Pinot and chardonnay rule in Macedon, Victoria

Like Canberra, Victoria’s Macedon region sits high on the Great Dividing Range. It stretches roughly from Gisborne in the south to Baynton in the north; and from Kyneton in the west to Kilmore in the east – very roughly 40 kilometres by 40 kilometres, about half way between Melbourne and Bendigo.

Macedon’s vineyards sit mainly at around 600 metres above sea level, dropping down by a few hundred metres to the north and therefore providing a range of climates – from the icy, southern slopes of Hanging Rock Winery’s Jim Jim vineyard, at just under 700 metres, to the lower, warmer Granite Hills Winery site near Baynton.

The cooler sites, like Jim Jim, produce intense, complex sparkling wines made from pinot noir and chardonnay; while Granite Hills, on the warmer northern fringe of the region makes peppery, fine-boned shiraz.

But shiraz is an outrider now in a region whose sweet spot has shifted decisively to pinot noir and chardonnay – expressed as sparkling wines from the cooler sites and table wine from the warmer sites.
These styles dominated the recent Macedon Ranges Wine Exhibition – the bubblies and pinots in particular putting on a dazzling display.

We judged 18 sparkling wines and awarded 14 medals (three gold, five silver, six bronze) – an extraordinary strike rate of 78 per cent. These were delicious wines showing the full spectrum of bubbly styles.

The most delicate were a pair of sparkling chardonnays from Mount William – a beautifully fresh, fine version from the 2001 vintage and the more complex and mature 1998. These are hard to find but worth trying. See www.mtwilliamwinery.com.au

The more traditional sparkling pinot noir chardonnay blends varied in style from the intense and taut Macedon Ridge Chardonnay Pinot Noir 2004 to the idiosyncratic, deep, rich, mature Hanging Rock Macedon Cuvée VIII LD.

And our top sparkler was the brilliant Hanging Rock Brut Rosé NV – made from estate-grown pinot noir. It’s as good as this style gets in Australia and offers great value at $27 cellar door – see www.hangingrock.com.au

The chardonnay class produced a lower medal strike rate (52 per cent) but included some appealing, complex, barrel-fermented styles, including gold medallists Cobaw Ridge 2007 (www.cobawridge.com.au) and Lanes End 2005 (phone 03 5429 1760). My personal favourite was the silver-medal winning Williams Crossing 2006, followed closely by its cellar mate, Curly Flat 2006 (www.curlyflat.com) and Midhill Romsey 2005 (phone 03 5429 5565).

And if you like good pinot noir, Macedon is now unquestionably one of our leading regions for the variety. Even with the conspicuous absence from the show of two outstanding producers, Bindi and Rochford, the medal strike rate was 71 per cent, with 20 of 28 wines winning awards.

While we awarded only one gold medal in the class – to the beautiful Curly Flat 2005 – I rated two other wines, Curly Flat 2006 and Williams Crossing 2006, at the same level. Given the price difference between Curly Flat ($46) and Williams Crossing ($22), it’d be hard not to rate the latter as the best value pinot noir in the country.

I’ve tasted and enjoyed it on several occasions now. It’s a blend of barrels that didn’t make the cut for the Curly Flat label – and the margin of difference is not all that wide.

My other highly rated pinots, all worth trying, were Lanes End 2006, Big Shed 2005 (www.bigshedwines.com.au), Portree 2005 (www.portreevineyard.com.au) and Chanters Ridge Back Paddock 2005 (www.chantersridge.com.au).

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2008

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