Australian Pinot Noir masterclass

Drinks: Wines
Location: Australasia, Australia

Pinot might be something of a niche in Australia’s red wine portfolio, but it’s a growing one, and it already has a passionate coterie of admirers. Chris Losh watches on as a room full of European sommeliers get ready to feel the lurve…

Think ‘red grapes’ for Australia and 99% of sommeliers are going to reply with Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon. And to be sure Pinot Noir isn’t planted in anything like the acreage of its two warm-climate peers.
Yet as the whole Australian cool-climate boom has taken root, so its popularity has grown, with places like Tasmania offering Pinots that are every bit as ethereal as those from Burgundy.
For the purposes of this workshop, Imbibe teamed up with Wine Australia to focus on the two regions that have forged arguably the strongest reputation for their work with the grape: the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula.
Terry Threlfall of Chez Bruce walked the sommeliers through the two regions, before allowing them to get to grips with the wines themselves in a free-pour tasting, which included Pinots from across the continent.

Mornington Peninsula is expensive. Close to Melbourne, it’s the weekend retreat for the city’s moneyed classes – a haven of beaches, golf courses and summer homes. Land prices are high, and that gets passed on to the wines – a good number of which are served in wineries’ restaurants.
Australia might be seen in the popular imagination as a place full of large vineyards, but in fact, in the Mornington Peninsula, the wine estates tend to be small – perhaps because the price of vineyards is so high. The predominant grapes are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.


 - Ten Minutes by Tractor McCutcheon Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006, Mornington Peninsula, £24.25, H&H Bancroft

Kooyong Haven Pinot Noir 2005, Mornington Peninsula, £24.65, Great Western Wines

William Downie Pinot Noir 2008, Gippsland, £24.23, Liberty

The peninsula is (as you would expect) surrounded on three sides by water: the Bass Strait, Port Philip Bay and Western Port, making it very definitely a maritime climate: warm, humid and with plenty of rain, mainly in winter. Their predominant soil types are sand, volcanic and clay, though many of the differences in the wines are down to winemaking philosophy as much as they are to the land.
First planted as long ago as 1860, producing some award-winning wines in the 1880s, it fell away (as did most Australian wine regions) at the start of the 20th century, before undergoing a real resurgence in the 1970s.
‘Pinot Noir is up and coming here,’ said Threlfall. ‘It’s not so well known as it is in the Yarra, but it’s definitely on the way up.’
Our sommeliers were impressed with the standard of the wines that they found here, with Jules Watson only half-joking when he suggested that the first wine (the Ten Minutes by Tractor) was actually a ‘ringer’ from Burgundy.
‘There is a certain delicacy that does hint at Burgundy,’ agreed Threlfall. ‘They are not like Central Otago which has lots of ripe fruit on the mid-palate.’
Andaz’s Joris Beijn, meanwhile, was much taken with the Kooyong Haven. ‘There’s a real tautness to it – a definite minerality,’ he said. Parker, apparently, doesn’t rate this wine – something which has absolutely delighted the owner.
As in Burgundy, though, such minerality comes at a price. While the sommeliers really liked the wines below, and their elegance and food-friendliness in particular, they might take a bit of hand-selling to the public.



 - Mac Forbes Pinot Noir 2007,
Yarra Valley
, £13.27, Clark Foyster

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2007, Yarra Valley, POA, Fosters EMEA

Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006, Yarra Valley, £11.50, OW Loeb

One hour east of Melbourne, the Yarra Valley butts up against the edge of the city and is a popular destination for tourists and day-trippers as well as with viticulturalists.
It has a cool continental climate, though breezes off the sea mean that there is some ocean influence. It’s far more hilly than Mornington Peninsula, with altitude varying from 50-470m. In fact, altitude and aspect are the key, with the region able to produce everything from base wines for sparkling wine to Shiraz.
Soils are a combination of sandy loam in the north and red volcanic. Quite undulating and green, fertility can be an issue, and though Pinot Noir is well established it is far from being ubiquitous. Between them, Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Valley have less of the grape under vine than Central Otago.
That said, the region’s long history certainly counts in its favour.
‘There’s an understanding of which vineyards produce which fruit, and you can see that in the three wines here,’ said Threlfall as our sommeliers got stuck into the guided tasting. ‘There are subtle differences but there are consistent elements too.’
Certainly, our tasters were impressed – not least with the value for money on offer. Robert Giorgione spoke for many when he said ‘I scored these wines really highly. You can offer great wines with real consistency at a good price.’

79 Pirie Sigma Pinot Noir 2005, Tasmania
Sweet and sour notes, with depth and spice, intensity and elegance. ‘This is great,’ swooned Jim Carey. ‘The best wine on the table.’ ‘Deep, concentrated, spicy and very balanced. Complex and elegant,’ said Luigi Buonanno.
£16.63, Stratford’s

77 Tamar Ridge Estates Kayena Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006, Tasmania
Nothing shy about this wine, which mixed blackberries, bilberries and leaf mulch with gay abandon. ‘Huge depth – would work with game or steak,’ said Sue Jones.
‘Deep and long, with lovely concentration!’ agreed Jules Watson.
£8.48, ABS

77 Ten Minutes by Tractor 10X Pinot Noir 2008, Mornington Peninsula
Rich and concentrated, with nice juicy fruit and aromas of chocolate, but no small amount of elegance. ‘Quite serious and restrained, made up of a lot of little flavours,’ observed Joris Beijn, while Nicolas Angelina praised its ‘good texture and nice finish’. ‘Complex, with beautiful acidity – chiselled and refreshing,’ said Olivier Marie.
£14.68, H&H Bancroft

77 Yabby Lake Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007, Mornington Peninsula
Big and bold, this Pinot has an exotic mix of plummy fruit, violets, spice and eucalyptus on the nose, it worked very well with the herbal elements in the pheasant. ‘Spicy cherry and raspberry compote – earthy and savoury,’ commented Emily Pearl Campbell. ‘Well balanced and powerful,’ added Miriam McLachlan.
£13.50, Swig

77 Ten Minutes by Tractor 10X Pinot Noir 2008, Mornington Peninsula
With its elegance and structure, ‘Ten Minutes’ was the overwhelming favourite as a food match from the 13 wines on offer, reckoned to be a top match with both of the dishes offered and a broad selection of restaurant classics as well.
£14.68, H&H Bancroft

77 Tamar Ridge Estates Kayena Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006, Tasmania
In a flight of wines where, if the scores are anything to go by, there weren’t any duffers at all, a second place finish combined with a price of less than a tenner (ex-VAT) marks the Tamar Ridge out as a truly strong performer. It’s muscular style makes it an interesting contrast to the Ten Minutes by Tractor, too.
£8.48, ABS

76 De Bortoli Estate Pinot Noir 2006, Yarra Valley
A good rich, slightly rustic nose, with plenty of juicy fruit following through on a palate that is surprisingly fresh. ‘Lovely depth here,’ said Katie Exton. ‘Earth and spice with a plummy finish.’
£10.70, De Bortoli

75 Pirie Estate Pinot Noir 2007, Tasmania
Good balance and weight to this wine, which mixed cherries with blackcurrants and nuts. ‘Good developed nose, rich and elegant. This was one of the few wines that could stand up to the chargrilling on the pork belly,’ said Miguel Leal.
£11.46, Stratfords

75 Stonier Pinot Noir 2007, Mornington Peninsula
After an initial hit of vanilla and red sherbet, there’s a tight, leafy freshness here that gives this wine a more European slant. ‘Good purity and restraint,’ said Katie Exton. ‘There’s an elegance to this.’
£11.06, Bibendum

75 Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir 2008, Yarra Valley
Smoky and toasty, with spicy autumnal fruit and a restrained palate. Fresh, but also soft. ‘Farmyardy, but clean and balanced, this would be great with pheasant,’ enthused Matej Lacko. ‘I like that freshness,’ added Olivier Marie.
£7.28, Liberty

74 Red Claw Pinot Noir 2008, Mornington Peninsula
Good fruit purity, with damson flavours backed up with an attractive earthy, truffly character and a well-balanced mouthfeel. ‘Elegant, with nice soft tannins,’ praised Miguel Leal. ‘Perfect with fatty pork,’ added Sue Jones.
£9.80, Swig

73 Yering Station Pinot Noir 2005, Yarra Valley
Refined fruit character on the nose, with plenty of sour-cherry Pinot style. Quite developed. ‘Well-balanced and earthy. Classic Yarra,’ said Miriam McLachlan. ‘Cardamom and liquorice – there’s lots of elegance and finesse here,’ added Olivier Gasselin.
£8.83, Enotria

71 Punt Road Pinot Noir 2006, Yarra Valley
Vanilla, musky, leathery spice and red fruits mixed up in a delicately-flavoured package. A polished, well-integrated example. ‘Wonderful classic Pinot,’ said James Hopkins. ‘Quite Burgundian,’ added Katie Exton.
£8.83, PLB

71 Notley Gorge Pinot Noir 2007, Tasmania
It might look old in the glass, but in fact its character is all crushed, juicy fruits. ‘Deep and farm-yardy – ah I love Pinot,’ sighed Joris Beijn. ‘Good, approachable food wine,’ added Matt Ward.
£9.31, Enotria

66 Devil’s Corner Pinot Noir 2008, Tasmania
Fresh and lighter in style, this wine was something of a panel splitter, though most agreed that it was good value for money. ‘Harmonious,’ said Matej Lacko. ‘Very quaffable,’ added James Hopkins.
£6.08, ABS

Sommelier comments

‘I really liked the Yarra Valley Pinots. They were really perfumed and complex, and the prices compared to Burgundy were amazing.’
Olivier Marie, Coq d’Argent

‘The Pinot Noir tasting was fascinating. You could get your head round the different regional styles, but also appreciate the differences from producer to producer.’
Sue Jones, The Harrow at Little Bedwyn

‘As a profession, we need to get over Burgundy being the home of Pinot Noir. These wines kick the butt of Bourgogne rouge at the same price.’
Miriam McLachlan, Zuma

‘The Yarra Valley Pinots were extremely good value for money. Those winemakers and vineyards have been established for many years; they’ve made their mistakes and learned from them. The wines showed elegance, balance and consistency. For me, they were quintessential Aussie Pinots.’
Robert Giorgione, consultant

‘People would consider Australian Pinot Noir to be bigger and fatter than a New Zealand example. But actually I often found myself talking more about Côte de Beaune than Central Otago. Yarra especially could be a place to take Burgundy lovers who might want something different.’
Katie Exton, Chez Bruce

‘The wines here today showed me that Australian Pinot Noirs really can stand up
and be counted. They compare really well
not just with other New World regions, but with Burgundy as well.’
Jim Carey, consultant

‘There were only a couple of Pinots that I didn’t like in the free-pour, which isn’t bad in a flight of 13 wines. Interestingly, a lot of them were so delicate that they didn’t work with the food prepared by Brett Graham.’
Joris Beijn, Andaz

‘The juicier wines were phenomenal with the pheasant beignet. The Mornington wines, with their juicy, crunchy red-berry fruit, would be good with a whole load of fine food.’
Simon Howland, Wine By Simon

‘I’m leaving this place with a really good impression of Australian Pinot Noir. Where else can
you get such great Pinot for the money? And the consistency was impressive.’
Miguel Leal, Casa Leal

‘The Yarra Pinots showed how good the region is for the money. For £12 they really over-deliver, and once you get up to the £15 level you can get something truly special. Burgundy will be copying Australia soon.’
Roger Jones, The Harrow at Little Bedwyn

Free pour tasting
So much for the theory, as explained by Threlfall and illustrated with the handful of carefully-chosen wines, now it was time for our sommeliers to put his words to the test. We lined up a couple of dozen Australian Pinots, flighted by region, and asked our corkscrew-jockeys to taste them blind. Their scores were then fed into the mighty Imbibe computer, which listed them in order of preference, along with tasting notes. To stop our tasters from fainting with exhaustion (and to test the food-friendliness of the wines) we asked them to try the wines with some food prepared by Brett Graham of The Ledbury. The food was crisp suckling pig belly with balsamic
and quince, and pheasant, plum and bay leaf beignet.

The following agents are currently offering promotions to Imbibe readers who order any of the Pinots mentioned in this article

Contact: Lesley Gray
01372 274 065

Contact: Lyn McKnight
020 8961 4411

H&H Bancroft
Contact: Robert Allen
07703 316 410

Contact: Robin Davis
020 8995 7060

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