Drinking Victoria: Jen Pfeiffer

Published on 8 July 2020

Photo: Jen Pfeiffer, winemaker at Pfeiffer Wines

Your guide to what’s in the glass from the people in the trade.

Not many people can say they won a gold medal for their first attempt at making wine. But then not many people come from a winemaking family like Jen Pfeiffer’s. The young winemaker grew up on the Pfeiffer Wines estate in Wahgunyah, just outside Rutherglen. The former brandy distillery and vineyard was purchased by her parents, Robyn and Chris, in 1984, with Chris leaving his post as chief fortified winemaker at Lindeman’s to strike out on his own. Initially Jen had no plans to take up the family business until a trip home on a break from her law and science double degree, when she helped make the Pfeiffer 2000 shiraz. Scoring a gold medal for that first wine was just the beginning. Jen has gone on to pick up dozens of awards and honours in her career since, including The Wine Society’s Young Winemaker of the Year in 2009 and a consistent five-star ranking from Halliday’s Wine Companion. Today she’s the winemaker at Pfeiffer Wines, overseeing a diverse list that includes reds, whites and – her favourite – fortified wines.

The last three delicious things I drank were a 2008 Mount Langi Ghiran Langi shiraz – one of the most powerful examples of Langi shiraz, it’s red- and dark-fruited, spicy, complex and still has plenty of life left in it. There was also a truly stunning 2000 Taylor’s Vintage Port. Incredibly powerful yet restrained, with terrific balance and drinkability. And a 2014 Crawford River riesling – beautiful aromatics, great acidity, purity of fruit and a long and textured palate. I’m glad I’ve got a few more bottles in the cellar.

As far as I’m concerned, the defining place to get a drink in Victoria is City Wine Shop – a Melbourne institution, with an amazing range of wines by the glass and very knowledgeable staff.

My favourite place to buy booze is The Prince Wine Store. I can literally spend hours in there browsing the wine racks and I always leave with more bottles than I intended to purchase.

When someone hands me a wine list in a restaurant, I immediately turn to the fortified section. I definitely judge a list on the quality and diversity of fortifieds represented. I love to kick things off with a salty, mouth-watering Sherry and finish with another of the great fortified wines of the world.

The Victorian spirit I’m digging the most right now is Great Ocean Road Gin’s Split Point Navy Strength, made with native botanicals including eucalyptus, saltbush and pepper berries. It packs a punch in the ABV department, so I like to enjoy it with a dash of high-quality tonic water.  

There’s no better value on a wine list or in a bottle-shop in this state than a Rutherglen fortified. Generations in the making and world-beating in quality. We all need some more fortifieds in our lives.

I’d love to see us planting more Portuguese varieties in Victoria because I think they have great potential as we face the challenges of a changing climate. Having worked in Portugal, I know there are a huge number of Portuguese grapes that lend themselves to the diversity of wine regions within our state. Touriga nacional, touriga franca, tinta barocca and tinta roriz love warm and dry climates, and there are some great whites we could experiment with as well. Alvarinho, which thrives in cooler areas with good altitude, and viosinho and gouveio, which produce aromatic, flavoursome whites grown on the upper reaches of the Douro Valley.

My guilty pleasure at the bar is a double gin and tonic (no ice).

The best or most important change to the way we drink in Victoria in recent years has been our willingness to embrace change and try different things, while retaining love and respect for the classics. 

For me, the most inspiring people in the Victorian drinks world are the great fortified winemakers of the Rutherglen region because of their career-long commitment to and passion for our unique wine styles. And their generosity when it comes to sharing their knowledge with me.

Pfeiffer Wines is open for tastings (reservations required) and takeaway sales, Mon-Sat, 9am-5pm, Sun 10am-5pm. 167 Distillery Rd, Wahgunyah, Vic. Call (02) 6033 2805 to book your tasting, order wine online at pfeifferwines.com.au, and see what else Jen is drinking, picking and bottling at @rockitlikearedheadjenpfeiffer.

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