The South Pack is a group of independent winemakers who seek to convey the ideals of the Southern Victorian lands or the fruit which they admit to being fortunate enough be working with. I would almost hesitate to describe them individually as boutique wineries because they don’t offer a swish cottage-like cellar door to their fans. In fact, the term “garagiste” might be the closest associative adjective, had it not already been claimed by Barney Flanders and David Chapman for their Mornington Peninsula operation. Suffice to say, the group which banded together in 2006 has big plans for the humble Pinot Noir and Syrah of Victoria and intend to showcase wines of the highest quality to the world. So the relatively limited productions turn out to be somewhat of a small problem. On this afternoon at Comme (Melbourne CBD) with several participants still combating the after-effects of the Sommeliers Australia 2012 Masquerade Ball, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a tasting session organised by Sommeliers Australia with the winemakers of Timo Mayer, Jamsheed, Punch, Allies, Garagiste, Luke Lambert and Syrahmi. A shame that Bill Downie and Mac Forbes were not in attendance. We tasted through three brackets of Pinot Noir and two brackets of Syrah/Shiraz. It was really interesting to taste the subtle nuances differentiating wines made in similar styles, as well as compare wines made with different crafting approaches. For Pinot Noir, the 2008 vintage was clearly a strain for the Mornington Peninsula and this was encapsulated in the wines. In contrast, the 2010 vintage brought excellent conditions to both the Peninsula and the Yarra Valley and this climactic upswing was captured astutely by the winemakers. On a slightly conservative note, after tasting the first two Pinot Noirs from the 2006 vintage, I am not convinced wines from this region are made to aged past a decade in the bottle (still no mean feat!). But I would be glad to be proven wrong should I have a chance to re-taste these wines in future.
Pairing #1: 2006 Pinot Noir
Punch Close Planted Pinot Noir 2006
5% whole bunch, wild yeast ferment over 10 months in 50% new oak. Medium ruby colour with cranberry and sour cherry aromas. A medium-bodied wine with medium level of tannins, med+ acidity. The bright whole cherry and red currant flavours are clean and pristine. Overall, this is a silky easy-drinking wine with sufficient adolescent qualities to keep one’s interest sustained throughout the long finish. Drink now – 2015. 92/100.
Mayer Close Planted Pinot Noir 2006
These MV 5 and 6 clones sourced from De Bortoli’s Reserve block were planted in 1999 on a 1 acre plot. Each vines was cut back to 6 shoots then pruned back to 6-8 bunches of fruit. 40% whole bunch ferment in one third new lightly toasted oak then aged for 10 months. Half a shade darker than the Punch, this wine was more generous on the nose with notes of blackcurrants, red plums and a hint of dense cologne. This was more masculine, chiselled jaw-like with dry sappy tannins. An appropriate amount of acidity was present to foster a harmonious freshness to this wine. Med+ bodied, lovely plum and dark berry flavours, there is a hint of meatiness almost salami-like. Drink now – 2015+. 92/100.
Bracket #2: 2008 Pinot Noir
Allies Merricks Pinot Noir 2008
The first two wines were excellent side-by-side comparisons as the wines are made from MV6 clones. Fruit was destemmed, spent 3 weeks in contact with skins, then matured in 10% new oak. A medium-weighted nose that felt a little restrained with notes of rose petal, red currants and espresso grains. Dry and medium-bodied, the wine contained a moderate level of zippy acidity and a low-ish level of soft tannins. Overall, I feel this comes across as a simple, easy-drinking wine that should be consumed soon. Still, there is some depth on the finish. Drink now. 88/100.
Garagiste Merricks Pinot Noir 2008
The Allies and Garagiste wines are blends of fruit from North and South-facing blocks. The Garagiste version also uses destemmed fruit that stays on skins for 3 weeks, but sees 30% new oak. This comes across as more open aromatically, but there is a sense of hollowness in the core. Notes of red berries, plum florals and a sprinkling of talc. Med+ acidity that gives the wine freshness, the fine fleshy tannins are kept in check and aren’t the most obvious. Rather thin on the palate and finish. Drink now. 86/100.
Punch Close Planted Pinot Noir 2008
James Lance described the 2008 vintage in the Yarra Valley as a pretty, feminine year that was close to 2005 conditions. This I could get from the aromatics of rose petals, red berry fruit and one of those old-school scented talc blocks that your grandma might have used. Clean primary berry fruit flavours with a touch of bramble in this medium-bodied wine. Medium acidity imparts some freshness but powdery tannins make the palate structure a tad wobbly. Signs of a touch year to me. Drink now. 86-87/100.
Mayer Close Planted Pinot Noir 2008
The Mayer Close Planted Pinot Noir 2008 was already showing signs of a developed wine with notes of dark berry paste, red currants, gherkin and slightly smoky. Described in this session as an early-drinking wine that is primary but with lifted fragrance. This medium-bodied wine retains fresh acidity but the tight tannins are clearly present and do well to stay in the background to the fruit. There was a higher 20% use of stalks in this vintage, that figure is adjusted depending on the perceived power of the destemmed fruit. Drink now. 87/100.
Pairing #3: 2010 Pinot Noir
Allies Merricks Pinot Noir 2010
The 2010 vintage was the recipient of greater rainfall just as the drought in Victoria was starting to break. There was sufficient precipitation leading up the harvest so fruit size was kept consistent. This vintage was also the first year winemaking shifted to the use of oak foudres (large vats), a more traditional or rustic approach. This wine bears a lovely bouquet of strawberry, blackberries, and is slight smoky element. There is a medium level of tannins that are a touch powdery, but there is fresh acidity to dissipate the residual sensation somewhat. Medium-bodied, flavour of strawberry, red currants and rhubarb. The finish is when the tannins get highlighted again, it is firm structured, sustaining long enough for the fruit to fade out. Drink now – 2019. 91-92/100.
Garagiste Merricks Pinot Noir 2010
Again, the 2010 was an ‘easy’ vintage with rain falling at the right times. The slower but more consistent ripening conditions meant that fruit was picked later than in 2008 but turning out at the same level of ripeness. The Garagiste fruit was destemmed and spent 20 days in contact with skins, then saw 20% new oak. It has a more restrained nose compared to the Allies, one has to work a little to tease out the fragrance of strawberry essence, cherry and mint. The fruit flavours are of ripe cherry, sour cherry and raspberry leaf. There is a moderate level of tannins that offers a good structure to this easy-to-drink wine. Drink now. 89-90/100.
The next posting will cover the final two brackets of Shiraz/Syrah.