As I’ve said before, I drink faster than I write, and as such I have a bit of a backlog of tasting notes and photos awaiting the research and writing to bring them together into a post that I’m willing to publish. If I were clever, I’d just start at the oldest and work my way through them until I was caught up, possibly not drinking anything new until the backlog was clear. Instead, I keep finding wines that I absolutely must drink, even when I’m not looking for them, and this is one such wine, Jasper Hill Vineyard Georgia’s Paddock Nebbiolo 2008.
I’m going to start with the producer in this post because they’re the reason I had to have this wine. Jasper Hill Vineyard is a small producer based in Heathcote, Victoria that is responsible for some of the most highly sought after wines in Australia. They are best known for two wines that appear in the Outstanding category of the Langton’s Classification, their Emily’s Paddock Shiraz / Cabernet Franc and their Georgia’s Paddock Shiraz. The quantities produced are very small, with the former producing less than 500 cases and the latter less than 2,500 cases, but their reputation is quite significant. With even smaller quantities of Grenache, Semillon, Riesling, Viognier, and this Nebbiolo, their total production is roughly 3000 cases.
Established in 1975, they planted the two aforementioned vineyards on a pair of hillsides near Heathcote, roughly 110km north of Melbourne. They planted the vines on their own roots, rather than grafting onto phylloxera-resistant rootstock. Organic and biodynamic practices are used in the vineyard, and the vines are not irrigated. Yes, I have been known to rant about the pseudo-science of biodynamic practices, but since there’s no mention of the word “cosmic” on the entire Jasper Hill Vineyard website, I needn’t say anything more on the topic. In the winery, they have a minimal intervention philosophy to get the best expression of terroir. In their case, that takes the form of wild yeast fermentation, maturation for 15 months in oak (French and American, 20% new), no racking, natural malolactic fermentation, and only coarse filtration before bottling. Their website does mention acid adjustment in the context of something they rarely do, and while it’s certainly preferable to be able to bottle without it, I applaud that they are up front about it possibly being required. Also, to my mind it makes them seem a bit more pragmatic than dogmatic, another thing I appreciate.
Having enjoyed both Emily’s Paddock Shiraz / Cabernet Franc and Georgia’s Paddock Shiraz, I have now been surprised twice by wines that I didn’t know Jasper Hill Vineyard produced. First was a year or two ago when I came across a bottle of their Semillon, which was also an excellent wine, but only a few barrels are produced. Most recently I saw this on a shelf and immediately bought it. Georgia’s Paddock has one hectare of Nebbiolo which was planted in 1993, from which only 90 cases were produced in 2008.
I’m going to cover Nebbiolo in a bit more depth with a wine from Italy in the near future, but it’s worth laying out the basics now. It is a red wine grape from the northwest of Italy, native to Piemonte. It is the grape of Barola and Barbaresco, and produces wines capable of considerable maturation. It is early budding, late ripening, and susceptible to coulure, or poor fruit set. Rain during the growing season can adversely impact quality, and it prefers calcareous marl soils. Its grapes have thin, though unusually tough, skins. It can typically produce wines of light color, often with an orange tint, high acid, and high tannin. Tar and roses are the classic descriptors, and there’s at least one producer who has given the name “Tar and Roses” to their Nebbiolo.
Heathcote deserves a quick word. As I mentioned, it’s in Victoria, north of Melbourne, and west of Nagambie Lakes, home of Tahbilk which I was drinking not so long ago. It had been grouped with Bendigo as far as wine regions, but has emerged as an independent area capable of producing interesting cool climate Shiraz. Like the rest of central Victoria, the climate is continental, with warm, dry summers and cool winters. However, the soil is based on something that makes Heathcote fairly special: Cambrian basalt. It’s 500 million year old soil, based on volcanic lava which captured limestone as it flowed and cooled. The resulting basalt and limestone has become decompressed and red-brown over time. It’s considered unique within Australia, as other examples of soils based on volcanic material are fairly young and acidic, while the Cambrian soils of Heathcote are old enough that they are fairly pH neutral.
In the glass, this wine is clear and bright, medium minus garnet colour, with quick, thick legs. On the nose it’s clean, with medium plus intensity, and notes of perfume, cherries, and sweet spice. The palate is dry, with notes of sour cherries, a little iodine, some roses, and pomegranate, but I can’t say I picked up any tar. It had medium plus acidity, medium minus fine tannins, medium minus body, medium plus length, medium alcohol, medium plus flavour intensity, and a sour plum finish.
I really enjoyed this wine and think it’s of very good quality. It was extremely elegant and refined. It was very approachable and was drinking very nicely, but the flavour profile consisted of lots of fruit and not many secondary characteristics. I think it certainly has the acidity to age, but it wasn’t especially tannic, certainly not compared with Nebbiolos of Piemonte. I’d be interested to see how it looks in a few years because I may have had this far too young.