Tasting and Matching: Australian Pinot Noir

08 April 2016

Australia has what it takes to be a global Pinot power – cooler regions, a distinctive style and sometimes eye-watering prices. Clinton Cawood joins a team of somms to see what the winemakers of Mornington, Yarra et al have in their tucker bags.


When it comes to Pinot Noir, Australia has been earning its stripes for quite some time, with a growing number of producers focusing on creating top-class wines – and arguably in greater numbers than neighbouring New Zealand.

Whether from Tasmania or Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley or Adelaide Hills – or even further afield, this is definitely a grape to watch in wines from Down Under. But are its different Pinot-producing regions showing their own distinct characteristics? Do we get the best examples over here in the UK? And are the wines worth the price tags?

We called in nearly every Australian Pinot Noir that’s currently available to the UK on-trade and put them in front of a panel of top sommeliers to find not only the best examples, but also the regions that are leading the way for Australia and securing the country’s place as a world-class New World Pinot producer.

How it works
We asked UK agents to submit Australian Pinot Noirs from their portfolios, with no limitations on number of submissions or price point. Wines were evaluated blind, with tasters aware of each wine’s region and price. Each was scored out of 20, taking value for money into account. Scores were then collated to obtain a percentage. All prices are ex-VAT trade.

The Panel
Anna Botting, Murano; Clinton Cawood, Imbibe; Donald Edwards, Cellar.SW4; Zigmars Grinbergs, Vinoteca; Gaëlle Laforest, Imbibe; Barry McCaughley, Wineaux; David Nichter, 45 Jermyn Street; Courtney Stebbings, consultant


 Results
Adelaide Hills

83 Vinteloper OPN/12 Odeon Lenswood Pinot Noir 2012 
‘Those first summer days, with new-season strawberries on the cusp of ripeness, followed by delicious ripe fruit on the palate – strawberries and cream – with well-integrated tannin,’ CS. ‘Wild strawberry notes on the nose lead to sweet, ripe strawberry and cherry on the palate, along with some vanilla notes, and a spiciness,’ GL.
£33.50, Red Squirrel Wine, 020 3490 121

76 Vinteloper PN/14 Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir 2014
‘Extremely pretty on the nose – this is New World Pinot without pretending to be super complex, but rather just being delicious and enjoyable,’ ZG. ‘Lovely light cranberry and redcurrant on the nose, with cherry and more redcurrant joining on the palate, accompanied by some lemon freshness,’ CC.
£15.50, Red Squirrel Wine, 020 3490 1210

73 Grosset Pinot Noir 2013
‘Real depth to the nose, with black cherries, followed by a fresh, fruit-driven palate, with great acidity. A compelling and balanced wine,’ BM. ‘A light, slightly savoury note, a bit like tomato jam, followed by a light, dainty and elegant palate. Charming,’ CC.
£27.30, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350

73 Shaw and Smith Pinot Noir 2013
‘Really attractive soft red fruit opens things up here, leading to cherries and blueberries on the palate, with an overall lightness,’ CC. ‘On the austere side, and yet still held together nicely. This would maybe develop some complexity with a couple of years of ageing,’ ZG.
£19.20, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350

62 Wakefield Estate Pinot Noir 2013 
‘A good value option, with soft tannins and straightforward fruit,’ AB. ‘Some lovely herbal notes to start, followed by blackberry and juicy cherry fruit. Very drinkable on its own, and good value,’ CC.
£8.40, Louis Latour Agencies, 020 7409 7276

Mornington Peninsula
84 Ten Minutes by Tractor McCutcheon Pinot Noir 2013
‘Fine oak and some herbal notes too – this has nice structure. It might be too young, but it’s showing promise, with enough weight and integrity to work with that oak,’ DE. ‘This is a serious wine, and well structured, with a lot going on. There’s red fruit and spice, with good complexity. This is a great food wine that could work very well with game,’ DN.
£37, Bancroft Wines, 020 7232 5440

81 Ocean Eight Pinot Noir 2012
‘A lovely, rich, berry nose – clean, but slightly candied. The palate’s light and elegant, with long, concentrated cherry fruit. A balanced wine, and very good at that price,’ BM. ‘This has good freshness, with plenty of cranberry, raspberry and red apple notes. It will
no doubt improve with time,’ ZG.
£21.38, The Vintner, 020 7352 4083;
£16.65 (2013 vintage), Hallowed Ground, 07799 414 374
80
Ten Minutes by Tractor Wallis Pinot Noir 2013

‘An aromatic nose of good red fruit – red berries and wild strawberries – with a leafy touch and an earthy character. There’s minerality and soft, delicate tannins on the palate,’ AB. ‘Bright pea leaf and mint on the nose, this is a lovely Pinot, with some herbaceousness, sweet fruit and fine tannins,’ DE.
£37, Bancroft Wines, 020 7232 5440

79 Paringa Estate Peninsula Pinot Noir 2013  
‘Some great Christmas spice on the nose, along with cranberries and dried satsumas – ripe fruit, overall,’ CS. ‘Could Mornington be the promised land for Aussie Pinot? This is very good indeed! Aniseed, five spice and orange peel. Inspirational for food matching,’ ZG.
£14.64, Hallowed Ground, 07799 414 374

79 Robert Oatley Finisterre Pinot Noir 2012
‘I really think that sometimes the more moderately priced wines work better. This is delicious, with sweet, ripe, red-berry fruit, some gentle spice and a long-lasting finish,’ ZG. ‘Savoury, with Brett notes over clean strawberry fruit. The palate’s light, with slightly rough tannins, but overall it’s well-priced,’ BM.
£12.25, Hatch Mansfield, 01344 871800

77 Ten Minutes by Tractor 10X Pinot Noir 2014 
‘A great nose, with lots of Burgundian Pinot character, mushroom notes and a hint of smoke. Fresh and pure fruit follow on the palate,’ BM. ‘This lady is packing a pistol… the feminine quality has a certain manliness underneath. Mineral finish that’s like flint and gunpowder,’ CS.
£18.50, Bancroft Wines, 020 7232 5440

73 Circe Pinot Noir 2013
‘Quite Burgundian in character, but with ripe cherry fruit, too. A savoury note complements light cherry and plum on the palate,’ CC. ‘There’s a very interesting earthiness on the nose, with a balanced palate and a reasonably long finish,’ DN.
£15.50, Hallowed Ground, 07799 414 374

Tsamania 
88 Dalrymple Single Site Coal River Pinot Noir 2012
‘Juicy cherry on the nose. On the palate there’s concentrated fruit, as well as some spiciness and a fresh, herbaceous note,’ GL. ‘This is just what you want from a Pinot… a nice, dark berry nose leading to a lovely palate, balanced and poised. This tastes expensive,’ BM.
£23.56, Negociants UK, 01582 797510

83 Apsley Gorge Pinot Noir 2010
‘A meaty, leathery note joins some sour cherry and herbes de Provence aromas. On the palate there’s good acidity, but with warmth, almost like berry coulis. Nice structure, and a good all-rounder,’ GL.
‘A stalky, herbal start, followed by attractive bramble fruit on the nose and palate, with some ashy minerality and a slightly savoury note to finish,’ CC.
£19.30, Justerini & Brooks, 020 7493 6174

82 Dalrymple Cottage Block Pinot Noir 2012
‘There’s real class evident here, with a good-quality Pinot Noir nose and clean berry fruit. The palate’s light, with clean fruit and a good finish,’ BM. ‘A serious wine, with pleasant, concentrated fruit and solid tannin structure,’ DN.
£26.33, Negociants UK, 01582 797510

82 Dalrymple Pinot Noir 2012
‘An understated nose leads to a nice palate with lots of fruit notes and elegant balance. A long, lip-smacking finish leaves you wanting more,’ BM. ‘A well-structured and balanced wine, with good fruit, not to mention secondary flavours. This is polished,’ DN.
£19.66, Negociants UK, 01582 797510

82 Dalrymple Single Site Bicheno Pinot Noir 2012 
‘Waxy, lean redcurrant notes lead to a slightly herbal palate that opens up slowly, with big citrus acidity throughout,’ CC. ‘An aromatic nose, with good red fruit and some herbal notes. This has a lovely fine structure, with good length,’ DE.
£23.56, Negociants UK, 01582 797510

75 Josef Chromy Pinot Noir 2012
‘All the aromatics of a long walk in the forest, with sweet cedar, dried fruit and moist mushroom. The palate’s a little lean, but with tannins that grip with a tart cranberry note,’ CS. ‘Some good complexity here, with spice on the nose and palate. Not the most voluptuous in style, but still, there’s quality here,’ ZG.
£14.58, Bibendum Wine, 0845 263 6924

69 Stoney Rise Pinot Noir 2012, Tamar Valley
‘Delicate red fruit aromas at first, with a touch of fruits of the forest on the silken palate. Very elegant,’ DE. ‘Vibrant blueberry and ripe red cherries aromas, with more blueberry on the palate. Plenty of acidity and freshness,’ CC.
£16, H2Vin, 020 3478 7376

68 Tamar Ridge Pinot Noir 2013
‘A perfumed and pretty nose, with ripe berries and a hint of anise. Well balanced and good value,’ CS. ‘There’s some weight on the palate here, with quite grippy tannins. This needs food,’ ZG.
£10.99, Awin Barratt Siegel, 01780 755810

63 Devil’s Corner Pinot Noir 2015
‘A confected, syrup-like strawberry note to start, leading to a fresher palate, with some redcurrant,’ CC. ‘A fruit bomb in the mouth. This reminds me a bit of Beaujolais – try this chilled,’ DN.
£8.65, Awin Barratt Siegel, 01780 755810

Also tasted: Tolpuddle Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014

Yarra Valley
89 Yarra Yering Pinot Noir 2013
‘A concentrated nose: complex, smoky and spicy, with great fruit. This is medium-bodied, with stunning fruit and a classical structure, plus a great finish,’ BM. ‘This wine has it all – drinkability, complexity, and it would match with all the classic things we normally serve Pinot Noir with – duck, guinea fowl, mushrooms and much more,’ ZG.
£35, Carte Blanche Wines, 01256 772233

82 Soumah Single Vineyard Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2014 
‘Another stunner from Yarra. Delicate and feminine, with wild raspberries picked in the mountains. The palate is pretty, while keeping its substance and balance,’ CS. ‘A fascinating, compelling wine, with a savoury, balsamic note combining with light red fruit – easy, approachable, with great Pinot Noir typicity, and a touch of minerality, too. And all at a great price,’ CC.
£11.67, VinumTerra, 020 8891 6010

80 Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir 2014 
‘Musky and spicy, like a 90s Old Spice commercial – this exudes spice and everything nice,’ CS. ‘Red pepper, as well as something floral on the nose, followed by a layered palate, with good acidity, herbal notes and then some good tannin. A good, well-rounded finish too,’ GL.
£10.35, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350

80 Robert Oatley Signature Pinot Noir 2013
‘A generous, fruity nose, with some coconut and vanilla. Fruit and spice on the palate – this is balanced and well made, with a savoury, grilled-meat finish,’ GL. ‘Judging by this wine, Yarra really seems to get the closest to combining Old and New World styles. Balanced and complex – especially for the price,’ ZG.
£7.67, Hatch Mansfield, 01344 871800

72 Giant Steps Applejack Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014
‘Who needs a Bloody Mary when you can have this? Tomato juice, celery salt and spice aromas, and the palate follows the nose,’ CS. ‘Good fruit on a round and ripe palate, with a touch of earthiness towards the finish. This would be great served with mushrooms,’ AB.
£16.50, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350

72 Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014
‘A deep and alluring nose, packed with summer fruits. This is balanced and elegant, with clean fruit and a nice finish,’ BM. ‘There’s a distinct herbal character here, with sweet red fruit on the palate – cranberries, in particular. Very appealing, with a savoury edge to it,’ CC.
£14.63, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350

Other Regions
83 Lethbridge Pinot Noir 2012, Geelong
‘Elegant, ripe fruit, with some soft earthy notes, a touch of spiciness, not to mention a leafy, fresh, vegetal note,’ AB. ‘Gamey at first, with some blackberry notes, and a touch of menthol. The palate’s fruit-forward, with spice too, but quite soft overall,’ GL.
£18.50, Berkmann Wine Cellars, 020 7609 4711

78 Bellvale The Quercus Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Gippsland 
‘A lovely, classic nose with elegant red fruit. Nice tannins on the palate, and a decent structure,’ DE. ‘Quite herbal, like a herb-encrusted saucisson, but with flavoursome fruit, too. The palate’s fresh, with nice, round fruit and a spicy bramble finish,’ GL.
£15.05, Jascots, 020 8965 2000

76 Philip Shaw No.8 Pinot Noir 2013, Orange, NSW
‘Gamey, with a grilled-meat note on the nose, along with cherry fruit. This is well made, with everything in moderation, and juicy fruit balanced by a little oakiness,’ GL. ‘Sweet cherries meet a savoury note on the nose, leading to even riper, generous blueberry and cherry fruit coming through on the palate,’ CC.
£12.99, Awin Barratt Siegel, 01780 755810

75 Tapanappa Foggy Hill Pinot Noir 2010, Fleurieu Peninsula
‘Decidedly Burgundian, with some stalky forest-floor notes joining delicate fruit. The palate’s soft and attractive, with bright red fruit,’ CC. ‘Spiced red berries on the nose, with cherry, strawberry and vanilla on the palate, with some mushroom notes, too,’ GL.
£16.50, Mentzendorff, 020 7840 3600

73 Pemberley Pinot Noir 2012, Pemberton
‘Raspberry aromas, and well-balanced palate between fruit, spice, freshness and earthiness. And all of that at a reasonable price, too,’ GL. ‘Very pleasant, and a true reflection of how Pinot Noir should be, in my mind. It’s not copying Burgundy, but it’s complex and interesting to drink,’ ZG.
£14.93, Castelnau Wine Agencies, 020 7751 2490

70 Eden Road The Long Road Pinot Noir 2013, Canberra, NSW
‘A walk-in-the-forest Pinot, with cherry and a slight rubber note on the nose. Juicy, fruity palate with a burst of cinnamon on the finish,’ GL. ‘Ripe, red cherries and polished, soft tannins. Well balanced, and at a very good price,’ AB.
£11.95, Hallowed Ground, 07799 414 374

67 Larry Cherubino Laissez Faire Pinot Noir (natural) 2014, Porongurup
‘Fun and unpretentious, with cherry sweets in abundance. Attractive and approachable, if perhaps lacking in complexity,’ CC. ‘Flowers and raspberries, leading to a palate that’s quite lean, but with good fruit and peppery spice,’ GL.
£13, Hallowed Ground, 07799 414 374

65 Logan Weemala Pinot Noir 2013, Orange, NSW
‘This wine is cool-climate in character, with cherry and mineral notes. Very drinkable and fresh, with fine tannins,’ DE. ‘Some guava-like aromas. Comes into its own on the palate, with cherry fruit against a slight meatiness, and a fresh finish,’ GL.
£8.82, Castelnau Wine Agencies, 020 7751 2490

63 Philip Shaw The Wire Walker Pinot Noir 2014, Orange, NSW
‘Good acidity and an earthy backbone. There’s also a menthol note, and some minerality on the finish,’ GL. ‘Attractive, with juicy cranberry aromas leading to more bright fruit on a fresh palate,’ CC.
£7.40, Awin Barratt Siegel, 01780 755810

Also tasted: Battle of Bosworth White Label Pinot Noir 2012; Lethbridge Ménage a Noir Pinot Noir 2013; Little Eden Wine Co Pinot Noir 2014


Panel Comments

Anna Botting, Murano
‘I was surprised at some of the Mornington wines. This was always the region pushing for a style of its own, but you really have to deliver more for £30 ex-VAT. I scored some of the lower-priced Yarra Valley wines quite highly – there has to be that ratio of quality to price. There were a few here I’d be willing to list as introductions to New World Pinot.’

Clinton Cawood, Imbibe
‘These wines became quite expensive quite quickly, which rules out the top end of Aussie Pinot for a lot of restaurants. That’s not to say there wasn’t quality at all price points – Yarra Valley was a particular highlight with its savoury notes, consistent quality and good value. And there were definitely wines to watch from outside of the big four regions, too.’

Donald Edwards, Cellar.SW4
‘In cooler regions like Mornington, only the good sites really get it, so the best wines are expensive, but they really work. Tasmania was the most homogenous, and a bit like Central Otago: big and dark in places. I struggled with Adelaide, but Yarra really impressed, balancing cool climate and ripeness. Overall, I’d stop at the £20 price point for restaurants.’

Zigmars Grinbergs, Vinoteca
‘I had high expectations of Yarra Valley, but at the top prices you may as well go back to Burgundy. There were some good surprises in Mornington Peninsula though, with the really expensive ones really delivering. I don’t mind paying £20 for something that good.’

Gaëlle Laforest, Imbibe
‘The higher prices didn’t always deliver, and there was often better value to be found at the lower end, with the more straightforward, fruit-forward Pinots. This was a good level to find some excellent by-the-glass options.’

Barry McCaughley, Wineaux
‘It’s worth paying a little more. While most wines above £15 drank well and delivered what you’d expect, the sub-£15 wines were more varied, with a spread of quality. Those that drank best showed clean fruit without faults (as usual, Brett was widely present). Tasmania gave the most characterful and expressive wines, while Adelaide and Mornington Peninsula didn’t perform very well comparatively.’

David Nichter, 45 Jermyn Street
‘Tasmania offered some interesting flavours, while Yarra was consistent in what they’re doing. For a restaurant, I’d go for Yarra at £10-£15. At those prices they’d be competitive, and guests would be surprised at what they’d get. It’s nice to surprise someone who is in a Burgundy routine.’

Courtney Stebbings, consultant
‘Pinot Noir is a hard grape, and when you taste this many, every fault in balance really shows. I thought the Yarra wines were best. Mornington, too, but they’re expensive. If someone likes Californian Pinot Noir and has money, suggest Mornington. With Yarra, the £11-£12 price point was good, but for £3 more you got even more character. They reminded me why I got excited about Aussie Pinot Noir.’


Conclusions

  • The Australians know what they’re doing when it comes to Pinot Noir. The wines here achieved an overall average of 74.5%, with very few scoring below 50%. Consistently high quality, then – arguably more than an equivalent flight from other New World Pinot producers. 
  • Yarra Valley was the star of the show, earning top marks with its consistently high-quality wines, and its distinctive savoury-and-spice character. There was a good range of price points, too, with high-scorers not only at the top end (£35) but at entry level (£7.67). Yarra also had the lowest average bottle price of the four regions on display: £15.97.
  • Mornington Peninsula represents the prestigious, top end of the market. Its wines had the same average score as Yarra Valley (79%), but a far higher average price (£22.32) – too high for many restaurants, perhaps. These were impressive examples of Pinot though, and worth the money. The Mornington flight was more Burgundian, with elegant, light fruit, and sometimes warming spice.
  • Tasmania didn’t live up to expectations. While there were some excellent examples, too many veered into too-ripe territory and often didn’t justify their high prices. 
  • Adelaide Hills failed to impress, scoring a comparatively low average, despite some good-value examples with attractive light red fruit
  • With most wines here from 2012, 2013 and 2014, a few isolated ones were thought to need more time, but the majority lived up to their New World reputations, and were ready to drink now.

Many thanks to 100 Wardour Street for hosting the tasting, and for all of their help on the day. Photos by Justine Trickett

 

Related articles

Wine

Modern pioneers of Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir producer Jackson Wine Estate has had to modernise its way of thinking to keep up with demand in the UK and further afield.

Wine

Raj Parr: From sommelier to Pinot Noir icon

His small-volume Santa Rita Pinots are an elegant rebuke to those who think Californian wine is all big brands, big fruit and big egos.

Mixers & More

Tasting and matching 2015: a year in review

As 2015 draws to a close, we're looking back on a year punctuated by a number of top-notch Imbibe panel tastings, with everything from beer and curry,

Wine

Great red hope: Pinot Noir

Pinot is New Zealand’s undoubted star red grape, with a variety of styles and prices to suit every venue.