It is difficult to describe the pleasure we experienced tasting the wines of Garagiste. Usually within a range there would be something that marks a wine whether you like it or not. Something that makes you into a critic and you start assessing the wine a little too closely, looking for fault or favour. We didn’t bother with these wines. We had no favourites. They were all so utterly complete and fabulous – Garagiste has become a benchmark producer of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
So I rang Barney Flanders of Garagiste a few days later, hoping that he would be able to explain how they did it. The wines taste incredible and in the mouth they feel sensational. Barney explained that apart from picking healthy ripe grapes (the term “ripeness” in regards to Chardonnay is open to debate these days) the use of lees was critical in developing texture. Prior to being bottled, both the red and white wines spend their life on lees, with no racking. The whites are whole bunch pressed and wild fermented on solids in French 500 litre puncheons. Malolactic fermentation is vintage dependent, cooler vintages usually have a higher proportion to build weight and flesh out the palate. Making the wine in the one vessel and ageing it on its lees provides a lovely creamy fleshy texture while contributing flavor complexity.
The colour of the wines is vivid and bright and, in the case of the reds, quite dark for the Mornington Peninsula. This was partly due to the use of sulphur, which Barney explained, was very limited and delayed for as long as possible as it strips out some of the colour and brightness.
Today the use of whole bunches is widespread. I think many producers tend to overdo it, making wines that are often stalky, overly structured and texturally sappy. Too many whole bunches can also mask the fruit, robbing the wine of any elegance and vineyard expression. At Garagiste whole bunches are almost always 100% but never for a moment did I believe this was excessive. I asked Barney what were the benefits of whole bunches and he said “perfume and tannins. But the tannins have a different shape than the skins or oak. They are more expressive and have sideways movement, back to front. They are more expansive in your mouth”.
And so what of the wines? The Garagiste whites are textured and a little creamy, with rippling energy. Imagine a perfectly cut frock or suit, fitted to a body of perfect proportions. There is shape and the lines are so well defined. The palate is full and unctuous without ever yielding to fat. Citrus and stone fruits mingle so well together it is pointless to try and label them separately. Finally, there is a tweak of memory that suggests Chassagne Montrachet.
The Garagiste reds are a picture of lusciousness and power. The tannins, so ripe, wash and robe the palate, woven into the dark fruits and sprinkled with spice. The integration of oak and whole bunches is serpentine; providing the palate with redoubtable strength and movement. These wines will live a very long time, particularly the Terre De Feu. Balanced, integrated, textured and with a core of fruit that will live for years and years. Garagiste have pressed the reset button on Australian Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.