“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





22 September 2014


Is Pinot really like Riesling?
Something about staunch acid
with cherries and plums on top 

Just another shard of critical evidence in your correspondent's insanity trial is his firm belief that the best Pinot noir, the red grape of Champagne (where it makes white wine) and Burgundy (where it makes the most sensuous, sensual and confounding reds) is actually more like Riesling than red.

In the sense, like, of staunch bone dry Riesling with dollops of plum, prune or maraschino and/or morello cherries, along with the meagre-to-plush flesh such fruits provide.

Unfairly, the writer compared two of Victoria's leading Pinot makers' most recent releases. 

Unfair, because the Oakridge wines are a year younger than the Kooyong wines. Fair, because both 2012 and 2013 were warmer-than-average, and from these notes we can at least grapple with what Victoria's most popular Pinot regions might produce if things stay warm, as it seems they may.

I mean, if they can't do it, who can?

But through this three day tasting, two things lingered. One, the author's predilection for reds from iron-rich ground was reinforced. 

Two, his suspicion that Pinot with proper cool-to-coldish sources has natural acid that most closely matches that of Riesling from the Clare or Eden Valleys. Which, Tasmania notwithstanding, is as good as dry Riesling gets in Australia, if not on Earth.

Another lovely thing is the reality that the older Australia's best Pinot vineyards grow, and the more intense becomes the knowledge of their makers, the closer we get to Burgundy. Which seemed impossible just thirty years ago.

Of course we'll never get there - we can't because we're not there - but these wines make me think we'll get somewhere close, if a little off to one side. Or the other.

With smug colonial pride.

Fingers crossed about the climate change. 

Oakridge 864 Guerin Block 4 Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2013  
($75; 13.2% alcohol; screw cap; 93++ points) 

Give it a day of air and you begin to see the true frame of this wine lurch from the murk of the creamy and jello baby fruit you met on first opening. It's picked up a real dusty nose-tickling prickle to put a pointy end on that smoochy morello cherry juiciness, and it no longer seems so simply plump. It's still got the puppy fat when you taste it, but its unflinching acidity and thin dry tannins draw the finish out like taffy. Along with those neat bitter cherries it leaves a nutty flavour: the classic grilled cashews of many Burgundies, both red and white. Which must come from exemplary Burgundian barrels, methinks. It seriously needs a few years. Or real hearty field mushrooms in lots of butter and fresh pepper. Morels would be good with some pork belly, but jeez they're expensive. 

Oakridge Local Vineyard Series Guerin Vineyard Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2013
($36; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 92+ points)

As the money number fairly indicates, this is not quite the wine of the Block 4, although it's from the same general location in grey volcanic dirt at Gladysdale. It has much of the morello of the 4, but in a more smoky atmosphere, pushes a tea-smoked duck hallucination to centre stage in my dribble sector. It's probably a bit more prickly than the other wine, and the aromatic gap between its sinister black tea darkness and almost fleshy cherries is wider and wilder. I love this. It reminds me of the wines shewn me by Jean-Pierre De Smet, decades back when he first blew my mind with the tannic, uncompromising Pinots he made at the Burgundy temple called Domaine De L'Arlot. Compared to the Block 4 this is a more snaky, sinuous thing despite that brittle carbon frame, and it's a more cheeky drink. Once again, it triggers pork yearnings as much as your actual pekin duck. Slender, supple, savoury and bone dry! And now it's giving music: more Coltrane with Monk than with Miles. Phew. 

Oakridge Local Vineyard Series Lusatia Park Vineyard Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2013
($36; 13.1% alcohol; screw cap; 93+ points)

Red dirt usually means iron. I'm an iron man. In the terroirist sense, of course. Rather than those bitter black cherries of the Guerin site, there are pretty raspberries here, fighting for the topnote with all that acrid summer dust. Lusatia Park's at Woori Yallock, and atop the soil change, this vineyard faces due north, bringing a tad more bare-faced summer sunshine than the Guerin with its easterly twist. Not to belittle it, this one has a touch of the squishy old raspberry fruit gels we lived on from grades 1 to 7. But to taste it, the acids, phenolics and black tea tin tannins are more forward than that simple fruit, leaving a rinsed but entirely unsatisfied feeling of need. Can we squeeze the last cassoulet of the season in here, please Mlle. Châtelaine? I need to consider whether the iron or the aspect has the bigger influence here. I suspect it's the latter. I'll need three bottles. Cancel all appointments. 

Kooyong Haven Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir 2012 
($75; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap;  93+ points)

The Haven vineyard is sheltered. Shelter's good on a peninsula. In stark contrast to the Yarra wines, this is all poached plums. With maybe a clove or two and a big dollop of fresh whipped cream. Without being overwhelming in any way, it smells rich, plush and gentle. Luxurious. A quilted and buttoned fresh leather armchair. It has a little of the dust of its summer, but that fleshy fruit rules for the first few sniffs, before the ground and wood smells arrive. After that, it's more elegant than I'd expected in the actual drinking bit. Long and lingering, tapered and dry with fine black tannin, it has yet to learn the sensuality it will master in the next few years. Right now, I'd have it with a chook casserole with lots of fresh tarragon and buttery kipflers. 

Kooyong Meres Mornington Peninsula Pinot noir 2012 
($75; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap;  94+++  points) 

Meres is exposed, so these vines have a tougher time than the Haven lads next door. Yields are low; I expect more intensity and less puppyfat. The first sniff does that, but it's more fleshy than I'd expected. Still, a bit like Oakridge's LVS Guerin, not the Block 4, the reach between the flesh and the dry dark tea tannins is wider. But here, given different winemaking techniques and another year's age, those polarities are smoothly assimilating. The wine has better form. She's all locked in, and swelling. She knows exactly where she's going. I'll confuse you by saying there's a whiff of feathers, like some of my favourite reds of Italy's Piedmont, but there, I've said it anyway. It's a bit like getting off the dusty backroad school bus in summer, and plunging into the kitchen for a glass of water, to discover Mum's plucking chooks for dinner. Now try to forget that. No more avian references. In the mouth, the wine is sassy and squirmy and teasing, and more sinewy that I'd expected, even after a few days. It'll dance a very naughty dance indeed in five or six years. If you must do it now, I'd go for a cool Provence bean and pork stew with an artichoke. I think these tannins are among the few red wine types which could handle the tricky grainy dryness of artichoke. This is really lovely wine. 

Kooyong Ferrous Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir 2012
($75; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 95++  points)

Ferrous? Ironman, see. This is right up my alley. The vineyard's riddled with buckshot and grapeshot ironstone. To my hooter, the wine smells like iron in the summer. That tight, slightly threatening hardness of a rusty galvo shed in a drought. But then, in great relief, come the cherries, maraschino and morello, and the raspberry. Holy shit. It's truly  beautiful. If you could magically conjure a crême caramel from those fruits, this'd be it. Once you forget the iron, which most will not notice anyway, this is all fruit and creamy, motherly comforts. It has Riesling-like acidity and very fine-grained chalk-like tannins, but the freshest, most endearing and secure fruits fleshing up those dry bones. Stunning. 

A note on scores: 

Over my week, my average score is in the mid-to-low seventies. If I tasted and noted most of the wine made in Australia, as I did in the horrible olden days, my average would be well below seventy; perhaps sub-sixty.

Once I get above ninety, things compress. It usually takes three or four dozen new releases to get anything above ninety. 94 is a rarity, but there's a glut of our best wines between that and 85. 

The nether regions above are speckled with the odd La Tache or Krug. I have never awarded any wine more than 98.  

Plus signs vaguely indicate wines which would score more if drunk when they grow up.

However gentle and supportive I get, my wine appraisal protocols result in a neat match to Keith Richards' evaluation of music. 

97% bad. Three good.


Anonymous said...

Cracker writing Mr White. Made me smile while getting the juices pumping.
Simon Grant

Philip White said...

Thankyou Simon. They're lovely drinks.