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Australian Pinot Noir
–tasting 22 different wines

Pinot Noir is different. Itís a fussy grape Ė much more selective than the likes of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon about where it grows, for example -- but when it performs it has the capacity to produce alluring red wines with almost a mystical, indefinable quality to them. Pinotís zenith is reached in red Burgundy from good vintages and excellent sites, made without too much winemaking trickery, where it creates some of the most compelling red wines in the world, with complexity and elegance the hallmarks.  

What of Pinot Noir outside Burgundy? To be frank, it has struggled. Pinot doesnít want it too hot; nor does it like climates that are too cool. Early attempts in California, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand were pretty unimpressive, but in the last decade or two some success has been achieved in all four countries, with New Zealand so far looking the most promising.

How should Pinot Noir taste? It isnít about size. We are not looking for extracted, dark wines, or concentrated, thick flavours. When it comes to structure, we want this to come as much from the acidity as from the tannin. Itís a difficult balance to strike.

Australia has had a bit of a rough time with Pinot Noir. A common fault has been growing the grapes in unsuitable climates, with jammy, extracted wines from those too hot (the most common fault: who wants Pinot to taste like Shiraz?) and green, herbaceous efforts from overly cool spots. As a Pinot fan, it was nice to get this opportunity to try some 22 different examples from a range of growing areas, to try to get a snapshot glimpse of how things are faring for Australian Pinot.

My conclusions? Pretty favourable. While I still think New Zealand generally does better with this grape, these wines were of a high standard overall, with a few really impressive examples. It will come as no surprise to many that the relatively cool Victorian regions of the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Geelong performed particularly strongly. Worth noting is the diversity of styles represented here. Perhaps more than any other grape, Pinot Noir expresses the characteristics of the terroir (soils and climate) and the intentions of the winemaker most transparently. Worth noting is that all these wines cost less than youíd pay for a half-decent village-level red Burgundy.

Ninth Island Pinot Noir 2001, Tasmania
This is a tasty, fruity style of Pinot. The attractive, bright juicy berry fruit on the nose leads to a fruity palate with interesting herby notes, too. Not overly complex, but a successful attempt. Very good+ (£8.49 Harvey Nichols, Noble Rot, Tesco, Waitrose)

Tyrrellís Old Winery Pinot Noir 2001 (McLaren Vale, Hunter Valley, Adelaide Hills)
Assertive berry fruit nose. Rich, chunky herby fruit on the palate, which is very substantial with oaky undertones. Itís a nice, full-on wine but atypical of the variety. Very good (£6.99 Majestic, Unwins)

Tyrrellís Eclipse Pinot Noir 2001, Hunter Valley
The Hunter is usually considered to be too warm for Pinot, but Tyrrellís have done a good job here. Whatís nice about this complex, unusual wine is that it isnít fruit driven. Slightly faded rim. Attractive savoury, spicy, earthy nose. Lovely weight on the palate, which works really well in an earthy, spicy, savoury style. Very good+ (£9.99 Connollyís)

Hollick Pinot Noir 2001, Coonawarra
Lovely savoury nose with fresh, full herb-tinged, leafy-edged cherry fruit together with some medicinal notes. The palate is full and savoury with a lovely herby, medicinal edge to the fruit. A substantial wine, but it works very well in this style. Very good/excellent (£8.99 Great Grog, Seckford)

De Bortoli Gulf Station Pinot Noir 2001 Yarra Valley
Fading colour. Undergrowthy, animal edge to the cherryish fruit on the nose. Plenty of herby and earthy complexity on the mid-weight palate, together with good acidity. Attractive stuff. Very good/excellent (£8.50 Wine Society, Everywine)

Seville Estate Pinot Noir 2001, Yarra Valley
Assertive meaty, spicy nose with a lovely savoury character and a touch of ginger. Sweetly spiced herby palate is really interesting. An unusual style, but it works well. Very good/excellent (£13.95 Liberty Wines)

CV Pinot Noir 2000, Western Australia
This one tastes a bit cooked. Faded red/brown colour. Dusty, herby nose is a bit dull. Warm, spicy palate. Itís not a terrible wine, but it tastes faded. Good (£7.99 Wright Wines, Lloyd Taylor Wines)

Plantagenet Pinot Noir 2000 Pemberton (Great Southern)
Pale orange/red colour. Lively herby nose with meaty, spicy undertones. Palate shows good acidity and is midweight with a savoury, spicy character. Unusual wine in a non-fruit-driven style. Very good+ (£11.95 Liberty Wines)

Yering Station Pinot Noir 2000, Yarra Valley
Very appealing savoury/spicy nose with tight herby cherry and berry fruit and a warm spiciness. The palate is midweight and savoury with nice balance and some elegance. Nice weight here, and although the oak is a little apparent it doesnít get in the way. Very good/excellent (£9.99 Tanners, SH Jones, Seckford)

Scotchmanís Hill Pinot Noir 2000, Geelong
Faded, bricking rim. Focused herbal fruit with spicy undertones on the nose. Good density on the substantial savoury palate with firm tannins and elegant berry fruit. Good acidity rounds up what is a very appealing package. Very good/excellent (£10.99 Wine Society, Laytons, Martinez)

Shadowfax Pinot Noir 2000, Geelong/Yarra Valley
The nose displays a lovely spicy edge to the raspberry and cherry fruit. On the palate thereís some sweetness to the nicely textured spice-laden fruit. Good concentration and balance here. Very good+ (£11.99 Morris & Verdin, Wicked Wines, Harvey Nichols)

Dromana Pinot Noir 2000, Mornington Peninsula
Tight spicy red fruits on the nose, which is nicely savoury. The palate is midweight with lovely herbal complexity and a slight medicinal tinge. Good acidity. Very good/excellent (£9.99 House of Townend, Le Fleming, Wm Mason)

Stonier Pinot Noir 2000, Mornington Peninsula
Quite a light colour (often a good thing with Pinot). Lovely sweet herbal complexity on the nose, which shows strawberry and raspberry fruit. The palate is quite open, with sweet herby fruit and some gamey elements. An open, herby style. Very good+ (£10.99 Wimbledon Wine Cellars)

Stonier Pinot Noir Reserve 2000, Mornington Peninsula
A serious effort. Wonderful savoury herbal complexity on the nose, with medicinal and undergrowth notes Ė very classy. The palate shows good concentration of elegant cherry and berry fruit with spicy oak and a herby, earthy richness. Excellent (£15.99 Majestic, Wimbledon Wine Cellars, Peckham & Rye)

Pipers Brook Vineyard Pinot Noir 2000, Tasmania
Striking savoury, medicinal nose with a herbaceous streak, leading to a palate with some spicy richness to the chunky fruit. Quite a big wine, aiming for elegance but not quite getting there. Very good+ (£12.99 Harvey Nichols, Noble Rot)

Chain of Ponds Jerusalem Section Pinot Noir 2000 Adelaide Hills
Bricking rim. Quite a baked nose with sweet berry fruit. The palate is ripe and rich with a touch of caramelly sweetness. Atypical. Good (£9.99 Bibendum)

Nepenthe Pinot Noir 2000, Adelaide Hills
Sweet herbal nose with a touch of rhubarb (honestly!). The palate is chunky, with more rhubarb fruit. Good (£12.99 Oddbins, Stratfordís Wine Agencies)

Hillstowe Udyís Mill Pinot Noir 2000, Adelaide Hills
Ripe, sweet-edged caramelly nose. Sweet jammy berry fruit on the palate with a savoury, spicy finish. Good/very good (£13.99, only stocked by the on-trade so far)

Knappstein Lenswood Pinot Noir 2000, Lenswood
Striking sweet herbal nose is ripe and rich. The palate is ripe and structured with a savoury streak underlying the sweet berry fruit. Very good (£17.49 Uncorked)

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 1999, Yarra Valley
Nice balance here, although itís at the fuller end of the Pinot Noir spectrum. Sweetly spiced cherry fruit nose with some herbiness. The palate is quite rich and ripe with a spicy finish: some oak evident. Very good+ (£10.99 Oddbins)

Rouge Homme Pinot Noir 1998, Coonawarra
Quite concentrated and spicy, this is a rich style with firm tannins Ė tastes more like Shiraz! Very good (£6.99 Siegel, Clipper Wine Company)

Mountadam Pinot Noir 1998, Eden Valley
Rich, focused spicy berry fruit on the nose. The substantial, savoury palate with firm tannins and some spicy oak notes. It still has some elegance despite the size. Very good+ (£14.99 Philglass & Swiggot, Corney & Barrow)

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article published October 2002; wines tasted August 2002