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Howard Park Wines International Pinot Tasting

Selector publisher Paul Diamond indulges his love of Pinot at a privileged tasting with the incredibly generous Burch family of WA’s Howard Park Wines. Find out how you can attend the exclusive invitation-only Howard Park Wines International Pinot Tasting and Lunch this October down below.

Humans certainly get interesting when they add wine into their system, but the complex factors that shape what varieties we prefer, how often we like to enjoy them and how much we are prepared to spend would make for a revealing branch of Anthropological Psychology.

Some of us collect and covet, some of us stick to what we know, whilst some of us are always looking over the horizon, yearning to explore and experiment.

Then there are those who splurge and share. These folk love sharing their passion, knowledge and experience. Generally humorous and highly social, these peeps are OK with nursing a little hangover tomorrow in exchange for enjoying good wine, food and company today.

Sharing is Caring

Jeff Burch, head of Burch Family Wines, is one such gent. Every year since 2006, Jeff and his wife Amy, daughter Natalie and sons Richard and David, welcome friends from all over the country to share in a day of wine exploration, great food and conversation.

It started with Riesling, mirroring their love for producing cool climate Rieslings from their Great Southern vineyards. Howard Park Riesling is now the fourth most collected of its type in the country. Out of millions of wines produced in this country, it is now considered a varietal benchmark.

It takes considerable energy, resources and expense to every year collect some of the best varietal examples in the world, fly people from all over the country to Perth and ship them down to Margaret River then put on a tasting and lunch.

Maybe the enlightening perspective gained from benchmarking your wines against the best in the world is the driving motivation behind the whole exercise. Each has their differing opinions on this, but one thing is for sure, putting yourself up against the world’s best year after year is a brave thing to do, especially with something as subjective as wine.

In 2010, the family decided to switch its focus from Riesling to Pinot and the annual International Pinot Noir tasting and lunch was born. The move reflects their commitment and desire to explore the possibilities of the variety from the cool climate regions of WA, specifically Great Southern, the Porongurups and Mount Barker.

Jeff and his family produce Pinots across their MadFish and Howard Park labels, as well as Marchand & Burch, a collaborative project with Burgundian winemaker Pascal Marchand from Domaine Comte Armand, previously at Domaine De La Vougeraie.

Passion for Pinot

Pinot Noir is most definitely the flag bearing variety when it comes to pursuits for the passionate. To most it is the holy grail of wine and winemaking; the stars have to align for it to work, it thrives in cool to harsh conditions and takes insight, understanding and intuition in the winery to produce wines of depth and quality. Whilst its popularity is growing, it is still one of the least 
grown and sold varieties in Australia, if not the world.

Despite all this, Pinot can produce some of the most expensive, expressive and sought after wines on the planet and if you truly want to explore the psychological effect of wine on humans, share a good bottle with someone who loves Pinot.

Jeff Burch would be a perfect subject for this pleasurable experiment and the experience will go a long way to explaining his generosity and energy when it comes to Pinot.

The Tasting

Last year, 100 of the Burch family’s friends, wine club members, trade partners and local Pinotphiles congregated at Howard Park’s Margaret River cellar door and got to sample 18 of the world’s best, most interesting and expressive Pinots.

Across three brackets hosted separately by Howard Park’s Chief Winemaker Janice McDonald, Optometrist, Burghound and Master of Champagne, Steve Leslie, and Jeff, the wines were tasted blind, scored and everyone nominated what they believed the wines were from a list of six. The wines were then revealed and discussions were held regarding each wine: their homes, history, style and expressions.

The tasting format, while challenging, was as refreshing as it was illuminating. Everyone knew what was in each bracket, but not knowing which wine was in which glass removed prejudice, allowing everyone to absorb the many glorious expressions this variety can exhibit.

Most Pinot tastings are a race to the top with the French Premier Cru (1er) wines getting all the attention due to their expense and scarcity. But this tasting was a true exercise in perspective, featuring interesting, expressive wines that captured attention. Yes, there were some1er Cru French wines, but there were as many German ‘spatburgunder’ tasted as well as interesting Australian, New Zealand and American wines.

One of the big conclusions from this exercise was that whilst the French wines still hold the crown for classic, deep, ethereal and nuanced Pinot Noir characters, the new world – America, Australia and New Zealand – offers an incredibly broad and exciting range of varietal attributes.

After the tasting, lunch was served, the world’s biggest cheese table was assembled and as the band started, a game of backyard cricket ‘glass in hand’ style was beginning. The day stands as a wonderful celebration of Pinot Noir, warm hospitality and the Burch family’s generosity. Long may they all live.

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Showcasing Shiraz with Australia's First Families of Wine
Words by Paul Diamond on 14 Oct 2017
A fabulous Wine Selectors dinner with Australia’s first families of wine revealed the bright future of this incredible variety. A red wine dinner in the middle of a chilly Melbourne August seemed like a highly appropriate thing to do and what better variety than Shiraz to chase the cold away. And so a four-course menu by the team at Neale White’s Papa Goose restaurant was devised and 12 great Shiraz from Australia’s First Families of Wine (AFFW) were sourced and the tables set. By the time the Wine Selectors faithful started arriving, it was clear that the dinner was going to be one to remember. Designed to celebrate Shiraz through the expressions of 12 wines from the 12 families that make up the AFFW , the diversity of flavours and expressions from one grape variety was quite remarkable. On paper, the line-up looked simply yummy, but as the wines were being opened and tested before the guests arrived, the reality of what we were pouring and tasting started dawning on us; we were privy to a multiplicity of smells, flavours and textures that were being represented from 10 different regions and 1300+ collective years of winemaking experience. A Family Affair
On hand to help host, pour and manage 1000-odd glasses of Shiraz were Katherine Brown, Brown Brothers winemaker and Chairperson of the AFFW Next Generation, Justine Henschke, PR for Henschke Wines , Justin Taylor, export manager for Taylors Wines, Sally Webber, DeBortoli family ambassador and Jeff McWilliam, CEO of McWilliam’s Wines . The food was awesome and the wine a perfect foil for the cold and wet. And as the family anecdotes from each of the AFFW members were told, the conversation eventually found itself reflecting on the future of Australian Shiraz. “Shiraz is the past and it’s also the future,” Justine Henschke noted emphatically. “It’s the past in that it has established a lot of wine communities and it’s the future in that we now know how Shiraz thrives according to climate.” “So now it’s all about educating people on what style comes from where, so they know where to go for something specific.

Look at tonight, we have tried 12 different wines of the same variety across many different regions, showing small nuances from where they have been sourced and that’s pretty incredible.

- Justine Henschke, Henschke Wines
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For Katherine Brown and Brown Brothers, fine, spicy cool climate Shiraz is the future and Heathcote is their chosen region. As Katherine described, “We think customers understand that Shiraz doesn’t need to come from a warm climate and we are on the search to make a Shiraz that you can call refreshing.” “Something you can drink at lunch, something that is more about pepper and spice than big jammy fruits. That’s where I see the future of Shiraz, we are starting to see these cooler climates like Heathcote, Eden Valley and Margaret River delivering these flavours.” So what about hot areas, those that built the wines that put us on the map like Barossa , McLaren Vale and the Clare ? Justin Taylor thinks that Shiraz is a variety that can deal with the heat and with careful winemaking, the future for warmer styles is still bright.

“Australia’s getting hotter whether you like it or not, and Shiraz loves heat, so we can keep making more Shiraz for the global market, we can do it with rationality, and we can do it with diversity. Our quality has never been as good as it is right now, it’s a great story for this country.”

- Jeff McWilliam, McWilliams Wines
Jeff McWilliam agrees and is happy that the diversity we are seeing has extended to a place where the expressions of Shiraz that emulate the O’Shea Hunter River Burgundies that the Hunter Valley does so well are gaining popularity again. “We are going back to medium bodied wines, just like the great old wines that came from Mt Pleasant,” said Jeff. “I love McLaren Vale and Barossa Shiraz , but I know the wines we do best are in that style of the old O’Shea wines. “We are talking about vineyards and the special wines they produce, but the Hunter is like that, you can have a great vintage and you can have a really poor vintage and that’s the excitement of it, just like the diversity of Australian Shiraz.”
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Best of the Best RAS President's Medal
Words by Words Ed Halmagyi on 13 Jan 2017
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Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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