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Garagiste

Magical Merricks: New Release Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & the Limited Aligoté
Garagiste
As the old saying goes, sometimes you’ve got to rob Peter to pay Paul. It’s a stark reality that yields in Victoria have been far less than ideal for the last few years. Yet, despite the meagre crops, Barney Flanders believes he’s making the best wines of his career. Few would argue.

The 2023 vintage was another long, cool and even season, and while yields were modest, the quality of Garagiste’s Merricks wines is, to quote Barney, “really up there, putting its nose in front of 2022”.

Of course, vintage conditions are only part of the puzzle. Barney’s been making wine on the peninsula for 22 years, and in common with all the top winemakers, he’s continually seeking to improve.

Three years ago, he implemented changes in his vineyards, adjusting the under-vine management to be far more sympathetic to the soil. These minor, incremental modifications are coming to fruition. “I’m starting to see the changes we’ve made play out in the fruit,” Barney told us. “I’m seeing a dramatic shift in how our vines adapt to the season. There’s more energy, they’re stronger, and I’m seeing that translate to the fruit.”

Here’s another old proverb: In wine, there is truth. Each of Garagiste’s 2023 Merricks wines is a resonant and pure expression of its variety and its place. You might drink more expensive Mornington, but you won’t drink much finer. Please note that the Aligoté is, as always, super limited.

The Wines

Garagiste Merricks Chardonnay 2023

Garagiste Merricks Chardonnay 2023

The Merricks Chardonnay, from 27-year-old vines on soils of grey loams and red ferrosols on south- and southeast-facing slopes, was harvested and sorted by hand before being pressed as whole bunches. Fermentation was spontaneous with high levels of solids in 500-litre François Frères puncheons. A small portion went through natural malolactic conversion, and the wine rested on full gross lees for nine months before bottling. Barney seeks slow and long lees interaction, choosing extended, gentle contact over stirring. He has now entirely shifted his Chardonnay vinification to thick-stave, large-format wood, with new oak playing an increasingly limited role. “I see a slower evolution with the thicker staves,” he told us. “Things are more subtle, and it allows me to get closer to my ideal style.”

It’s a knockout: punchy, pure, intensely flavoured and wildly delicious, with serious horsepower impressively contained. This is a Chardonnay of great pedigree and substance, and as good a Merricks as we have tasted (with all this entails). Another don’t-miss.

Garagiste Merricks Chardonnay 2023
Garagiste Merricks Pinot Noir 2023

Garagiste Merricks Pinot Noir 2023

Like the Chardonnay, the Pinot vines at Merricks are 27 years old and sit on grey loams and red ferrosols, but with a north-facing aspect. Slightly higher yields than 2022 gave more volume to play with, and the fruit's integrity meant it retained balance with a greater proportion of bunches, so the whole-cluster portion ticked up a notch from 25% to 33%. The winemaking is, as always, pretty hands-off: natural fermentation as whole bunches and whole berries, with gentle extraction and nine months in 25% new oak.

As is often the case with this producer, the stem component feels seamless, helping strike Garagiste’s trademark fruit/savoury balance. Perfumed, spicy and bright-fruited with deep structure, gliding weight and snappy grip, this is as complete and composed as you could wish for. It gets better and more seamless with time in the glass, which suggests it’s a keeper despite its youthful deliciousness. 

Garagiste Merricks Pinot Noir 2023
Garagiste Tuerong Aligoté 2023

Garagiste Tuerong Aligoté 2023

Alert: Barney thinks 2023 is Garagiste's best yet (and he’s not wrong).  Australia’s roll call for Aligoté makes for pretty short reading. There are small parcels in the Whitlands area and Margaret River (at Blind Corner), and then there’s the mother vineyard on the Mornington Peninsula, which supplied the cuttings for those two. 

The wine is cropped from three north-facing rows of 30+-year-old vines rooted in the sandy grey loams of Tuerong and a handful of more recently planted rows from a site across the road. Barney’s Aligoté vines have large, soft leaves and a matte appearance, in contrast to the glossy shine often found on his Chardonnay leaves. The bunches are tight, the berries are round and plump, and there’s always a distinctive aniseed character to complement the saline and mineral highlights.

The grapes are harvested by hand and pressed as whole bunches to a single old 500-litre puncheon for fermentation, followed by nine months on the large, soft lees. What a wine! Attractive and perfumed, with citrus, hay, sweet spice and delicate summer florals flowing through to a driven, direct and linear palate. It’s beautifully balanced and buzzing with energy tension, with a lovely nippy grip on the finish. Get in. 

Garagiste Tuerong Aligoté 2023

“Any Australian producer who makes a high quality fist of the white wine variety aligoté is likely to be a producer of note, as does Garagiste, and so it’s no surprise that the quality of the chardonnays and pinot noirs on offer here are exceptional. Garagiste is a seriously good wine producer and, even better, deems value to be of high importance too.” Campbell Mattinson, Halliday Wine Companion Top 100 Wineries 2023

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