Sometimes you’re after a full-bodied red to accompany a thick, juicy steak. Other times you might be after a refreshing white, to go with fish and carefully cooked vegetables. Of course: you should stock your cellar accordingly.
However, if you’re after a safe bet for all occasions, look no further than a quality Pinot Noir. Although it has a reputation for being delicate, Pinot Noir is no less complex than any other varietal of red wine. Its fragility however, has led to some popular misconceptions such as: “You can have good Pinot Noir wine or cheap Pinot Noir; but you can’t have both.”
We’re pleased to say that this is no longer the case: with its increasing popularity, Australia’s Pinot Noir makers are planting more, and have access to better technology and skills than ever before, thus lowering the financial ‘barrier to entry’ to this notoriously hard to grow wine. In other words: you no longer have to sell a kidney to get your hands on one of the sultriest, silkiest wines around.
So what makes Pinot Noir so special? Why does it have (relative to say, Shiraz) a small, cult like following, while being undervalued by the rest of us? Why is it so romanticised?
One reason is that Pinot Noir is one of the oldest grapes in the world, belonging to a family that has been around since Roman times. As such, it is related to Muscat Blanc (a rare white grape with only 50 acres around Piedmont Italy) and the nearly extinct Gouais Blanc (allegedly the grape of middle age Europe).
Also: it’s a little more subtle, lending itself to people who appreciate (or who like to pretend they can appreciate) the delicate, micro-aspects of a vintage. Instead of jumping out at you, Pinot’s cool-climate acidity, low tannins and a tasteful spattering of red berries, dance together on your palate to create a gentle “wow” factor rather than an overpowering “bang.”
Bearing that in mind, don’t buy Pinot Noir expecting the full-on flavour of a big red; with this varietal, you should be searching for delicacy, length, harmony and finesse. To that end, we asked some of Australia’s leading sommeliers for their picks for (and thoughts on) Australia’s top seven Pinot Noir vintages (and makers).
From “guaranteed crowd-pleasers” to “hidden gems,” allow this list to guide your tastebuds (and reputation as a dinner party host) in the right direction.
Take It To The Grave Pinot Noir
Dan Murphy’s two cents: Take It To The Grave Pinot Noir is blood red in colour with a lifted and varietal nose of wild strawberries, ripe plums and cherries. The palate is rich and expressive with supple cherry and red berried fruit, a beautifully lush mouth-feel matched by fine tannins and soft acidity that provide structure and length.
“Simultaneously sweet and savoury with red/black cherry, anise and boysenberry providing plenty of juicy flavour. That’s the thing: it serves fruit sweetness but then tempers it beautifully. Spice notes add to the show. Fantastic value in a pinot noir context.” (Expert reviewer, Wine Front).
Shop Now $15.99
Ninth Island Pinot Noir
Dan Murphy’s two cents: Ninth Island Pinot Noir is a sensational cool-climate Pinot Noir from the makers of Piper’s Brook. Tasmania is now recognised as a world class Pinot region and with wines of this quality one can see why!
“Ninth Island does fragrantly pretty pinot noir better than most. Perfumed, filled with cherries, plush redcurrants and plums. A lick of strawberries with a hint of smoky oak and fine acidity. Delicious.” (Dan Murphy’s wine panel, expert reviewer).
Shop Now $18.10
Josef Chromy Pepik Pinot Noir
Dan Murphy’s two cents: True to the [Pinot Noir] variety this one is fresh and fruit-driven, dripping with cherries, plums and strawberries. Drink with duck cassoulet with sweet spice!
“This is a lovely drink, with some sous-bois complexity, sappy tannins and bright red fruit.” (Expert reviewer, Max Allen).
Silent Way Pinot Noir
Picked by: Mark Willoughby, head honcho at Esoterica Wine & Food.
Mark’s two cents: Macedon Pinot doesn’t come for this price…good pinot noir doesn’t get sold for this price…and yet. Made by the great Matt Harrop of Shadowfax and now Curly Flat fame, a super keen price for a wine that shows all the tricks…Cherry and cranberry meet spice, clove and vanilla. Sure it’s not great Burgundy, but it doesn’t need to be for the money.
Shop Now $24
Payten & Jones VV Pinot Noir
Vino Mofo’s two cents: This Payten & Jones Pinot Noir from Melbourne’s Yarra Valley is like one of those light-and-bright, innocently fruited pinots usually found in this price bracket has come of age in grand style. It’s not too heavy, nor too dark, but there’s a depth of flavour enough to lose yourself in for hours. The fun label belies the complexity within, and there’s serious cellar potential here, without doubt. Raspberries, cherries and exotic spices, dusted with very fine white pepper and a back palate hint of vanilla yoghurt. Simply divine!
Shop Now $26.50
Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir
Dan Murphy’s two cents: With its fruit sourced from cool climate Tasmanian vineyards, this wine is bright cherry red with the nose showing vibrant primary fruits of sour cherry and pomegranate that meld with subtle spicy char aromas of French Oak. The palate shows lively primary red fruits, supported with a hint of stalk influence giving a linear structure that is long and defined.
Shop Now $22.99
Bay Of Fires
Picked by: Dan Murphy’s wine panel.
Dan Murphy’s two cents: It isn’t hard to see why Tasmania is quickly gaining a reputation as one of Australia”s greatest cool-climate Pinot regions with wines like this. However: Bay of Fires Pinot Noir is always produced is such limited quantities, you need to get in quick to secure some.
“Cherry, Turkish delight, spice, meaty whole bunch funk, pepper. Medium bodied, spicy, meaty, plenty of ripe jubey fruit, silky feel yet firm through the mouth, pulling almost stalky and strict on the finish,” (expert reviewer, Gary Walsh).
Shop Now $39
Penfolds Max’s Pinot Noir
Dan Murphy’s two cents: Enticing aromatics, with exotic fruits of the forest leaping from the glass. Raspberry, black cherry, olive tapenade and oolong tea are framed by a subtle char-toast character. Hints of sea spray and a distinct Campari note linger.
Shop Now $32.99
Saint Clair Block 14 Doctor’s Creek Pinot Noir
Booze Bud’s two cents: Full-bodied with Morello cherry flavours and a fine silky structure showing fresh vanilla pod, blackberry and blueberry with spice on the finish. Aromatic floral notes combined with red berry notes and a slight earthy richness.
Shop Now $40
Picked by: Dan Murphy’s wine panel.
The wine panel’s two cents: This wine shows superb varietal aromas of cherry, plum and spice, and the palate is long, textured and complex. With the ability to be cellared for the medium to long term, Lindsay McCall”s Estate Pinot is a certainty to be included in any cellar of a great Pinot Noir lover.
“One of the richest, plushest and most enjoyable Pinots in the land; Paringa still makes one of the best in the business.”
Sinapius “The Enclave” Pinot Noir
Picked by: Sean McManus, Sommelier at French restaurant Hubert in Sydney’s CBD, and Italian restaurant Alberto, Surrey Hills.
Sean’s two cents: 2016 saw temperatures well above average, and larger quantities of clean excellent fruit grown. That being said Tasmania generally works off very low yielding fruit on regular vintages. Which means this 100% dry grown (no irrigation) vintage, on 10 million year old soils, is a cracker. This enclave Pinot noir is hand picked and wild fermented for nearly 24 days resulting in sweet red fruits with seductive whispers of smoke and game. A palette that is long and layered almost ethereal with fruit spices and melting tannin that is built for ageing whilst showcasing its balance and purity; it screams red burgundy.
Buy @ Sinapius $80
Farr Farrside Pinot Noir
Picked by: Chris Sheehy, Champagne Ambassador at Pernod Ricard.
Chris’ two cents: fruit forward and rich with lovely balance; a real crowd pleaser. Campbell Mattinson, from Wine Front adds: “It’s cut with acid, plump with fruit, spicy, svelte and silken. It’s simultaneously tangy, plush and long. Some wines get a lot of mileage out of an inherent tension, and this is one such wine.”
Shop Now $80
Bindi Original Vineyard Pinot Noir
Picked by Nick Stamford.
Nick’s two cents: From a beautiful site in Macedon, planted in 1988. The 30 year old vines are now producing a silky textured pinot of great length and intensity but in a beautifully elegant frame. This pinot is one of Australia’s somewhat hidden gems. Unlike many Australian pinots, it has an ability to age effortlessly for 10-20 years and remain delicious and intriguing throughout the journey.
Buy @ MW Wines $89
Tolpuddle Vineyard Pinot Noir
Picked by: Chiara Danieli, head sommelier at Matteo Downtown.
Chiara’s two cents: Intensely aromatic, balanced with savoury spice notes from whole bunch fermentation, along with purity of varietal expression, fresh acidity and firm tannins. The 2017 vintage is very perfumed, medium bodied and approachable.
Buy @ Tolpuddle $90