Maverick Australian producers in Tokyo: Pizzini, Hochkirch and Curly Flat
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Maverick Australian producers in Tokyo: Pizzini, Hochkirch and Curly Flat

First, a disclaimer. While I have rummaged through this piece and edited, added and negated information; the chief voice of this post belongs to James Dunstan, head of Tokyo importer, The Vine. It was thanks to Dunstan and his vision that Tokyo, in the middle of August, hosted three outstanding Australian producers: Pizzini, Hochkirch and Curly Flat. The Vine largely concentrates on wines from the Rhone. However, Dunstan also has a soft spot for Australian producers from cooler regions, particularly Victoria.

From the cold these wine thinkers came, and into the cauldron of summer in Tokyo they dove! This motley crew of producers and I moved from hotel dining rooms, retail stores and other venues to try and deliver a fresh message to those Japanese curious about wine, or really, anyone eager to ditch the wave of self-restraint and pessimism, inextricably bound to recent disasters. The message is that wine provides pleasure. The message is that life must go on and while wine may be deemed insignificant in the grand scheme of things by some, it is also an avatar of beauty and a moment to savour that does not end with Bordeaux, Bordeaux or the encroaching wave of cheap Chilean wine, currently popular in Japan. Rather, wine embraces a philosophy that is tantamount to a respect for the land and her produce, bringing beauty to the glass; a train of thought that is surely felicitous in lieu of the current Japanese climate.

Phil Moraghan of Curly Flat set the ball for the trip rolling by booking a visit to Tokyo on his way to France, where he will work for three-months at De Montille in Burgundy.  Fred Pizzini and his wife Katrina had been wanting to visit Japan for a while. It remained only to entice John Nagorcka from Hochkirch to venture out of his large and demanding mixed biodynamic farm in deepest south-west Victoria.

Throughout the trip our visitors’ energy levels were awesome, particularly given Tokyo’s summer climate and the humidity that stung my freshly shaven cheeks and the sweat that stained our shirts!

Memorable events included a dinner at Four Seasons’ Eki restaurant, for their Zen Club members and lunch at Shibuya’s long-running Australian restaurant, Arossa, where John Nagorcka opened up his new Tarrington Pinot 2009.  Of a different vineyard from the Maximus, the Tarrington was particularly fine, pure and fresh.  The wine is delicious and poised at only 12.5% alcohol, spinning the stereotype of high alcohols and the New World, on its head. After lunch, the producers gave a seminar at Tokyu Honten department store, to an enthusiastic group of private customers.

On Saturday night, the group hosted a dinner at Salt restaurant in the Shin-Marunouchi Building for a great crowd, around 50 people, including the Commissioner for Victoria, on behalf of the Australian Government, and a representative for Wine Australia. Pizzini Rosetta 2011, 100% Sangiovese and a huge commercial success in Australia these days, was the aperitif and its refreshing, piercing high-toned red fruit was perfect after the afternoon heat.

We then started the dinner with Pizzini Verduzzo 2010 and Hochkirch Riesling 2009 with a salmon carpaccio.  The Verduzzo is a great example of how the Pizzinis adapt interesting Italian grapes to fit Australia’s discerning wine culture while drawing upon their own Italian heritage; ripe quince notes with balancing vibrant acidity. The Riesling is in a league of its own; not at all like South Australian Riesling’s brittle acidity and limey notes. Rather, it is quite Germanic with texture being the wine’s raison d’etre. Yet despite the tactile mouthfeel, Hochkirch Riesling delivers juicy acidity and smokey, spicy citrus fruit flavours to propel the wine

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Moseying through Tokyo: Ned, Phil Moraghan, Katrina Pizzini and John Nagorcka

through the mouth, and the drinker onto a second and third glass.

Then, with vanilla infused lobster, we drank two great Chardonnays, Hochkirch Tarrington Vineyard 2009 and Curly Flat 2008 – a study in contrasts. The pure, ripe and very Macon-like Hochkirch was vinified in stainless steel in order that Nagorcka, harvesting fruit from this vineyard for the first time, could ascertain the nature of the fruit and transparency of the site. The complex Curly Flat reflected a style well mastered by Phil Moraghan, with tangy lees work, some natural yeast funk and judiciously handled high quality oak. And all at 12.8%.

We followed with two Pinot Noirs, Hochkirch Maximus 2009 and Curly Flat 2007, with a veal tart – a lovely dish, perfect for Pinot. These two wines may have caused the most buzz of the night, simply due to the discovery that Pinot Noir such as these is not likely to be bettered in the New World with the Hochkirch showing a hint of mulch and darker fruits, lifted by a hint of volatile energy synonymous with minimal interventionism in the winery and indeed, biodynamic handling throughout; while Curly Flat exhibited amazing poise, depth and complexity; living on the edge of just-ripe-enough with edgy tannins and vibrant acidity reverberating in the mouth. Both, great wines!

We finished with a pair of Italians, as it were. Pizzini Sangiovese 2009 and Nebbiolo 2006 accompanied a solid chunk of Aussie beef and they were an outstanding pairing. The Sangiovese is particularly juicy but has some nice slightly astringent tannins, while the Nebbiolo is strikingly, well, Piemontesque, with its leather, earth, sandalwood, rose and tea notes.

To round off the night, our guests were guided to another fine Tokyo watering hole before their departure. Tableaux Lounge in Daikanyama served as the final stop. Late night refreshments included a Thenard Montrachet 1999 and a Puize Chablis ‘Grenouilles’ 2009 Grand Cru, some St Cosme Cotes du Rhone blanc 2005 (600 bottles of new oak fermented and aged Clairette by Louis Barruol), a bottle of Hatzidikis Assyrtiko, a stunning Pierre Usseglio Chateauneuf 1998 (remarkably refreshing) and a sturdy but complex Charvin Chateauneuf 2006. Finally, and in case we hadn’t had enough, a half bottle of 1945 Puig Rivesaltes allowed the ensuing taxi and sunrise to melt into the mind’s eye, and sleep. Matilda waltzed!