Clear the Field: WA Pinot YES
The panel and I opened a dozen pinot noirs from Western Australia in the hopes of finding one that could be a new hero. We expected one or two, maybe three, even. We found five crackers. WA is not famous for pinot noir, in that the success of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, and to a lesser (but not less important) extent, Sauvignon Blanc (blends) and Riesling dominate both the national press reviews and wine show award and trophy tallies. Shiraz from the Great Southern, and Pinot from selected pockets around the state are two varieties that are gaining notoriety for all the right reasons.
Pinot Noir from WA is typified by a number of characteristics and the regionality of the wines is utmost in this.
Pinot from the Southern Forest Region (Pemberton, Manjimup and the Blackwood Valley): The fruit from these areas has a distinct brambly, stemmy character to it – the wines are structural and spicy rather than sweet and plush. I often note flavours along the lines of strawberry, green and black olive tapenade, black cherry and cool climate spices such as white pepper, hints of clove. The acidity when managed correctly provides a fine seam of taught tension through the centre of the fruit here, giving it a recognisable, distinct palate shape. This is evident even in the hands of different makers. The foremost region for Pinot Noir in this area is Pemberton (led by the Pannell family at Picardy Wines), with exciting examples from Below and Above, Pemberley and others. Manjimup is a region coming of age, and the DeiTos Vineyard (owned by Fabio and Katrina Deitos, established 1996 and located in the Middlesex area of Manjimup, 6km south east of the town of Manjimup) supplies fruit for the Lonely Shore wine, which we look at in the below tasting. I have loved the 2018 vintage of this wine, and now, the 2019 as well. Staying in the Manjimup region, Batista is a name well worth your time, I urge you to seek out these wines. Another vineyard in the area to note is the Lefroy Brook vineyard owned by Pat Holt. When Moss Wood went through a period of making their pinot with Pemberton fruit, it was from the Lefroy Brook vineyard. The fruit is now purchased by John Brocksopp for his Lillian wines. A wine that is on my radar that I have not tried, but have heard very good things about is the Out On a Limb Pinot Noir (the first vintage was 2018 Liam and Ben Carmody, close planted Burgundy clones 777 and 115).
Pinot from the Great Southern (Porongurup, Denmark, Mt Barker): Of the five subregions in the Great Southern (Frankland River, Denmark, Albany, Porongurup and Mt Barker) three stand out as regions producing excellent pinot noir. Denmark is home to the KarriView Vineyard (now owned by Paul Nelson Wines) and has been responsible for beautiful, savoury, ageworthy pinots since 1989. I recently looked at the 1989 (June 2020) alongside the current vintage with Paul and at 30+ years on (from vines that were 4yrs old at the time!) it retained graceful fruit, spice and balance. A standout producer in the region for pinot is Singlefile Wines: it is always recogniseable for the gentle suggestion of fresh coffee grounds that sit alongside the black cherry nose. Many wineries in Denmark produce Pinot Noir, so it is certainly worth taking the time to explore the region in depth (Harewood Estate is a winery to mention here). Porongurup, to the north east (broadly speaking) of Denmark, is a region better known for riesling (and with good reason, I believe that the best of the Porongurup rieslings rate amongst the very best in the country), however the pinot vines are still gaining age and with it, reputation. The best examples come from Castle Rock, Shepherds Hut (both featured in the below tasting, however the Shepherds Hut coming out just on top by a whisker) and others. The pinots from Porongurup are typified by sweet red berry, raspberry, red cherry, spice and acidity. They are not unlike the juicy plushness we have come to expect of the wines from Tasmania, albeit finer in body. As is present in the rieslings, there is a distinct floral character to the nose of these wines. Another winery to seek out in the area is Zarephath. Mt Barker is home to the Mt Barrow vineyard which has good elevation (380m) – I have stood and looked out from it, and the vista is impressive. Marchand and Burch have used the fruit to very good effect in the wine we tasted, below.
Pinot from Margaret River: Really, there is only a small handful of producers who have consistently produced high quality pinot noir in a region most known for its chardonnay, cabernet and sauvignon blancs: Moss Wood in Margaret River (owned by Clare and Keith Mugford, originally planted by the Pannells, now of Picardy in Pemberton) has been producing age-worthy pinot noir (planted mid-late 70’s) since the early 80’s, and from personal experience with these wines as 20-30 years olds, they are glorious. Pierro (owned by Mike Peterkin) is another producer who has been a longterm proponent of premium pinot in the region, however recent vintages include 10% of shiraz, so strictly speaking, not exactly comparing apples with apples. Given Mike’s history with Pinot however, I believe it is a fair inclusion.
The search for value pinot is a difficult one to say the least – the characters that define great Pinot Noir at the very top end (structure, seduction, fine tannins and persistance of elegant flavour) are challenging things to give up. Can we have it all, at under $40? Probably not. But we can get very close…
Here they are.
2019 Pannell Family Pinot Noir, Pemberton
Bright, brambly red cherry. Smelling the first four wines prior to starting it is clear that this nose has the most integrated, together and meshed profile. It smells silky. The palate is fresh, bright and silky as promised… decent length – doesn’t have the depth of flavour of the greats. But who was expecting that. It is moreish and delicious. Elegant. It gets better the longer it is open, confirming my decision to decant this wine with impunity prior to drinking it. There is very limited quantity of this wine each year owing to it being a trial label for the Pannell family – you can buy stock of the 2019 pinot from the following retailers: Lamont’s Wine Store (Cottesloe), Old Bridge Cellars (North Fremantle), Swanbourne Cellars (AKA Liquor Barons Swanbourne), Liberty Liquors (Claremont).
John Jens: “Elegant, refined & textural. Great value. YY. 18pts”
2018 Marchand and Burch Mount Barrow Pinot Noir, Mt Barker
Almost heading in a bacon fat/maple/black cherry direction – the palate is seriously structured and pretty great. The succulent fruit kind of wavers on the mid palate… but this is very good indeed. I like it a lot. Kind of seductive in a firm handed sort of way. Quite forthright. Mt Barrow vineyard planted in 2005 to clones 114 + 115.
John Jens: “Rich, ripe & long. Appeal. Crowd pleaser. Serious. YY. 18.5pts”
2019 Lonely Shore (DeiTos Vineyard) Pinot Noir, Manjimup
Black pepper, strawberry, bright life and lift. The palate has a structural integrity that I like, and a clarity too. It speaks of stemminess and almost sappy fruit (in a good way). Love the drawn-out length. It has a red jube character on the finish. Black salted licorice. Really interesting. Lingering and dry…. sinewy in a sexy kind of way. Serious length. Soft tannins. Fruit quality beyond price level.
“Fruit is handpicked, cold soaked and fermented in two parcels. When stems are ripe a whole bunch component is fermented separately which is roughly 10% of the blend [15% in 2019]. It is then basket pressed and gravity movement is used as much as possible. It spends 8 months in French oak (10% new) and bottled unfined and unfiltered.” Lonely Shore
John Jens: “Lean, lingering w gentle tannins. Classy. Y. 18.3pts”
2017 Below and Above Pinot Noir, Pemberton
This is gentle, fine, spiced and balanced. Gorgeous fruit here – this has really impressive intensity, although I’m not surprised for the region, and speaks primarily of black and red berry fruit, the spices stray onto the pepper/clove/sage spectrum, and the length of flavour is very very good. Very perfumed. Has a mulberry flavoured bubble-gum suggestion somewhere in there too. Like that also.
John Jens: “Plush, lively, spicy – another crowd pleaser. YY. 18.3pts”
2019 Shepherd’s Hut Pinot Noir, Porongurup
For the uninitiated, Shepherd’s Hut represents one of the biggest value finds in recent years, although the price is steadily creeping up in order to meet rapidly increasing demand for these sensational wines. Made by Rob Diletti (of Castle Rock, also in the Porongurup), from grapes grown on the Wishart’s Sheperd’s Hut property. The 2018 preceding it was delicious, and I was unsure how the wine could be improved, especially given the pedigree of the season. BUT: enter the 2019… Juicy bouncy bright nose – pretty, pristine, pretty hard to go past. Delicious. Smashable.
John Jens: “Serious pinot flavours. Long, dense, supple. YYY.” 18.6pts