Harewood pinot noir soaks up old oak

OAK forests contribute magnificently to the world’s premium wines and this important influence is added in many ways.

The obvious and traditional methods are oak casks in a variety of sizes that adorn all wineries. Oak slats are another and a relatively inexpensive system.

These are inserted into stainless steel vats of emerging wine and can be easily removed when the character of the oak has been sufficiently infused. Oak chips and even oak essence are other ways of contributing the special timber effects into wine and are considerably cheaper again.

Back labels preach new oak treatment with the passion of a revivalist and rarely do you read of older oak, which is commonly used alone or in harmony with some new timber. Again, the pre-used oak is a less expensive option to the winemaker and it makes for good economics if the result is enhanced.

Pinot noir is a grape variety more likely to have used older oak, rather than the delicate flavours being overpowered with the characters of fresh timber. Such is an excellent Denmark-grown pinot noir from the compact Harewood Estate.

New world pinot noir as opposed to the great French burgundies have frustrated wine makers and drinkers. It is a tough, uneconomic grape variety to grow well and equally difficult to handle in the winery. Like chardonnay, pinot noir is an early maturing grape variety so the pair was specifically chosen for Denmark’s cold climatic conditions. Chardonnay ripens very early in the season while pinot noir is an early to middle season ripener.

At Harewood it has a mix of vine clones of pinot noir growing all in stages of maturity – some will not bear fruit until the 2001/2002 vintages. The vineyard is entirely monitored for essential soil ingredients, such as moisture, fertiliser and disease control.

The Harewood pinot noir rates highly in the WA pinot noir stakes but there are not a large number of thoroughbred starters in the field. Pinots are an acquired taste; the perceived light body confuses many big-bold-red enthusiasts. Just as their strawberry-like aromatics and distinctive flavours are a turn-off to some.

The 1997 Harewood pinot noir was made at Howard Park and rates as one of the finest pinots I’ve tasted from its winemaker John Wade, who has moved on from Howard Park since. This is a serious red wine, not a frivolous, lolly water pinot noir as many are. A perfect red to begin your pinot appreciation.

The sacrifice of excess bunches on the vine has provided wonderful fruit for Wade to play with.

Perfectly balanced, the wine is full of fascinating complexity derived from whole bunch fermentation and clever woodwork with older French oak.

Getting new world pinot noir to live in the cellar has been a battle for many growers.

Already three years old, I look forward to tasting this Harewood in another three years.

I am not as enthusiastic about the chardonnay where wonderful, delicate, cold climate fruit has been tipped out of balance by too much oak. Still a fine dry white, I just don’t see the fruit being strong enough to balance the old and new oak over time.

This barrel-fermented, hand-crafted chardonnay is of the 1998 vintage and like the pinot noir will cost you just under $30.

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