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May Wines of the Month: Coastal Pinot Noir from Portugal & Australia

Alentejo’s Costa Vicentina – the view from Vicentino, Brejão; photo credit Sarah Ahmed

Mornington Peninsula has cast itself as Australia’s Pinot Noir Coast.  I tasted eight examples of said coastal Pinot Noir at a producer-led masterclass chaired by Matthew Jukes last month.  I’ve written them up for next Monday’s post, but Crittenden Estate The Zumma 2019 makes the cut for my May Wines of the Month.  In Portugal, another coastline, Alentejo’s Costa Vicentina, produced my second May Wine of the Month.  It is a stunning, uniquely saline Pinot Noir rosé from Vicentino in Brejão.

Vicentino Moonlight Pinot Noir Rosé 2019 (VR Alentejano)

Vicentino Moonlight Pinot Noir Rosé 2019 – a taste of the sea; photo credit Sarah Ahmed

When I holidayed on Portugal’s beautiful, wild Atlantic coast back in 2013, I spotted no vineyards.  It may be Alentejo, but the Costa Vicentina is also a national park, so there are limits on planting.  In 2019, I visited with two producers who are making distinctive wines from vineyards located a short distance inland from the wind-whipped coast – Cortes de Cima (whose original vineyards are in Vidigueira) and Vicentino.  Both have planted Pinot Noir. During the visit, I tasted two coastal Pinot Noir reds – to my mind, work in progress.  Pinot Noir is not an easy grape to grow or vinify!  On the other hand, this new rosé from Vicentino hits the beach running.  It is a very pale pink (fresh, not smoked) salmon hue, with a delicate expression of red fruit – juice, not flesh, perhaps wild cherry and cranberry.  Vin Gris-like, the palate is markedly saline, with fresh, persistent grapefruit acidity and refreshing line and length.  Really piquant, with good energy.  The salinity and delicacy makes for a refreshing aperitif and/or an ideal companion for a platter of fruits de mer (I put that one to the test).  It has been beautifully executed by Bernardo Cabral, who has a firm foot in Alentejo (where he has made wine for a long time) and the Atlantic (he is in charge of winemaking for the Pico Co-operative, in the Azores).  Ole Martin Siem, the Norwegian owner, has a partnership with Henri Bouillot of Burgundy’s Domaine Henri Bouillot, who supplies barrels and advice about Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (Vicentino makes very good Sauvignon Blanc too).   The Pinot Noir is planted in clay-schist and sand soils.  The grapes were whole bunch pressed and, after natural settling, the free run was fermented in 2-3-year-old 500l French oak barrels, which inform structure (line and length), without detracting from the wine’s delicacy of flavour or freshness. 11.5%  €20 at Vicentino’s online shop.

Crittenden Estate The Zumma Pinot Noir 2019 (Mornington Peninsula)

Crittenden Estate – by the seaside – Port Phillip Bay; photo credit Sarah Ahmed

In 2019, yields were down across the board because of poor flowering. After that, said Rollo Crittenden, the growing season was ideal, save for a few heat spikes, resulting in a frenzied end to harvest to manage sugars.  Evidently achieved because, said Crittenden, it was a fantastic vintage and, I might add, I’d agree with Jukes that this is perhaps the best Zumma yet – really quite elegant, favouring intensity over density/extraction – much in the same vein as the 2017, which I awarded 95 points in Decanter.  The winemaker firmly believes that investing in vine health – looking after microbial growth with composting – has flowed through into the wines from the vineyard his parents originally planted in 1982.  Located in the north, downhill on the Port Phillip Bay (western) side of the peninsula where, said Rollo Crittenden, it is warmer, the attention to vine health has helped secure tannin ripeness with moderate alcohol levels.   This has allowed Crittenden to be very hands off in the winery, using very little new oak and gentler maceration.  The Zumma 2019 is a bright, translucent hue, with perfumed, well-defined red and black cherry fruit to the fresh, energetic palate – not a jot of fat here, but not lean either.  Rather, long and silky, with fine tannins, crushed stone minerality  and a lick of cherrystone to the weightless, perfumed finish.  Terrific balance and refinement – insinuating tannins and acidity – makes for great broach-ability and, I suspect, good mid-term ageing.  It was cold-soaked for five days (20% whole bunch) prior to fermenting in French oak fermenters.  The Zumma Pinot Noir 2019 then spent 11 months in light toast French barriques and puncheons.  Quite a difference from the 2010 and 2014 vintages (reviewed here), which aged for 16 months in oak.  I prefer the lighter touch.  13% Critteden Estate wines are now imported into the UK by Delibo.  RRP £27.00 Dartmouth Wine Co., David Alexander Wine, Bristol Fine Wine.

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