The Rise of Australia’s Pinot Noirs


Move over, Burgundy? Not quite yet but Australia’s pinot noirs are on the rise.

Our love affair with pinot noir continues unabated. Demand for “the real thing” from Burgundy, though, has pushed prices into the stratosphere (and it doesn’t help that hail- and frost-affected vintages are suppressing supply). Want some good news? Australian pinot has never been better. Fruit sourced from mature vines planted in cool sites, in the hands of experienced winemakers, has moved our pinots from “should try harder” into the “well done” category.

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There’s more than just an overall improvement in quality. Australian pinots are now showing a true sense of terroir. Delicately perfumed Gippsland pinots are quite different from the Yarra Valley pinots with bright-red fruit and the more structured styles from Geelong. Tasmanian pinots are intense yet refined, while Mornington pinots are more succulent. Overlay these differences with winemaking’s infinite permutations and there’s an amazing diversity of pinot.

Each winemaker has their vision of the perfect pinot. All are valid and all contribute to the plethora of highly individual pinots on the market. Some Australian winegrowers are taking a step closer to the Burgundian model, where, over hundreds of years, the vineyards have been mapped out and categorised into village, premier cru or grand cru. Prices can vary by a multiple of 10 for vines planted metres apart, with top drops reaching triple-zero figures. 

Australia doesn’t have the same rigid hierarchy but a number of our committed pinot producers are picking small individual plots separately. Each parcel, though treated with the same philosophy and techniques, tastes different – sometimes astonishingly so.

Take the Mornington Peninsula’s Hurley Vineyard, the love child of Tricia Byrnes and Kevin Bell. They have 3.4 hectares across three plots in Balnarring: Lodestone has a northerly aspect, Hommage is north-easterly and Garamond faces east. They are markedly different. The Lodestone shows red fruit and spice, the Garamond is more earthy and savoury, while the Hommage has a stronger perfume. Yet all three plots are just metres apart.

There are many more examples of this Burgundian approach. In the Yarra Valley, for instance, Mac Forbes makes up to six pinot noirs that evince the dramatic subregional differences of the Yarra. Giant Steps treads a similar path. Phillip Jones takes another approach at his Bass Phillip domaine in Leongatha, a very cool Gippsland site with multiple steps up a quality hierarchy from village to reserve – the latter priced at $595 per bottle.

Yes, such pricey single-site pinots are not for everyday drinking but on a quality/value quotient, they’re much more affordable than their Burgundian counterparts. These pinots are distinctly Australian in style and flavour, not Burgundy look-alikes. But, as they say, vive la différence. 

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2015 Giant Steps Applejack Vineyard Pinot Noir
Yarra Valley, Vic, $50

From a 330-metre site in Gladysdale, this shows red-fruit aromas mingled with hints of whole-bunch smokiness. Cherry and plum flavours with taut tannins are just right for a lamb tagine.

2015 Marchand & Burch Mount Barrow Pinot Noir
Mount Barker, WA, $60

Pascal Marchand brings his Burgundian experience to this Howard Park joint venture. Its perfume of strawberries and violets, with sweet fruit flavours, suits barbecued quail.

2014 Home Hill Kelly’s Reserve
Pinot Noir Ranelagh, Tas, $60 

The surprise winner of the 2015 Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy, it has dark-cherry and dried-sour-cherry aromas, subtle tannins and a long, acid-driven finish. Pair with slow-cooked shanks.

2013 Hurley Vineyard Hommage
Mornington Peninsula, Vic, $56

Rich and complex, with a bouquet of dark cherries, boysenberries and star anise, it’s intensely flavoured with both acid and tannin. Partner with duck confit for an equally inspired duo.

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