Must Have Wine: an Oz Pinot
TarraWarra estate maintains an outstanding cellar door restaurant and contemporary art museum, which we went to last year and had a fabulous lunch. I can still taste the 2001 TarraWarra Reserve Pinot Noir that we had which was drinking absolutely perfectly - as silky and complex as La Tache - moreover the splendid local produce crafted to wholesome dishes by Chef Robin Sutcliffe, My main course, roasted free range chicken, is indelible on the memory glands. Check out the current menu.
It’s a dangerously cosy room, more so in the winter with the fireplace a magnet, and between the allure of the tasting room and back vintages on their wine list, you are advised to have a designated driver or transport arrangements, which is what we did and I can highly recommend Yarra Valley Transfers.
There are some who would point towards their Reserve Chardonnay being one of Australia’s best, and Jancis Robinson MW is very enamoured with their Estate label Chardonnay, and I concur, having written as much.
And there any many who would say the TarraWarra Pinot Noir Rose is the benchmark, indeed unparalleled in an unadulterated, dry yet succulent, mouthwatering style of rose that oozes its pinot noir pedigree.
Then there are those who feel the TarraWarra Estate Pinot Noir, previously labelled as Tin Cow’s range, is one of the best value pinot noirs made on this planet, including the veteran UK wine writer, Steven Spurrier, and seconded by me.
And it only goes to follow that the TarraWarra Reserve Pinot Noir is a touchstone and one of the most profound pinot noirs in Australia, if not the new world. I know some will struggle with the notion of Australian pinot noir, but I can assure you, they do make exceptional pinot noir and TarraWarra sets the criterion in the Yarra Valley with its rich and prodigiously textured style; to which I always think of Ata Rangi in Martinborough, New Zealand as a ‘Sister Vineyard’ to TarraWarra, stylistically and qualitatively similar and both really needing five or more years in bottle to show their best and capable of ageing well beyond a decade.
The TarraWarra estate, located in the Yarra Valley 40 kilometres north-east of Melbourne, in the southern state of Victoria, Australia, has been the passion and obsession of Marc and Eva Besen since 1982. It is an impressive 400 acre sustainably-run archetypical vineyard and farm property that affirms and the adage, ‘If you want to make a small fortune by owning a winery, start with a large fortune’. It just so happens that the Besens had a very large fortune and they have persevered beyond any commercial gain and one clearly senses it’s not just for their pleasure, but an experience to be shared by all those who make the effort to visit the property.
While the valley is a cool-climate, TarraWarra Estate is located at the warmer eastern end with a microclimate largely protected from the prevailing southerly winds. And with vines now around 27 years old, you could say the vineyard is in its zenith; a combination of vine age, unique site and talents of pinot noir specialist, Clare Halloran, who has been winemaker since 1996 and has refined their pinot noir to an elegant and plush style, yet with great depth of fruit and structure worthy of ageing.
Putting Halloran’s experience and talents into perspective, clearly her skills go beyond pinot noir, which is her passion, but there’s also chardonnay, marsanne, rousanne, viognier, shiraz and merlot, and none go unloved. She has in fact turned the wines around from a Dark Ages period where previous winemakers and general managers at TarraWarra were preoccupied with technology and applying industrial methods with pedestrian results.
16 vintages on, Halloran has cemented TarraWarra’s reputation for consistently high quality and more so in the last three vintages, 2007, 08 and 09, which have been exceptionally challenging with heat-waves, bushfires, vine stress, you name it and yet she has made some of her best wines in these adverse conditions.
You can sense the relief of the 2010 vintage in her notes, “A vintage like this was a true blessing after the challenges of 2009”, and my impression of the 2010 TarraWarra Pinot Noirs is an elevated pureness of fruit and natural balance of acidity and structure that will define them as the vineyards benchmark.
TarraWarra General Manager, Simon Napthine, should also take a bow for steering the vineyard and property for many years now, with his decades of experience in restaurants, wine distribution and vineyard management; he has been instrumental in the overhaul and evolution of TarraWarra, now a very polished act.
Napthine sent me the samples of 2010 Pinot Noirs prior to Chinese New Year, as part of a ‘Duck Run’ and pinot noir conspiracy, colluding with his friend in Shanghai, Mick, with all three of us cooking the legendary Duck Curry over Chinese New Year, and pairing with TarraWarra Pinot Noir - see recipe.
The Melbourne, Singapore, Shanghai TarraWarra Duck Run worked to plan with Mick reporting, “The duck was absolutely sensational as did mopping up of sauce with roti, empty plates save for some well cleaned duck bones.” He went on to say, “We all lamented the lack of great pinot in China or any decent ones at a decent price, so what a treat drinking the TarraWarras”
Mick was to send an article and pictures, although we have yet to hear from him and he appears to have the same disregard for writing deadlines as I do. Are you there Mick? Assuming he hasn’t been detained by the authorities for cooking Duck in an unorthodox method.
I did not write tasting notes on the actual day, preserving the open bottles under winesave and revisiting them three months later. Yes, that’s right, three months, almost to the day, and the wines showed perfectly which is testament to how well winesave works and also a reflection of how well made and structured these wines are. Read more on winesave.
My notes read:
TarraWarra Estate Pinot Noir 2010
Bright red cherry with a Kirsch-like lift to the perfume, sweeter notes of blueberry compote amongst cinnamon, clove and anise spice, there are nuances of wet bluestone and iron minerality, also subtle notes of cacao and perceivable creaminess or lactose character that characterises the overall plush semblance. Rich, deep blueberry and dark cherry palate, quite opulent with some darker blackberry notes, that is more accented on black (berry) fruits than red, some cacao notes and dark, earthiness with fine tannins give a savoury twist amongst and increasing richness in sweet berry fruit; creamy textured mid-palate - a melt in the mouth smoky fat quality - with a long spice-infused farewell; one hell of a lot of pinot noir for the money and consistently one of the best value pinot noirs in the new world. Purchase by case load as your house pinot.
TarraWarra Reserve Pinot Noir 2010
Waves of rich, deep black cherry and blueberry, scents of milk chocolate, nutmeg sweet spiciness and a smoky incense of cardamom and black mustard seed, some Kirsch-like primary fruit, similar nuance to the estate, but more brooding, roasted beetroot, toasty, fireside charcoal, smoky oak notes, black clay, hot earth minerality. Layered creamy palate, intense in its lush coating and succulence of opulent blueberry, black cherry, poached dark plums, incredibly creamy and silky, very seductive texturally and reminds me of top Vosne-Romanee. Builds in intensity of fruit augmented by spicy warmth and perky acidity invigorating the plush fruit sweetness, dark cacao chocolate and chewy, fine-grained tannins give a sense of excellent extract and a certain tension; benchmark TarraWarra Pinot Noir that sets the criterion for Australia. Ideally, you should cellar this wine for at least 5 years, and it will mature well beyond a decade. Purchase as much as you can afford, or find.
(Note to organisers of New Zealand Pinot Noir Celebration 2013; this is the wine you should be using if you are doing a Trans-Tasman comparative.)
TarraWarra wines can be sourced direct from the vineyard firstname.lastname@example.org www.tarrawarra.com.au
At present, Singapore is the only main Asia market where TarraWarra is available, through Wine Directions email@example.com
(Merchant/trade enquires directly to firstname.lastname@example.org)