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Wines that Speak of Pinot Mastery

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Pinot Noir producers can say what they like about their particular clonal selections, vineyard management and winemaking regimes, when it comes to making decisions on picking their precious parcels of fruit, nature itself often has the final word. And the word on everyone’s lips during past two vintages in Tasmania has been ‘rain,’ says winemaker […]

Pinot Noir producers can say what they like about their particular clonal selections, vineyard management and winemaking regimes, when it comes to making decisions on picking their precious parcels of fruit, nature itself often has the final word.

And the word on everyone’s lips during past two vintages in Tasmania has been ‘rain,’ says winemaker Tom Wallace (pictured above at Devil’s Corner, image courtesy Peter Mathew).

“Yeah, we’ve certainly had a couple of interesting years. I reckon 2019 was probably the last vintage in Tasmania when you had any real choice in making calls on when to pick.

“More often than not, we’ve been basing our decisions on avoiding rain events. In many respects, 2020 and 2021 were typical Tasmanian vintages; vintages pretty much controlled by nature and the weather. Fortunately, we’ve been able to produce some very good wines, despite the seasons being far from ideal.”

Clearly, no-one enjoys working outdoors when it’s raining. But that’s not the major reason for calling a halt to picking during vintage.

Steady downpours in late summer and early autumn can often cause Pinot Noir berries to swell with water at an alarming rate.

That not only brings a corresponding dilution of fruit flavour and a drop in natural grape sugars, there’s a genuine risk of fruit splitting among clonal selections that have especially thin skins.

Picking Pinot Noir when it’s out of condition is what gives the variety such a bad name among diehard fans of big bold Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon wines. The resulting wines invariably lack colour, flavour and texture. It’s far better for vineyard managers to wait until weather patterns improve and swollen berries have had a chance to dehydrate a little before resuming picking.

Vintage at Rowella, Tamar Valley. Image courtesy: Mark Smith.

Of course, that’s easier said than done if there are diminishing hopes that the weather will significantly improve, especially during late April and May.

“Vintage 2021 for Tamar Ridge and Devil’s Corner was pretty much the opposite of 2020,” Wallace continues.

“This year, the months that preceded harvest were generally much cooler and wetter than normal. Fortunately, the weather eased throughout March and April and we had a good harvest period in the north of the state, with lower than average rainfall and some warm, sunny days.

The Hazards Vineyard on the east coast copped around 120mm of rain during the last week of March but we had close to 90 percent of our fruit off the vines by then. Our wine style focusses on producing Pinot Noirs with around 13 percent alcohol. Leaving our fruit to hang on the vine for an extended period just isn’t what we’re about.

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“This vintage was my twelfth in Tasmania. Over that time, we’ve developed a really good understanding of our vineyards in the Tamar and on the east coast. That allows us to identify certain blocks and even certain rows that are performing better than others as we head towards vintage.

“We’re also looking to pick relatively early in order to create that more elegant and pretty style of wine. We’re trying to capture the freshness and brightness of Tasmania’s cool climate; to create wines that are great to drink but will age and give you years of love.”

Talk is cheap, but there’s no doubt Wallace is achieving what he says he’s trying to do for the Brown Family Wine Group and its flagship Pinot Noirs in Tasmania.

The company’s Devil’s Corner Pinot Noir is the number one Pinot Noir in the country by volume and value. In current figures, that translates into an incredible 684,200 bottles of Devil’s Corner, with annual sales topping $13.5m. (Aztec National Scan Data, MAT 02/05/21.)

Kayena Vineyard, Rowella, in Tasmania’s Tamar Valley. Image courtesy Mark Smith.

Those may be workhorse statistics, but Wallace has shown he is capable of producing thoroughbreds as well. On May 24, the Brown Family Wine Group announced its Tamar Ridge Reserve and Devil’s Corner Resolution wines from the 2018 vintage were awarded gold medals at the Global Pinot Noir Masters 2020.

The company’s flagship Tamar Ridge Estates Pinot Noir from 2018 was awarded a bronze medal at the same event.

Organised by The Drinks Business, the Global Pinot Noir Masters was held on March 4 at London’s prestigious Dorchester Hotel in Mayfair. All wines were judged blind by a panel of wine industry luminaries, comprising Masters of Wines, Master Sommeliers and senior wine buyers in the UK wine trade.

According to Patrick Schmitt MW, the event showed why so many consumers and wine producers persist with pernickety Pinot Noir.

“That’s because, when it’s good, it delivers a combination of fragrance and texture quite unlike anything else on the planet,” he noted.

“We had stunning wines from a broad sweep of places, including Australia, California, Canada, Chile, England, France, Italy, New Zealand, Romania and South Africa.

“There was something else we realised following this year’s competition. That was Pinot’s impressive versatility… Pinot can make delicious traditional method sparkling wine; it can also make wonderful pure expressions of rosé or red wine, and in terms of the latter, the stylistic range is broad, from a pretty light redcurrant tasting result to something richer, sometimes slightly jammy, or at the top end, smooth and seductive, sometimes gently tannic, and the ideal partner for fine-grained, toasty oak.

Pinot Noir bunches await harvest. Image courtesy Wine Australia.

“If one was to draw a generalisation about this grape, it is that quality is most closely connected to the individual producer rather than the climate or soil of the vineyard.

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“Where conditions are good enough to successfully ripen Pinot Noir, the quality relates to how attentively it is managed in the field and the winery. That takes sensitivity and experience. And even when both these are apparent, weather conditions during the vintage can easily spoil things, along with small errors in the cellar.

“Looking across the top scorers… it is exciting to see how many regions are represented, proving that you don’t need to default to Bourgogne for great Pinot Noir.”

Sound advice. Listen up.


Pinot Palooza returns

Like to revel in world-class Pinot Noir?

After a year’s absence due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, Australia’s largest annual celebration of Pinot Noir is back on the calendar in 2021, with events scheduled for Auckland (New Zealand), Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in coming months.

First held in Melbourne in 2012, Pinot Palooza was created to address a perceived consumer backlash against ‘death by masterclass’ whenever traditional classroom-style tutorials and tastings were being organised for lovers of the variety.

Event founder Dan Sims said at the time, “We’re a grassroots movement of likeminded wine folk, hell-bent on celebrating the people, place and personalities of the greater global wine community; especially Pinot Noir makers.”

In 2019, Pinot Palooza drew more than 25,000 Pinot-philes to tastings hosted by 12 cities in five countries.

However, this year’s program will offer an entirely different celebration of Pinot Noir than we’ve become accustomed to seeing in pre-COVID times.

For the first time in its history, Pinot Palooza will be staged in four-hour sessions, with participating producers pouring and discussing their wines at various stands located at major indoor venues. More than 100 different Pinot Noirs will be presented, including those from Tasmanian producers Haddow + Dineen, Handpicked Wines and Spring Vale.

Pinot-friendly food will also be on offer.

“The new sessions will make things a bit calmer,” Sims says.

“We’re not going to cram everyone in, and less people means more opportunities to make those connections with the producers.”

Tickets are now on sale, with Auckland welcoming Paloozers on August 6 and 7. Events in Sydney (October 1 and 2), Melbourne (October 8 and 9) and Brisbane (October 15 and 16) complete Pinot Palooza’s domestic circuit for 2021.

Pinot fun at Pinot Palooza. Image supplied.

Hobart’s Mark Smith wrote his first weekly wine column back in 1994. Now more than 1700 features and 25 years later, he continues to chart the successes of Tasmania’s small scale, cool climate wine industry with regular contributions to some of Australia’s leading industry publications.


Mark gives you his honest opinions about the best wines available right now from Tasmania’s wine makers.


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2016 Ghost Rock Catherine Cuvée Exceptionnelle $49

When Jansz Tasmania’s Natalie Fryar left the company to create her prestige Bellebonne brand in Tasmania, one of the benefits of her move to the state was her accessibility to fellow sparkling winemakers here. This smart release from the excellent 2016 vintage has Fryar’s handprints all over it. It’s a remarkably youthful drop, showing the benefits of 3 years on lees. Bready/citrus notes show a subtle ginger spice character, while the palate is fresh and vibrant with an engaging savoury/briny twist. The Cradle Coast is clearly well suited to fizz. Enjoy with local fish and chips.



2020 Invercarron Chardonnay $35

When Andrew and Karen Jones’ Invercarron was named among the seven gold medal Pinot Noir winners at last year’s Royal Hobart Wine Show, the Jordan Valley’s secret was out. This picturesque countryside around Broadmarsh, north of Hobart, has great potential as a producer of top-notch, cool climate wines. Skilfully made by Justin Arnold at Ghost Rock, this nifty little middleweight is a young, generous, well-crafted release with real flair. Stone fruit and fig-like flavours are supported by some lovely oak. It improves considerably with a bit of air. Drink or keep 2-4 years.



2019 Otherness Verthandi Riesling $55

Otherness is a cleverly conceived collaborative project being undertaken by former Barossa Valley sommelier and restaurateur, Grant Dickson. This is one of three Rieslings created from fruit he purchased in 2019. Sourced from Goaty Hill in the Tamar Valley, it’s a deliciously deep and intense aromatic drop, crafted by Rieslingfreak winemaker John Hughes. Lime/citrus characters are balanced by fresh natural acidity and a good dollop of residual sugar. Once opened, the wine will last for weeks in the fridge. If cellared, it will live for decades, but share a 6-pack with a friend just to be sure.



2020 Stoney Rise Pinot Noir $32

Tamar Valley winemaker Joe Holyman relies on the KISS principle when he works with Pinot Noir at his Gravelly Beach winery. All the hard work is done in the vineyard. Moderate yields and relatively early picking ensure a fruit-forward style with good freshness and vibrancy. Lowish alcohol (11.5%) is a bonus. Oak maturation is kept brief for the Stoney Rise label without robbing the wine of sound, underlying structure. Cherry and raspberry characters abound in this 2020. Enjoy with lightly spiced Asian cuisine or a protein-rich cut of yellow-fin tuna. Delish.


Source: Tasmanian Times

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