Bass Phillip has released its first batch of wines produced entirely under its new ownership, including the guidance of Jean-Marie Fourrier. The wines are stunningly good.
The business, established by visionary Philip Jones in 1979, was sold in 2020 to a syndicate, the leading light of which is Jean-Marie Fourrier, of Domaine Fourrier in Burgundy.
Four pinot noirs, a gamay and two chardonnays, all from the 2021 vintage have been reviewed, and they are all superb.
The outstanding wines were the Premium and Reserve pinot noirs, and at AUD $260 and AUD $835 respectively, they should be great. In fact I scored them equally, on a stellar 98 points, the Premium for its charm and perfume and gorgeous accessibility; the Reserve for its power and future potential as much for what it delivers today. These wines have a concentration, structure and depth of colour and flavour that takes us to Burgundy more than do most Australian pinot noirs. And high-level Burgundy at that. The Reserve is not due for release until September 1; everything else is available now—although I believe the Premiums have already sold out from the vineyard.
The Estate Pinot Noir (AUD $105) also earned a gold ribbon and the oddly named ‘Since 1979’ Pinot Noir (AUD $53) was also good in a slightly juicier, riper style. The gamay (AUD $67) is as good an Australian example of this variety as I’ve tasted for quite a while, again showing the vineyard’s trademark concentration and depth of flavour.
The chardonnays are very good, if not quite as exceptional as the pinots.
The Premium chardonnay (AUD $112) and Estate Chardonnay (AUD $85) both scored well, the Premium tasting a bit more worked, more old-school and arguably more Burgundian than the Estate, which is more fruit-driven and might appeal more to Australian palates.
A feature of Bass Phillip’s vineyards, which are in the Leongatha area of South Gippsland, is the high rainfall and naturally high humidity relative to most Australian wine regions. This high rainfall enables grapes to be grown without any irrigation, which is considered important. High humidity also probably helps the grapes retain more of their natural acidity and aromatics.
A feature of the pinot noirs is that the grapes for all wines are destemmed, so there are no whole bunches (ie. no stems) in the ferments, although the berries are retained whole at least until the hand plunging begins. The degree of new oak in the maturation rises with the price-level, corresponding with the richness of the fruit, no doubt. The Reserve 2021 has 60%, the Premium has 38%, the Estate has 22%, the ‘Since 1979’ has no new oak and neither does the gamay.
The gamay is not made by the traditional Beaujolais technique of carbonic maceration, which includes the entire bunches which are subjected to a pre-fermentation period of whole-berry enzymatic reaction. Instead, this gamay is made much like the pinot noirs, with destemming and whole-berry fermentation, with hand plunging beginning before the yeast fermentation starts.
In the chardonnays, the Estate bottling was fermented and aged in 24% new oak and all barrels went through malolactic; the Premium chardonnay had 46% new barrels and all barrels also went through malolactic.
The red wines are all bottled without fining or filtration; the whites are unfined but have a coarse filtration before bottling.
In the vineyards, organic farming has been practised since 1993 and biodynamic principles since 2002, although there is no certification. Indigenous yeasts are used for fermentation.
These are exciting wines that further lift the already established reputation of this domaine. While I baulk at nominating anyone as Australia’s best pinot noir producer, I would not argue with those who claim that mantle for Bass Phillip.