Universally delicious Australian wines made a surprising splash at the International Pinot Noir Celebration.
WHEN WE THINK of Australian wine, our thoughts immediately drift toward big, bold, ripe shiraz, the style of syrah that made winemakers Down Under both famous and ubiquitous among American and European wine drinkers. In fact, Australia’s laser focus on shiraz has helped raise it to No. 8 amid the top wine-producing nations in the world.
So imagine my surprise when Australia was the featured nation at last summer’s International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville, Ore.
Pinot noir seems an odd match for Australia, with its warm climate conducive for growing syrah and cabernet sauvignon.
Three pinots to try
Aussie pinots are far from mainstream, but better wine shops are beginning to carry them.
Tolpuddle Vineyard 2014 pinot noir, Tasmania, $60: Aromas of cherry, ripe strawberry and violet give way to dense flavors of high-toned red fruit. The previous vintage of this wine was awarded best red wine of Australia at a London competition.
Yabby Lake 3013 Block 2 pinot noir, Mornington Peninsula, $65: From one of the most exciting pinot regions in Australia, this shows off classic aromas and flavors of cranberry, red currant, a hint of espresso and herbal tea.
Tapanappa Foggy Hill Vineyard 2012 pinot noir, Southern Fleurieu, South Australia, $33: Owner Brian Croser has strong ties to Oregon, having founded Argyle Winery in 1987 and importing Oregon riesling for his Australian brand. This delicious pinot reveals aromas and flavors including ripe strawberry, Rainier cherry and cocoa powder.
But the tasting of 14 examples raised eyebrows and made fans amid the 700 pinot noir aficionados in attendance.
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I liken growing pinot noir in Australia to growing it in the arid Columbia Valley of Eastern Washington. The climate, compared to the lush hills of the northern Willamette Valley, doesn’t make sense at first glance, yet a deeper investigation finds pockets that are cool enough for the notoriously finicky grape. And that has spurred hundreds of winemakers in eight regions in Australia and Tasmania.
The tasting served as a coming-out party for Australian pinot noir, said Michael Hill Smith, a Master of Wine who is winemaker of Shaw and Smith in South Australia. And what a setting, as top examples from Oregon and Burgundy were poured elsewhere on the Linfield College campus.
The wines poured at IPNC were universally delicious. You could literally watch seminar participants change from obvious doubters to true believers that Australia can make pinot noir deserving of a place on the global wine stage. Including me. This was a revelation.
Australians have been growing pinot noir since the 1890s and bottling varietal pinot noirs since at least 1959. In 1976, Australia had its judgment of Paris moment, when one of its pinot noirs beat out the best of Burgundy in a prestigious international competition.
Smith described the IPNC as an important venue to introduce Aussie pinot noirs to the sophisticated U.S. wine market. If you want to see what surprises await at July’s IPNC, go to ipnc.org for details.