I recently attended a dinner with winemaker William Downie at The Oak Barrel in Sydney. He has built a solid reputation for his Pinot Noir, first at De Bortoli and then starting in 2003 with his small production self-named label.
Recently he has attracted further attention as the winemaker for the “Thousand Candles” project (label pictured above). The first release of this wine is primarily Shiraz, with a splash of Pinot Noir and a pinch of barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc! The wine has received some glowing reviews and generated a great deal of discussion over its $100 price point, a tough ask for the first vintage of a potentially challenging wine.
The dinner was a great opportunity to try the initial releases of the Yarra Valley Pinot Noir, the first vintage from the Mornington Peninsula (2006) as well as the aforementioned Thousand Candles.
Being a small dinner, there was plenty of opportunity to speak to William throughout the night and I found him to be humble but also passionate about what he is doing. He spoke fondly about the time he spent in Burgundy during the 2003-2005 vintages and I think the wines we tasted are a good reflection of his desire to represent the sites where they are grown.
- NV Laherte Frères Champagne Les Clos – France, Champagne
Served on arrival. Green apple and pear with some slight florals as it warms up. With piercing acid, it is very clean but there is not much more to the palate. 87/100
- 2003 William Downie Pinot Noir – Australia, Victoria, Port Phillip, Yarra Valley
150 cases produced. Nicely complex aromatics of dark cherries, autumn leaves and a little splash of spice. There is some mint after time in the glass. Still lively on the palate with good complexity, it is right in the zone for drinking from now to 2014. 89/100
- 2004 William Downie Pinot Noir – Australia, Victoria, Port Phillip, Yarra Valley
Aromas of red cherries, earth and a touch of stemmy character. The medium bodied palate is impressive, with excellent acid and texture, finishing with persistence. Has really opened up since I tried it a couple of years ago. Drink now – 2016. 90/100
- 2005 William Downie Pinot Noir – Australia, Victoria, Port Phillip, Yarra Valley
Dark floral aromas in the violet spectrum with smoky meaty elements and light oak. Very bright and lifted palate, it is deliciously appealing and has very good length. Drink 2014-2019. 91/100
- 2006 William Downie Pinot Noir – Australia, Victoria, Port Phillip, Yarra Valley
Rosewater, red cherry and raspberry aromas. Red fruit drives the palate, there is good depth, maybe just needing a touch more acidity to be really great. Should drink well over the next 5-6 years. 90/100
- 2006 William Downie Pinot Noir – Australia, Victoria, Port Phillip, Mornington Peninsula
This was tasted next to the 2006 Yarra Valley and they underwent the same vinification process – there is a clear regional difference evident. Aromas of mocha, dark floral notes, cinnamon and earth, Rich and deep on the palate, with great length and texture. Really very good. Drink over the next 6-8 years. 92/100
- 2007 William Downie Pinot Noir – Australia, Victoria, Port Phillip, Yarra Valley
Stalks, violets and earth with some raspberry and smoke. There is generosity of bright red fruit flavour on the palate without being too forceful. Good length and good potential. 91/100
- 2011 William Downie Pinot Noir – Australia, Victoria, Port Phillip, Yarra Valley
Interesting nose of vanilla, iron and graphite. Palate has nice texture and good length. The balance is there as well and it has potential to improve over the medium term. 90/100
- 2011 William Downie Pinot Noir – Australia, Victoria, Port Phillip, Mornington Peninsula
Cloudy coloured. Appealing nose with soft florals and strawberry marshmallows. The palate has acid prominent right now but there is some fruit depth as well. Needs a couple of years to settle down in bottle. 88/100
- 2011 William Downie Pinot Noir – Australia, Victoria, Gippsland
Cloudy coloured. Perfumed raspberry, some chocolate and cherry with earth in the background. Balanced and restrained on the palate, it has the acid and structure to age reasonably well over 4-5 years. 90/100
- 2011 Thousand Candles – Australia, Victoria, Port Phillip, Yarra Valley
A combination of 92% Shiraz, 6% Pinot Noir and 2% Sauvignon Blanc. Controversial and interesting nose of pepper, sap, cherry, raspberry, vanilla and grass. The palate is less in dispute, it is clearly very good – balanced with silky restrained fruit, spice and savoury earth. Textured and long. It took me a while to come around to this wine, but in the end I found myself liking it more each time I thought about it. 91/100
- 2009 William Downie Petit Manseng – Australia, Victoria, North East, King Valley
Mango, peach, apple and strawberry. Palate is medium sweetness (around 50 grams per litre residual sugar) with good acid and decent length. It isn’t overly deep but it is appealingly tasty. 89/100