2017 INTERNATIONAL PINOT NOIR TASTING | Margaret River, Western Australia

Author: Alain H Lee - Founder, Maison Alainh Fine Wine Consultancy


Pinotphiles globally, unlike Vulcans will throw logic out the window, when it comes to the holy grail of seeking out fine Pinot Noir. Who would drive 3 hours for lunch? On October 28, I did for the 2017 International Pinot Noir Tasting held at the Howard Park Winery, Margaret River WA.


Tasting 18 leading Pinot Noirs from six countries that included Louis Jadot first project outside of France, their Résonance Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton AVA Oregon, USA. Musigny’s Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé, wine maker François Millet collaboration with Prophets Rock wine maker Paul Pujol Cuvee Aux Antipodes, Otago NZ. South America’s sole representative came from Argentina. Charcra Cincuetta y Cinio made by Pierro Incisa della Rocchetta, grandson of the creator of Sassicia.



Burgundies tasted included Jean Grivot Vosne-Romanèe, Marchand & Burch Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru, Henri Boillot Volnay 1er Cru Santenots. Australia producers included Bindi Block 5 sourced from 1⁄2 hectare of vines in Macedon Ranges Victoria, Dexter Black Label, Mornington Peninsula.

Each of the 18 wines tasted had a story to share, foremost was that globally the exchange of ideas, about vineyard practices, between wine makers in both hemispheres combining to make outstanding Pinot Noir.



Tasting commenced at 10.30am, lead by three moderators Michael Dhillon from Bindi Wines, Ray Jordon - Western Australia’s leading wine reviewer and Louis Papaella a dedicated Pinot lover.

The tasting sessions where conducted in three brackets of 6 wines in the barrel room, bottling room and board room at Howard Park. Wines where first tasted in silence for 12 minutes with the wines listed in front of you, yet the order in which the wines where poured were not in sequence. When the 12-minute evaluation was up, each wine was evaluated, discussed and a show of hands where raised to pick the favorite from each session.

This blind tasting of the wines, placed each wine on a level playing field as we all used our sense of sight, smell, and taste skills to work out which wine was which and from which country. The tasting wasn’t about what wine was picked correctly. It was to show that quality Pinot Noir is a mystery at times in placing its country of origin. Even dedicated burgundy lovers where made to reevaluate the quality of new world producers.


After the tasting, there was lunch matched to the 7 wines from Howard Park and Marchand & Burch that included museum release wines. Michael Dhillon from Bindi wines put it in context, the logistics needed to put such an event together, that comprised 18 dozen well curated wines by Jeff Burch from his Pinot Noir collection. 1,800 wine glasses used for the tasting alone, another 900 glasses for lunch. The event ran as smoothly as a Swiss chronograph. Its shows the passion of Jeff Burch in bringing to Pinot Noir lovers in Western Australia a world class event, show casing the quality of Pinot Noir made from his own Great Southern vineyards to bench mark his wines with other leading producers from across the globe. It was a memorable experience that I would be more than happy to attend again. Thanks to the Burch family and team at Howard Park for hosting such a great event.

Great Southern Wine Region | Western Australia

The Great Southern a premium wine region approx. 100 x 150-kilometre square in Western Australia consists of five sub regions Albany, Denmark, Mount Barker, Porongurup and Frankland River. Situated around 360 km from Perth.

This region, with its ancient rock formations of the Porongurup ranges, scenic coast line at Albany and Denmark. Mount Barker magnificent old growth forest of ancient Karri and Marri trees. Frankland River a star gazer paradise with it dark black skies, illuminated by the stars. Since the mid 1980s this region is producing premium wines that are capturing not only the attention of wine lovers in Australia, but across the globe.

Dominated by fields of grain, sheep, cattle and forest. Vineyards in this premium pristine corner of WA are spread across elevated sites on some of the world’s oldest soils. Climate is Mediterranean thru to Continental. Hot during the day, yet blessed with cooling ocean breezes known as the Albany doctor that past through the vineyards most afternoons allowing the vines to cool in the evenings, grapes grown ripen evenly to produce world class wines that have texture, flavour, elegance and cellaring potential. Riesling, Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon production are hallmark of the region. Other varietals of Tempranillo, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer are also eagerly sought out by food lovers on release.

Recently I hosted a wine dinner in Perth with 6 Great Southern wine producers.

Burch Family Wines: Western Australia’s largest family owned 5-star winery where different members of the Burch family are involved in the running of vineyards, marketing and sales of wines from The Great Southern and Margaret River. I have been a fan of there Howard Park wines since the early 1990s when only two wines where in production of only 400 cases. Today the portfolio comprises the Howard Park, Madfish & Marchand and Burch brands.

Jeff and Amy Burch reflect on how they visited the region on holidays in the 1980s to experience the surfing and the beautiful scenery on offer. 30 years later the 2nd generation of the Burch family are now involved in the running of the winery. Wines are appreciated throughout Australia with a healthy export market to Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Dubai and the UK. When visiting the Howard Margaret River cellar door at Wilyabrup, you will notice the Feng Shui designed tasting rooms, that possess no harsh corners, well balance lighting with a sense of spaciousness and calmness. One never leaves the cellar door empty handed when visiting Howard Park. If you have friends or family who are serious about wines do book them in for the bespoke wine session at their wine chapel.

Australia First Family of Wine | The Burch Family

Australia First Family of Wine | The Burch Family

The Howard Park Jeté Chardonnay Pinot Noir NV method tradtionalle bubbly was awarded best Australian Sparkling wine award at 2017 London’s annual Champagne and Sparkling wine awards, testament to the excellent viticulture and quality of fruit grown by the Burchs. Showing how WA’s sparkling wines quality can produce sparkling wines equal to offerings from the eastern Australian states. Although the Asian markets enjoy the Cabernet and Shiraz from this estate, the superb quality of their Riesling and Chardonnay produced are highly sought after by food and wine lovers and collectors.

Joanne Bradbury from 3Drops

Joanne Bradbury from 3Drops

3 drops Mount Barker name denotes wine, olive oil production and the wetlands that surround this 22-hectare vineyard of owners Joanne & John Bradbury. Their olive groves produce superb oils that grace the best restaurants and is available from good providores. Their wines are made by Rob Diletti at Castle Rock Estate. Hallmark of 3 drops wines, is their drinkability and the bang for the buck they offer. The Riesling with is lime zest and citrus blossom notes balanced acidity is delicious, while the Cabernet blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc punches above its weight is a wine that is flavoursome, full of black berry fruits, chun pei moi (dry Chinese plum) is smooth, possessing fine tannins, a wine that’s drinking well, will reward time in the cellar.

Castelli Estate Great Southern established 2004 purchase some of the best fruit in the region to make their wines.  The range comprise the Castelli Estate range and small production Castelli Empirica experimental selection of interesting varietals, that includes a Gewürztraminer with addition of Riesling in the mix, is partially barrel fermented, offering up a wine with texture and flavour. Full of aromas of honey suckle, orange blossom, notes of lychee, a delicious wine to enjoy with seafood. Other wines in the range include Tempranillo, ice Viognier, Pinot Gris.

Castelli Estate Western Australia

Castelli Estate Western Australia


Castle Rock Estate Porongurup from the Diletti family first made a name with their exceptional Riesling offerings. Producing 4 Rieslings with different flavour profiles, all food friendly. Castle Rock top cuvees will reward extended cellaring for those who enjoy bottled aged Riesling. The Diletti Chardonnay tasted at a recent dinner is another revelation, grapefruit, white stone fruits, oat meal characters, a wine packed with flavour and elegance. Reds from this estate shouldn’t be ignored. Many smaller producers in the region use Castle Rock contract wine making facilities to produce their wines that are far from looking homogenised. They all reflect individual personalities of the many vineyards and owners in the region that Rob makes wine for, a testament to Rob’s wine making talent.

The Lake House Denmark owned by Garry Capelli and Leanne Rogers vineyards are cultivated to biodynamic principles. Offering up three levels in their range. We tasted their barrel fermented Reserve Premium Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, is a wine packed full of white fruits, citrus, herbs of lemon grass and thyme. The Lake House has a cellar door, restaurant and food emporium.

Rosie Singer Zarephath

Rosie Singer Zarephath

Zarephath Porongurup is a cellar door, café that is reached by driving down a 5.5-kilometre path past a nature reserve. Wines are extremely food friendly. Visit the cellar door and owner Rosie Singer will be more than happy to show her selection of wines. Their 2016 Zarephath Pinot Noir tasted at our dinner was just awarded a gold medal at the 2017 WA Wine Awards 2017 displays lovely note of cherries, raspberries leading on to a savoury palate. Try with charcuterie.

This is only a brief look at some of the exciting wines and producers from the Great Southern Region. It’s testament to the quality of grapes grown from these pristine vineyard sites that the wineries understand that, they are just merely custodians of these lands for future generations.

Wine maker Robert Diletti

Wine maker Robert Diletti

Author: Alain H Lee, Founder, Maison Alainh Fine Wine Consultancy





New Generation | Aussie Wine Maker

Maison Alainh (MA) interviews Ryan O’Meara (ROM) of Express Winemakers, one of Australia’s 2017 young guns of wines, who almost gave up wine making as a career. Thankfully he continued, to now craft some very interesting small batch wines from exceptional vineyard plots in Margaret River and The Great Southern Region in Western Australia.

MA: Who is Ryan O’Meara and how did you come about being a wine maker? Why Great Southern and Margaret River? I understand your originally from Fremantle? What are your interest away from wine making?

ROM: I grew up around Fremantle, and took family holidays to the Great Southern and Margaret River wine regions. I studied winemaking largely because it sounded adventurous and because a lot of coastal wine regions have great surf breaks. I ended up in the Great Southern in 2009 when I was saving money to head back to Spain for another overseas vintage, and fell in love with the beauty of the region and its unique Rieslings. I still try and go surfing as much as possible, but with a busy work and home life it seems to be less and less.


MAHow did Express Wine makers come about, the year it was established? How do you source the fruit for your wines? Where are the wines made? I notice your labels are a touch retro, almost 1950s. How did the labels come about?

ROM: I started Express Winemakers in 2011 while working at West Cape Howe Wines. I promised myself that I would give my own wine business a crack after already walking away from the industry once (in 2006 sick of the stuffiness of the industry I started work brewing at Little Creatures for 2.5 years). The original idea was to give a few of the unique parcels of fruit that I would see coming through at West Cape Howe their chance to Express themselves and their terroir. The labels (along with some of the wines) have been a work in progress, they are an attempt to reflect the handmade nature of the wines, while also being eye catching and recognizable.

MA: I understand you travelled around the world looking at different wine regions. What did you learn on your travels that you apply in your wine making?

ROM: I have worked in some beautiful and eye opening regions from Santa Barbara in California, Tuscany, South of France and in several regions across Spain as well as in Australia’s Barossa and Yarra Valleys, Margaret River and of course the Great Southern. In the past, I’d found myself working for larger companies overseas, which was great because you are given positions of responsibility and you get paid. But just last year I was able to work for Alfredo Maestro in Spain who makes only a little more wine than I do and in a similar fashion. I was keen to pick up a few tips from another natural winemaker and see how he does things, it was great to see his focus on bio dynamics and staunch anti-additives approach, but his lifestyle is nothing short of loco.

MA: How would you describe Express Winemakers wines, to people who taste them for the first time? Tell me about your wine making process, what are you looking at achieving with your wines? How do you decide on what wines to make and will there be core range of varieties available from vintage to vintage? Do all the wines go through skin contact as part of the wine making process and what makes Express Winemakers wines different from orange wines?


ROM: Express Winemakers was born out of wanting single vineyard parcels to show their individuality. Hence, the list of wines is constantly evolving. My winemaking practices have really evolved over the past few vintages to the extent where I am actually doing next to nothing to the grapes. Literally treading on them and leaving them and then pressing them and leaving them. I don’t like to neglect the skins as there is so much flavor in them. The whites generally go through anywhere between 2 and 10 days’ skin contact and the reds only a little longer. It’s been really interesting this year seeing at which point the structure of the wines change from getting a little flavor and tannin from the skins to becoming orange wines (after roughly a week or so, when the structure of the wine changes quite drastically). I’ve got a bit of both this year, so undoubtedly there will be some new wines again.

MA: I’ve heard there is something between a beer and wine that you’ve produce?

ROM: That was a fun side project that I did with Jayne from Two Birds Brewing, we used to work together at Little Creatures Brewery. I’d tasted a lot beers that had been made by collaborations between friends of mine and I had a bit of FOMO, so came up with the idea of ‘Chardonnale’ – a Chardonnay fermented with Belgian ale yeast, Jayne added to the idea by throwing in enigma hops grown in Tassie, and then we inoculated it for secondary fermentation in bottle. It was great fun making it and I loved the finished project, but it was a lot of time and effort, hopefully one day we do something similar again.

MA: There seem to be a bit of Tempranillo grown in Australia now. Tell me about yours?

ROM: I must have just about sourced my Tempranillo grapes from every Tempranillo vineyard south of Margaret River over the years. Two years ago, I found my favorite in one of Plantagenets vineyards, planted in 1999. I feel that my 2016 really showcases the fruit, with earthy characters and briary fruits and the palate is smooth enough for enjoyment but enough edges for interest. It is an example of letting the grapes express themselves, not hiding behind excessive skin extraction or new oak.

MA: When I tasted your Malbec, there was a hint of funkiness to it, that I don’t mind. It seems apart from South America, one doesn’t seem much Malbec about. Tell me about your Malbec.

ROM: Sometimes when you make wines so hands off and don’t add much SO2 things really take their own path and its out your control, and you just have to roll with it. The 2016 Malbec was an example of this there is still a real prettiness, to the nose with dark jubey fruit like characters as well a hit of reductive funkiness and a certain je ne sais quoi.



Storm on a hill

Storm on a hill

In my post from January 2015 I wrote about Clememce and Lee Haselgrove who took two bottles of their first vintage of 2014 Clos du Tertre riesling from the Frankland River region of Western Australia, to Bordeaux in France, then on to Dubai in the UAE for me to evaluate.

This is the follow up piece about Clos du Tertre " Little Hillock in french " during my recent visit to Frankland River to check the up coming 2015 vintage with the Haselgroves.


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