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What our expert thought of Ad Hoc ‘Cruel Mistress’ Pinot Noir




about this wine About this wine
 
After more than fifty wines this is our very first Pinot Noir, which is almost as surprising as the previous red being our first Shiraz.  Many claim that Pinot Noir is the greatest of all red varieties, yet it’s one of the hardest to get right.  Cabernet, Merlot and Shiraz have reliably bold flavours that tend to shine through regardless, so that with reasonably competent winemaking they can produce good wine anywhere the climate isn’t completely inappropriate.
 
Not so Pinot Noir.  Its more subtle virtues are easily lost, even where the climate and terrain would seem to be perfect.  In its home of Burgundy, where they’ve had centuries to get it right, the wine from one grower’s vineyard can be magical, while that from his neighbour across the wall, on the same soils in the same vintage, can be distinctly ordinary.
 
Pinot is very prone to rot and disease, especially in the cool climates that its early ripening demands.  Even when healthy it isn’t very productive, and in any case requires low yields for quality.  Notoriously fussy in the winery, it requires different handling and constant tweaking according to the character of each vintage.  But winemakers persist with this most capricious of varieties for the divine scents and silky sensuousness that only Pinot Noir can achieve – when everything goes right.
 
And so do wine drinkers, of course!  There is something about the taste of Pinot that is positively addictive.  Even if you’ve never drunk a great one, you can still tell from the flawed near-misses that somewhere out there is Pinot perfection: a wine that offers a level of sensuous pleasure beyond all others.  Real addicts will go to almost any lengths to find the one bottle that will make good on all those promises: it’s no accident that the most expensive wine in the world, Romanée-Conti, is a Pinot Noir.
 
That elusive essence of Pinot, the flavour that inspires such obsession, has been dubbed ‘Pinosity’. It’s instantly recognisable yet almost impossible to describe.  Searching for it among affordable Pinots (or even not-so-affordable ones) can be heartbreaking: every tiny flaw is magnified by the awareness of what the wine could be.  Consequently, good Pinot needs near-perfect balance.
 
Australia is not really the place one expects to find it.  Most of the country is simply too hot, but there are cool-climate pockets where Pinot can feel at home.  One of those is Great Southern, which occupies the very tip of Western Australia’s southward bulge.  Long overshadowed by Margaret River to the northwest, Great Southern is now on the rise, having been championed by a few infuential young winemakers.  Chief among these is Larry Cherubino, previously head winemaker at Western Australia’s largest winery, Houghton.
 
This Pinot is from Larry’s Ad Hoc range, which used to be his entry level before a red and a white blend called Apostrophe were introduced just last year.  It comes from several vineyards within Great Southern, though mostly from inland but high-altitude (350m) Porongurup and from Denmark nearer the coast.  All the vines are ungrafted, grown on their own roots; phylloxera has never reached Western Australia.
 
The fruit was picked quite late, in April, to allow full ripening from these cooler-climate vineyards.  Fermentation was begun using only wild yeasts, then selected cultivated ones were added later to ensure it went to completion.  The wine was aged for 6 months in not-new French oak barrels between 1 and 3 years old, before being bottled in November 2014.
 
the tasting The Tasting
 
Pinot Noir is not a deeply-coloured variety, and the winemaking hasn’t tried to hide that.  Extracting lots of colour from these skins would risk extracting too much tannin for a wine intended to be drunk within five years of the vintage.  This fairly pale but warm and inviting ruby colour is typically Pinot.
 
The medium nose is quite subtle.  While clearly Pinot, it doesn’t display the up-front sweet strawberry that is the calling card of many new world examples.  Instead it has a more savoury character, with restrained redcurrant, raspberry and black cherry fruit, supported by a herbal note and a hint of clove-y spice from the oak. 
 
Dry and palate-cleansing with juicy, medium+ acidity, this is only medium-bodied despite the 13.5% alcohol.  Again it is clearly and delightfully Pinot, yet the flavour itself is oddly elusive – it tastes more of wine than fruit.
 
Rather unusually the flavours come through more strongly (or at least more identifiably) on the afterpalate and the medium+ finish, with noticeable black cherry and liquorice balancing the furry medium tannins, before it finishes dry.
 
Assessment
 
I would not have guessed this as Australian.  It completely avoids the usual pitfalls that bedevil New World Pinots: cloying strawberry scents, jammy flavours and an overly-sweet, low-acid finish.  Instead it tastes really Burgundian with its savoury nose, fine acidity and dry finish.  Yet it still has lovely crystal-clear fruit on both nose and palate.
 
Above all, it has Pinosity, along with the balance to let that elusive magic shine.  This time I don’t feel short-changed.  Yes, of course there are more intense and spectacular Pinots out there (somewhere!), but I’m perfectly content to be enjoying this delightful one right now.  She’s not so so cruel after all…


Tasting notes

Appearance
clear medium- ruby
Nose

Intensity medium

Aromas clearly Pinot but more savoury than sweet; red fruit (redcurrant, raspberry), black fruit(cherry), herbs, spicy oak (clove)

Development developing
Palate

Sweetness dry

Acidity medium+, juicy & mouthwatering

Body medium, despite 13.5%

Tannins medium, furry & slightly drying

Intensity medium

Flavours Pinosity! More wine than fruit
Finish

Length medium+

Flavours black cherry, liquorice, finishes dry
Other notes
Great balance. V. Burgundian, with lovely clear fruit.


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