Bennie on Burgundy, bucket lists and B-sides

Aussie wine judge and journalist Mike Bennie is a feature writer for Australia’s Gourmet Traveller Wine Magazine, editor-at-large for and regular contributor to a long list of local and international wine rags.

The rock star writer of the Australian wine industry, Bennie is a hard man to catch, often travelling the world, wining, dining and storytelling from California to Casablanca Valley.

So when Pinosity sat down with the man himself to talk all things Pinot there was certainly no lack of inspiration beneath Bennie’s distinguishable baseball cap and dark glasses. Here’s what he had to say…

When did you lose your Pinot virginity, how was it?

Geez, that’s asking a lot. It could have been any of those bottles I flogged from my Dad’s cellar and unwittingly drank in a park somewhere.

Conscious consumption suggests it was standing around in my alma mater, Best Cellars, the fine wine store in East Sydney. A mature bottle of 1989 Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir poured into an beer jug decanter by mentor and friend David Matters.

It was unremarkable, save for the fact that it was pre-midday and we were drinking wine. It was my first week in the wine industry. It set a tone.

If Pinot was a person, who would it be, and why?

I’m not much for anthropomorphism, save for collecting photos of foodstuffs given ‘human’ characteristics (just one of my hobbies), and tend to steer clear of gender attributions in wine.

Pinot is variegated – it can go from slob to socialite to senator.

What’s the most memorable food and Pinot experience you’ve ever had?

You could do a soft focus on this tearjerker cliché, but the most memorable Pinot/food experience would have to be spreading out a picnic on the wall of Romané Conti vineyard, watching a horse plough through the eerie mire of dense fog that blanketed the entire hill of Vosne Romané. No wine was drunk to fill in the blanks.
It was just Pinot vines on that halcyon hilltop with an unforgettable atmosphere with some forgettable food. It’s tattooed on my skull though.

What’s the most rare/expensive Pinot you’ve ever tasted?

I’ve tasted all sorts of rare, old, libido enhancing, bucket list Pinot Noirs, but nothing more memorable than 1978 Domaine de la Romané-Conti La Tache, on two occasions.

Once, drunk lustily, cruelly, without glassware, from a decanter between friends, late, in the after hours husk of a wine bar; and once in civilised, rarefied company with appropriate everything and a Hollywood montage of apt commentary and serious head nods.

It thrilled on both occasions.

Compare a glass of this Pinot to a film, song or book?

I imagine if Jasper Morris’ Inside Burgundy became a cinema musical, it would be somewhere in that zone.

Is Burgundy really worth all the hype?

It can be, and no. Depends really. The hyped-up hype wines generally not, and for the most part, ‘value’ is the deciding factor.

Then again, one person’s value is another’s chump change.

What can be said is that there is plenty of dross from the region, regardless of reputation. Then there are those light-from-between-parting-clouds moments too. It oscillates a lot.

Best weeknight Pinot?

Whatever’s at the bottom of your glass. I don’t delineate between week night and weekend for wine consumption – but if the motif is easy drinking, go left field, stretch the repertoire, chase down those pursuing the wilder, charismatic expression of Pinot and not those looking for notions of balance and technical perfection.

Kick start something in your head.

Who do you admire most in the world of wine?

Those who have a life outside of wine.

What wines and/or regions are you the most excited about right now?

This is a chimera – season, place, cultural motifs and discovery all conspire to create excitement. I’m interested in wines of place, transparency and expressiveness, grown from vineyards that look like gardens not moonscapes, poured into glass by wild and wide-eyed grower-farmers who intelligently and sensitively farm, while making wines that show you how their patch of dirt works.

If you were given $1000 to spend on Pinot how would you break it down?

My corporate bribes are WAY more expensive than that – what do you take me for? $1000 wouldn’t get me past the breakfast wine… surely as a self-important wine writer you can work out to fly me to Burgundy before you give me the graft?

$1000 on Pinot? Go for the unobtainable and rare – from the B-side regions for Pinot Noir: Jura, Savoie, Patagonia, Romania, Switzerland, Austria, Moldova, Slovenia.

The fun’s in the drinking, not the pontificating, if I’m blowing your cash.