Australian Pinot Noir

I’ll be honest, I have been guilty of wine snobbery when it comes to Pinot Noir from Australia. Most of the examples I had tasted ten years ago (except a few from Tasmania) couldn’t hold their own against New Zealand, California and Oregon pinots, let alone Burgundy. To me the Australian wines were just too one dimensional – very fruity and cherry cola tasting without elegance or finesse. Well let me tell you times have changed!

Today, Australia is making some of the best Pinot Noir in the New World and the Mornington Peninsula, an hour’s drive from the city of Melbourne, is leading the way. This region – with its cool nights and warm, rather than hot growing season days – has some of the perfect ingredients to make the finicky Pinot Noir plant happy. The region is defined by rolling hills with multiple soil types and almost all with some level of clay. It is also surrounded by water on three sides, which moderates the temperature and creates a microclimate that is considerably cooler than the often hot and humid nearby city of Melbourne.

Time has also had a hand in improving the Pinot Noir from Mornington. The vines today are older and producing richer more densely layered fruit. Winemakers are also more experienced in both tending the vine in the vineyard and handling the fruit in the winery. Greater attention has been given to site selection and mapping out soils so that the optimal clone and rootstock are used.

The result is a Pinot Noir that is uniquely Australian. It retains it pure cherry fruit essence but adds layers of mushrooms, tea leaves and dried fruit. Careful oak handling also plays a role here in adding nuances and creating an integrated harmony to the wines. Finesse and elegance are definitely present in today’s Mornington Pinot Noir.

On a trip last winter I left Melbourne at 10AM (it was already humid and 89°F). I arrived at the Port Phillip Estate winery less than an hour later. The temperature change was amazing. Although I had only travelled about 50 miles the weather was a cool 70°F. I could understand how a cool climate variety such as Pinot Noir could thrive here. Several wineries’ Pinot Noirs stood out for me.

Ten Minutes by Tractor is a winery where all of its vineyards are literally ten minutes from each other. These wines all showed great structure with ripe vibrant cherry fruit with layers of earth, and spice. The Wallis Vineyard Pinot Noir was my favorite with its dark rich cherry and crunchy cranberry flavors balanced by sweet spices, floral and even slight caramel notes. The acidity brought the whole wine to life with vibrancy and personality.

Unfortunately, Ten Minutes by Tractor does not export to the US but if you go to Melbourne take a detour to the winery. It is a beautiful setting and also offers a phenomenal restaurant.

Moorooduc Estate Pinot Noir has the same vibrant fresh cherry character, but creates its own personality with more exotic spices and darker almost plumy notes. The color is also somewhat deeper and the crisp acidity sits in real harmony with the wine’s velvety smooth tannins. Moorooduc does export to the US and K and L Wines regularly has the Estate Pinot Noir in stock.

Kooyong and Port Phillip Estate are sister wineries and the Kooyong Single Vineyard Haven was my favorite here. Again the ripe fruit was present, but this time with more wild berry and gamey notes – often referred to as “savage.” Like the other wines I have noted, the Haven has great structure with fruit concentration balanced by great acidity and soft textural tannins. Kooyong is also available in the US and again I know K and L often has it in stock.

Australia will always be synonymous with Shiraz, but it is time to give its Pinot Noir some recognition. I urge you to try some of these wines if you can get your hands on them. I also urge you to travel to the Mornington Peninsula. Melbourne is one of the world’s great cities and a visit to the area isn’t complete without a trip to this nearby wine region.