Australian Pinot Noir
Session 9 of the Landmark Australia Tutorial

This session was tutored by Tom Carson, who chose to make the tasting blind. It was an interesting exercise that kept us on our toes, especially seeing as a nasty ringer had been thrown in, as well as a less nasty one.

Tom gave us a briefing on Pinot Noir, including the interesting fact that it’s called Pinot because of the pine-shaped bunches. It has been grown in Burgundy since at least the 11th century, possibly older. It’s thought that there is a 2000 year history with the variety.

The church ran the vineyards in Burgundy from the 14th/15th centuries, but the revolution changed this and the vineyards split up.

It’s James Busby who brought Pinot Noir to Australia in December 1831. The cuttings were taken from Clos Vougeot and labelled MV6.

Clones are important for Pinot Noir. It’s estimated that there are 2000 clones, of which 200 have been registered. Pinot Noir is genetically quite unstable. Compare this with Cabernet Sauvignon, for which there are fewer than 20 clones.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that the first commercial bottling of Australian Pinot Noir appeared. But Maurice O’Shea had made some in the Hunter Valley in the 1940s to temper Shiraz with, and Seppelt made it in the late 1960s.

The first Australian bottlings were by Yarra Yering and Tyrrells. Most of the good Pinot vineyards in Australia are younger than 25 years old.

Tom says that the widely held perception is that with Pinot Noir, unless the climate is the same as Burgundy, the wine can’t be good. So many people look for:

  • A continental climate

  • Limestone-based soils

  • Cool climate

  • Northerly latitude

  • Old vines (50 years old)

  • Selection massale

But this isn’t the only way to make great Pinot Noir. Tom also pointed out that the mean July/January (equivalent) temperatures show that Burgundy is hotter than many Australian and New Zealand regions where Pinot is grown. He comments that, ‘terroir involves everything to do with the parcel of grapes, right through to the people making the wine.’

In total, Australia has 440 hectares of Pinot Noir, which is 2.6 of the vineyard area in the country.

On clones: the Dijon clones 114 and 115 have been a little disappointing. 115 is better than 114. They ripen a bit earlier, which may be an advantage in Burgundy, but not in Australia. 667 and 777 are showing promise. The Abel clone, also known as the Ata Rangi clone, is good. This is the one smuggled from Romanée Conti, which was confiscated, and then propagated by the guy who confiscated it.

The wines we tasted were an interesting bunch. I felt that the older wines didn’t show too well, while the younger ones were excellent. The DRC was disappointing.


2007 Stoney Rise The Holyman Pinot Noir, Tasmania
Lovely focused sweet cherry and herb nose is beautifully bright and aromatic. The palate has precise cherry fruit with great balance and restraint. Just so pure with some spicy structure under the fresh, subtly sappy cherry fruit. 94/100  

2007 Bindi Wine Growers Block 5 Pinot Noir, Macedon Ranges
Rich but fresh sweet cherry fruit with some spicy medicinal notes. Cherries, plums, herbs and ginger. The palate is ripe with soy and cola notes under the red berry fruits. Attractive. 89/100

2007 Yabby Lake Vineyard Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula
Highly aromatic sappy cherry and herb nose with a hint of rhubarb. Still quite elegant, though. The palate is rich with a herby edge to the sweet fruit. Marlborough style, with rich cherry and rhubarb notes. 90/100

2006 Stefano Lubiana Estate Pinot Noir, Southern Tasmania
Smooth and broad on the nose with sweet elegant fruit, and notes of ripe, liqueur-like cherries. Super-elegant palate with smooth, sweet cherry fruit and some spice and subtle oak. Lovely texture. 94/100

2006 Kooyong Single Vineyard Selection Ferrous Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula
Rich, meaty sweet dark cherry fruit nose. Full ripe style. The palate is rich and ripe with lovely berry and dark cherry fruit together with some oak influence. Bold and structured yet retains elegance. 93/100

2006 TarraWarra Estate MDB Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley
Roast coffee edge to the nose with noticeable oak. The palate is smooth and ripe with lovely blackberry and dark cherry fruit as well as toasty oak. Nice purity and elegance, still. 92/100

2007 Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir, Central Otago, New Zealand
The first ringer. Deep coloured. Smooth almost lush dark cherry fruit but well defined. The palate is rich, ripe and bold with dense, powerful black cherry and spice character. Ripe and mouthfilling with lots of power. A very rich style of Pinot but not jammy. 94/100

2003 Ashton Hills Estate Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hills
Very intense, complex herby, lifted cherry and plum fruit nose showing some evolution. I like the sappiness here. The palate is savoury with some evolution, showing sweet cherry fruit and herby complexity. A striking wine: perhaps just a bit too green? But complex. 90/100

2003 Paringa Estate Reserve Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula
Sweet, elegant black cherry and spice nose with a bit of earthy complexity. Quite lush, with hints of tar and herbs. The palate is soft-textured, sweet and ripe with mellow oak notes and soft berry fruit. Quite oaky, showing some age. 91/100

2002 Domaine de la Romanée Conti Romanée St Vivant, Vosne Romanée, Burgundy
The second ringer. Showing some brown on the rim. Complex nose is evolved with dried fruits, spice and cloves, as well as sweet cinnamon notes. Mellow palate is braced by fresh acidity. Quite meaty and drying with warm spiciness. Fading. An interesting wine that is odd but still quite nice. 90/100

1999 Mount Mary Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley
Smooth, rich, evolved with roast meet, soya sauce and sweet old wood notes. The palate is old, complex, earthy and spicy. Quite bold, but drying out a bit. An interesting wine, now fading. 89/100

1997 Bass Phillip Premium Pinot Noir, South Gippsland
Deep coloured with a brown/red rim. A bit cloudy. Nose of old wine, soy sauce and sweet wood. The palate is dense with bold, spicy, earthy fruit. It’s rustic, earthy and spicy, drying out. Still lots of intensity though. 85/100

1997 Bannockburn Serré Pinot Noir, Geelong
Bricking rim. A bit cloudy. Mature with notes of soy sauce, tar, cedar and dried fruits. The palate is faded and old with warm spicy notes. Still quite tasty in that old wine way. 87/100

1992 Coldstream Hills Reserve Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley (magnum)
Warm, rich herb and spice nose is dense and full with broad, warm flavours. Fading and evolved with sweet earth, herb and spice notes as well as fresh cherry fruit. Still some structure. 89/100

Landmark Australia
Visiting the Australian Wine Research Institute
Session 1 - Regional Classics
Session 2 - Riesling 
Session 3 - Shiraz and Blends
Session 4 - Historical Perspective
Session 5 - Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Blends
Session 6 - Cabernet Sauvignon and Blends
Session 7 - An Alternative View
Session 8 - Chardonnay
Session 9 - Pinot Noir
Session 10 - Blending the rules
Session 11 - Sparkling
Session 12 - Fortified

Wines tasted 06/09  
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