I want to talk about how much I like these new Lyons Will Estate releases. But also, it’s a good excuse to talk about why, of all the mainland Australian wine regions, I’ve always thought that the Macedon Ranges has the most potential.
Let me lay it all out as to why.
For one, with the spectre of climate change threatening to remove the ‘cool’ part of some of our cooler regions, the cold of the Ranges is like a theoretical bastion for delicate reds, bubbles and aromatic whites.
Plus, there are a wide variety of mesoclimates (not all part of the Ranges are icy) to support a smorgasbord of varieties, so you can grow just about anything. This also helps the region seem like a patio light to an eclipse of Bogongs for producers willing to experiment.
Oh and the proximity to Melbourne means there is a captive market for the wines, and the airport is so close. The whole place oozes potential.
But there’s a catch. What has always slowed the growth of the Macedon Ranges as a wine region is its vineyard-limiting geography.
On one side, the region is dominated by Mount Macedon and its parklands and bush (not a bad thing obviously, but limits vineyard land). Then, you have the encroaching Melbourne suburbia to the south. Finally, the increasing attraction of the whole region for tree-changers means that buying land to plant vines is expensive.
Indeed, it’s more expensive to buy land around Kyneton/Macedon than it is in metro Melbourne.
To further complicate things, there aren’t enough sites that have the right exposure to guarantee ripe grapes. Frost is an issue, and that hurts the most in a region that is already low yielding. There is also an uneasy relationship between the local council and vignerons around plantings, construction and wastewater, which further limits expansions.
As a result, the region is still surprisingly small in terms of actual vines in the ground – just 215ha of vineyard according to Wine Australia figures. By contrast, Bendigo, which adjoins the Macedon Ranges GI has 610ha planted. Most of the Macedon Ranges vineyards aren’t large either – Curly Flat, for an example of a benchmark, is just 14ha.
Still, that’s changing. Vineyards are being planted (Curly Flat have been expanding among many) and the whole place seems like it’s on an upswing.
Speaking of things on the up, let’s go back to the Lyons Will Estate wines.
Renata & Ollie’s label may only be young, but the early releases have been impressive – right back with that first Gamay. Based on a 13ha vineyard first planted in 1996, with further plots added in 2013 and 2018, the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling & Gamay from this site is very impressive (or at least it has impressed me). In particular, these feel like intellectual wines, where you can see and taste the effort/thought behind them, and every year there seems more depth and layers of flavour. Broadly, these Macedon Ranges wines can be light, bordering on bony, but that is also part of the delicacy-first persona.
Actually, the only thing I don’t like is the across-the-range DIAM corks. Give me unprocessed cork and I’ll deal with the TCA etc. Or let’s just have screwcaps (especially for whites). Heck, even glass. Just not f*cking inflexible, variable DIAM.
Rant over. The wines:
Lyons Will Estate Pinot Noir 2019
Wild fermented with 15% whole bunches, the juice spending 3-4 weeks on skins, then 12 months in 25% new oak. No additions, save for some SO2. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. The whole shebang! Great colour here – it’s a bright ruby thing. A subtle wine it is too, but still plenty of raspberry fruit. Lovely sappy vinous light red, is the mode, and I like it. Interestingly, I notice the oak: but it makes this softer, gentler as the acidity is a given. Gentle raspberry fruit – it’s light and lithe and svelte, yet never looks underripe. A success of elegance and balance, even if its not going to win show trophies.
Best drinking: I like it now. 18/20, 93/100. 12.8%, $42. Would I buy it? Well worth a bottle.
Lyons Will Estate Chardonnay 2019
Also wild fermented, with an extended maturation on gross lees. No malolactic fermentation here, which I find fascinating – it could arguably be a better wine with a little softness. Matured for 11 months in barrel. I kept thinking about modern Jura Chardonnay, because of the acidity/wild and wooly edged contrast. Not so much about the oxidative Jura Chard style (so not sous voile), but the very firm acidity and winemaking (rather than fruit) richness. This white smells of lanolin, beeswax, a nutty mealy funk and oat biscuits, but the palate is stern and tangy and grapefruity. There’s a real sense of delicate purpose, and freshness, but still a sense of angularity. A formative wine it is too – the subtle fruit, the acidity, the solidsy funk are still fitting together. Intrigue, regardless, is very high.
Best drinking: likely better with more time in bottle. Next year, and then over the next five to eight years. 18/20, 93/100. 13%, $42. Would I buy it? A few glasses.
Lyons Will Estate Riesling 2021
Riesling with plenty going on. Fermented with a little skin contact, some wild ferment in old oak, and the juice spends some time in old oak post ferment. 9g/L RS for perspective. The residual seems more on the nose – a fullness underpinned by grapefruit – and fills up the palate. There’s a certain exoticness on the palate though, with plenty of natural acidity and a lemony freshness, but the flavour intensity isn’t quite there. It’s stylish and so clever though, even if I want more power. A balanced drink too, and the sugar seems fair for this style of textured Riesling (though I wonder if it does dull the edges). Again, an interesting, thoughtful wine.
Best drinking: it wouldn’t hurt to give this more time in the bottle too. Drink from later in the year. 17.7/20, 92/100. 11%, $37. Would I buy it? A few glasses.
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