When studying for the Master of Wine, I identified Australian pinot noir by a pervasive, medicinal aroma akin to root spice, beetroot and, at its most extreme, sarsaparilla. Perhaps this was a highly personalised means of identification while living in Japan, where I was exposed to Burgundy and examples from California and Oregon more frequently than those from home. After all, most wine drinkers outside of Australia seldom associate pinot noir with the great southern land.
However, external perceptions are changing, and Australian pinot noir is on the rise. While a bevy of sparkling wine clones too often responsible for insipid red wine are still planted on these shores, Dijon clones 114, 115 and 777 have provided additional diversity for textural and aromatic interplay across regional expressions. Their bright fruit and freshness serve a lighter shade to the structural authority and darker DNA of clonal stalwart MV-6.
That said, many producers are ardent champions of MV-6 due to its small, concentrated berries and later-ripening nature, more suitable to many an Australian vineyard context. Coupled with maturing vines and a deeper understanding of the synergy between site and the variety’s cantankerous fragility, Australian pinot noir is more exciting than ever.
The regions and wineries to try
The Yarra Valley is arguably Australia’s most dynamic region, with the confluence between Melbourne’s on-trade and local makers serving up a dose of exciting, minimal-intervention wines. Look for sublime examples from Mayer and Giant Steps, particularly the Applejack bottling.
The Geelong region’s pinots are defined by a maritime climate, with a substrata of limestone threading its way beneath the better sites. Bannockburn, By Farr and Farr Rising craft some of the country’s sturdier, long-lived examples.