Chateau Shanahan tastes Oz and Kiwi pinots

With Christmas drinking in mind, the Chateau Shanahan team recently tasted a range of pinot noirs. It’s a great variety. And because it’s medium bodied, soft and supple, it suits the foods we eat at Christmas – ham, pork, turkey and even seafood, especially the more robust kinds like lobster and salmon.

Our samples came unsolicited from wine companies. And we topped up the range with purchases from Canberra retail stores. What I offer below is a warts and all view of what we tasted.

As you can see there’s a bias towards more expensive wine – but, hey, it’s Christmas. And, as well, pinot’s a little more expensive than other varieties at all quality levels because it costs more to make. That said, there are lovely examples at under $20, even if the real magic kicks in at around $30 – after that the sky’s the limit.

We limited our tasting to wines from Australia and New Zealand – poor Burgundy, home of pinot – didn’t get a look in. But even so, we covered only a fraction of the good pinots now on offer, such are the rich pickings with this variety.

The recommended wines should be readily available at fine wine outlets around Canberra. And one tip – for the greatest enjoyment try to keep the serving temperature at around eighteen degrees as Aussie room temperature is too much for pinot. Merry Christmas.

Long Flat Destinations Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2006 $12-$16
Although overshadowed, understandably, by the big guns in our tasting, we’d still rate Long Flat as providing only fair value. There’s some pinot flavour and structure, but it’s not going to turn pinot agnostics into true believers.

Little Rebel Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2006 $18
This was our first encounter with Little Rebel and we’ll not be rushing back for another.

De Bortoli Windy Peak Victoria Pinot Noir 2007 $15-$19
Yes, it is still 2007 and here we are drinking wines that were on the vine a few months back. Despite its youth, there’s some nice, ripe varietal flavour here and it provides good value towards the lower end of the price range. I suspect in another six months ageing it’ll have moved into a more savoury pinot mode.

Madfish Western Australia Pinot Noir 2006 $19
This is Howard Park’s second label. They sourced the fruit from Denmark and though it’s not classic pinot country, this is an above average effort. It’s fragrant and silky and gives more of the pinot experience than we expected. It’s available only from the cellar door. See

Philip Shaw No. 8 Orange Pinot Noir 2006 $39.95
Pinot needs a cool climate and our best versions tend to come more from high latitudes – like Gippsland, Yarra, Mornington and Tasmania – than high altitudes. Stephen George’s Ashton Hills, from the Adelaide Hills, is an exception and Philip Shaw’s heading that way up at Orange.  This one’s got a beautiful aroma, bits of pinot stalkiness and savouriness and is more about subtlety and structure than volume. Very, very promising (and enjoyable).

Blind River Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006 $39.99
Blind River is in the cool Awatere Valley, to the south of the Wairau Valley, site of Marlborough’s earliest plantings and still its heartland. While this one had some pleasing aromas at first, over time it developed intense and, to our palates, not all that pleasing, acidic, berry flavours. Sorry, but we’re not enthusiastic.

St Huberts Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2006 about $29
This one didn’t quite click with us and seemed more like a big, warm red wine than subtle, silky pinot. It’s fault free but to us lacked the pinot magic.

Coldstream Hills Yarra Valley Reserve Pinot Noir 2006 about $85
The deep, youthful colour, fruit sweetness, velvety smoothness and beautiful oak seem, at first sniff and sip to align with the hefty price tag. This is unquestionably a wine of substance, complexity and ageing ability. But the caveat we had is one of style. Has this moved too far into a generic red wine style? It impresses for size and weight, but it’s not a style we enjoy drinking.

Coldstream Hills Yarra Valley Amphitheatre Pinot Noir 2006 $90
This is literally a hand made wine – just three barrels having been produced from the A Block of Coldstream’s Amphitheatre vineyard. There’s a juicy, velvety, seamless richness and texture to it and it will clearly age for many years. But as for the ‘Reserve’ Coldstream above, it’s not a style that’d we’d buy for our own cellar, nor one that we want to drink now.

Clos Pierre Yarra Valley Reserve Pinot Noir 2006 $29.99
Burgundian winemaker, Pierre Naigeon, owns this brand but sells it exclusively to the Woolworths’ owned Dan Murphy chain. He makes the wine at De Bortoli’s Yarra winery. It was a sleeper in our tasting, appealing, at first for its lighter colour (ah, yes, that’s pinot), pleasant fragrance subtle, easy palate. With time the fruit sweetness became more accentuated but held in check by fine, drying tannins. It grew in interest over the course of the tasting and still impressed two days later. This is a bargain and an excellent introduction to pinot at a fair price.

Stonier Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir 2006 $26
In our tasting the two Stonier wines stood out at first for their comparatively pale colours – not a bad sign in pinot, especially when, as this wine did, it’s followed by varietal perfume and flavour and fine, silky, supple texture. This is a very attractive wine indeed and the price is about right.

Stonier Mornington Peninsula Windmill Vineyard Pinot Noir 2005 $60
Geraldine McFaul made this distinctive, single-vineyard wine using a high proportion of whole bunches, including stalks, in the ferment. There’s a distinct stalky note to the aroma and palate. But that’s only one of many parts in this exceptionally complex, fine, delicate and irresistible pinot.

Wither Hills Marlborough Pinot Noir 2005 and 206 $41
Founder Brent Marris recently moved on, leaving winemaking in the hands of his long-term offsider, Ben Glover.  Ben says that he uses ‘feral yeast strains’ for his ferments and perhaps this is responsible for the distinctly funky edge to the Wither Hills pinots. They’re on the robust side of pinot with beautifully ripe but pure varietal character. They appeal strongly. Both vintages can be found on Canberra retail shelves. We have a slight leaning to the 2005.

Carrick Central Otago Pinot Noir 2005 $63.69
Steve Green’s Carrick winery rubs shoulders with two of Central Otago’s other pinot stars, Felton Road and Mt Difficulty. It’s been a Chateau Shanahan favourite since our first visit in 2003 and the 2005 strengthens our regard for it. It covers a fair bit of pinot’s spectrum with musky, floral high notes, a stalky edge and more-ish savouriness.

Neudorf Nelson Pinot Noir 2005 $44.99
Nelson’s at about the same latitude as Marlborough, at the top of New Zealand’s south island, and a couple of hours’ drive to the west. It’s hop-growing country, but for several decades now Tim and Judy Finn have been producing very fine chardonnay and pinot noir. From experience the pinots age very well, but the current-release 2005 has terrific drink-now appeal, too.

Tower Estate Tasmania Pinot Noir 2006 $58
Hunter based Tower, founded by the late Len Evans, makes regional specialties from around Australia. I think Len would’ve loved this, the last vintage fermented at Tower before his death last August. Tassie’s cool climate shows in the wine’s intense, delicate flavour and very fine-boned structure.

PHI Lusatia Park Vineyard Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2006 $54
This is the second vintage from a joint venture between the De Bortoli and Shelmerdine families. Fruit comes from Stephen Shelmerdine’s Lusatia Park vineyard, high in the south east of the Yarra Valley. And Steve Webber makes the wine at De Bortoli Yarra Valley winery. This was one of the standouts of our tasting, a seductive drop.

Kooyong Mornington Peninsula Estate Pinot Noir 2005 $39.49
This one passed the bottle test at The Journeyman Restaurant, Berrima, on election night gliding down beautifully with pork belly. A few weeks later at our masked tasting it showed pure class – and at this price provides great value in the pinot stakes.

Copyright © Chris Shanahand 2007