Make Mine A Double, Tasting Events

A Pair of Pretty Pinots [Make Mine a Double #58]

Pinot Noir can be tricky to make well.  It is very particular about the climate it’s grown in – not too hot, not too cold.  Here are a pair of antipodean cool climate Pinots that are worth your hard-earned:

Innocent Bystander Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2018

Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir

The Yarra Valley is part of the Port Philip zone which surrounds Melbourne in Australia.  Its proximity to Melbourne makes it a popular wine tourism destination; indeed, my first trip there was on a day trip wine tour from Melbourne.  That should not detract from its status as one of the best cool climate regions of Australia, with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir starring – both still and sparkling.

Innocent Bystander was founded in 1996 by Phil Sexton after selling his previous Margaret River venture Devil’s Lair.  Innocent Bystander (IB) wines are often blends from multiple sites to achieve complexity and balance at a reasonable price point.  Alongside IB, in 1998 Sexton also began creating single vineyard wines under the Giant Steps label.

The Pink Moscato explosion in Aussie wine led to a large increase in volumes being made and sold by IB, so Sexton sold it to another family owned Victorian wine producer – Brown Brothers of Milawa – in order to concentrate on Giant Steps.  Once picked IB’s grapes now make a three hour journey in refrigerated trucks to be crushed at Brown Bros’ winery.  Sexton’s Yarra Valley tasting room wasn’t part of the transaction so Brown Bros bought and converted a brewery – formerly run by Phil Sexton!

The wines in the Innocent Bystander portfolio include the following:

  • Pinot Noir
  • Chardonnay
  • Moscato
  • Pinot Gris
  • Gamay
  • Gamay / Pinot Noir blend
  • Syrah
  • Tempranillo
  • Arneis

It’s the last two which are the most unusual for Australia, and therefore piqued my interest, though sadly they haven’t yet made their way to Ireland.

In the main this Pinot Noir is fruit-driven: raspberry, blackberry and tart red cherries dominate the nose and palate, though there are also herb and spice notes in the background.  It is not, however, a “fruit-bomb”; acidity and gentle tannins provide a framework against which the fruit can sing, and boy do they sing!

Framingham Marlborough Pinot Noir 2017

Framingham Pinot Noir

Marlborough’s Framingham is probably the most respected producer of Riesling in New Zealand, but has added additional varieties across its three ranges:

  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Pinot Gris
  • Chardonnay
  • Viognier
  • Gewurztraminer
  • Montepulciano
  • Pinot Noir

Their wines are all very well crafted and offer a substantial step up from everyday Marlborough wines, but prices are sensible.  The firm’s winemaker for 18 years was Dr Andrew Hedley, who was then succeeded by the returning Andrew Brown at the beginning of this year (what a year to join!)  In between his stints at Framingham, “Brownie” had worked in several cool climate regions including Alsace, so he has great experience with Riesling.

Framingham’s own vineyards and those of partner winegrowers are all in the Wairau Valley, the central open plain of Marlborough which is on a mixture of alluvial and clay soil.  Each parcel is harvested and vinified separately, with grapes from clay soils in particular receiving more time on the skins.  MLF and maturation takes place in new (20%) and used French oak barrels, before final blending and bottling.  No fining or filtering is carried out to preserve flavour and mouthfeel.

When speaking to Jared Murtha (Framingham’s Global Sales Manager) earlier this year  I remarked that the Pinot Noir seemed more like a Martinborough Pinot than a typical Marlborough one to me.  This was meant as a compliment and taken as one, as I find many Marlborough Pinot Noirs to be light, simple and less than interesting.  Jared replied diplomatically that Framingham aren’t aiming to make a “smashable” wine, but rather one which is a little more serious and gastronomic.

And hell have they succeeded!  It has typical Pinot red fruit notes – cherry and wild strawberry – but also layer upon layer of smoky, spicy and savoury characters.  There are lovely round tannins giving the wine additional structure.  Umami fans will love this wine!

Conclusion

These two wines are made from the same grape variety in neighbouring countries (yeah, still quite a journey) and are close in price, so a like for like comparison is perfectly fair.  The most obvious difference, though, is their style.  The Innocent Bystander is a great, fruit-forward all-rounder and would really appeal to the casual wine drinker.  The Framingham is a different proposition, more savoury and serious, and would shine the brightest in a setting with food – though it’s not a “this needs food” wine.  My preference would be to spend the extra €4 on the Framingham … but if someone offers me a glass of Innocent Bystander I would be delighted.

 

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Tasting Events

I Don’t Like Pinot Grigio, I Love Pinot Gris

Is there any other grape which is so divisive by synonym?  Possibly Syrah and Shiraz, but even then style does not necessarily follow naming convention.

I don't Love Pinot Grigio
I DON’T Love Pinot Grigio

Now, you may have seen the warning on my Twitter bio that “Views and taste in wine may offend” – and I find most Pinot Grigios undrinkable – the best that can be said about them is that they are wet and contain alcohol (but then, the same could be said of aftershave).  Often they are thin, acidic and lacking in flavour.

The derogatory term I use is “Chick Water“.  I will leave you to guess the derivation!

Pinot Grigio is of course the Italian term for the grape whereas Pinot Gris is the lesser known French equivalent.  The en vogue term nowadays is “spiritual home”, and if anywhere could make a claim to be the spiritual home for Pinot Gris it is Alsace, one of my favourite wine regions in the world.  There is already a lot of good Pinot Gris being made in New Zealand, which is well suited to aromatic varieties, and the cooler parts of Australia.

Mini Pinot Gris Tasting At Ely Wine Bar

Trio of Pinot Gris at Ely Wine Bar
Trio of Pinot Gris at Ely Wine Bar

As is my wont, I recently popped into my home-from-home Ely Wine Bar in Dublin and thought I try a few different Pinot Gris served there by the glass:

Verus Vineyards Ormož Pinot Gris 2012

Verus Vineyards Ormož Pinot Gris 2012
Verus Vineyards Ormož Pinot Gris 2012

Ormož is in North Eastern Slovenia, near the border with Hungary.  Although I knew wine is produced in Slovenia I didn’t know there were “international” grapes planted there.  Set up by friends and winemakers Danilo, Božidar and Rajkowho, Verus Vineyards focus on improving quality while making their wines a true expression of their origins.

As the first of the three in the line up, it was fresh with pleasant lemon notes, slightly sour but in an appealing way.  There was only just a hint of sweetness on the finish – it wasn’t apparent at all at first, but as the wine warmed up slightly in the glass it tickled the tastebuds.  On tasting blind would have had no idea it wasn’t from a better established / known country – I will definitely look out for more of their wines.

Innocent Bystander Yarra Valley Pinot Gris 2012

Innocent Bystander Pinot Gris
Innocent Bystander Yarra Valley Pinot Gris 2012

The Yarra Valley is one of the premium wine producing areas of Australia – and one of the most exciting – check out my post on De Bortoli Yarra Valley.  Innocent Bystander specialise in making good value varietal wines that reflect their Yarra origins.  They use 100% hand picked fruit, wild ferments and gravity-flow winemaking techniques, plus minimal filtration and fining – this is definitely on the low-intervention side.

The 2012 has a lovely texture that would make it a great food wine, though it drinks very well on its own.  The main flavours are stone fruit, pear, apple and lychee, backed up by plenty of acidity!

Greywacke Marlborough Pinot Gris 2011

Greywacke Marlborough Pinot Gris 2011
Greywacke Marlborough Pinot Gris 2011

Kevin Judd needs no introduction, but I’ll give him one anyway.  He was the chief winemaker at Cloudy Bay from its inception and launch to its 25 year anniversary.  He finally left and started his own virtual winery – he bought grapes and rented winery space from former Cloudy Bay colleagues who left themselves to set up Dog Point Winery.

Although Kevin’s Sauvignons, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir take most of the limelight, his Pinot Gris is an excellent example of the variety.  It’s properly off dry, rich and oily – the most Alsace-like.  Flavours of peach and nectarine dominate, with a hint of crystalline ginger and cinnamon.  This would be amazing with Asian food but is just so lovely to contemplate on its own.

Tasting Events

Bring Da Funk – De Bortoli Yarra Valley Wines

If you think you know Australian Wine, think again!

The Yarra Valley is an Australian wine region located east of Melbourne, Victoria, and close to the Mornington Peninsula wine region.  Its cool climate – especially in Australian terms – makes it perfect for Burgundy’s main grapes Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Proximity to Melbourne has encourage lots of visitors and investors in the Yarra.

De Bortoli Wines was established in 1928 by Vittorio & Giuseppina De Bortoli and rapidly expanded under the direction of their son, the late Deen De Bortoli. Today the company is run by the third generation including MD Darren De Bertoli and his sister Leanne, plus Leanne’s winemaker husband Steve Webber.  The main operation is based in the Riverina, central New South Wales, which is where their world famous botrytised Semillon Noble One comes from.

Leanne and Steve Webber moved state in 1989 to set up a winery for De Bortoli’s Yarra Valley vineyards that the company had purchased in 1987.  I was lucky enough to visit in 2003 including a delicious lunch at their Italian influenced restaurant “Locale”.  The Yarra is now an excellent source of mid-tier and premium wines for De Bortoli.

Steve recently gave a masterclass in Dublin.  Not only were the wines excellent and the information interesting, Mr Webber is also a highly entertaining speaker!  PendulumA few of the key themes included the evolution of wine styles over the past decade or so and choosing to make “edgy” wines.

La Bohème Act 3 Pinot Gris & friends 2013

De Bortoli La Bohème Act Three
De Bortoli La Bohème Act Three

This is a blend of approximately 87% Pinot Gris (vines from the Upper Yarra which sit in a misty hollow where a lot of the cool air from the peaks flows down to) then Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Blanc from the slightly warmer Dixon’s Creek in roughly equal proportions.  2013 was the 3rd release and 2014 the 4th.

It is taut, mineral, racy and lean – it only has 3g/L of Residual Sugar but tastes like there’s a bit more from fruit sweetness, until the finish which is almost bone dry. aromaticsThis wine has plenty of texture so is a versatile option for the table – apparently Melbourne sommeliers are going mad for it at the moment.

Steve also makes a single vineyard Pinot Blanc in Dixon’s Creek

Windy Peak Chardonnay 2012

De Bortoli Windy Peak Chardonnay
De Bortoli Windy Peak Chardonnay

This is De Bortoli’s equivalent of a Macon, a mid level Chardonnay.  They want something to partner well with John Dory so strive to keep some sort of neutrality in the wine.too far

Some new oak used here (conditioning the barrels so they can be used again for the estate Chardonnay) but also older casks of different sizes and stainless steel.

Natural yeast is used rather than commercial, and no acid is added (very uncommon is Australia where Chaptalisation is seldom performed but acid is added to large commercial blends for balance.

In the Yarra, above 12.5% all the green characteristics are lost from Chardonnay, so De Bortoli like to pick while the grapes are still on the cusp.

The oak stuck out a bit for me – another year would see it nicely integrated.

Estate Grown Chardonnay 2012

De Bortoli Estate Grown Chardonnay
De Bortoli Estate Grown Chardonnay

Although Steve wasn’t setting out to compare the two Chardies, the (sensible) tasting order meant that we did just that. So what’s the difference?  As you might guess if you don’t have the memory of a goldfish, there’s no new oak in the Estate Chardonnay – yet it tastes less overtly oaky – it’s just more smooth and integrated. Again the casks are of different sizes giving slightly different results, from 225L barriques through 500L right up to 5700L foudres.  60,000 L is made of this v 400,000 L made of the Windy Peak.

Grapes are selected from 4 different plots on the “Winery Vineyard” at Dixon’s Creek with an average age into the mid 20s. The soils are a mix of sandstone, siltstone and limestone.  There is a little bit of “struck-match” reductive quality – this is especially common with screwcaps.  Steve is looking for a dry, bitter finish.  He always uses a screwcap for Chardonnay, the results are far better for consistency when ageing.  After 5 years the development would be linear, with a touch more roundness and nuttiness.

Due to the ridiculously high taxes on wine in Ireland, this premium wine is something like €28 on the shelf compared to €20 for the junior sibling – it really makes sense to trade up! 

Windy Peak Pinot Noir 2013

De Bortoli Windy Peak Pinot Noir
De Bortoli Windy Peak Pinot Noir

60% of the grapes were hand picked, the remainder machine harvested.  Hand picking is better for the fruit and still the best way to collect whole bunches.  bullshit

The Windy Peak Pinot Noir has the new oak barrels to condition them for the Estate Syrah
It shows lots of fruit on the nose and palate, particularly cherry and strawberry, but maintains savoury, with a dry finish.

Estate Grown Pinot Noir 2012

De Bortoli Estate Grown Pinot Noir
De Bortoli Estate Grown Pinot Noir

This is from older vineyards averaging around 25 years of age.  Steve calls it “a bit grubby”.  20% was whole bunch fermented so there’s some extra tannin and greenness from the stalks.  Not too much pigeage was performed  – probably only 4 punch downs during maceration and fermentation, and perhaps pumping over a couple of times.

This is very savoury with funky and wild flavours – no jam here!  It’s a grown up, interesting wine.  If you have an autumnal dish in mind then this would be an amazing partner for it.

La Bohème Act Four Syrah Gamay 2012

De Bortoli La Bohème  Act Four Yarra Valley Syrah Gamay
De Bortoli La Bohème Act Four Yarra Valley Syrah Gamay

This is a rarely seen (on front labels at least) blend consisting of 70% Syrah and 30% Gamay – 50% of each went through carbonic maceration, similar to the process used in Beaujolais for extracting fruit flavours without too much tannin from the skin. Steve compared it to wines from the Ardèche in southern France.pussy wine

So much acidity, this really makes your mouth water – it’s the Opal Fruits of wine.  Along with red and black fruit there’s a real dark chocolate sensibility and a bit of an edge. Definitely a food wine – many may find it a bit full-on by itself, but Steve doesn’t mind that!

Estate Grown Syrah 2010

De Bortoli Estate Grown Syrah
De Bortoli Estate Grown Syrah

The flavours I got from this included dark berries and graphite – what could be more mineral than that??

This is definitely a Syrah and not a Shiraz, in antipodean nomenclature – it wouldn’t look totally out of place in Hawkes Bay but it’s more Northern Rhône than Barossa. With a tasting sample in the glass it’s possible to read text through it – even at 4 years old that wouldn’t be possible with an inky black Barossa brute.brett

Plunging is done only when necessary – when it seems like it needs a little more tannin, otherwise they leave it alone and drink beer.  It has some whole bunch character – green stalkiness – though bizarrely this was less apparent in a year when 100% of the grapes were whole bunch.

Future Developments

Given the family’s ancestry it’s not surprising that Italian varieties are being put through their paces at the moment, though the team are refining their winemaking approach when dealing with them.

neglect

Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc are also believed to have potential in the Yarra – watch this space for more funky wines!