The wines of Mac Forbes, Victoria, Australia
Brilliant wines from the Yarra Valley and Strathbogie Ranges



I’m going to make a prediction: I reckon that before long Mac Forbes will be recognized as one of Australia’s greatest winemakers (I suppose he may already be...). His wines are fantastic, and they represent an important facet of Australia’s future fine wine dimension. I know this might sound a bit hypey, but I'm just so impressed by what he is doing.

Forbes made his name as winemaker with the late John Middleton at Mount Mary in the Yarra Valley—wines that I’ve admired greatly, and which have stood out from the crowd. ‘I grew up drinking Quintet on special occasions,’ he says. ‘Mum and dad knew the Middletons.’ Before starting work he did the back-pack thing and ended up picking grapes in Gaillac, as well as working in cellars. This helped cement a love of wine.

‘Mount Mary provided the basis and framework for what I think can be sustainable,’ says Mac. ‘It’s the right size to remain passionate.’ Forbes owns his company outright, but is assisted by Tony Fikkers (winemaker) and Dylan Grigg (viticulturalist).

He left in 2002 and spent three years as winemaker/ambassador for Southcorp in Europe, as well as doing stints in Portugal and Austria before returning to the Yarra to make his own wines.  While Mac was in Europe he spent some time with Dirk Niepoort, trying to get a sense of elegance with Douro fruit. Mac has some similarities to Dirk, particularly in his perfectionist drive to achieve complexity and elegance at all costs, and in his willingness to try doing things a bit differently. 

Niepoort’s Charme was the inspiration for Mac’s EBL Pinot Noir, with its ultra-short maceration. ‘It stayed orange for two years and I was expecting to put it down the drain’, he reports. But the wine picked up colour during its long stay in barrel. ‘It goes against what we think we know’, Mac adds. ‘Anyone who thinks they know all the answers is a long way from making interesting wine’. 

His energies are focused on Pinot Noir and Riesling, although he also works with other varieties. ‘I’m looking for texture in my wines’, he says. ‘We have no problem with getting fruit flavours in Australia, so it is about the other components. I’m looking at the best expression of the site’.  Currently he makes eight different Pinot Noirs from the Yarra, and is picking much earlier than most other producers, at 11.5–12.5 degrees of potential alcohol.

He also takes a more natural approach to winemaking. ‘Naturalness is what I live for’, says Mac. ‘So many times we could intervene, but I've achieved the most elation when we don't do anything. I don't add yeasts or nutrients, and I'm trying to avoid adding any acid. I don't pick on analysis, but on flavour (I don’t have a problem with greenness in the seeds). I want to go back to pure basics.’  The French concept of élevage (bringing a wine up) is important to Mac. ‘Everything I make goes into barrels’, he says. ‘I slow the process down. They all take their time. I pick early and allow oxidative handling early on, which means the wines are very oxygen stable.’ 

Mac sources grapes from eight Yarra vineyards, seven of which his team manage, and one where they liaise with the viticulturalist. He also takes fruit from the cool-climate Strathbogie Ranges, which is the source of his Riesling. ‘We’ve invested heavily in a short period,’ he says. ‘The only way we can sustain being very small is to keep raising the quality.’

Mac is currently doing a lot of work on soils from a moisture point of view, using mulches and cover crops. ‘If the air temperature is 42 °C, the soil on exposed earth is 60 °C,’ he points out, ‘but by this insulation we are keeping temperatures below 40 °C. It’s really important. There is so much talk about soil health, but it’s pointless putting all this effort in only to fry the soils in a hot spell.’

Of recent vintages, 2009 was a disaster in the Yarra, with heat spikes and, of course, the terrible fires just before vintage time. ‘We lost 80% of our Yarra fruit; we just put it on the ground. Strathbogie lost two-thirds.’ The real problem was smoke taint. In 2010, Mac lost all his Strathbogie fruit because of a big rain event, and ended up buying some from Tasmania.

‘With all the [Yarra] wines, 2010 is a step up, but the structures are the same,’ says Mac. ‘That’s reassuring.’ In the 2010 vintage he tried cropping a bit of the vineyard at 1 ton/acre, and found a real step up in quality. But only two barrels were made.


Date of tasting is given in brackets after each month in month/year format


Mac Forbes Riesling rs20 2009 Tasmania
Interesting stuff: limey with high acidity and some vivid herbal notes. A bit green. Unusual. 88/100 (09/10)  

Mac Forbes Riesling rs16 2009 Strathbogie Ranges, Victoria
16 g/l rs, 10 g/l acid, 10% alcohol. Taut, lean and fresh with lemon and mineral nose. The palate is taut and crisp with nice lemony precision, but there’s just a hint of smokiness on the finish. 88/100 (06/10)

Mac Forbes Riesling rs37 Strathbogie Ranges
Attractive, complex and limey on the nose. Lovely focus. Palate is sweet, honeyed and limey with real interest and lovely fruit. 91/100 (10/09)

Mac Forbes Riesling rs31 2007 Strathbogie Ranges, Victoria
This has 31 g/litre of residual sugar and 8 g/litre of acidity, made in an off-dry style inspired by German Rieslings. Mac says that ‘it went really orange after 3 months on skins: it looked like Pinot, but now it looks like Riesling’. No sulfur was added during fermentation. Just 300 litres was made, but more is planned for future vintages. Very fine limey, aromatic nose. The palate is off-dry like a Kabinett but a bit richer, with honeyed, sweet limey fruit and a rich, rounded texture. 91/100 (05/08)

Mac Forbes Riesling rs9 2008 Strathbogie Ranges
9 g/litre sugar and 8 g/litre acidity. Lovely fresh lemony aromatics. Focused. The palate has appealing texture with smooth, pure fruit and a hint of honeyed sweetness. Good acid. Lovely balance. 92/100  (01/09)

Mac Forbes Riesling rs37 2008 Strathbogie Ranges 
An off-dry style with 37 g/litre residual sugar. Sweet, honeyed and lemony on the nose. Lovely rich melony palate with lovely texture and complexity. A really interesting wine. 91/100 (01/09)


Mac Forbes Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2009
Tight, toasty and fresh with nice citrussy notes. Very pure and tightwound. Lots of interest here. 92/100 (09/10)

Mac Forbes Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2007
Complex, taut and toasty with nice minerality to the focused fruit. Deliciously expressive. 93/100 (01/09)

Mac Forbes Woori Yallock Chardonnay 2008 Yarra Valley, Australia
Mac started working with this vineyard in 2005, but has restructured it a bit. He’s also stopped taking any Chardonnay from the lower Yarra which he reckons is just too hot. Fresh and a bit flinty with nice lemon crispness and a bit of nuttiness. Quite an elegant, fresh style. Bright and citrusy. 92/100 (06/10)

Mac Forbes Woori Yallock Chardonnay 2005 Yarra Valley, Australia
Quite fresh, with a full, complex nose. The palate is smooth and concentrated with nice expressive fruits. Tasty stuff that’s rich but balanced. 90/100 (02/07)

Pinot Noir

Mac Forbes Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2007
Pale colour.
Lovely spicy nose with notes of ginger and warm herbs. The palate is elegant with lively red berry and cherry fruit. Appealing. 92/100 (10/09)

Mac Forbes Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2006
Taut, herby, spicy nose with some earthy notes. Savoury and focused. The palate is fresh and elegant with sweet fruit and a hint of earthy, spicy structure. Delicious and complex, with real elegance. 93/100 (01/09)

Mac Forbes Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2005
Light coloured. Smooth, sweetly fruited nose of perfumed cherry fruit and some spice. There’s just a hint of ginger. The palate is soft and elegant with rounded, spicy-edged fruit. Complex, full and yet not too rich. 93/100 (02/07)

Mac Forbes Gruyere Pinot Noir 2008
Located between Mount Mary and Yarra Yering. 12.5% alcohol. Pale colour. Delicate, elegant red cherry fruit nose with some dried herb notes. The palate is pure and smooth with lovely elegant, rounded texture. Spicy cherry fruit with some pleasant bitter herb notes. 94/100 (06/10)

Mac Forbes Gruyere Pinot Noir 2008
Very elegant with bright cherryish fruit. Light with fresh spiciness and good acidity. 93/100 (10/09)

Mac Forbes Gruyere Pinot Noir 2007
A new vineyard Mac is working with. 11.9% alcohol. Brightly aromatic, fresh and quite pure with some gingery, spicy notes. The palate is pure and expressive with fresh, smooth-textured cherry fruit. Lovely elegance here with a savoury edge. 93/100 (01/09)

Mac Forbes Coldstream Pinot Noir 2008
Lovely warm, spicy aromatics. Sweet, super-elegant cherry fruit. The palate is elegnt yet has some denser, spicy structure and high acidity. 93/100 (10/09)

Mac Forbes Coldstream Pinot Noir 2006 Yarra Valley
Pale colour. Focused cherry and spice nose. The palate is pure and super-elegant with lovely purity and freshness. A brilliant wine that is thrillingly complex and textured. 94/100 (01/09)

Mac Forbes Coldstream Pinot Noir 2005 Yarra Valley, Australia
Wonderful open, spicy nose. It’s complex, warm and rich with just a hint of herby freshness. The palate is soft and spicy with real complexity and elegance. This is utterly delicious. 94/100 (02/07)

Mac Forbes Woori Yallock Pinot Noir 2008
South-facing vineyard in the upper Yarra which ripens late. Cherry red colour. Lively, slightly floral aromatics of nice bright cherry fruit, with subtle sappy notes. The palate is sweetly fruited but also elegant with real precision and lovely delicate cherry fruit. Taut but already seductive. Tight finish. 94/100 (06/10)

Mac Forbes Woori Yallock Pinot Noir 2008
Quite rich with lovely density and spicy elegance. Nice purity here, with density and a hint of sweetness. 94/100 (10/09)

Mac Forbes Woori Yallock Pinot Noir 2005
Another pale coloured Pinot. There’s some sweet spicy warmth to the nose. The palate is soft, spicy and full, showing real elegance and nice density. Smooth and soft. 93/100 (02/07)

Mac Forbes Yarra Glen Pinot Noir 2008
Lower Yarra, 0.8 by 1m close planting. Nice pale colour. Beautifully elegant red cherry fruit nose with beguiling subtle herb and leaf notes. The palate is superbly elegant with minerality and a gravelly mid-palate. Fine stony, mineral structure. 95/100 (06/10)

Mac Forbes Yarra Glen Pinot Noir 2008
Pale colour.
Beautifully elegant nose with cherries and herbs and some suppleness. Savoury, bright high acid palate showing herb and cherry fruit. 94/100 (10/09)

Mac Forbes EBL Pinot Noir 2005 Yarra Valley
This was foot-stomped for 6 hours and then pressed off the skins 24 hours later. Mac says that it had no colour for 2 years, and was like white elderflower with lifted floral notes. After 24 months on lees it started to change colour and dark fruit characters started emerging. It just shows that there is so much we don't know, which is so bloody exciting. Pale cherry red in colour with lovely aromatic nose of sweet, elegant grassy cherry fruit. The palate is fresh and elegant with lovely smooth cherry fruit and a hint of earthiness. Refined structure. A thrilling wine. 94/100 (05/08)


Mac Forbes Gruyere Syrah 2008
Very fresh and fine with pure cherry fruit and some raspberry notes. The palate is fresh and bright with some peppery notes and minerality, as well as a focused tannic structure and high acidity. 93/100 (09/10)

Mac Forbes Gruyere Syrah 2007
Lively, bright aromatic nose with some menthol and clove notes as well as a bit of pepper. The palate is fresh, savoury and spicy with dark cherry and plum fruit as well as some spice. Tight and savoury. 93/100 (06/10)

Mac Forbes Gruyere Syrah 2007
Fresh, pure, focused dark fruits nose. The palate is bright with focused dark cherry and raspberry fruit and a bit of peppery spiciness. Delicious stuff with good acidity. 93/100 (01/09)

Cabernet Sauvignon

Mac Forbes ‘Hugh’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
Sweet, open blackcurranty nose. The palate shows fresh, pure, expressive berry and blackcurrant fruit. Satisfying, fresh and forward. 92/100 (01/09)

See also:

Landmark Australia Tutorial
Clonakilla Vertical Tasting

Published 07/11  
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