Whisson Lake was recommended to me by Matt Herod, Sommelier at the Shangri La Hotel in Sydney and who also acts as a trade representative for Tyrrells wines. A man as passionate for wine as he, had much to say of Whisson Lake. So I listened.
If Ashton Hills pioneered and defined Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir, then Whisson Lake have confimed it. ‘Burgundian’ is often used to describe fine Pinot Noir, and why not as it is against Burgundy that Whisson Lake and all other Pinot Noir producers reference themselves.
Whisson Lake – distinct in style
Despite the use of traditional Burgundian techniques, Whisson Lake wines are distinct and so quintessentially Adelaide Hills. I am not trying to say that there should only be one way to make Pinot Noir, rather to make the point that this style of Pinot Noir is distinct and of a style unique to the Adelaide Hills. Fashionable or not, uniqueness is hard to come by, and Whisson Lake is certainly unique.
Wild ferments that are allowed, indeed encouraged to run hot, no additions save for minimal sulphur prior to bottling. The vineyard itself is high and cool, certainly one of the highest pinot vineyards in Australia, and is situated on a steep slope. The oldest vines were planted in 1985. Ashton Hills was planted in 1982 to put the estate into a historical perspective. The different aspects and micro climates have enabled Whisson Lake to segment the property into single vineyards, each with their own unique characteristics. Parcels are picked ripe, and not in multiple passes, a detail I happen to like. Ripeness is key in the production of all fine wine, a detail lost on many producers who by picking early, confuse sourness for freshness.
Grapes are destemmed and cold soaked (after fermentation also, which is very unusual). Oak is discreet and I would guess the new wood component to be around 20 per cent in 500 litre barrels. The warm ferments are uncommon now, and many of the more fashionable producers will have cool ferments and use whole bunches too. It is these last elements, beyond site and attention to detail, that set Whisson Lake apart from almost any other Australian Pinot Noir producer.
Tasting Whisson Lake
Summoning up remembrances past, from the first sniff. Flavours that I had almost forgotten until found again, for the bouquet reminded me of the earliest tasting of Pinot Noir over twenty years ago. And there is nothing like it. Soaring bouquets of cut flowers, clove, five spice, star anise and cinnamon. Red fruits of plum, cherry, pomegranate, blackberry, mulberry and kirsch. The palate is fluid and silky, sexy in texture. Amplitude, enormous flavour, but no heaviness. The structures are loosely threaded, soft almost, with melting tannins and subtle acidity. I love the captivation, sexiness and ethereal nature of the wines. Serious quality, sensual in style.
“Sorry wines that are coming next” I muttered with a smile to the fellow pouring. We did in fact taste some excellent wines, along with the Whisson Lake, and sorry indeed, for I do not remember them.