THERE were 14 wines up for tasting, paired with whatever one would like from the splendid buffet spread. Choose the wine, decide what to eat with it, and then sit down at your designated place at the elegantly set dinner table. Want to know more about the wine? Go back to the wine station, and ask the winemaker himself. Brilliant.
It was Pirramimma night at the New World Hotel’s Glass House. The mood was festive, marked by much mingling among the merry mix of hoteliers, restaurateurs, chefs and sommeliers that had come to dinner. There was crowding around Mark Conroy, winemaker and export director of Pirramimma, busy dispensing both wine and wine information. The evening before, I had the rare one-on-one-with-the-winemaker moment at an impromptu dinner for Mr. Conroy. He had the beginnings of a nasty cold and was trying not to sneeze but he was in his element, effortlessly segueing from the merits of natural yeast and the scoring system of wine judges, to his favorite Champagne (Krug?) and the horses that he raises on his farm. He had brought the White Label Petit Verdot to dinner, instead of one of the Shirazes Pirramimma is so famous for.
The Pirramimma vineyards now cover almost 290 hectares, over 60 percent of which are planted to red-wine varieties. Along with the classic Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, there are plantings, as well, of Tannat, Tempranillo, Grenache and Petit Verdot. The latter is a Pirramimma specialty. Both the grape and the wine have become closely linked with the winery, as it was the first in Australia to grow Petit Verdot and produce wine from it. Geoff Johnston, winemaker and grandson of Pirramimma’s founder, first planted a small trial vineyard of Petit Verdot in 1983, after he had studied in France, where he had developed a strong interest in the grape. It was not until after 11 years of research that their first vintage was released in 1994. Pirramimma’s Petit Verdot vineyards are now the largest in Australia, and the wine reputed as one of the best in the world.
Petit Verdot also figures in the ACJ Icon Blend (named after Pirramimma’s founder, Alexander Campbell Johnston), produced only if the grapes are outstanding. The ACJ Icon Blend 2010, for example (63-percent Shiraz, 30-percent Petit Verdot, 7-percent Merlot), is just the fourth release with about 500 dozen bottles produced. Another limited-release wine and crowd-drawer at the tasting was the Warhorse 2013, 100-percent Shiraz, opulent and full-bodied with a peppery, chocolate-y finish that lingered on and on.
I breezed through 12 more wines, then decided to get better acquainted with the four I thought merited a closer look. The Ironstone Petit Verdot 2013’s intensity and power was in stark contrast with the floral, taut gracefulness of the White Label Petit Verdot 2013 (which I had tasted the night before). The White Label Tannat 2012 had notes of dried fruit and licorice wrapped around a muscular frame. Intense fruit and floral aromas defined the White Label Old Bush Vine Grenache 2014, along with lush raspberry, mocha and fruitcake spice flavors. A bright seam of acidity underlined the toasted cashew and lemon curd flavors of the White Label French Oak Chardonnay 2015. The wines displayed great structure without heaviness and rich, yet restrained flavors and aromas.
With over a century of experience in winemaking, Pirramimma can only get better for the next one hundred years.
Pirramimma is exclusively imported and distributed by Philippine Wine Merchants, and is available at all Ralph’s Wine stores.