At a recent series of pinot noir tastings at Mornington, the opening brackets showed just how variable styles can be. Were these style differences, we were asked, a result of human intervention or attributable to ‘terroir’ – the French the French term, for which there is no English equivalent, meaning roughly ‘the sum of the effects that the local environment has’ on the vine, its fruit and, ultimately, the character of the wine it produces.
I don’t think we solved the riddle of terroir. But we saw that Australia produces very fine pinot in a variety of styles – and that there are certainly observable differences in wines from neighbouring vineyards produced by the same maker, using constant winemaking techniques.
Indeed, the clearest examples of vineyard-derived flavour differences were in the two brackets from France’s Burgundy region.
In the first French bracket, Thierry and Estelle Violet-Guillemard showed us five 2006 vintage wines from their five hectares of vineyards in Pommard, a village just to the south of Beaune.
These were light to medium coloured wines showing subtle but definite variations in aroma, flavour and structure – from the gentle, elegant Pommard 2006 (the basic village classification) through four, more highly-rated individual vineyard wines, La Platiere, Clos de Derriere St-Jean, Pézerolles and the distinctly richer, more supple Les Rugiens.
The distance from vineyard to vineyard is not great (check Pommard on Google Earth to see how small it is) yet Thierry attributed the differences we could smell and taste to ‘terroir’ – a plausible but unprovable hypothesis. The evidence for ‘terroir’ is our ability to sense differences and the very long-term consistency of those differences. What we don’t understand is the why – what is it specifically that makes the wines of one vineyard different from wines from another?
Perhaps the biggest cause, even across comparatively small distances, is temperature variation. We certainly found evidence for this in two brackets of 2006 vintage Mornington Peninsula wines. Wines from cooler sites tended to be paler and more delicate than those from warmer sites.
For whatever reason, it was a delicious progression – all in the comparatively fine, delicate pinot mould. The style bookends in the first bracket were the amazingly fragrant, taut and delicious Main Ridge Estate Half Acre 2006 (from the Red Hill sub-region) and the much deeper, riper, rounder, softer (and still delicious) Kooyong Single Vineyard Ferrous 2006 (from the Tuerong sub-region).
In between, roughly ascending order of body, were Ten Minutes by Tractor McCutcheon Vineyard 2006 (Main Ridge); Port Phillip Estate Morillon 2006 (Red Hill South); Lindenderry 2006 (Red Hill) and Paradigm Hill 2006 (Merricks).
Similarly, the second bracket of Mornington wines offered a lighter-to-darker spectrum – my favourite in the group being the lighter, finer Eldridge Estate 2006 (Red Hill), similar in its fruit flavours to the Main Ridge Estate wine.
But that’s only a personal preference in a thoroughly delicious line up, again the others, in roughly ascending order of body: Morning Sun 2006 (Main Ridge); Montalto 2006 (Red Hill South); Scorpo 2006 (Red Hill South); Hurley Vineyard ‘Harcourt’ 2006 (Balnarring); and Yabby Lake 2006 (Tuerong).
Before we got to the French or Mornington wines, though, we’d tasted those six amazingly varied Aussie pinots mentioned at the beginning. These ranged in style from the light-coloured and fragrant Paringa Estate Reserve Mornington Peninsula 2006 (Red Hill) to the very deep and powerful Coldstream Hills Yarra Valley Reserve 2006.
Again, I preferred the more restrained, pure Paringa style and the utterly contrasting (though still pale coloured) Bass Phillip 21 South Gippsland 2006 – an idiosyncratic drop that divided opinion but, to me, drank like nectar.
The other marvellous wines in this bracket were Kelvedon Estate East Coast Tasmania 2006, Stefano Lubiana Southern Tasmania 2006 and Bindi Block 5 Macedon Ranges 2006.
Other wines tasted with meals during the two-day Mornington event added to the exciting pinot line up. Here are some that appealed: Foxys Hangout Mornington Peninsula Reserve 2007, Merricks Estate Mornington Peninsula 2004, Nazaary Mornington Peninsula 2004, Tucks Ridge Mornington Peninsula 2007, Phaedrus Mornington Peninsula 007, Morning Sun Mornington 2007, Jones Road Mornington Peninsula 2006, Silverwood Mornington Peninsula 2006, Freycinet Bicheno Tasmania 2006, T’Gallant Tribute Mornington Peninsula 2006, Domain Epis Macedon Ranges 2007, Stonier KBS Mornington Peninsula 2006 (stunning!), Wantirna Yarra Valley 2006, Elgee Park Mornington 2006 and Seaforth Mornington Peninsula 2006.
To me the tastings said that after thirty-odd years of serious pinot making Australia has an extraordinary depth and quality emerging from dozens of outstanding makers. International visitors, Jancis Robinson said that our pinots could make a few jaws drop in the UK – a sentiment supported by Burgundian winemaker Frederic Mugnier. He said it was his first visit to Australia and he’d had a pre-conception of our wines being big, dark and alcoholic – but was surprised instead to find wines of such elegance.
Frederic’s wines (from the villages of Nuits-St-Georges and Chambolle-Musigny) were the real showstoppers. But that’s another story. And we’ll revisit ‘terroir’ before too long.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan