It’s been a tough week and a half so far working vintage. Early starts and long days are par for the course, so I can’t complain about them. Equipment issues are more of a pain, with a pair of pumps needing repairs so far. The worst for me though is the physical exertion, in stark contrast to my otherwise fairly cushy life, and this year it’s been compounded by an accident (which was completely my fault) involving a forklift, a barrel rack and my head. Three stitches and a tetanus shot later later I’m fine, albeit with a black eye, but enjoying this (unrelated) day off to do some writing instead of just resting. And what better way to make the most of it than with this bottle of Best’s Great Western Old Vine Pinot Meunier 2010.
A grape familiar to any student who has covered Champagne, Pinot Meunier is something of a tough nut to crack for those of us interested in varietal wines. First, within Champagne while it is the second most widely planted variety, it is not as highly regarded as Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. That means that while many houses use Pinot Meunier in their wines, few draw attention to that fact or produce varietal examples. There are some exceptions, including Krug, though I have yet to sample one. Second, as a grape it is not commonly found outside of Champagne. It is permitted in the Loire, though not widely planted, and can be found in Lorraine near the border with Luxembourg and Germany. Within Germany itself there are plantings but very few notable examples. In the New World, there are fewer plantings still, and it’s typically used in blended sparkling wine with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. That makes this wine exceptional, as a still, varietal Pinot Meunier, before I even open the bottle.
As a Pinot, this variety is nearly identical at the genetic level to the other Pinots (Noir, Blanc, Gris, et al) except for the accumulation of mutations over the course of propagation through replanted clippings. It differs from Pinot Noir in that it buds and ripens later, making it less susceptible to late frosts and therefore gives more reliable yields. It also does well in clay soils, in addition to limestone, meaning it can be more widely planted throughout Champagne. Furthermore, it can have higher acidity than Pinot Noir, though it isn’t thought to have as much ageing potential. It’s easy to see why it would be a popular grape for growers, even if some houses prefer not to acknowledge their use of it.
Best’s Great Western was founded in the 1860s by Henry Best in the Great Western area of Victoria, roughly 180km west by northwest of Melbourne. Best spent nearly 50 years building the business until his death in 1913. Soon thereafter, it passed to William Thomson who had been running a neighbouring winery at Rhymney. He and his family continued to expand the business, which is now in the hands of the fifth Thomson generation.
The company is best known for its Shiraz, with their Thomson Family Shiraz in their Icon Range featuring on the Langton’s Classification as Outstanding and their Bin No. 0 Shiraz as Distinguished. This Pinot Meunier and a Pinot Noir round out that range, while their Concongella Collection and Great Western Range include more Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, and a Dolcetto, in addition to a Champagne produced in a partnership with a small house in L’Aube.
The Great Western is a subregion of the Grampians in Victoria. While there are a number of subregions described as pending approval or used informally, Great Western is one of only fourteen subregions in Australia officially recognized by the Geographical Indications Committee. The region is moderate to cool, with a Mediterranean climate and some influence from the Southern Ocean and from altitude that ranges from 240-440m . The soils are varied, but principally clays and loams with good water retention.
As to this wine, in the glass it is clear and bright, with a medium minus garnet colour and very slight legs when swirled. On the nose it’s clean and youthful with medium intensity and notes of black cherries, some Pinot Noir funk, some black pepper, and some forest floor/mushroom scents. Later, there were additional notes of dark chocolate and coffee. On the palate it’s dry with high acidity, medium minus body, medium intensity, medium minus fine tannins, medium plus alcohol, and a long length. There are notes of black cherries, liquorice, cranberries, coffee, star anise, and black pepper.
This is a very interesting wine, and I think very good quality. If served it blind, my first guess would have been Pinot Noir with punched up acidity. I was expecting fruitiness but that was not exclusively the case. Instead it also has a fair number of developed characters despite only being two years old. I can’t vouch for varietal typicity, but it certainly has complexity and it does linger on the palate. While I’m drinking it far to young, I’m fairly certain they made more than just this one bottle so I’ll have to secure another. And also, having now tried my first varietal, still Pinot Meunier, I honestly don’t understand why it isn’t more widely planted. Apparently it’s also being used for more than just sparkling wine in New Zealand, so I look forward to finding out more.