A few nice wines for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. All were drinking beautifully. The Beaune blanc was a little more oxidative in character than I’d guessed it would be, but I don’t think this was a case of the dreaded prem-ox. It was a beautiful wine, and an interesting interpretation of an otherwise exclusively red wine terroir. The Chablis was beautiful, a good mix of Chablis austerity and fruit richness. It would be interesting to see how it aged. The Cornas was lovely, with some delicious aged, savoury character. The cork fell apart on opening, but had kept the bottle perfectly, and well past the winery’s suggested 10 years.
2016 Domaine Clos de la Chapelle Beaune 1er Cru “Les Reversées” Blanc
Colour: medium(-) gold
Nose: medium(+) intensity, tertiary, developed. Lemon, lemon peel, lime. Starfruit. Heritage apples. Ripe apricot and nectarine. Glacé quince, poached pear. Honey, lanolin, beeswax. Touch of cedar and sweet spice? Mealy, bran, biscuit, burnt butter.
Palate: dry, medium(+) acidity, medium alcohol (13,5%), medium(+) bodied. Medium(+) intensity, medium(+) length finish. Lemon, lemon peel, lime. Starfruit. Heritage apples. Ripe apricot and nectarine. Glacé quince, poached pear. Honey, lanolin, beeswax. Touch of cedar and sweet spice? Mealy, bran, biscuit, burnt butter. Quite rich and round, full. Slightly oxidative?
Conclusions: very good. Drink now, not sure about its ageworthiness
Seal: natural cork
2018 Domaine Daniel Dampt et Fils Chablis 1er Cru “Fourchaume”
Palate: dry, medium acidity, medium alcohol (13%), medium bodied. Medium(+) intensity, medium length finish. Lemon, lemon peel, lemon curd. Nectarine, peach. Orange blossom. Apricot pastry. Butter, brioche, sweet pastry, sweet spice. Touch of steeliness/flintiness. Good balance between citrus, ripe fruit, and Chablis steeliness. Opens up with a bit of air.
Conclusions: very good to outstanding. Can drink now, but suitable for ageing. Just don’t serve too cold!
Seal: natural cork
2006 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Cornas “Les Grandes Terrasses”
Palate: dry, medium acidity, medium(+) tannins, medium alcohol (13%), medium bodied. Medium intensity, medium(+) length finish. Blackberry, blackcurrant, bramble. Maybe black plum. Elderberry. Raspberry, strawberry. Brown sugar, caramel. Forest floor, earthy, leather, black tea, soy sauce. Cedar, cinnamon, nutmeg, biter cocoa. Quite rich and full, with a touch of jamminess, but also quite savoury. Delicious!
Conclusions: very good to outstanding. Drink now, probably not suitable for further ageing
Note: I haven’t studied with WSET before, so I am just getting used to their systematic approach to tasting wine — so apologies if I make mistakes with the tasting note format as I learn.
Course Induction and Tasting Technique
We tasted a few different wines to begin to attune our palates, and to calibrate them to align with the tutor’s palate and the classes’ palates. I was surprised that I wasn’t keen on the Rioja, as I normally love aged Riojas — but for me this had an odd character on the nose (window cleaner??) that I found off-putting.
2017 Parini Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie – Italy, Delle Venezie Appearance: clear medium lemon Nose: lemon, lemon peel. Pear, apple. Flinty. Simple. Clean, light, primary, youthful. Medium(+) intensity. Palate: lemon, lemon peel. Underripe nectarine? Lime. Flinty? Dry, high acidity, medium alcohol, light bodied, medium flavour intensity, primary, short flavour intensity. Assessment of quality: Acceptable. Level of readiness for drinking: Drink now, not suitable for ageing or further ageing.
2016 Foxeys Hangout Chardonnay White Gates Vineyard – Australia, Victoria, Port Phillip, Mornington Peninsula Appearance: clear medium lemon Nose: lemon, lemon peel. Peach. Butter, cheese. Walnut. Oak: vanilla. Flint/sulfur? Clean, medium(+) intensity, developing, youthful. Palate: lemon, lemon peel. Pineapple? Biscuit/brioche. Touch of flint. Peach. Butter. Walnut. Oak: vanilla. Dry, medium(+) acidity, medium alcohol, medium bodied. Medium flavour intensity, medium finish. Assessment of quality: Very good Level of readiness for drinking: Drink now, but has potential for further ageing.
2018 Barton & Guestier Beaujolais-Villages – France, Burgundy, Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages Appearance: Clear medium purple Nose: raspberry, cherry/kirsch, cassis, plum, cranberry. Confectionery. Cola. Clean, medium intensity, primary, youthful. Palate: Red cherry, strawberry, plum, blackcurrant. Cola/medicinal. Confectionery. Whole bunch character? Dry, medium(+) acidity, medium(-) tannins, medium alcohol. Light bodied, medium flavour intensity, medium finish. Assessment of quality: acceptable Level of readiness for drinking: drink now, not suitable for ageing
2006 Urbina Rioja Reserva Especial – Spain, La Rioja, Rioja Appearance: clear medium garnet (aged?) Nose: Cranberry, cassis, cooked black plum. Cherry. Liqueured cherry. Dried herbs, mushroom, leather, earth, tobacco, savoury. Prunes. Oak: vanilla, nutmeg. Cola/cough syrup. Tomato leaf? Clean, medium intensity, tertiary, fully developed. Palate: Sour cherry, black plum, cassis. Blackberry. Black tea? Leather, earth, tobacco. Oak: vanilla. Savoury, earthy. Mint. Dried herbs. Dry, medium(+) acidity, medium tannins, high alcohol. Medium(-) body, medium finish. Assessment of quality: Very good. Level of readiness for drinking: Drink now, has potential for ageing or further ageing.
The Natural Factors and Human Influences in the Vineyard
The idea was to guess the grape variety, based on descriptions of several key varieties. I guess Cabernet Sauvignon, but assumed I was wrong because it seemed too simple and I normally get these wrong. IT was Cabernet Sauvigon.
2019 Les Domaines Paul Mas Cabernet Sauvignon – France, Languedoc Roussillon, Vin de Pays d’Oc Appearance: clear deep ruby Nose: cassis, blackberry, black cherry, blueberry? Confectionary. Tobacco, maybe green bell pepper. Black pepper? Cloves, cedar? Clean, medium(+) intensity, secondary, youthful. Palate: cassis, blackberry, black cherry. Medicinal, tobacco. Green bell pepper??? Oak: cedar. Dry, medium acidity, medium tannins, medium(+) body, medium alcohol. Medium(+) intensity, secondary, medium finish. Assessment of quality: good Level of readiness for drinking: drink now, not suitable for ageing or further ageing
2016 Stonestreet Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Vineyards – USA, California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley Appearance: clear deep ruby Nose: black cherry, blackberry, cassis, blackcurrant, black plum. Green bell pepper?? Tomato leaf?? Oak: cedar, nutmeg. Biscuit? Clean, medium intensity, secondary, youthful. Palate: black cherry, blackberry, cassis, blackcurrant, baked plum? Green bell pepper??? tomato leaf. Oak: cedar. Dry, medium acidity, medium(+) tannins, high alcohol, medium(+) flavour intensity, secondary, medium(+) finish. Assessment of quality: very good Level of readiness for drinking: Drink now, suitable for ageing or further ageing.
The Human Factors in the Winery that Influence Style, Quality and Price
A final flight of wines at the end of the day. Everyone was rather tired at this point, but I liked the La Crema Chardonnay.
2019 Zilzie Chardonnay Selection 23 – Australia, Victoria Appearance: clear medium lemon Nose: grapefruit, lemon peel. Pear, pear drops. Pineapple? Oak: cedar. Smokey/sunburnt grapes. Clean, medium(-) intensity, primary, youthful. Palate: lemon, pear, melon, pineapple. Unripe nectarine. Cedar? Dry, medium(+) acidity, medium alcohol. Medium intensity, primary, medium finish. Assessment of quality: acceptable Level of readiness for drinking: drink now, not suitable for ageing or further ageing
2018 La Crema Chardonnay Monterey – USA, California, Central Coast, Monterey Appearance: clear deep lemon Nose: lemon. Underripe necatarine, peach. Passionfruit? Lees: biscuit, bread dough. Oak: vanilla, toast, cedar. Clean, medium intensity, secondary, youthful. Palate: Lemon, lemon peel. Melon? Underripe nectarine, peach. Lees: bread dough. Oak: cedar, toast, vanilla. Dry, medium acidity, medium alcohol. Full body, secondary, pronounced intensity, long finish. Assessment of quality: very good Level of readiness for drinking: drink now, suitable for ageing or further ageing
2018 First Creek Wines Shiraz Harvest – Australia, New South Wales Appearance: clear medium ruby Nose: blackberry, raspberry, red plum, red cherry. Simple. Cedar? Clean, medium intensity, primary, youthful. Palate: strawberry jam. Red plum, raspberry. White pepper. Cedar? Simple. Dry, medium(-) acidity, medium(-) tannins, medium alcohol. Medium(+) bodied, medium(-) flavour intensity, primary, medium(-) finish. Assessment of quality: acceptable Level of readiness for drinking: drink now, not suitable for ageing or further ageing. NOTE: wine details on CellarTracker are currently wrong, the name should be First Creek Shiraz ‘Harvest’, and it is not a Hunter Valley wine — ‘Australia’ is the only region mentioned.
2018 Head Wines Syrah The Contrarian – Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley Appearance: clear deep purple Nose: bramble. Black cherry, black plum (cooked and fresh), blackberry. Black pepper. Liqueured preserved fruit. Dried herbs. Medicinal. Oak: vanilla, nutmeg. Clean, medium intensity, primary, youthful. Palate: strawberry jam, black cherry, black plum, bramble. Fig? Oak: cedar, chocolate, vanilla. Dried herbs? Black pepper. Dry, medium acidity, medium tannins, medium alcohol. Medium(+) bodied, medium(+) flavour intensity, primary, long finish. Assessment of quality: good Level of readiness for drinking: drink now, potential for ageing or further ageing
All-in-all, it was a good start to the course, and a great chance to try some wines that I usually wouldn’t. Three sessions down, twelve to go!
Anyone who knows me in real life will know that I have somewhat of an obsession with Burgundy — the region, the countryside, the towns and villages, the cuisine, and the wine — and that ‘somewhat’ is somewhat of an understatement. Equally, anyone who lives in Australia will realise that the wines of Burgundy, expensive at the best of times, are even more so by the time they reach Australia. The taxes on imported wines here are, I gather, among the most expensive in the developed world, on top of which must be added a profit margin for the importer and the retailer. As a consequence, the wines are often two to three times more expensive than in the region. On top of this, many of the wines that represent good value in the region are hard to find, or are simply not imported.
Consequently, there is a certain perverse desire to find local wines that — while they are not Burgundy wines, cannot be Burgundy wines, and should not even attempt to be Burgundy wines — have that vitality that distinguishes the most memorable of Burgundies. As an aside, I note that they should not attempt to be Burgundy wines, since this is not something any Burgundian winemaker would ever attempt. A good Burgundy wine is one which is true to its region and its vineyard; it does not attempt to emulate any other wine, however good or famous. Attempting to emulate a Volnay or a Gevrey-Chambertin is, therefore, attempting something that no Burgundian winemaker would consider, and — in a sense — missing the point completely. The attempt to be Burgundian makes it, by definition, not Burgundian.
In part, one could consider this about determining the best regions in Australia for Pinot Noir. This would only be partly the case. My experience of tasting Australian Pinot Noirs is partial at best; there are many well regarded examples that I have yet to try, as well as many that are no doubt equally good but as yet unknown. My budget is one limitation; retail availability is another. I have yet to try Mount Mary Pinot Noir, or any of Bindi Winegrowers’ well regarded wines. No doubt these, and others, deserve their place here; no doubt at some point I will get to try them, and I’ll mentally add them to my list. There are also likely wines that I have tried, and which should be included, but I have forgotten. It is worth restating that the limits of my own tasting experience, and of my preferences, do not in any way define the limits of what could be considered ‘good’ Pinot Noir wines; as such, these thoughts are my opinions, and my opinions only.
Equally, I am sure that there are regions which have great potential for Pinot Noir, but that potential has not yet been reached. While I have tried many very good Adelaide Hills Pinot Noirs, I have yet to try any truly great Pinot Noirs from this region — perhaps, again, because they exist but I haven’t found them yet, perhaps because the potential exists but is not yet being exploited, or perhaps because the region better suits other grapes than Pinot Noir. It is, after all, a fickle and difficult grape with notoriously specific requirements.
This all comes before we get into any discussion as to what represents typically ‘Burgundian’ Pinot Noir. It is obvious to anyone who has tried a few Burgundies that the region encompasses a range of styles, from quite robust, full bodied wines (such as Grand-Echezeaux) to more delicate, light, ethereal wines (as Volnay is often considered to be).
Even these generalisations are difficult: while Volnay is, as I just noted, stereotypically regarded to be at the more light, ethereal end of the Burgundy spectrum; this is not invariably true. It depends on the specific vineyard within Volnay, as well as vintage, and vigneron. Within Volnay, for example, the premier cru vineyards “Taillepieds” or “Santenots du Bas” produce richer, fuller wines than the more ethereal wines of the premier cru vineyard “Cailleret”. As an aside, my somewhat simplistic assumptions about the wines of Volnay were reshaped by a tasting at Nicolas Rossignol‘s new winery, which provided an enjoyable crash-course in the different terroirs of the Côte de Beaune.
Having put that all to one side, I will begin with one observation: for whatever reason (terroir? winemaking talent? coincidence based on my limited range of wines tasted?) the majority of truly excellent Australian Pinot Noirs I have tried have been from Victoria. I won’t attempt to guess why. Here follows a few of them.
I have no notes on the Bass Phillips wines that I’ve tried, as I tasted these before I was in the habit of making notes for most of the wines I try, and before I’d even began to become familiar with Burgundy. Nonetheless, the combination of elegance, power, vitality, and complexity were immediately apparent, and marked these out as serious wines. Sadly, the prices they command make them unapproachable for me, and I admire them from a distance.
Again, no notes. I tried these a good few years after the wines of Bass Phillips, and after several trips to Burgundy. They are also not cheap wines (though not as expensive as those of Bass Phillips), hence, I tried them at an in-store tasting at East End Cellars in Adelaide (hence the lack of notes). They were profound, complex, vital, and Burgundian in the sense that they reflected their vineyard and did not attempt to be anything that they were not. Each of the three wines I tried, from the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, and Gippsland, were completely distinctive. If I were to try to convince a sceptic that Australia can produce truly great Pinot, these are the wines I’d choose.
Hochkirch Wines, Henty, Victoria
2013 Hochkirch Henty “Steinbruch” Pinot Noir Colour: translucent cherry, touch of brick red Nose: strawberry stewed in balsamic vinegar. Sour cherry. Plum. Beetroot. Touch of stemmy earthiness, whole bunch character. Sweet spice. Palate: strawberry, balsamic vinegar. Sour cherry. Plum. Cassis. Beetroot. Earthy, stemmy whole bunch character. Sweet spice. Fresh berry like acidity, smooth slightly drying but structural tannins. Quite sauvage, but quite Burgundian. Elegant, vital, sappy. Medium bodied. Obviously made in a natural style, and a good example of such. 12,5% alcohol. — Saturday, January 19, 2019
2011 Hochkirch Henty “Village” Pinot Noir Colour: translucent burgundy, slightly cloudy (unfiltered, unfined) Nose: stewed strawberries with balsamic vinegar. White pepper, nutmeg and other sweet spices. A touch of old oak. Cranberry. A touch of savouriness. Elegant. Palate: stewed strawberries with balsamic vinegar. Cranberry and other sharp red berries. Sappy, elegant, lively. Stemmy. White pepper and sweet spice. Sharp fresh acidity – like slightly underripe strawberries. Very fine grained slightly drying tannins. Medium bodied, perfumed – could make a comparison with a particularly elegant village level Volnay. V v good. 12,9% alcohol. — Sunday, July 19, 2015
2015 Domaine Simha Tasmania “Amphora Lionheart“ Pinot Noir Colour: cloudy brick red Nose: candied red fruit. Raspberry and cherry. Cranberry? Tobacco, hay, earthy, stemmy, savoury. Sweet and savoury, intense. Palate: fresh berry like acidity, fresh red berries, raspberry, cherry. Tobacco, hay, earthy. Stemmy — some whole bunches in the ferment? Has the spicy, earthy, savoury, stemmy character I’d associate with stems. Very fine, smooth tannins. Complex, unusual, savoury. Eccentric, but really lovely. 12,5% alcohol. — Sunday, February 5, 2017