2021 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Curly Flat
'A dream growing year that we happily liken to one of our best'
2021 Pinot Noir, Curly Flat - £220 per 6 bottle case in bond
2021 Chardonnay, Curly Flat - £195 per 6 bottle case in bond
One of the first things I learned as a new entrant to the wine trade many moons ago was that Pinot Noir enjoyed a long, cool growing season; conditions that are increasingly at risk across major classical wine regions on account of climate change.
I have made no secret of my interest in vineyards that lie at altitude, whether they be in Gualtallary in Argentina, Manchuela in Spain or the Macedon Ranges in Australia for that matter. Such regions are capable of ripening fruit fully yet retaining balance with alcohol levels not stepping out of kilter. There is something in the balance achieved in these regions that reminds me of wines from more classical origins that I used to encounter routinely, say thirty years ago.
In 2021, the Macedon Ranges in Victoria, southeast Australia, encountered another La Nina vintage. This is a high-altitude area, where some vineyards approach 800 metres above sea level, and is ideally placed to produce high-class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. To be clear, and I am no meteorologist, El Nino and La Nina are two opposing climatic events that upset the expected warm flow of air from South America to Asia;they occur infrequently but can last for years.
As far as Macedon was concerned La Nina brought cooler conditions and 2021 quickly assumed the profile of a long, cool growing season. As Matt Harrop, winemaker at Curly Flat, commented ‘On paper, 2021 reads as a cooler than normal year, but our vines couldn’t have been happier. With warm days calmly weaving throughout the crisp season, our vines would say it wasn’t too hot or cold, but just right. The average summer temperature of 26 degrees sums up that gentle heat perfectly.’ The fruit ripened well, assisted by a warm spell of weather across Easter that built richness, but crucially the slow maturity retained bright acidity, and the diurnal shift aided the development of complexity. These late season conditions lifted the standing of the vintage – Matt concludes that ‘it was a dream growing year that we happily liken to 2012, one of our best.’ Likewise, in an article for jancisrobinson.com, prominent Australian journalist, Max Allen, suggests that ‘In a string of La Nina vintages, 2021 hit the sweet spot for Pinot Noir in the high country north of Melbourne.’ And it wasn’t just Pinot Noir that excelled.
The Curly Flat wines continue to impress me just as they did when I first encountered them in the 1990s.The precision they exhibit today suggests that the quality has risen at this outstanding estate. Last time I offered these wines, I cited a Jancis Robinson article in the FT, in which she discussed global Pinot Noir and the fact that Burgundy, on account of climate change, had started to produce much more potent styles with higher alcohol. After her tasting of 280 red burgundies, she commented that some were ‘just too bold and sweet to fit into my idea of the red burgundy paradigm’. Conversely, she argued ‘there has been a real evolution in the style of wine made by the top exponents of Pinot Noir outside France. Their wines are so much more subtle than they used to be’, adding that her advice is to ‘abandon any lingering prejudice against Pinot Noir grown outside Burgundy’. Among her list of recommended Pinot Noir producers, we find Curly Flat. And in case you think Jancis is only a champion of the Curly Flat Pinot Noir, she once commented of an early vintage of the Chardonnay, that it was ‘an absolute dead ringer for mature white Burgundy’ and that ‘the French should be force fed with this (Curly Flat Chardonnay)’.
Curly Flat is one of the pioneers of cool-climate viticulture in Australia – respected wine critic, James Halliday, once commented that for Macedon, ‘Site selection, the careful matching of site and grape variety, razor sharp canopy management, and relatively low yields are all prerequisites for success’. I think this is key to Curly’s success – they tick all these boxes. The Macedon Ranges is one of the coolest wine-growing regions on the Australian mainland. Altitude plays the pivotal role in determining just how cool the exact site is. It is worth noting that Mount Macedon is a little over 1000 metres high – consequently, the vineyards of Curly Flat lie between 400 and 700 metres, and it takes attentive viticulture to deliver this quality with such unerring regularity.
Over time, things evolve and, with the departure of former joint owner and winemaker Phillip Moraghan a few years ago, the now sole owner of the estate, Jenifer Kolkka, brought in Matt Harrop as winemaker. Despite being a Kiwi, Matt had previously worked for several other Australian estates and, having always been intrigued by fine Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, he jumped at the chance to work at Curly Flat and to understand its unique terroir. What has impressed me so much is that Matt has gently looked to refine the approach at Curly – this is very much a question of evolution not revolution as Jenny wanted to retain the style and reputation of the estate. Replacing a talented winemaker and picking up the reins with no perceptible change in quality or style is no mean feat, but to elevate the quality and refine the style without losing the context is something different altogether. To my mind, Matt has been instrumental in pushing the quality of Curly Flat’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir forward, notably in the last two vintages. And it is a case of ‘inching’ forward with one percent gains; it is these small refinements and tweaks to the viticultural approach and the winemaking that gently but surely lifts quality from an already established producer.
2021 Pinot Noir, Curly Flat
£220 per 6 bottle case in bond
This is a blend of eleven separate lots of differing aspect, soils, and clones.9% whole bunch fermentation and 14 months maturation in French oak barriques, of which 24% were new., 32% second fill and 44% third fill. No fining or filtration. 13.5% alcohol.
Bright in the glass, perhaps a touch deeper than some years, the nose sings, fragrant red fruit aromas, fresh and pure, with hints of baking spices. Just about as classical a set of young Pinot aromas as you will find. The palate follows in the same vein with an enticing mix of dark red and bright red fruits. The purity shown this year is quite something – there is an effortless nature to this 2021, which shows a sleek textural impression to its swirling dark, juicy fruits. It is carried by such natural vibrancy and the tannins is so finely expressed. Once again, there is barely a whisper of oak here aside from being exhibited in the roundness of the style. What impresses most here is the combination of intensity without weight….classy, classy, classy. That tell-tale, red fruit note on the finish and the hint of spice lead to a positive, lingering finish that leaves you considering the melange of small dark fruits that it evokes. You are in for a treat. Drink 2024-2035+. (SL)
2021 Chardonnay, Curly Flat
£195 per 6 bottle case in bond
The Chardonnay comes from three blocks, It was barrel fermented in vessels of differing size ranging from 228 litre to 500 litre capacity. 50% of the blend went through malolactic fermentation. It was aged for 14 months in barrique, 24% of which was new oak, 14% second fill and 62% third fill. No fining and a light filtration. 13.2% alcohol.
Pale in hue, the aromas are beautifully expressed, gradually emerging with air – juicy citrus and nectarine hints that already get the palate salivating. On the palate, it is immediately clear that this is a cooler styled vintage as it reveals scintillating lemon/ lime fruit, grapefruit, with notes of citrus oil, slight hints of juicy nectarine and peach, but this does not lean to the exotic end of the spectrum. Rather, this is a taut, racy style with notes of complexity from the lees and discreet oak spices. It is not lacking in substance and possesses tremendous elegance. The oak is so beautifully integrated in fact, that it barely warrants a mention. Instead, the taster is struck by the purity and precision of this vintage, which concludes with a chalky, saline note on its persistent finish. Count me in (again!). Drink 2024 to 2032+ . (SL)
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All the best,