I hope those of you who live close enough took advantage of all the amazing Winter Reds events around the Hills last weekend.
At least a few of you joined us for our long table Pinot Noir tasting with Rob… and what a fascinating experience that was.
If you’re not an Adelaide local, or you are but were too busy celebrating at a different winery (no judgement… much), then here is a recap of what you missed.
The many faces of Pinot Noir
If you’re familiar with Somerled wines, you’d know that Pinot Noir is a super flexible variety. Rob is a big fan, which is why he uses it for our 100% Pinot Noir Sparkling, 100% Pinot Noir Rosé along with our dry red Pinot Noir.
But how can one variety do all that??!
I’m so glad you asked. But first, let’s have a quick look at what it is and where is came from…
Pinot Noir has been grown in France’s Burgundy region for centuries. It’s possible that a clone of Pinot Noir made its way to Australia with the First Fleet in 1788. It was definitely part of the collection of vines that James Busby established in the Hunter Valley in the early 1800s.
Today Pinot Noir is the most widely planted red varietal in the Yarra Valley. The cool climates of Tasmania and the Adelaide Hills also offer great sites for Pinot Noir. The Pemberton and Great Southern regions in Western Australia are also showing potential.
Winemakers love a challenge, and there is no doubt that Pinot is a challenging grape to grow. It’s even more challenging to make. The Burgundians have certainly nailed it. Although, they have been practising for thousands of years. The cool climate of Burgundy has proven to be a major factor, as is the geology of the soils there. Vine age is also critical. True of most varieties, but especially Pinot Noir, the best fruit tends to come from mature vineyards. Around 15 years old or more. Yields too, need to be kept low to get the best out of this grape. It needs all the flavour concentration it can get to show its best.
Anyway, back to Rob’s long table tasting…
First up was a museum 2014 and current vintage 2015 Pinot Noir Sparkling.
The key to remember here is that like most other red grape varieties (including the ones you put in your fruit salad), Pinot Noir has white flesh. So, when you look past the red skin, the inside of the grape AND the juice is white (or colourless).
Making a beautiful, delicate and crisp sparkling white from Pinot Noir isn’t quite as simple as Rob makes it look though (or as I am going to make it sound!)…
- Grapes are handpicked – so that the bunches and berries remain intact
- … nice and early – the riper the grapes the more developed the colour, so best to get in early before that happens
- Then chilled – to prevent fermentation starting before the juice is pressed
- Whole bunches are pressed gently and the clear juice is collected. The trick with this is not to get too greedy with the juice. The more it is pressed the more colour is extracted. So, Rob stops pressing before the colour gets too intense.
Of course, some colour in the juice is inevitable. What is interesting though is that Rob finds that after the primary fermentation, there is almost no colour at all left in the wine. And after the secondary malolactic fermentation, the colour drops even further.
So… I guess if you wanted to make a pink sparkling then you have to start with a fair amount of colour in the juice.
Next up was the current vintage…
2017 Pinot Noir Rosé
Building on what we know about making a white sparkling from red Pinot Noir grapes, it’s pretty easy to imagine how you can make a pink wine
This post will remind you of all the details but in short, this is how Rob does it…
- Grapes are picked early (but not too early) – compared with the grapes for his Sparkling, Rob will pick his Rosé grapes a little later. Ideally, they’re at around 12 Baumé as Rob is aiming for the finished wine to be at around 12.5% alcohol. When the grapes are riper, they also have more colour.
- Grapes are chilled – to prevent fermentation starting before the juice is pressed
- Whole bunches are pressed – but not so delicately this time. Rob is obviously aiming for some extraction of colour from the skins but not too much. He is aiming for an extremely pale, blush colour. Keep in mind what I said above about both the primary and secondary fermentations causing the colour to drop out of the wine. Getting the colour spot on is no simple task.
Now, we should make a comment here about the old days. In the past, we drank a lot of sweet Rosé which was also very deep in colour. Rob gets a bit upset when he hears people putting down this style of wine. Ok, so it’s not quite the style many of us prefer these days, but it doesn’t mean they weren’t well made. On the contrary… many of them were beautifully made. It’s just that the style is no longer what is preferred.
Where is the museum Rosé?
At this point, you might be wondering why we didn’t present any museum vintages of Rosé?
Rosé is not for the cellar! It doesn’t improve with time… just loses its freshness and becomes dull. Having said that though, the rate of ageing is much more controlled when the wine is under screwcap. In the old days, when wines were primarily sealed with corks, you would definitely want to drink all your Rosé before the next vintage came out. Rob did disclose that they had a 2015 Rosé just recently which was “really quite nice!”
Perhaps the fact that Rob puts his Rosé all the way through malolactic fermentation (which isn’t usual for Rosé) adds to its longevity and slows the changes in the wine? Maybe.
Dry red Pinot Noir
2012, 2016, 2017, and a barrel sample of our recent 2019 vintage we presented during the tasting.
In terms of colour for the dry red, time on skins in the key. In short, this is how it is done…
- Grapes are machine harvested when they are nice and ripe (but not too ripe!). Ideally, the grapes are at around 13 Baumé when they are picked. Rob is aiming for approximately 14% alcohol in the finished wine. Nothing more.
- Grapes are crushed and left sitting on skins for 7-8 days to develop the colour (and flavour of course) while fermenting.
What style of Pinot does Rob make?
Cloudy, funky, lots of oak, high in alcohol, forest floor flavours… are not words you’ll hear to describe Rob’s Pinot (almost got you, didn’t I?!)
Rob aims for a wine that is bright in the glass with distinctive Pinot aromas. He doesn’t mind some complexity as long as you can still tell it’s Pinot. It also has to be soft, which is why he keeps the alcohol low. He doesn’t mind a bit of tannin, but it needs to be soft and ripe, not lean and green.
But tell me about those back vintage wines!
Of course, they were amazing… but that’s because they were always amazing. The improvement in Pinot over time is marginal. So, while the 2012 Pinot is still “a hell of a nice drink” (direct quote), according to Rob it is still identifiably the same wine he bottled 5 or 6 years ago.
Therefore, the tasting focussed more on the vintage variations between the wines. Which is a pretty interesting thing to do. So, why not keep a few bottles of your own to do your own vertical tasting one day?!
The one thing that was unanimously agreed upon was – the 2019 Pinot Noir is a winner! It is so aromatic. Beautiful cherry and rosewater notes. According to Rob…
“2019 is going to be a cracker… if I don’t stuff it up!”