Australian Pinot Noir – a wine of the times

July 12, 2019 10:38 am

When it comes to red wines, Australians have traditionally been drawn to reds that have more (how do I put this delicately), well, balls. Our full-bodied varietals have been more popular than other more refined or nuanced red wines.

To quantify this, when looking at a 2017 research study of Australian wine drinkers and their purchase behavior over the previous two years, over 70% purchased Shiraz, almost 50% purchased Cabernet Sauvignon, about 46% purchased Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre (GSM) blend and 24% purchased Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir was one of the varieties brought to Australia by both John McArthur in 1817 and by James Busby in the 1830s. The grape’s historical origins are still unknown, but the variety is thought to be over 2,000 years old. In the mid-1960s there were less than 50 hectares of Pinot Noir planted across Australia. Since then, the variety has slowly built itself to become an increasing and more important part of the Australian wine landscape.

In 1971, CSIRO’s Merbein horticultural research facility in Mildura released a vine stock of Pinot Noir taken from cuttings first planted at Mount Pleasant (Hunter Valley NSW) in the 1920s. This is referred to as the MV6 (mother vine) clone and this is the stock that St Maur planted for its Pinot Noir.

With the expansion of the Australian wine industry in the 1980s and 1990s, winemakers and vignerons started to reinvigorate existing regions and branch out into newer wine regions. Some of the cooler climate regions that were planted during this period were well suited to Pinot Noir.

One of Australia’s best-known wine critics and authors, James Halliday AM, was instrumental in bringing the Yarra Valley to the fore through his Coldstream Hills and its signature Pinot Noir.

Together with other cold climate regions in Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales (Southern Highlands) Australian Pinot Noir saw great growth and production has increased significantly and intensified.

With more production and vintages delivered, winemakers and growers developed their viticultural and winemaking skills. What were once light, dry red wines, have transformed into delicate, complex and elegant wines of great quality and demand. 

Today, over 5,000 hectares are under Pinot Noir nationally. The variety needs care when growing and in handling, which can add to the cost either through care required or lower yields. It is susceptible to early frosts, botrytis, mildew, and its thin skin needs to be looked after in the winemaking process.

While Pinot Noir is a lighter, more delicate wine in style with lower tannins, that doesn’t mean it lacks intensity both on the palate and in its nose.  Pinot Noir’s flavour characteristics include red berries (strawberry, cranberry), cherry, vanilla, spices, and even mushroom and wines will show aromas of berries, vanilla, cinnamon, clove, caramel and forest floor.  Compared to other red wines, Pinot Noir drinks better younger. Generally, the wine should be consumed within six to eight years of its vintage. Younger wines show more fruit and berries, while older wines will take on more savoury flavours and develop more forest floor characters, like mushroom or truffle.

The extra care that is needed in handling production and the delicate and temperamental nature of the grape can add a few dollars to the price of a Pinot Noir. However, we think the result offers elegant and nuanced wines that can truly be savoured. I love to swirl my glass of Pinot and just take in the nose.

As our food culture in Australia has developed in the last 20 years, with more emphasis on the quality and provenance of produce and cuisine that embraces authenticity, so Australian Pinot Noir wines have grown in their reputation and complexity. 

The rest of the world is already taking note of Australian Pinot Noir, with the International Pinot Noir Conference putting Australia centre stage for their 2016 event. A large contingent of Australian Pinot experts attended panels and showcased their Pinot Noir wines to a captivated and appreciative audience. Just as Pinot Noir is growing demand in Australia, Australian Pinot Noir will grow its exports and international consumption. More export dollars for Australia? Sounds like the perfect occasion to celebrate.

Why not join me in raising a glass of St Maur Lot 41 Pinot Noir, and toasting this great and elegant varietal. Here’s to Australian Pinot Noir! (And wines with smaller, more elegant balls).

Till next time…

Marco

This post was written by St Maur Wines

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