A snapshot of Aussie and Kiwi pinots

Last week the Chateau Shanahan lined up ten pinot noirs from Australia and New Zealand to get a little snapshot of the state of play.

As the tasting consisted only of unsolicited samples, the omissions are greater than the inclusions. But it revealed that both countries now produce convincing pinots across a number of styles and even at the budget end.

That’s not a sniff of disapproval, by the way – just acknowledgement that pinot requires a cool climate, low yields and attentive winemaking to achieve a decent result. And for pinot, that means the word ‘budget’ implies a starting point more like $15 than the  $6 or $7 we might expect, for example, of entry point shiraz.

T’Gallant Juliet Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir 2005 $13.99
Before its acquisitions by Mildara Blass (and now a part of Fosters), T’Gallant built a reputation for pinot noir and a range of styles from pinot’s white mutant, pinot gris. The good work seems to be continuing under the corporate banner. Indeed, it was pleasing to sip at this luncheon style, budget-priced pinot noir.

Pinots at this price easily often taste more like raspberry cordial than wine. But Juliet, although light in colour and body, has clear varietal aroma and flavour with sufficient acid and backbone to complete the red-wine picture. Recommended for current drinking.

Ra Nui Marlborough Wairau Valley Pinot Noir 2005 $30
This is a fuller bodied and convincing pinot style from the Wairau Valley, the first and northernmost of the two major valleys now making up New Zealand’s Marlborough region. It has the silky depth to justify the $30 price tag and, encouragingly, provided outstanding drinking for three days after the bottle was opened. It’s imported by Tyrrells and should therefore enjoy wide distribution.

Stoneleigh Marlborough Pinot Noir 2005 $18.99
Stoneleigh was part of New Zealand’s Montana group, recently acquired by France’s Pernod Ricard. In the late nineties, the Montana team commenced serious work on pinot noir including means of scaling up ‘boutique’ pinot noir production methods for larger commercial output.

The Stoneleigh reds and whites tend to reflect the ripe flavours of the warmer, northern side of the Wairau Valley, origin of the brand. This 2005 certainly shows that ripeness – without losing varietal definition — and attendant firm tannins.

Matua Valley Marlborough Pinot Noir 2005 $19.99
This is another sound Foster-owned brand that, to my taste, is outclassed in the pinot budget stakes by neighbouring Stoneleigh, Mornington cellar mate T’Gallant Juliet and Austin’s Sixfootsix reviewed below.

Nautilus Marlborough 2005 $39.95
From the purpose-built Nautilus winery, this is on a par with the very best Marlborough pinots and could hold its own in a line up from New Zealand’s other pinot hot spots, Martinborough and Central Otago, too. It has a rare flavour intensity, texture and complexity. It’s owned by Yalumba (S. Smith and Son) and therefore enjoys good distribution in Australia. Limited production, however, means that it usually sells out soon after release.

Cockfighters Ghost Tasmania Pinot Noir 2004 $34.95
This was a surprise Tasmanian sample from David Clarke’s Hunter-based Poole’s Rock Winery. They make some terrific wines up there, but I couldn’t get excited about this one.

Yarra Ridge Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2005 $15.99
It’s a good price for pinot but to my taste doesn’t capture the varietal character as well as the similarly priced samples from T’Gallant and Austin’s Sixfootsix. Part of the Fosters group.

Austins Sixfootsix Geelong Pinot Noir 2005 $16
The eastern and western flanks of Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay both make excellent, top end pinot noir. And in this version from Austin’s Wines, Geelong, we see some of pinot’s true magic at a modest price. It looks, smells and tastes like pinot noir and even comes with the structure – built on high acid and fine tannin – not generally seen in cheaper versions.  This delivers the dry, satisfying, savoury drinking experience of a real red without sacrificing the varietal flavour, medium body and silky texture of pinot. It’s available from the cellar door, phone 03 5281 1799.

Kahurangi Estate Nelson Pinot Noir 2004 $25
Many years ago Neudorf of Nelson (a few hours drive west of Marlborough at the top of New Zealand’s South Island) demonstrated the chardonnay and pinot noir potential of this cool, sunny region. At the Chateau Shanahan tasting, Neudorf’s neighbour, Kahurangi, started slowly with its pale, slightly aged hue. But the perfume and fine, intense palate continues seduce as we sipped away at the bottle over several days. When most pinots have faded, this one showed the durability of the variety. It really is a subtle, delicious expression of pinot noir with the ability to offer something new with every sip.

De Bortoli Yarra Valley Estate Grown Pinot Noir 2005 $27
Like the Kahurangi, above, this is another wine that grows in interest with each glass. It’s the product of the much-changed De Bortoli approach to viticultural and winemaking reported here some weeks back. Hand picked, hand sorted berries were indigenous yeast fermented whole in open tanks with cap plunging only towards the end of fermentation. After twenty-one days in contact with the skins, the wine was settled then gravity filled to oak casks for maturation then bottled without filtration. This low-intervention regime produced a complex, fine, intensely flavoured, deeply textured pinot to savour any time over the next ten years