The greatest Australian pinot noirs are those of Gippsland’s Bass Phillip. There is nothing new about my ratings of these; I was lucky to be present at the first official tasting in 1991 of the pinots made by Phillip Jones between 1984 and ’89, and knew I was in the presence of greatness.
Jones is down to earth, at times taciturn, and not infrequently the most disorganised winemaker of his era, public relations not part of his lexicon. His 2016 wines didn’t arrive in time for my 2019 Wine Companion, which was doubly disappointing. It’s only in the best years that he releases all four pinots: Reserve, Premium, Estate and Crown Prince. They recently passed across my tasting bench and I am still reeling from the impact of these sublime wines. Jone’s covering note cryptically commented on the rain prior to vintage, so I rang him afterwards to learn more.
“The rain came as the vines were motoring along nicely, the grapes promising wonderful depth,” he said. “There was no disease, and the ferments proceeded OK. After pressing the wine looked dull dry red” - the ultimate condemnation - “but things started to change when they were bottled after 15 months in oak, and now, another three months later, they are coming together well.” And then some.
This is a god-given piece of terroir. The humid climate and silty loam soils encourage growth, so yield has to be controlled, and the small blocks are managed on a vine-by-vine basis. The ultra-close planting of 9000 vines per hectare and 1000mm annual rainfall add yet more challenges. And it’s complicated by the adoption of organic protocols and the use of biodynamic composts and sprays replacing insecticides, herbicides and most fungicides. The viticultural methods - reflected wonderfully in the wines themselves - are a little slice of Burgundy
2016 Bass Phillip Estate Pinot Noir
Gleams with the lustrous beauty of old sterling silver. The waves of fruits, predominantly red but with some purple, flow effortlessly across your palate; all the architectural requirements have been subtly built behind the veil of fruit. 12.8% alc, ProCork
98 points, drink to 2041, $78
2016 Bass Phillip Premium Pinot Noir
The complexity of the bouquet presents itself the moment you pick up the glass. Plum, blood plum and a decadent whiff of charcuterie, the palate laying it all out in a three-dimensional display that defies gravity. The dark corners of the forest reveal more and more each time you return. 13.2% alc, ProCork
97 points, drink to 2036, $220
2016 Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noir
An extravagantly beautiful wine that floats across the senses, its perfume no false dawn, its flavours drawn across the palate by silken threads that only come fully into play when you think about spitting it out, refusing point blank to countenance that. I’ve sworn never to give a table wine 100 points, which this richly deserves. 13.1% alc, ProCork
99 points, drink to 2046, $590