Pondering the puzzle that is Pinot Noir

There was a time not so long ago when the walkabout crew was busy in South Australia, walking about (driving actually) “the other Red Centre” and sampling some truly brilliant wines. We would almost always skip over any Pinot Noir offerings because we knew from experience that we had yet to find one that we liked and were instead going to devote our time to Shiraz, GSM, Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling tastings which were our safe “go to” grape varieties at the time.

Fast forward a few years and we decided that a group trip to Tasmania would be nice, so we booked ourselves on the boat with our cars (it is cheaper to transport wine back yourself than post it…) with the intention of sampling lots and lots of sparkling wine. While we achieved this aim, we were also surprised by the fact that so many of us were reporting high scores for the Pinot Noir on offer. We came to the decision that Pinot Noir perhaps deserved a re-think.

Regular readers of this site will know that we have been doing a lot of tasting in the Yarra Valley recently (it takes a long time to write up all our experiences though… so stay tuned) and managed in 2018 to make the trek to Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. The result has been a lot more Pinot Noir being consumed at our irregular but frequent “bring a bottle to discuss” evenings.

It is really difficult to pick a favourite Pinot Noir as there are so many good ones available in Victoria and Tasmania. However, when considering price as a factor, a few stand out distinctly. This does not mean they are cheap (our top pick is $45 per bottle) but rather that they represent value for money.

A real dark horse in the race is St Hubert’s Pinot Noir (pictured). At $33 per bottle it is in the mid-range of our typical spend per bottle. The colour is excellent without being spectacular (it is a consistent deep red-brown but more towards the brown than some other examples) and the nose is typical of the variety, perhaps even a bit more forceful in announcing itself than others. The palate is very pleasant, if a bit soft. There is a lot of red fruit mixed through otherwise delicate flavours. Overall the wine is well structured, but finishes a bit short.

Our favourite so far has been Phaedrus Estate (Mornington Peninsula) Reserve Pinot Noir. This wine will set you back $45 per bottle but we think it is well worth it. They have a non-reserve option for $24 per bottle which is itself quite a bargain. The reserve Pinot Noir has perfect clarity and depth (as do most Pinot Noirs) but the nose on this wine seems sweeter than many (comparable to the Shantell Estate – now known as Steel’s Gate Estate) and the colour is more pink and less brown. You need to see the wine in a glass to fully appreciate what this means, even a photograph doesn’t do it justice. The flavour palate is very complex, with acid kept well in check and the finish is beautiful. This is a wine that you pause afterwards and just say “yes”.

Staying on the Mornington Peninsula, you could try the Yabby Lake Single Vintage Pinot Noir. This will cost you $64 per bottle at the cellar door but you can also find it on the menu at Village Cinemas in the Gold Class suites, since the winery is owned by Village Roadshow. Despite perfect clarity, this wine has almost no bouquet to speak of which is curious. The palate is very generous in the fruit department, but lacks the “wow” factor of the Phaedrus Reserve Pinot Noir.

The 2016 Boat O Craigo Pinot Noir sold out within a few months, but we were lucky as a group to purchase a few cases (we think the 2017 is also very good and this is still available at the time of writing). The nose on this wine is more like a Grenache or Shiraz than a Pinot Noir, which is a bit confusing at first, but makes sense once you start tasting. The initial taste is almost sweet and has moderately high acidity, which causes the flavours to linger very nicely and leaves a fresh mouth feel. At $30 per bottle ($21 for gold members) this wine is a bargain.

Another major contender is the Provenance 2017 Golden Plains Pinot Noir at $32 per bottle. The Bellarine Peninsula (near Geelong) makes some very nice wines but this winery in particular won us over with its consistency of quality. The Basalt 2017 Pinot Noir is also worth a look if you are heading West from Melbourne. Both these wines have been recently reviewed here in separate posts.

If price is a factor, our choice is the Boat O Craigo. If you are willing to spend a bit more, we would go with the Phaedrus Estate Reserve. Try both and decide for yourself…

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