Tag Archives: Pinot Noir

Romance & Romorantin

Gouais Blanc can get just about any grape’s juices flowing. This Casanova of the world’s vineyard has sired at least 81 distinct varieties, according to Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson et al. And Gouais Blanc and Pinot Noir have been at it like rabbits, producing more than 20 offspring including Chardonnay and the Beaujolais berry, Gamay Noir. Less well known than these high achievers is Romorantin, the white grape of the 20-year-old Cour-Cheverny appellation in the Loire Valley.
Legend has it that François I of France ordered 80,000 plants of this vine from Burgundy for his mother’s castle in the village of Romorantin near Blois in 1519. However it came about, it’s found a good home in Cheverny, which accounts for almost all of France’s 70-odd hectares of Romorantin.
The first I’d heard of it was at a tasting of wines brought into Australia by Halle Aux Vins, which had this example from Michel Gendrier at Domaine des Huards. The family’s been on the land some 80km east of Vouvray since 1846, and Michel’s son Alexandre is a seventh-generation winemaker. La famille Gendrier has followed organic and biodynamic principles for the past 15 years.
This particular wine is 100% Romorantin from 35-year-old vines. The fruit was lightly pressed and fermented using natural yeasts, after which the wine spent six months on fine lees.
The end product has Chablis-like minerality and drive. It also has a ring of good Aussie Semillon about it, combining a young Sem’s lemon, nettliness and acidity with the texture of bottle-aged Sem. It’s drinking beautifully now, but it’s easy to imagine how these wines could age well for 20-plus years, developing stronger notes of honey, flint and petrol as they go.
Domaine des Huards Cour-Cheverny 2011 AOC Cour-Cheverny, Loire

Clear pale straw in colour, with a nose of honeysuckle, nettles, lemon and orange zest, peach skin and creamy lees. This dry, medium-bodied wine has a soft, slightly waxy texture. The palate is supremely fresh with lemon, honey and a flinty character. It has pulsing vigour through the back palate, with grip and acidity contributing to a long and harmonious finish of honey, spice and bitter-lemon savouriness. This bright, lovely wine is pregnant with food-matching possibilities thanks to its strength and structure. Sole meunière would be a dream.

Costs $33 at City Wine Shop in Melbourne – Alcohol 12% – Tasted 29/12/13 – Cork

Yabby Über Achiever

It’s barely been around five minutes, but it’s made quite a name for itself. Yabby Lake Block 1 Pinot Noir 2012 has just picked up best Pinot Noir and best single-vineyard dry red at the National Wine Show of Australia. That’s after becoming the first Pinot ever to win Australia’s most prestigious wine prize, the Jimmy Watson trophy.
Easy to suspect the bloke who made it of serial over achievement, too. Tom Carson was Dux of the Len Evans Tutorial in 2002 on his way to becoming the youngest National Wine Show chairman, and also led Yering Station to the International Winemaker of the Year title in 2004.
I got a chance to chat with the man of the moment following his triumph at last month’s Royal Melbourne Wine Awards, where his victory speech eloquently summarised his philosophy: “Wines for me shouldn’t have winemaker thumbprints all over them. They should be very natural, very easy, very expressive and just show their beauty without being poked and prodded and fined, filtered or manipulated.”
Carson was quick to dish out credit to Australian Pinot pioneers (pinotneers?) such as Phillip Jones of Bass Phillip, Main Ridge Estate’s Nat White, wine writer and Coldstream Hills founder James Halliday and the late John Middleton of Mount Mary.
Next came the Yabby Lake team, most notably his “gentle, thorough and sensitive” vineyard manager, Keith Harris. It was Harris who planted the vines in 1997/98 and laid the groundwork for greatness. “It’s an exceptionally good site,” Carson told me. “When I arrived in 2008, that’s when we started really delving into the vineyard and looking at each part of it as a separate wine – and trying to understand what we could do, during the season and in the winery, to bring those wines to life, to get that potential out of the vineyard and into the bottle.”
The meticulous mapping of the vineyard, with its myriad clones and sections, means Carson and Harris roam the rows for up to five hours a day during vintage. They chew the fat, taste the fruit and work out when the everything will be ready. “Getting the picking right is a massive part of winemaking,” says Carson.
And from the moment the Block 1 fruit came in, he was sure he was onto a winner. “Right through its ageing in barrel, it was always destined to be a block wine. For me, Pinot has beautiful texture, and this has fragrance and aromatics, with some rose petals and beautiful violets and real subtlety and detail in the aromas. The wine has got a lot of extract and depth and evenness to the palate. There’s real gravitas and energy at the back palate. The completeness of it is what excited us.”
For sure, Carson’s creation isn’t a light, bright babe. It’s a dark, brooding and serious Pinot Noir: deep in colour, with dark cherries, plums and spice beneath those floral tones. Its silky texture belies a taut strength and imposing length. And there’s no question it’s only just begun; the fragrance, purity and structure are obvious, but it’s just hinting at pleasures to come, with 2014 to 2022 shaping up as a promising window.
Just as Block 1’s best is ahead of it, I wouldn’t count on Carson & Co resting on their laurels. If he’s prepared to accept credit for anything, it’s setting “impossible” standards – and pushing his team to surpass them. “It’s about instilling confidence in people that we can do it better next year.”
Yabby Lake Block 1 Pinot Noir 2012
The nerdy stuff: The MV6-clone fruit for Yabby Lake Block 1 Pinot Noir 2012 was grown on the lower, more sheltered part of the vineyard in Moorooduc on the Mornington Peninsula. The soils here are light clay over loam, though they’re a bit deeper, the clay a touch heavier, than in other parts of the vineyard. It was hand picked, hand sorted and gently de-stemmed into small open fermenters, with a small percentage of whole bunches added. Carson then gave it a three- to four-day soaking before a fermentation that peaked at 32 degrees. The wine was pressed off skins after 10 days into French oak puncheons for malolactic fermentation and maturation. It stayed in oak until February 2013, when it was bottled. Only 270 dozen made.

Tolpuddle of Tasmania

If Adelaide Hills producer Shaw + Smith was going to make a good wine in Tasmania, it wasn’t going to be by accident. “It’s a shit-hot vineyard. This is off the shelf. This is not bespoke.”
Michael Hill Smith’s words at the lunch to launch the 2012 Tolpuddle wines betrayed all the excitement he and Martin Shaw felt at acquiring such a precious piece of land in mid-2011. The vineyard was planted in 1988 and its back story is a roll call of great cool-climate wines – fruit had been used for Eileen Hardy Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and by many of Australia’s finest exponents of sparkling wine: Chandon, Heemskerk, House of Arras.
Michael wasn’t so keen on the name but had decided to stick with it. Good move, I reckon. It sounds a little cutesy and the label’s pretty conservative, but Tolpuddle has a great history beyond wine. It’s named after the Tolpuddle Martyrs, a group of men from Dorset, England, sent as convicts to Australia for setting up a farmers’ union. The leader of the group was a chap with the evocative name of George Loveless, who worked on part of the property that is now Tolpuddle Vineyard.
The vineyard won the inaugural award for Tasmanian Vineyard of the Year in 2006, and used to be worked on by Ray Guerin in his capacity as viticulturist for Hardys. Ray is now viticulturist at Shaw + Smith – and Gourmet Traveller WINE’s Viticulturist of the Year 2013. So it would seem the stars are aligned for some pretty good wine.

Tolpuddle Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 (RRP $65)

Nerdy stuff: Fruit was handpicked, whole bunch pressed and fermented mostly wild into French oak barriques (roughly a third new, a third one year old and a third two year old). About 20% went through malolactic fermentation. It spent about 10 months on lees, with occasional battonage.

What it was like: There’s nothing meek about this wine as you approach it. The colour is medium to deep lemon, and the nose fairly pronounced with lemon, white peach and a whiff of earth. It’s strong and forceful across the palate, getting on for full bodied and with great drive and fruit purity. A really fine, dry acid line keeps it taut, but there’s nothing hard about it. Bracing, yes, with a long finish of lime and white stone fruits. Impressive. Drink now to 2017+

Tolpuddle Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 (RRP $75)

Nerdy stuff: Grapes were hand picked, fermented in open fermenters and hand plunged, with an average of 25% whole bunches. The wine was then aged in French oak barriques (roughly a third new) for 10 months.

What it was like: Amazing perfume. As with the Chardonnay, leaves you in no doubt that this is going to grab your attention. Exceptionally floral, especially violets, plus cherries and earth-encrusted mushrooms. It’s smooth-textured and vigorous in the mouth, mostly primary fruit (strawberry compote and cherries) that pulses through to the long finish. Very good acid and tannin structure. Drink now to 2020.

Overall, the Chardonnay edged it for me but both wines show real strength of identity and structure. Generous but measured, and very drinkable.

I attended this lunch on 14/10/13 as a guest of Shaw + Smith