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WTN /WineAdvisor: Pinot Down Under (Yering Station 04)

by Robin Garr » Wed May 30, 2007 12:54 pm

Pinot Down Under

As the Pinot Noir craze goes worldwide, even some wine regions not traditionally known for Pinot are getting into the act. Right, mates, we're talking about Down Under.

While there's nothing entirely new about Pinot Noir from Australia and New Zealand - Jancis Robinson praises a Pinot made in 1976 at Tyrrell's in Australia's Hunter Valley - the great red grape of Burgundy has been slow in coming to the Antipodes. Even with significant recent increases in plantings, there's barely enough of it grown in Australia or New Zealand to register on the charts.

While the Central Otago region on New Zealand's South Island is starting to earn a serious reputation for Pinot, Australia still struggles. And even after major new Pinot plantings since 2000, its total Pinot plantings barely exceed 10,000 acres, just 2 1/2 percent of the country's 400,000 acres under vine.

Pinot Noir is a notoriously tricky vine, as several generations of wine makers in California and Oregon learned the hard way. Pinot grows in thousands of distinctly different clones, and its peculiarly finicky nature that yields wildly variable wines depending on climate, geology and terrain. Grow it under too-warm conditions and you get a Syrah-like fruit stew; grow it too cool, and the fruit turns to green vegetables. Pick the wrong clone, and the result may be closer to Hearty Burgundy than French Bourgogne.

In short, making great Pinot may be one of the greatest challenges in the world of wine, and even good Pinot can be tough. A good share of Australia's relatively limited production goes into decidedly modest brands like Yellow Tail, in which the Pinot varietal character is, to put it gently, muted.

But here and there, much as it was in California and Oregon during the 1980s and early 1990s, Australian vine growers and wine makers are working on Pinot with growing success. During a visit to Victoria's Macedon Valley in 2000, I tasted remarkable Pinots at the Cleveland winery, and a decent if somewhat vegetal and unreasonably pricey Pinot from Clarendon Hills in McLaren Vale. Western Australia's relatively cool Mount Barker and Margaret River regions are also promising for Pinot; and the screwcapped Tamar Ridge "Devil's Corner" Pinot from Tasmania is selling well in the U.S., competitive for quality and value in the middle teens price range.

Today's featured wine, another screwcapped Pinot Noir in the under-$20 range, comes from the highly regarded <b>Yering Station</b> winery in the Yarra Valley, a coolish region not far east of Melbourne that's also being hailed for its Pinot potential.

It's no Burgundy, and it's definitely on the vegetal side in the aroma department, redolent of "cola" and "tomato skin" and the other cool-weather Pinot scents that can be interesting in small rations but offputting in large ones. There's red-cherry fruit, too, and just a dash of oak; and the flavor shows real promise with its red fruit, snappy acidity and structure. This one's worth watching.

<table border="0" align="right" width="170"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/yeri0527.jpg" border="1" align="right"></td></tr></table>Yering Station 2004 Yarra Valley Pinot Noir ($17.99)

This ruby-color wine is on the dark side for a cool-climate Pinot, showing crimson glints against the light. Leafy and herbaceous, cola and "tomato skin" aromas add a whiff of oaky spice; some red-cherry fruit is present, but it's well in the background. The flavor is surprisingly more ripe and bright than the nose suggests, focused on fresh red fruit, crisp acidity and soft tannins. Interesting if under-ripe, reminiscent of California Pinot of a generation ago; but it shows promise, especially in the flavor and structure. U.S. importer: Epic Wines, Aptos, Calif. (May 27, 2007)

<B>FOOD MATCH:</b> Keeping things simple to present the wine against a complementary background, I served it with medium-rare pan-seared grass-fed local rib eye, a fine match.

<B>VALUE:</B> To be blunt, it's hard for it to compete against generic Bourgogne or comparable priced West Coast U.S. Pinot at this upper teens price. U.S. prices range from just over $10 to nearly $20, though, and it's a much better buy at the lower price.

<B>WHEN TO DRINK:</B> Pinot's an ager, and the Stelvin-type metal screwcap may enhance longevity; still, I don't see this Oz item as a long-term keeper.

<B>WEB LINK:</B>
An importer's site offers this rather glowing sketch of Yering Station Winery and its history:
http://www.southernwines.com/vineyard.cfm?preview=671

<B>FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:</B>
Find vendors and check prices for Yering Station Pinot Noir on Wine-Searcher.com:
[url=http://www.wine-searcher.com/find/Yering%2bPinot/-/-/USD/A?referring_site=WLP]http://www.wine-searcher.com/
find/Yering%2bPinot/-/-/USD/A?referring_site=WLP[/url]

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David Lole

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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Pinot Down Under (Yering Station 04)

by David Lole » Wed May 30, 2007 4:14 pm

For ten bucks, this is a steal, Robin.

I'll be the first one to admit that Oz Pinot's been somewhat of a stranger to my cellar inventory (the Burgundy bug prevails there), but over recent years there's been somewhat of an improvement with the local examples I've tried from the established cooler regions where vine age and greater diligence from the small, but growing, band of Pinot producers seem to be paying dividends (although the vintages since 2000 have been mostly very difficult with incessant drought coupled with soaring summer temperatures - not generally a good set of numbers for pinot, eh?).

Yering Station make some truly excellent wines, particularly their reserve versions of Shiraz Viognier and Chardonnay. Their Pinot's (standard and reserve labels) don't always reach the same dizzy heights but are generally representative of the QPR one can expect from Victoria's Yarra Valley.

Other Victorian producer's worth seeking out for Oz Pinot Noir - (with a caveat (and sincere apologies, if this is, in fact, the case where you live) that many of these producer's may be difficult, if not impossible, to source in overseas markets)

bass phillip (extremely expensive, small production, cult winery)

bannockburn (recently departed winemaker Garry Farr with his extensive experience doing vintage with Domaine Dujac in Burgundy, generally made quite stalky, tannic wines as youngsters that sometimes looked very good with around 10 years under their belt)

coldstream hills (should be easy to find in most countries, the reserve is expensive but the standard offers fantasic QPR and is a great everyday drinking wine)

bindi (consistently one of the best but, again, very small production here)

epis

curly flat

curlewis

main ridge

tomboy hill

hoddles creek

giaconda (another very expensive wine - cult following)

de bortoli (yarra valley)

diamond valley (perhaps my favourite producer over the years, the '97 is a corker!)

yerinberg (another excellent producer, not cheap as a rule)

savaterre

hillcrest (david bryant is really kicking some ass with his wines in the last few years - chardonnay great from here too)

stonier's

- and I've hardly begun to scratch the suface! :roll:
Last edited by David Lole on Wed May 30, 2007 9:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Cheers,

David
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Pinot Down Under (Yering Station 04)

by Robin Garr » Wed May 30, 2007 5:30 pm

David Lole wrote:Other Victorian producer's worth seeking out for Oz Pinot Noir - (with a caveat (and sincere apologies, if this is, in fact, the case where you live) that many of these producer's may be difficult, if not impossible, to source in overseas markets)


'fraid you're right, David, but good on you for talking about them all the same. I've long thought that the influence of Parker and Grateful Palate really gives us Yanks a warped view of Oz wines, since the result of points-chasing is that most of your exports are either the blockbusters or the Yellowtails. :p

Every time I visit Oz - and on occasion when I get a taste of something from Margaret River or Yarra, etc. - I realize that it just isn't so!
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Pinot Down Under (Yering Station 04)

by michael dietrich » Wed May 30, 2007 7:13 pm

I am ITB here in Oregon. I very much love Pinot Noir from many areas. I will have to try to get a bottle of this wine as I think it is available in our market. I noticed that the only area of New Zealand that you mention for Pinot is Central Otago. I certainly have found some excellent wines from there. Personally, I still feel that Martinborough produces the most interesting Pinots. I tend to find more savory flavor profiles there. The good news is that the quality continues to increase. Overall, I find better QPR from New Zealand than most any other area. For Australia I have enjoyed several from Tasmania.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Pinot Down Under (Yering Station 04)

by Randy Buckner » Wed May 30, 2007 8:32 pm

Yering Station does well with a number of wines. Here are two from them that I really enjoyed:

2005 Yering Station, M.V.R, Yarra Valley, Australia, $23. This blend of marsanne, viognier and roussanne is fermented separately and then blended. It is extremely aromatic, rounded, balanced and fruity. The complex finish seems endless; 90/90.

2005 Yering Station, Chardonnay, Yarra Valley, Australia, $21. A very clean wine with no obvious oak (seven percent new oak) – this lets the pear and citrus peel flavors take center stage. You’ll find a harmonious wine with excellent balance; 89/91.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Pinot Down Under (Yering Station 04)

by David Lole » Wed May 30, 2007 8:54 pm

Robin Garr wrote:
David Lole wrote:Other Victorian producer's worth seeking out for Oz Pinot Noir - (with a caveat (and sincere apologies, if this is, in fact, the case where you live) that many of these producer's may be difficult, if not impossible, to source in overseas markets)


'fraid you're right, David, but good on you for talking about them all the same. I've long thought that the influence of Parker and Grateful Palate really gives us Yanks a warped view of Oz wines, since the result of points-chasing is that most of your exports are either the blockbusters or the Yellowtails. :p

Every time I visit Oz - and on occasion when I get a taste of something from Margaret River or Yarra, etc. - I realize that it just isn't so!


This distorted "US perception" of Oz wine you mention does bug me from time to time, Robin. I'm glad there's a few of you who appreciate something closer to the "real" situation "down under". :wink:

Robert Parker graced us with his presence a year or two back on what was something of a whirlwind tour. I believe he tried hundreds of wines in the short time he was here and his report card was not particularly complimentary. That's his perogative and, of course (as he has done so vehemently since the year dot) he's quite entitled to form and elucidate his opinion/s. If only Bob (or his newly designated representative) would actually spend some (preferably, considerable) time over here in order to fully explore and attain a better appreciation of Australia's diverse wine regions and styles, his readership, and hopefully more American wine-drinker's will be all the better informed as a result. The Parker Wine Buyer's Guide's sitting in my library (I have them going back for well over a decade) display glaring inaccuracies and over-simplified generalisations in the tiny Australian section that left me shaking my head in virtual disbelief.

Australia boasts thousands of small "boutique" and "cult" wineries, the very best quickly selling out their meagre annual production mostly to local devotees who queue up for their tiny allocations by means of a "mailing list" (often with many potential customer's on ever-growing waiting lists). The fact that so few of these wines ever leave the country is a perennial problem faced by so many (e.g Otto in Finland) who'll probably never get a chance to sample these quite marvellous vinous delights, unless they can make it over here and pay us a visit!
Cheers,

David
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Pinot Down Under (Yering Station 04)

by Bob Ross » Wed May 30, 2007 10:32 pm

"I've long thought that the influence of Parker and Grateful Palate really gives us Yanks a warped view of Oz wines, since the result of points-chasing is that most of your exports are either the blockbusters or the Yellowtails."

Robin, could you expand on that thought a bit. My reaction is quite a bit different, at least in the New Jersey market. I just did a search for all Australian wines on offer on Wine Searcher Pro, all vintages, listed between $25 and $50.

WSP had 839 altogether, and a sampling of 100 chosen at random showed 78 different makers and/or vintages.

I'm often overwhelmed in the Aussie lanes here -- there are so many choices of so many different wineries -- I could drink wines from this group of wines for a year and gain a tremendous amount of information about a wide variety of different wines.

Any thoughts?

Regards, Bob
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Pinot Down Under (Yering Station 04)

by David Lole » Wed May 30, 2007 11:54 pm

That's heartening news to hear, Bob.
Cheers,

David
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Pinot Down Under (Yering Station 04)

by Randy Buckner » Thu May 31, 2007 12:27 am

Bob, I think what Robin is saying is that certain critics hype up wines from Chris Ringland, Greenock Creek, Penfolds Grange, Clarendon Hills, Magpie Estate, Torbreck, Wild Duck Creek and the like -- all with lofty prices and ratings in the stratosphere -- while reasonably priced, well-made wines go begging. Then again, maybe he is mumbling in his mush... :wink:
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Pinot Down Under (Yering Station 04)

by David Lole » Thu May 31, 2007 12:43 am

Also worth noting that wines destined for the states are often deliberately sweetened up (that's a perception some winemaker's/marketing guru's have here of the uneducated US winedrinker's palate) or cranked up to the hilt (huge extraction, high alcohol, masses of new oak etc) to get the huge bucks high Parker points will deliver to the maker (supposedly) overnight ...... the problem is, a lot of those big old vine McLaren Vale/Barossan Shiraz monsters are only made in very limited quantities.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Pinot Down Under (Yering Station 04)

by Robin Garr » Thu May 31, 2007 12:45 am

Bob Ross wrote:Robin, could you expand on that thought a bit. My reaction is quite a bit different, at least in the New Jersey market. I just did a search for all Australian wines on offer on Wine Searcher Pro, all vintages, listed between $25 and $50.

WSP had 839 altogether, and a sampling of 100 chosen at random showed 78 different makers and/or vintages.

I'm often overwhelmed in the Aussie lanes here -- there are so many choices of so many different wineries -- I could drink wines from this group of wines for a year and gain a tremendous amount of information about a wide variety of different wines.


Bob, speaking as a journalist discussing a charge with a lawyer, I don't think I can give you a fully argued case that would hold up before a judge and jury. :)

But based on both experience and intuition (and, I think, backed up by David's previous comment from Down Under), I'm not in any real doubt that the categories of (1) Pointy Blockbusters and (2) Yellowtail and its competitors make up the lion's share of Australian imports to the US.

You've cited sheer numbers, and they are impressive. But even 839 labels represent only a very small fraction of all the wines that Australia produces; and for the reasons already stated, I would be absolutely amazed if exports offer a truly representative sampling of all Australia's wines.

I know that when I go to Australia, I'm always amazed by the broad and distinct differences in style between the wines I drink there and the Australian wines I drink here. And time and time again, at Oz wineries I've visited, I've been presented tastings of ranges of wines <i>made only for US export</i>, the producers hoping I'll write about the wines they're trying to sell to Yanks and not about the wines they keep at home.

No, I can't cite chapter and verse. But I'm not in any real doubt about what .

I don't think it's impossible to find more elegant and refined Australian wines here. Look for Western Australia, Coonawarra, and, as discussed in today's article and as Bucko pointed out, Yarra Valley (and other cooler Victoria sub-regions). Look for some of the smaller importers - Old Bridge and Robert Whale (although you've still got to pick and choose). But in my considered opinion, they are outnumbered by the pointy bottles and the mass-market, industrially produced wines.
Last edited by Robin Garr on Thu May 31, 2007 12:53 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Pinot Down Under (Yering Station 04)

by Bob Ross » Thu May 31, 2007 12:48 am

Thanks, Randy. You know Robin awfully well, and have an useful insight.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Pinot Down Under (Yering Station 04)

by Bob Ross » Thu May 31, 2007 1:05 am

No arguments, here, Robin, just trying to understand.

I wonder if your impression of Australia wouldn't be the same for France or Italy, for example. Or even California.

I saw many, many wines in Australia when I visited there, that never made it to the States.

If you've got the picture right, there has to be a tremendous opportunity here for a Louis/Dressner type importer specializing on smaller production, non-pointed wines -- possibly with support from the already very aggressive Aussie wine trade interests.

In any event, many thanks for your input. On my side, I checked Endless Vines here in town. The have 116 reds and 4 whites, a number of those with 90+ Parker points -- maybe 50 or so -- another 10 that I recognize from my days subscribing to Grateful Palate -- the balance, at least half, that Eric has been importing since he started traveling to Australia.

I'm sure my impressions are based on homeboy experiences.

Regards, Bob
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Pinot Down Under (Yering Station 04)

by Robin Garr » Thu May 31, 2007 1:12 am

Bob Ross wrote:I wonder if your impression of Australia wouldn't be the same for France or Italy, for example. Or even California.


I'm inclined to think not for France or Italy, Bob, simply because so many wine enthusiasts bring a different set of expectations to Euro-wines, although that being said, the <i>Mondovino</i> principle is certainly at work in Europe, too, whether it be pointy Super Tuscans or Riojas or insipid Vin de Pays d'Ocs or Nero d'Avolas that taste like blueberry milkshakes.

But Australian wine is so new in the US that no such tradition exists. You may remember, as I do, that it was almost unheard of to see an Oz wine, much less a NZ wine, here before the middle '80s, and it was only a substantial government subsidy that made it easy for Australian producers to start shipping here. I'd also argue that a lot of Australian favorites - the old Penfolds Bin 389 comes to mind, but it's only one of many - used to be a lot more refined in style until the Oz paradigm started to shift in a perceived response to American tastes.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Pinot Down Under (Yering Station 04)

by Bob Ross » Thu May 31, 2007 1:24 am

"But in my considered opinion, they are outnumbered by the pointy bottles and the mass-market, industrially produced wines."

My only point, Robin, here is that in that sentence "they" could be Australia, or France, or Italy, or California. At least in my opinion, based on what I see in many shops in New Jersey, and even in New York City.

Not at Chambers Street of course, and a number of other small, specialty importers and retailers as well. [But, interestingly, we are including Grateful Palate in the Pointy Crowd -- quite a development equating Parker and Phillips. :( ]

In any event, there appears to be a real opportunity here for small, off beat Australian wines.

Regards, Bob
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Pinot Down Under (Yering Station 04)

by Robin Garr » Thu May 31, 2007 9:19 am

Bob Ross wrote:"But in my considered opinion, they are outnumbered by the pointy bottles and the mass-market, industrially produced wines."

My only point, Robin, here is that in that sentence "they" could be Australia, or France, or Italy, or California. At least in my opinion, based on what I see in many shops in New Jersey, and even in New York City.


Bob, I guess we're just going to have to agree to disagree on this. At the risk of repetition, I would assert that there is a distinct and definable difference between Australian exports to the US and exports from more traditional European wine regions, in that Australia <i>disproportionately</i> exports (1) pointy and (2) mass-market bottles.

Pardon me if I misrepresent what I think you're saying, but the mere fact that you see hundreds of Australian labels in the Metro NYC market doesn't address this question of disproportion.

But, interestingly, we are including Grateful Palate in the Pointy Crowd -- quite a development equating Parker and Phillips. :( )


I'm not sure what makes this such an interesting development. Grateful Palate is <i>known</i> for the pointiness of its portfolio, it seems to me, and I've seen many Australian <i>and</i> American wine geeks decrying this and assigning roughly equal blame to Philips and to Parker for the export imbalance that leads many Americans to the erroneous belief that "all" Oz wines are monolithic blockbusters.

In any event, there appears to be a real opportunity here for small, off beat Australian wines.


And, as noted, a few small, offbeat importers - Whale and Old Bridge, among others - seek to address that market. I think the volume of Yellowtail and the pricing of the pointy trophies, however, suggests that the bulk of the market lies elsewhere.

As Bob Greene used to say, "I am not making this up." ;)
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Pinot Down Under (Yering Station 04)

by Bob Ross » Thu May 31, 2007 12:06 pm

" I would assert that there is a distinct and definable difference between Australian exports to the US and exports from more traditional European wine regions, in that Australia disproportionately exports (1) pointy and (2) mass-market bottles. "

I'm a little puzzled, Robin -- as far as I can tell there's no disagreement here -- you've set me straight. My view has been skewed by what I see in the local market, and yours is clearly a much broader view, both in the US and in Australia.

Why don't the Australians export more of these interesting wines do you think?

Is the US consumer's perception that Australian wines are pointy or taily so strong that there is no market here for anything else?

Regards, Bob

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