This tasting was made all the more enjoyable by Stephen George's superb hosting skills - you would have made Peta very proud Stephen! A very humble and honest man; anyone would be forgiven for forgetting they were dealing with one of Australia's true winemaking legends.
He fantastically greeted tasters to his wine; his tasting, like welcome guests to his own home. His knowledge, understanding and numerous theories always make interesting listening - which made it lovely to hear he was learning as much from us as we were from him!
The 15 bottled pinot noirs on the day, from 7 different vintages, really highlighted what a great job Stephen has done in crafting pinot noir which reflects a consistent, house style across seasons. Almost all wines showed excellent fruit and oak, with perfumed fragrance and genuine texture - it really was a tasting no other South Australian pinot noir producer could possibly match. Also confirmed was how undervalued these wines are in the Australian pinot noir landscape, a point I remember Peta regularly enforcing.
Here are my tasting notes from the day. From memory, current vintage prices are $25 for the Piccadilly Valley, $40 for the Estate and $60 for the Reserve. Ashton Hills cellar door prices are almost always below retail.
ASHTON HILLS PINOT NOIR 2002 Vividly fresh, spearmint influenced fragrance shows some nuances of blackberry fruits and forest floor. Touch simple, light-bodied palate with dry finish. 88
ASHTON HILLS PINOT NOIR 2002 (ESTATE) Murky appearance. Immediately perfumed nose, announces cherry fruits with rich caramel undertones. Beautifully elegant palate, contains good, fresh pinot fruit tones. Fine line and length. 92
ASHTON HILLS PICCADILLY VALLEY PINOT NOIR 2003 Gamey, red fruit nose. Light-bodied but elegant, with a well balanced finish. Quite a pleasant surprise for this label considering its age. 89
ASHTON HILLS ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2003 Ripe, dark fruited, rich and meaty nose, with leather undertones. Lacks textural interest somewhat but shows an intriguing flavour profile. Nice spicy finish. 90
ASHTON HILLS ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2004 Lovely, fresh aromas, with distinct red berry and currant fruit tones. Elegant, understated, balanced wine, offset nicely by ticklish tannins and true structure. 92
ASHTON HILLS RESERVE PINOT NOIR 2004 Uplifting, powerful, intense fragrance. Very aromatic. Raspberry and light spice aromas with cedar/vanilla oak. Exquisite palate. Smooth, supple texture, with a great finish framed by excellent structural lift. Might last 10-15 years. Outstanding South Aussie pinot. 95
ASHTON HILLS ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2005 Clearly my pick of the Estate wines. I now wish I had of bought more of these when they were $37.50 at cellar door 2 years ago. Beautiful, savoury nose. Wonderfully fragrant cedar oak with restrained red fruit profile. Utterly magnificent texture, balance, drive and length. 95
ASHTON HILLS RESERVE PINOT NOIR 2005 Murky appearance, very sexy and natural. Classic Ashton Hills nose; perfumed and fragrant with cedar/vanilla oak beset with small red fruits. Beginning to show some signs of development with caramel/spearmint undertones. Full flavoured and stylish palate. Impeccable texture - fluffy and fragile - I told Stephen George it might be akin to consuming a cloud stained with pinot juices, he liked the comment - said he might even use it on the bottle ;) Exemplary Adelaide Hills pinot noir. 96
ASHTON HILLS ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2006 More restrained aromatics, still relatively tight and closed. Does show woody/cedar tones. Very clean, even palate shows touch of spice. Tight finish with distinct pinot tannins. 92
ASHTON HILLS RESERVE PINOT NOIR 2006 Herbal undertones with red/dark fruits. Fresh, medium-bodied palate shows brightness and length of fruit, finishing with lingering herbal tones. 93
ASHTON HILLS ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2007 Slightly subdued nose. Floral overtones with savoury red fruits and vanilla. Typically smooth, silky texture. Medium-full bodied palate by pinot standards. Pleasant, sweet vanilla oak carries the wine into a tight, dry finish framed by dusty tannins. 93
ASHTON HILLS RESERVE PINOT NOIR 2007 Fragrant, fresh cedar oak and spearmint. Intriguingly complex, yet youthful aromas. Surprisingly simple palate, seems to lack the structure and texture of the better years. Still a good sight better than most Adelaide Hills pinot. 92
ASHTON HILLS PICCADILLY VALLEY PINOT NOIR 2008 Well balanced, forward palate. Typical of label is light-bodied and bit thin, but definitely better than the 07. 88
Stephen George was kind enough to also present bottles of the yet to be released 2008 Estate and Reserve Pinot Noirs. He did make mention of the fact he was feeling a bit unsure about the 2008 Reserve, which might not get released. Either way, these wines won't be ready until this time next year - so the Reserve has a further 12 months to figure itself out.
ASHTON HILLS ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2008 Meaty, sweet fruit characters. Very palatable at this stage. Unsurprisingly, vibrant. Already showing good signs of fruit/oak integration. Will keep an eye out for this one. N/R
ASHTON HILLS RESERVE PINOT NOIR 2008 Bright fruit nose. Palate slightly thin, needs to flesh out more. N/R
Also available for tasting were four different pinot clones from the 2009 vintage. Ashton Hill's clones seemed to show much more individual character than that of Barratt's, whose barrel samples didn't have such distinct variation. These are far from finished wines, so these tasting notes really are just for curiosity's sake.
D5V12 CLONE 2009 Very brisk acidity. Tight line and length. Overtly astringent.
MV6 CLONE 2009 Potent nose. Strong varnishy/solvent aromas. Palate contradicts aroma by being quite bearable and balanced.
MARTINI CLONE 2009 Similar bitey nose to MV6, but much harsher palate.
777 CLONE 2009 Most obviously varietal; plummy/cherry pinot noir fruit nose. Zingy acidity evident.