Sitting here in Adelaide reflecting on our last three-plus weeks' eating and drinking around Australia, I realise that by far the most common red we have chosen from restaurant wine lists has been Australian Pinot Noir. This may seem perverse. Australian Pinot is hardly world famous. But its quality has been soaring – and Pinot is a friend to a much more of the great food that Australian chefs are producing than Shiraz or Cabernet. Indeed so confident are some of the most adept practitioners, the likes of De Bortoli and Yering Station of the Yarra Valley, that they produce Pinots of several different prices and qualities, some of them among the best-value Pinots you will find anywhere.
Virtually all of the best Australian Pinot Noir is grown in either Victoria or Tasmania, with that of Victoria in general a little more complex and occasionally way too funky while Tasmania's Pinots are, again in general, perhaps more bright-fruited, more New Zealand in style.
One of the most distinctively named Pinot producers we came across in the last few weeks also manages to make some of the finest wine, Curly Flat of the Macedon Ranges, Australia's coolest wine region less than an hour north west of Melbourne airport. Curly Flat was the subject of James Halliday's enthusiastic article in the Weekend Australian on the day we flew in to Australia. At our very first lunch, at the great new Bird Cow Fish in Sydney, we were thoroughly impressed by a glass of Williams Crossing Pinot Noir 2004 Macedon Ranges, Curly Flat's second label produced in occasional vintages. At Aus$9 (less than £4 or US$7) a glass this was a steal: spicy fruit with excellent natural acidity. Dry and sprightly, this was a wine that really kicked up its heels. Auscellardoor are retailing it in Melbourne at just Aus$19 (less than £8) a bottle. I can't wait to taste the principal Curly Flat bottling of 2004 Pinot which James described as 'a terrific wine due out in March 2007'.
We had to wait until nearly two weeks later, at dinner in the spectacularly glamorous Bennelong restaurant in the Sydney Opera House, before we were able to get our hands on a bottle labelled Curly Flat, Curly Flat Pinot Noir 2003 Macedon Ranges, which was extremely impressive, in a transparent, aerienne, cool-climate Pinot sort of way. There was no suggestion of the syrupiness or cough-medicine aromas that can clog warmer climate Pinot reputations.
The 14-hectare property was planted, with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and a little bit of Pinot Gris, from 1992 to 2000 by Burgundy-maniacs Phillip and Jeni Moraghan who spent quite a time in Europe and then took 18 months to find their perfect spot in Australia. It is important to point out that the pioneer of Burgundy varieties in the Macedon Ranges was Bindi, whose Pinots and Chardonnays first impressed me many years ago. James seems even more impressed by the Curly Flat Chardonnays than the Pinots, and points out that while the Moraghans could not be better vine-growers, it took the advice of Gary Farr, then of Bannockburn on the coast at Geelong, to show them how to get real complexity into their winemaking – however much they assure us that what they want is 'the footprint of the vineyard not the the thumbprint of the winery' in the wines.
I see that Curly Flat for the moment is available quite widely in Australia, including several merchants who will ship worldwide, and also in the UK. Am just off to Melbourne where I hope to continue my researches and perhaps manage to taste their Chardonnay. When searching for how to track these fascinating wines down, I strongly advise you to use the 'Worldwide Delivery' option on winesearcher.com.
Otherwise, my recommendation for best value, well-distributed Australian Pinot Noir is Yering Station Pinot Noir 2004 Yarra Valley, a snip at around £10 and soon to be launched internationally.
find Curly Flat wines
Aug 24: Yesterday was eerie. Bottles of Curly Flat seemed to follow me round Melbourne. Was this by any chance because I asked its maker in an early email whether his wines were available at the restaurants I was planning to visit? Should I send an email to Aubert suggesting where he might plant a bottle or two of DRC in the future? I am doubtless deluding myself. Anyway, the Curly Flat Chardonnay 2003 Macedon Ranges was delicious – so taut and mineral-driven that I was happy to drink it as an aperitif (rare for me and New World Chardonnay) – already lovely but clearly with five or more years ahead of it. And then we were offered a taste of Curly Flat Pinot Noir 2004 Macedon Ranges at the estimable 312 restaurant last night when according to Halliday it won't be released until March 2007. This is going to be an exceptional wine – a bit more substantial than the 2003, but very much part of the same family, and I can see why it hasn't yet been released.
See also the lively Comments on Australian Pinot Noir in your turn.
Nov 25: Sam Brannagan of Ava Wines writes to alert me to his special offer of Curly Flat Pinot Noir 2000 (which I have not tasted) at just £12.99, delivery of up to 12 bottles to mainland UK £9.95. See here for details – and here for his special offer of Michele Satta Cavaliere 2000 from the Maremma at £10.99. Both these wines are effectively less than half price.