As I wandered down Castlereagh Street a couple of weeks ago I was feeling particularly spritely. Was it the new Bettie Page dress I was sporting? Or perhaps the 4 or so ristretti I’d downed that afternoon? My eyes wandered to a group of, let’s call them ladies, so scantily clad it would have made Ke$ha consider covering up. With those raised hemlines I had figured out the reason for my jauntiness: spring is here! Affirmed, I made my way to the Celebration of Spring tasting being put on by The Vine Press at The Castlereagh Boutique Hotel.
On show were a fantastic array of wines from Gosset, Lost Valley and the undoubted Kings of the night, By Farr. It was a very different wine tasting crowd to what I’m used to – perhaps I’ve been out of the corporate game too long (being the only girl in a 50’s dress, clutching a giant Nikon in a room full of suits is quite daunting). I confess, the excitement value was upped a notch when I realised the hotel was actually part of the NSW Masonic Centre. I couldn’t help but think of my 94 year old Masonic Grandfather shaking his fist at me for stepping on such hallowed grounds. And by Jove, if I didn’t come out with material for a preposterously poorly written conspiracy novel (that would no doubt become an international bestseller), then I couldn’t honestly call myself a writer, could I? All digs at Dan Brown aside, check out this fabulous chaise longue…
On arrival we were greeted with a much-welcomed glass of the Gosset Brut Excellence NV ($100), a wine I found really well balanced between lush creaminess and fresh strawberry like acidity. Spending 3 years on lees it really was quite a vibrant little number, but ran just that little bit sweet for me. The real knockout from Gosset, however, was the Grand Reserve MV ($125). It was everything you would expect from the oldest Champagne House in the world - finesse, elegance and far too addictive. A Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunieur blend from the 05, 06 and 07 vintages, it was full of rich peachy flavours and little fresh floral notes coming at you left, right and centre. The combination of 5 years on lees and no malolactic fermentation resulted in a wine of great length and intensity. I confess, I’ve never been a huge lover of Gosset wines (we all know my heart lies with Ruinart), but this Mixed Vintage really won me over.
Leaving France, I made my way to Victorian High Country to sample some of Lost Valley’s wares. It was here the whites really sang. Their 2005 Merlot ($30) was all right, and certainly one of the better Merlots I’ve tried in a while – some really grippy tannins – but just not for me, not at that price point. The 2008 Shiraz ($30) was very Rhone-like and ticked all the cool-climate boxes: dark fruits, white pepper and a few licorice notes. Not bad at all. Interestingly, they had their 2009 Cortese ($30) on show – not a wine I have encountered much in Australia. Piedemontese owner, Robert Ipasso, produced this as a tribute to his homeland. A very aromatic white, with strong stone fruits balanced out by some sharp lemon acidity – intriguing, perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea, but I would easily polish off a bottle (or two). But I am a Riesling gal really, and I was nothing but impressed by this, their first Riesling release. The Lost Valley Riesling 2010 ($20) was beautifully aromatic (so much orange blossom!), had a great zestiness on the palate and finished with that gorgeous minerality that I love so much. At this price, I have to say this wine was the bargain of the night. They say it has cellaring potential for up to 5 years, and it was one I would really like to put away and see how it develops, how honeyed it goes, but just know I wouldn’t be able to control myself!
The stars of the show were definitely the By Farr/Farr Rising wines from Geelong – and that’s not just because winemaker, Nick Farr, is uncomfortably good looking (I’m a girl, sue me)! A family operation, (“Mum does the books, I make the wine, Dad goes fishing,”), By Farr has a strong Burgundian influence in everything they produce, which one would expect, given that Nick and father, Gary have completed over 20 vintages at Domaine Dujac in Morey-St-Denis. Consequently, there is a strong focus on bringing out the best in what their terroir has to offer. For me, this means really earthy, savoury, lipsmackin’ and I daresay, gun-totin’ Pinot Noirs.
We mustn’t overlook their white offerings though! Newsflash: I’ve found a Viognier that I would actually pay decent money for!!! The 2009 By Farr Viogner ($67) is a spicy little number, I’ll give her that. It’s got these great ginger flavours, which bounce really well off the underlying apricot character to it. I really appreciated the fact that it didn’t have that oily texture that average Viognier’s get - borderline zesty I’ll say! The Farr Rising 2009 Chardonnay ($44) was an exceptionally fine wine, and I confess, I preferred it to their premium By Farr Chardonnay 2009 ($74). It really was a beautiful White Burgundy, abounding in stone fruits, cashew creaminess and minerality. Fermented with natural yeast the wine spent just under a year on lees in new French oak – bringing out a marvelous toastiness without becoming overbearing. Just gorgeous!
Coming to the business end of the evening meant only one thing: serious Pinot time. My heart jumped with joy (almost knocking over a spittoon in the process) at the sight of the By Farr Sangreal, Farrside and Tout Pres bottles in front of me. The Farrside 2009 ($76) is the one most ‘Aussie’ in style, that’s for sure – full on fruitiness, but still maintaining that French ‘texture’ if you will. It’s quite ‘big’ for a Pinot, and on the night it was a real crowd pleaser – for me, I’m after a little more earthiness. Brilliant segue to the By Farr Tout Pres 2008 ($120) – did someone say vive la France? This bad boy is super savoury, and you definitely get that before the fruit. It’s gamey, earthy and then rich with cherry sweetness. Supported by some fine tannins and a very subtle introduction of oak, the Tout Pres is really a knockout. Certainly the most well known from By Farr is the Sangreal ($80), given that Halliday has just awarded it 97 points and the “Best of the Best”. It’s uncompromising in it’s intensity and full of tannin, dustiness and spice, all the while backed with rich dark berry fruits. And it has an amazing balance between the fruitiness of the Farrside and the savouriness of the Tout Pres. Perfect fusion of Geelong and Burgundy I’d say. For me, I’d take the in your face Tout Pres over the other two any day of the week, but I can certainly see why the Sangreal is considered one of Australia’s best Pinots.
It was a truly great night and I feel privileged to have tried some of the best home grown Pinots I have ever encountered, even if I didn’t take with me a concept for a bestselling novel. Thank you to Vine Press for hosting such a wonderful evening, and to Alan Conolly and Liz Ramsay for inviting me along!