When the organisers of this year's Pinot Celebration invited six of Australia's top sommeliers to speak at their biennial talk-and-taste festival on Victoria's Mornington Peninsula, they were hoping for a report on how pinot noir is travelling in restaurants around the country. What they got was one of the most engaging and insightful sessions of the two-day event, illuminated by the pinots that each of the somms chose to present, but covering much broader ground than just the grape variety itself.
2016 Holyman (Tas), chosen by Jane Lopes, Attica
Attica's Jane Lopes selected the 2016 Holyman ($50) from Tasmania, a pure and crunchy pinot with lovely perfume and freshness. Lopes has been in Australia for only two years, having moved to Melbourne from New York, where she worked at Eleven Madison Park, and despite having tasted and travelled extensively since arriving, she still brings a valuable outsider's view.
"There's a whole world of pinot noir here that we don't see in the US," she said. "Soon after I moved here I was invited to a retrospective tasting of Joe Holyman's pinot and was blown away by how well they age. Since then I've come across new producers cropping up all the time as well as the older producers. And I've been impressed by what good value pinot is here in an international context."
2016 Moorooduc Estate Robinson Vineyard (Vic), chosen by Kara Maisano, Masani
Kara Maisano from Masani in Melbourne chose the 2016 Moorooduc Estate Robinson Vineyard ($60), a Peninsula pinot with herbal spice and silky tannins. She remembered pouring wines like this in the 1990s when the whole concept of Australian pinot was still a novelty and most people preferred to drink cabernet. Now, she said, there's a palpable sense of pride in pinot, particularly in Victoria, where the grape variety has taken on a role as cultural icon.
"A lot of guests that come to our restaurant will have been to the Yarra Valley, to the Mornington Peninsula," she said. "And they've been taken aback by the proximity of the regions and the quality of pinots on offer. It starts a conversation when they're at the table, and that's very exciting."
2016 Onannon Red Hill (Vic), chosen by Penny Grant, Ghanem Group
Penny Grant runs the wine program for the Ghanem Group, which has several venues in Brisbane including Byblos and Blackbird, but she grew up in Victoria and started her career as a somm in Melbourne. For her, choosing the 2016 Onannon Red Hill ($70), a vibrant, whole-bunchy, undergrowthy pinot from the Mornington Peninsula was about travelling through time and space in a way that only wine allows.
"I love Brisbane," she said. "But I find I'm more connected to relationships I formed in Victoria. And while it's our job to put wine on the table, we also need to support the producers we feel are doing a good job."
2016 Chatto Isle (Tas), chosen by Shanteh Wong, Quay
Shanteh Wong, head sommelier at Quay, chose the 2016 Chatto Isle ($65) from Tasmania (produced from the personal vineyard of McWilliam's chief winemaker, Jim Chatto) – a bright, focused pinot with long, savoury tannins – because of the buzz the wine had generated at work.
"It kept coming up in conversation with the other sommeliers," she said. "They were intrigued by the backstory; the French somms kept asking me about its poise and elegance. They were really intrigued. It's a highly complex wine."
2016 By Farr Sangreal (Vic), chosen by Leanne Altmann, Cutler & Co
Leanne Altmann, beverage director of the McConnell group of restaurants (Cutler & Co, Supernormal, Cumulus Inc, etc), chose the 2016 By Farr Sangreal ($85), a wild, tangy Geelong pinot.
"This wine really resonates with me," she said. "The difference between a good restaurant and a great restaurant is the tiny incremental decisions you make: the turn of phrase, the way you put the glass on the table, the way you dress, how clean your nails are. I feel that Nick and Gary Farr are all about those tiny, tiny decisions too. Every time I've met Nick I walk away with the impression that he's trying to find that one extra thing that will make his wine more expressive, more translucent."
2016 Gembrook Hill, chosen by Jenna Philpott, Dinner by Heston
And Jenna Philpott from Dinner by Heston chose the 2016 Gembrook Hill ($50), an earthy, spicy pinot that, she said, expressed both the cool, forest-fringed location of the vineyard and the souls of the people who grew the grapes and made the wine.
"Wine creates memories," she said. "That wine in my glass: I sit there and I drink and then it's gone. What remains? Is it the wine? Or is it the memory of the wine and what's happened at the time? That is the biggest thing that wine does to people. And that is one of the most amazing impacts a sommelier can have on someone's life, with a product that they consume. I think it's incredible."