Are you one of the rapidly growing number of Australians who don’t want their reds to fight back? To prefer a red – from time to time at least – of perfume and subtlety, and one that fills your palate with flavour but remains medium-weight and savoury? If so, you’re probably already familiar with varieties like pinot noir and nebbiolo, and you’re possibly experimenting with mencia and the more modern expressions of South Australian grenache.
But is that enough? What do you do when you want to try something a little more obscure and left field? Two French grapes come to mind: gamay and pinot meunier. Gamay is the grape of Beaujolais and can deliver anything from the frequently thin and unstable Beaujolais Nouveaux to the wonderful Crus around recognised villages such as Fleurie and Morgon. Victoria produces two gamays of note – from Sorrenberg near Beechworth and Bass Phillip near Leongatha. Both of these however would pale next to the gamay I tasted from barrel and concrete egg recently at Easthope Family Winemakers, which conclusively prove you can make great Morgon in Hawkes Bay.
Red wine from pinot meunier, a red Champagne variety, is even more obscure – I’m aware of just four in Australia, each of which are Victorian. Main Ridge Estate makes a barrel for fun, Seppelt delivers an occasional charmer from its Drumborg Vineyard, but Best’s Great Western really makes a speciality of it. From vines originally planted in 1867 (to make fizz if my memory serves me), the 2017 Best’s Old Vine Pinot Meunier is pristine and flavoursome, with earthy, floral aromas of dark cherries, rhubarb and cola backed by nuances of dried herbs and spice. It’s long, smooth and gentle, with a pleasing line of vibrant dark cherry, forest berries and underbrush supported by a fine, crunchy spine and wrapped in a bright, racy acidity. It’s charming now, but is certain to flesh out with time.
Sometimes winemakers maintain traditions just because they feel obligated to. This is certainly not one of those cases!