Stefano Lubiana Vintage Brut 2005

As I sit here jet-lagged and generally puzzled to be back in my study in Brisbane, I resort to sparkling wine to inject levity and the spectre of some kind of celebration into my evening. This wine is from always-interesting Stefano Lubiana in the Derwent Valley in Tasmania. I was fortunate enough to visit Steve earlier this year and saw a most impressive new winery and cellar door facility in the last stages of development. I believe it’s all up and running now, and I suggest it would be well worth a visit to anyone in the area.

To the wine, then: quite a rich nose that mixes lees-derived aromas with weighty fruit and edges of caramel. This seems a much riper wine than the 2004, though its tendency towards savouriness and off-the-wall flavours remains consistent. There’s a lot to enjoy here if one isn’t terminally prejudiced against fuller, more powerful sparkling styles. Personally, I miss a certain lightness of touch that, for all its muscularity, this doesn’t quite manage to retain.

In the mouth, predictably full and rich. Acid, the curse of Australian sparkling wines, is fine and controlled, and benefits from the fruit’s weight. Mouthfeel isn’t quite as creamy as a top Champagne, but it’s far from coarse and, to the extent that it’s a little rambunctious, is well matched to the wine’s weight and intensity. An impactful mid-palate leads to a clean, fresh after palate that extends well back into the mouth. Indeed, this is a long wine.

Not the last word in refinement, then, but a truly interesting wine for its range of flavours, power and outright generosity.

Stefano Lubiana Wines
Price: $A58
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

Bouchard Père et Fils Beaune Grèves 1er Cru Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus 2010

I’m sitting down to a few exciting wines tonight, of which this is one. I was a little concerned about its youth but this is an immediately expressive, enticing wine.

Line and length; this has, above all else, tremendous palate structure and persistence. I often feel flavours are privileged in wine appreciation above other, arguably more important, aspects of wine like texture and architecture — those elements that give a wine its narrative. This has plenty of complexity within its savoury flavour profile: cherries, exotic spices, undergrowth, roasted meat. There’s also a decent whack of toasted oak to help things along, and I find the oak especially well matched to the fruit flavours here.

Yet the main events here are mouthfeel and line, one modulating through a series of textural moments as the other ushers each flavour and texture element onto the tongue. This is fascinating to taste because it’s so sinewy and light in the mouth, yet with such drive and length, and such variation too. It’s far from delicate — in fact, its flavours are quite masculine — but there’s real refinement and detail too.

An excellent Burgundy.

Bouchard Père et Fils
Price: $US100
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

MacPhail Family Wines Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010

When at the MacPhail cellar door, I was especially interested to acquire two contrasting Pinots for later tasting, and purchased this as well as the Gap’s Crown Vineyard wine on the recommendation of Assistant Winemaker William Weese. The two vineyards are near to each other, but the wines to which they give rise are quite different. While the Gap’s Crown wine is a luscious, fruit-forward expression of Pinot, this brings structure to the fore and prefers a flavour profile with more prominent savouriness.

That said, it shares much stylistically with other Pinots I have recently tasted from various AVAs within Sonoma County; that is, it’s a relatively large scale wine. Aromatically, it’s very expressive and quite dark, with a thread of minerality that takes dark berry fruit into quite different territory from the Gap’s Crown. It’s sappy and slightly medicinal; totally varietal, in fact, yet at the same time rich and plush. No wonder Pinots from Sonoma have found such a receptive audience; this is Pinot for Zinfandel drinkers, a gateway to different flavours without the challenge of excessively light colour or body.

The palate is quite sappy and fresh, with noticeably more structure (both acid and tannin) than the Gap’s Crown. Unlike the latter wine, this is tighter through the middle palate, avoiding excess broadness and keeping things brisk, though full. The after palate lightens, perhaps too much, before fresh tannins bring the finish to a close. This isn’t a wine that penetrates aggressively the back of the mouth, but it does in fact have good length in its gentle manner.

It’s difficult to generalise on the basis of two bottles, from a difficult vintage to boot, but there are clear differences between these two labels and I’m excited to find a producer so intent on illuminating special sites through this most transparent of red grape varieties.

MacPhail Family Wines
Price: $US49
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

MacPhail Family Wines Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010

The first of two Pinots I picked up at MacPhail’s cellar door this week. While in Sonoma, I’ve been especially curious to explore the various AVAs producing Pinot, so different is it in style from French, Australian and Kiwi wines. I was aware of a reputation for big, “dry red” Pinots from the area, and it’s true that most of the Pinots I’ve tasted have been larger in scale. Yet they often show excellent varietal character in terms of flavour, and their scale and luxe presents its own appeal. I’m open to the style.

This is a particularly plush example. As such, it shares something with some older school Central Otago Pinots, though without their, at times, highly extracted structure. I was a little concerned when I opened this, as it showed a fair bit of stink initially. This, however, blew off quickly, leaving behind a clean wine. First impressions are of plush red berry fruit. There’s no mistaking this for anything other than Pinot, though, as it presents a distinctive sappiness along with its fruit, as well as sweet, fragranced undergrowth. That said, it never wavers from its rich, fruit forward nature. The only note that distracts here is a hint of overripeness. I understand there was a very hot period towards harvest in 2010 that may account for this influence.

The palate is predictably full and rich. On entry, soft and immediate, moving to a fleshy middle palate that fills the mouth with red fruits. Acid is only moderately bright, giving a broadness to the mid-palate that some may dislike; soft tannins don’t do much to give the wine shape either. This, though, is a lush style and, for me, lower acid is a valid expression of this fruit; a more highly acidified wine may well have seemed forced. As a drink now style, I like the palate’s soft, supple feel. Still present is that slightly overripe fruit note which detracts from an otherwise correct, straightforward pinot flavour profile. The line is even, with no dips or surges.

Is it great Pinot? Not in any conventional sense, but at the same time it’s a pleasure to find a Pinot made in this style that isn’t either cheap or lacking in character. A fruit bomb for sure, and a bloody good one.

MacPhail Family Wines
Price: $US49
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Cambridge Road Martinborough Pinot Noir 2009

When I was in Central Otago recently, I was one of two Australians in the vintage crew, Jimi Lienert being the other. Jimi hails from the Barossa, where his family has a beautiful vineyard. Inevitably we got to tasting a bit while in New Zealand, and again when I passed through the Barossa Valley the other day. Despite growing up surrounded by, and helping to make, traditional Barossan styles, Jimi has a penchant for lighter, elegant wines. After vintage, he toured New Zealand and tasted as widely as possible; this is a bottle he found along the way that he shared with me.

I’m very glad he did, because it’s excellent. Something I’ve often enjoyed about Martinborough Pinots versus those from Central Otago is their shift in balance away from fullness of fruit towards fragrance, savouriness and structure. This is a good example of the style; aromatically it’s spiced and fresh, with berry-cherry compote, just a touch of stalk character (easily carried) and vanilla oak. Although the fruit is present and lush, it doesn’t push its way past the other elements, making this far from a fruit bomb style. With air, further complexities of curry leaf and musk, all aromatic and floral.

In the mouth, structure, depth of flavour, layers and length. There’s something quiet about this wine, though, like a really smart person who just makes enough of a contribution to the conversation. Despite that, its contributions have a tremendous impact, so this wine, although measured, makes itself known. Partly this is due to its acid structure, which drives flavour down the line quite firmly and gives it good length. Partly, it’s due to a complex flavour profile that makes one lean in to look more closely. It’s both sweet and savoury, umami-filled and delicious.

A whole lot of sophisticated, delicious Pinot.

Cambridge Road
Price: $NZ55
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Peregrine Pinot Noir 2009

I tasted this alongside a clutch of other Pinots, including some pretty smart Burgundies. It wasn’t the best wine in absolute terms, but it clearly highlighted why Central Otago Pinot is so attractive to so many drinkers.

Up-front aroma with an array of regional notes: dark fruits, wild herbs, spice, some oak. There’s a bit of development but it remains mostly primary. So much for what it smells of; what’s impressive here is its generosity and coherence. This is a big, bouncy Central Otago Pinot that has mellowed enough to have gained a fair bit of sophistication without losing an essentially plush character.

In the mouth, so very generous. Compared to a (rather older) Burgundy consumed at the same sitting, this is a model of relaxation. There’s structure here, but it’s subservient to a palate that focuses on fruit, spice and the sort of flow that meshes one delicious flavour against another, then another. Tertiary flavours add some complexity, and the wine is far from simplistic in its flavours. Yet none of this gets in the way of pure deliciousness.

There’s a lot of things this wine isn’t: intellectual, sub-regional (it’s a blend), or especially serious. But when it tastes this good, who cares?

Price: $NZ60
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Amisfield Pinot Noir 2009

The only recent vintage that rivals 2009 for excitement amongst Central Otago winemakers is 2012, and an unfortunate side effect of the present moment is a relative absence of both vintages as current releases. Mind you, I have been enjoying 2010s for their larger scale, and what I’ve seen of 2013 looks pretty smart too. However, 2009 remains a benchmark vintage and I’ve tried to locate what I can to taste. Amisfield is one of the few producers that still has a 2009 Pinot Noir in its range.

Although Amisfield’s flashy cellar door is just outside of Queenstown, the vineyard and winery are located in the Pisa subregion, just up the road from where I’ve been living the past month. It’s a curious landscape, the often snow-capped Pisa Ranges rising steeply in the background, several levels of topography stepping downwards from them, vines appearing as these terraces achieve a more arable altitude. It’s all quite unlikely, as most of Central Otago seems to be for grape growing.

Those used to fuller expressions of Central Otago Pinot, such as those from Bendigo, may be surprised at how fine-boned this is. The nose is expressive, showing regional herbs and spice alongside savoury red fruit. It’s not overwhemingly complex, but I welcome its savouriness and elegant scale. In the mouth, quite fleshy up front with free flowing fruit and and thread of spice that begins at the edges and works its way in. The middle palate keeps any tendencies towards flab in check as it tightens the wine’s line with acid and tannin. This remains quite structured and, while not especially fine in texture, is certainly silkier than the 2010 vintage I also tasted today. Decent, fruit-driven length.

I wish for a bit more complexity and refinement, but this is nonetheless a solid Central Otago Pinot that shows good sub-regionality.

Price: $NZ40
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Sineann Resonance Reserve Pinot Noir 2009

Pinot Noir drives people to extremes. I’m currently doing vintage in Central Otago, New Zealand, and the region’s renown draws Pinot lovers from much further afield than Brisbane; in Peter Rosback’s case, all the way from Oregon. Vigneron at Sineann, Peter travels here each year to make Pinot at Terra Sancta, the winery where I’m working. I was fortunate enough to taste a couple of Peter’s Oregon Pinots last night, both of which were characterful and delicious.

The most striking aspect of this wine’s aroma is its bright fruit, all candied citrus peel and savoury red berries, textured and expressive. Around this core swirls a range of other notes including a good deal of well-matched oak. It’s a very integrated aroma, youthful still, and has a dark, slightly rustic element that roughs up its edges and drags this firmly into artisanal territory.

The palate structure is what really grabs me about this wine, acid and tannin creating wonderful texture and flow. It’s not one of those silky smooth wines; rather, its irregularities are what make it worthwhile, bright fruit coasting atop this undulating landscape. Flavours are sweet-savoury, with no hint of simplicity to the fruit’s character. Again, oak is a feature.

A lovely wine and a worthwhile expression of Pinot.

Price: $N/A
Closure: Vino-Lok
Source: Gift

Eldridge Estate Estate Pinot Noir 2009

It was on a recent visit to David Lloyd of Eldridge Estate that I was gifted a half bottle of this wine, to help warm one of the many lonely motel evenings ahead of me. I’m finally tackling it, somewhat later than I thought I would, though the delay accounts for no loss of pleasure, as this is drinking really well.

Heady, obvious pinosity leaps from the glass along with a good deal of sweet, red fruit. There are sappy edges to the aroma profile too, all underlined by well controlled oak. Although this isn’t a wild, heady style, varietal definition is crystal clear and it presents as very well balanced on opening. Savouriness does creep in with some air, and this tempers the fruit’s sweeter tendencies, which is to my taste.

Mouthfeel is voluptuous and slippery, with edges of acid and tannin texture giving way to a rather buxom impression on the tongue. Flavours are fresh in the mouth and not outsize or exaggerated. As with the nose, the palate strikes me as balanced and refined; it’s an engaging wine that also values quiet moments, those pauses that make sense of sound. The after palate is sappy and refreshingly sour, acid tightening but never quite swamping a core of red fruit.

Not a blockbuster, just a delicious Pinot.

Eldridge Estate
Price: $A35 (375mL)
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Freycinet Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011

I’m in Tasmania at the moment, enjoying as many local wines as I can. My hosts have arranged a big Pinot lineup tonight, but I’ve already sampled a couple, including this one from the east coast. In browsing the Freycinet Vineyard Web site, I was intrigued to see the winemaking notes indicate this, the winery’s premium Pinot, went through its primary fermentation in a rotary fermenter. Refreshingly new world.

To the wine itself, good varietal character on the nose, showing a prettiness of fruit alongside significant spice and forest floor. Getting those balances right is an obvious challenge but it’s amazing how often wines can seem slightly off in the interplay of these basic elements. This, by contrast, seems to elegantly move from bright fruit to black spice to sappy notes and back.

The palate, for now, is quite acidic and this overwhelms one’s impression of flavour a bit. There’s good flavour there, though, with reasonably intense red fruit and sap, backed up by spiced oak. Tannins take a back seat to acid, structurally, but they are prickly and textural when they make an appearance towards the back of the palate. Should the acid fold back into the wine, this may become a really elegant wine. The flavours are spot on.

Freycinet Vineyard
Price: $55
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift