarbesco from the best producers, some of whom even snip bunches to remove the green berries and leave the ripe ones.
His next mini-project is a Clare Malbec, “and I might even be stupid enough to try Pinot again. A magnum of 1993 Rousseau Clos St.-Jacques from my cellar last night has got me bitten again by that Pinot bug!”
Scott Oneil — UT — March 18, 2009 6:58pm ET
Michael Twelftree — Barossa, Australia — March 19, 2009 4:26pm ET
Michael Holzer — Miami Fl — March 19, 2009 7:34pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — March 19, 2009 7:42pm ET
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