Monday, 7 November 2016

A Glimpse of the Swan Valley with Pinelli Wines

Producer: Pinelli Wines

Winemaker Daniel Pinelli

The best thing about visiting the Swan Valley has to be the convenience. The journey from downtown Perth to Pinelli Wines took just under twenty-five minutes and thanks to Uber, I didn’t even have to rent a car. As luck would have it, my ride was escorted most of the way by a fleet of police vehicles that waved us right past traffic lights. I noticed a car bearing the license plate 1 whizz past as I got off at Pinelli Wines, and wondered if it contained the Prime Minister or some visiting dignitaries.

Having only a couple of hours in the valley meant having to decide between forty wineries, made more difficult because of my unfamiliarity with this region. In the end, it was a recommendation from a friend that sealed the deal. It also helped that Pinelli had recently picked up four trophies at the 2016 Singapore Airlines Swan Valley Wine Show, all for their Family Reserve Chenin Blanc 2007. I was greeted warmly by Daniel Pinelli, second-generation winemaker at Pinelli Wines. Initially trained as an engineer, he eventually found the calling of the family business too strong to resist and quipped that he is now into “liquid engineering”.

The Swan Valley is one of the warmest wine regions in Australia, which makes it suitable for the production of grapes that need a lot of heat to ripen. The star white grape varieties here are Verdelho and Chenin Blanc, while full-bodied reds are made from Shiraz and Petit Verdot. Durif, a Southern Rhone grape variety sometimes called Petite Sirah, is gaining a cult following here, and is the red grape that Daniel is most excited about. Fortified winemaking is also a strong tradition in the Swan Valley, a category which is currently out of favour. More the pity because there are some extremely fine sherries and port being made here (or as locally known, aperas and tawnies).

Despite its long heritage as the oldest wine region in Western Australia, it’s unlikely that consumers in Singapore would have seen a bottle with the Swan Valley appellation. Even Houghton, the most prominent winery in the region prefers to put Margaret River or Western Australia on its labels. Beset by urban sprawl and a lack of marketing abroad, the shrinking number of producers in the Swan Valley depend largely on domestic demand from Perth and tourism. “Most of the Swan Valley wineries are family-owned and operated, so a lot of them are concentrating on running their own businesses rather than marketing,” explains Daniel. He pointed out areas around the vineyard, previously owned by grape farmers, which have been acquired by developers for housing. “It’s difficult to survive if you’re only growing grapes,” he said. In an acknowledgement of the challenges facing the region, Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett said that the Swan Valley had to develop its own brand, highlighting its proximity to Asia as a major advantage.

It was Daniel’s parents, Domenic and Iolanda Pinelli who established the winery after emigrating from Italy in the 1950s. Signs of their Italian heritage can be seen in the olive trees that frame the vineyards, producing several tons of berries every year that the estate presses into oil. There is also a restaurant on-site, Fillaudeau’s, serving up tasty nosh such as lamb rack with artichoke heart and duck leg confit with smoked corn purée. Their tasting room offers over a dozen wines to sample, ranging from still, sparkling to fortified, at very affordable prices. True to the spirit of the Swan Valley, the wines were full of bright fruit and upfront varietal character. I was able to taste one of the few remaining bottles of the 2007 Chenin Blanc and was blown away by the way this wine has evolved, a singular expression of an aged Chenin that was unlike any I’ve tasted before.

My brief visit to the Swan Valley provided the barest of surface views into the region. I did not, for example, have the time to sample the local produce or delve deeper into the winemaking techniques of this region. However, what impressed was the diversity of wines with unique flavour profiles. The region offers an opportunity to taste clear and convincing examples of warm climate wines with explosive flavours and easy-going approachability. And have I mentioned how easy it is to get there?

Tasting notes

Pinelli Chenin Blanc Family Reserve 2007 – Still alive and kicking at nine years old, this wine exhibits wafts of smoke and toast on the nose. It’s got lovely density on the palate, with delicate notes of lemon curd and ginger leading to a satisfying finish. Amazing stuff.

Pinelli Shiraz “La Tavola” 2015 – Soft and succulent with generous fruit and a savoury, gamy edge that provides some complexity. It’s a friendly wine with graceful balance and freshness. 

Pinelli Aged Tawny – This wine cements Swan Valley’s original reputation for fortified wines. Unapologetically rich, with notes of sweet caramel, toasted nuts and chewy dates, it is incredibly complex with a finish that goes on and on.

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