|Autumn 2008 Newsletter|
WONDERFUL PINOT NOIR FROM THE WEST? YOU WOULDN’T READ ABOUT IT!
I love wine. Over the years, I’ve spent too many hours and overblown conversations honing an appreciation for it. From my University daze majoring in rough reds and pizza, I matured and developed into a S.N.A.Q. – a Sensitive New Age Quaffer, equally adept at quaffing burly reds and delicate whites. But lately I have been having doubts. I find myself questioning my once catholic tastes. Feeling lost in that broad church, I sense I’m withdrawing into a narrow, puritanical devotion – a follower of one grape. The grape of grapes. The one true grape – Pinot Noir.
It would seem I’m not alone......
In the 2004 hit Sideways, the character Miles waxes, “Pinot needs constant care and attention...it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world... and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then...oh its flavours, they’re just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and...ancient on the planet.”Back in the real world, Australian wine guru, James Halliday once penned, “Pinot Noir is the most translucent, the most transparent, the most hauntingly ethereal and fragile of all wines”.
Halliday’s prose turns positively purple when extolling the all important bouquet of a fine Burgundy – the world’s most celebrated expression of Pinot Noir, “It is extremely easy to lose yourself in the bouquet of a great Burgundy, the minutes passing by all but unnoticed. Not infrequently, I have hesitated to take the first sip, lest the magic of the bouquet be lost or tarnished”.
To be fair to Mr Halliday, I’d bet my heavily mortgaged house that if you polled all of the world’s most tragic wine tragics on which is the world’s greatest wine region; Burgundy (the spiritual home of Pinot Noir) would romp it in, followed by daylight, with Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, et al) making up the trifecta. So there’s obviously something about this delicate grape, the red variety that best reflects the lie of the land in which it grows; the red wine that some will only consider if grown and made in Burgundy, Oregon or Otago.
And maybe that’s it? Maybe it’s Pinot’s truthful and exacting expression of terrior that stirs in the serious wine lover such passion, such pomposity, such parochialism of the palate. Maybe that’s why, when it comes to Australia’s Pinot stakes, the old money’s squarely on Yarra, Mornington, Southern Gippsland, Geelong, Tasmania and Adelaide Hills. Anywhere else and, according to the establishment, you’re backing a roughie, a real outsider.
Alright I admit, the odd wine scribe has occasionally conceded that Western Australia’s Pemberton region may have a bit of Pinot potential. But these concessions are usually sniffed with a validating disclaimer along the lines of; Pemberton Pinot is too inconsistent to warrant inclusion in the Premier Pinot Club.I don’t subscribe to that theory.
As Jancis Robinson notes in the Oxford Companion to Wine, “Pinot Noir demands much of both vine-grower and wine-maker. It is a tribute to the unparalleled level of physical excitement generated by tasting one of Burgundy’s better reds (and it is generally agreed that the Burgundians’ success rate has been dispiritingly low) that such a high proportion of the world’s most ambitious wine producers want to try their hand with this capricious vine.”
So if the bastions of Burgundy can’t always achieve consistency with this fickle variety, is it fair to single out Pemberton for inconsistency? Is not a certain risk of vintage variation the nature of this terroir-talking beast? Come to think of it, I’ve tasted the odd Victorian and Tasmanian Pinot that didn’t live up to the promise their price tags implied. ‘...when she was good, she was very good indeed, but when she was bad she was horrid.’
No, a more accurate reason why Pemberton may not yet be the wine scribe’s darling Pinot region is size. The volume of wine, let alone Pinot Noir, emerging from Pemberton is small compared to the eastern states. Understandably, familiarity and acceptance of Pemberton’s regional style is obviously lagging. Also, there’s the fact that Pemberton, being a relative newcomer, is yet to fully benefit from more mature vines. However, neither of these reasons gives cause to dismiss Pemberton’s Pinot pedigree. On the contrary, the potted acknowledgement Pemberton Pinot has achieved thus far should excite rather than disappoint – tantalise with the prospect of even better things to come.
Named after and surrounding the town of Pemberton, the region is located in the southwest of Western Australia in the heart of the state’s tallest, most majestic karri forest. In fact, around 85 percent of this wine region still remains under native vegetation. Pemberton’s first vineyards were planted in the late 70s, with commercial plantings expanding throughout the 80s and 90s. The climate is cooler and wetter than the Margaret River growing season. Interestingly, the four Pinot Noir producers I spoke to for this story all have, or have had, connections to the Margaret River region, (specially, Moss Wood, Leeuwin Estate, Cape Mentelle and Barwick Estates) but were drawn to Pemberton by the region’s potential for the Burgundian varieties of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.One such producer is Picardy, owned and operated by Bill and Sandra Pannell. Margaret River pioneers, in 1969 the Pannells established one of Australia’s premier wineries, Moss Wood. Today, Bill Pannell is one of the longest surviving Pinot growers in Australia now that Murray Tyrrell and John Middleton (Mount Mary) have each shuffled off this mortal coil. Pannell first made wine from the variety at Moss Wood in 1974.
In a desire to create wine closer in style to those of Burgundy, the Pannells decided that the cooler Pemberton region would be better suited and headed south east to investigate the region. Eventually they settled on some grazing land atop a ridge after being advised by locals that the whole farm was too rocky to grow anything on. As a winemaker, this attracted Bill’s interest. It turned out to be rich ironstone gravel over a light clay, which retains moisture (a viticulturist’s dream as it’s conducive to really good root development) and meant Pannell didn’t need to irrigate. Picardy’s first wine was the 1996 Pinot Noir. To this day, Pinot Noir is still Picardy’s largest planting, producing the excellent Reserve Pinot Noir, which is an absolute steal at $20-$25 and the very classy Tete de Cuvee (a French term roughly translating to ‘top drop of the winery’), which goes for $40-$45. When describing Picardy’s Pinot Pannell says, “We get a refined, elegant texture here, layered with complexity – it’s a striking mix. It’s the contrast that’s the magic. You’re never going to produce a Burgundy, you’ll produce a Pemberton Pinot. Just the same as the Yarra will never produce a Burgundy, it’ll be a Yarra Pinot. What you get are regional characteristics. I think to slavishly try and reproduce Burgundy is a mistake, you’ve got to allow the terroir to express itself. What we try to avoid are the big beetrooty palates. We like a bit more elegance, a bit more finesse.“I think Pemberton is a very good area for Pinot. People expect you to do miracles with young vines but I think you need at least 10 years on your vines before they start to show you what they can do. In Burgundy, they take 40 years before they start showing their best.”
Picardy’s 2005 Tete de Cuvee, which Pannell rates as the best Pinot released by Picardy so far, would seem to back up the ‘coming of vine age’ theory.
While terroir defines a Picardy Pinot from a good Burgundy, Pannell believes there is a similarity shared between the two styles; they both enjoy good aging potential and as such require some time in the bottle. In regards to Picardy’s wines, “They do go into tight spots. They retain their fruit for a couple of months post bottling and then the tannins start to dominate, the fruits tend to slump and become less overt, But with time that comes back and you get a much more complex wine as a result. We’re not sure why, but we do get really low pH levels in this area which is very helpful for ageing, What you need to age a wine is alcohol, tannin and low pH.
We get quite reasonable alcohol, and we work a fair bit of tannin into it. To see what Pinot really can do, the true complexity, you do need to see a wine that has been aged” (ED: Picardy’s tannins are all from the grape, none are added).
Another leaf that the Pannells have taken out of the Burgundy book, (a region they still visit biennially) is seeking greater complexity and more harmonious integration of characters by planting seven different Pinot Noir clones in his vineyard; two that already existed in Australia, the other five Dijon clones he sourced from Burgundy. Pannell currently co-ferments five of these seven clones collectively, rather than the usual new world practice of fermenting them separately and blending them later. This is closer to the old-world model, where they often have different clones mixed up in the same blocks. Pannell can identify the characters imbued by each clone; one gives elegance; another, earthy farmyard characters; another, mid-palate richness.
My advice – don’t wait for Pemberton Pinot to become the in–vogue darling of those who deem these things. Seek it out now. It’s not as if Pemberton producers are sitting on piles of flavoursome, complex Pinot, crying about the lack of love from the wine scribes, They’re too busy sending it to restaurants and collectors at home and abroad who just happened to discover the delights of Pemberton’s terroir before you did.
Although the 2006 vintage was a very difficult vintage in terms of the weather, because of the very cool season it produced great Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.
2006 PICARDY PINOT NOIR
This is Pinot the way connoisseurs the world over just love the stuff. It is Burgundian through and through and, in my mind, this wine style will always be the apogee of this seductive variety. Rich varietal aroma, pristine ripe fruit, silky yet weighty texture, complex lingering fruit and earth-fused finish…not to mention an irresistible desire to pour another glass! The nose has hints of cedar and leather laced with ripe strawberry, mulberry and subtle smoky, toasted oak. A tantalising palate is refined and offers up opulent red currant, cherry, mushroom, spicy oak and a tell-tale lingering finish loaded with character. There is wonderful balance and weight throughout this mouth-filling wine. Structure is tight with nicely controlled tannins, ensuring reliable medium-term cellar life. This vintage saw the Pannells take their renowned Pemberton Pinots to new levels of excellence. And believe me: the following vintages continue a fabulous ascension. A wine superbly matched with duck or spring lamb.
Picardy Pinot Noir, Western Australia- Never, ever did I expect to taste Pinot from Australia this focused and balanced. Undeniably in the Burgundy style, this beautifully made wine features earthy terroir in the nose and elegant balance on the palate. This is one of the few wines made outside of Burgundy that captures the true essence of Pinot Noir
THE WINE FRONT May 2007 THE RED ISSUE (Part 2)
Picardy Pemberton Pinot Noir 2005
Belter. Great expression, great structure, great flavour and great value. This is a case buy. Sweet-sour flavours, ripe definition, lots of chalky, earthen tannin and real length. Complex, tangy, tannic pinot noir –and it will cellar. A ripper. Drink: 2007-2015. 93 points.
QANTAS INFLIGHT GUIDE TO WINE QANTAS FIRST AND BUSINESS CLASS WINES
2005 Picardy Pinot Noir A pinot of light colour and body but with a depth and intensity rarely found in Australia. Sweet raspberry and wild strawberry flavours interplay with mushroom, spices and a hint of beef-stock richness. The tannins are soft and mild with a gentle overlay of cedary oak.
PANNELL FAMILY 2006 MERLOT CABERNET
The latter part of the 2006 vintage was very cool and damp, and the Pannell’s had problems ripening and obtaining the structure in the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon that they would have liked. This has produced a wine which did not quite fit into the Picardy quality range and so they have declassified this wine and are releasing it to the mailing list at $10 per bottle. But don’t be mistaken, this is still a very good wine for the price – indeed better than many merlot cabernets at twice the amount! It’s a great early drinking blend. The aromas are of plum, raspberry, liquorice, earth and vanilla oak. Medium bodied, the palate offers up plum, raspberry, tobacco, earth and cedar flavours – all of which have a gentle underlying sweetness, which is surprising for this vintage. Tannins are loose knit and a little grainy and acidity is clean and fresh. Not a heavyweight, but a delicious friendly style for the winter months, and at a fabulous price! Great with a beef roast or hearty stew.*Bill and Sandra did a release similar to this with the 1978 Moss Wood Dry red which went on to become known as one of the best value for money wines released from Western Australia.
2007 PANNELL FAMILY TRAIL BATCH SAUVIGNON BLANC
This Sauvignon Blanc has exceeded all expectations for the Pannells. Like Marlborough in New Zealand, Pemberton has all the key attributes for producing world-beating Sauvignon Blanc. The soils, micro climate, temperature gradients (moderated by the altitude and southern latitude) and terrain are ideally suited to the style, and the only real surprise is why more of the variety has not been planted in the area before now. It’s a perfect white fit for Pemberton. This Pannell Family wine is about to change all that – expect to see a lot more of this popular easy drinking variety going in across the region. The Pannells were looking for a vibrant, complex New Zealand style without the sometimes tell-tale astringent green characters that are sometimes part and parcel of the wines from across the Tasman. They have achieved this commendably. Here is a beautifully developed, vibrant, fruit infused wine displaying pristine varietal characters that almost seems to dance in the class. Powerful, full of spectral citrus nuances and finesse across the palate with a lingering friendly acid finish, this is an impressive wine indeed. Truth be told, it is among the most impressive new Sauvignon Blancs to emerge from a WA region in a very long time.
(Be quick with your orders for this wine as it is nearly sold out).