Friday, September 14, 2018

Paxton 2015 Cracker Barrel Shiraz-Cabernet

Estate grown. Organic. Biodynamic. Delicious. That's really all you need to know about this outstanding Australian "claret" from Paxton Wines at McLaren Vale. A classic blend of shiraz and cabernet sauvignon, it is in the groove right now. Full-bodied and generous but well balanced, it is dark and inky with older French oak barriques playing a key role in the structure, but at the same time approachable in a wild, brambly way. Winemaker Richard Freebairn selected just four barrels he considered to be of the highest quality or "crackers". Unmistakeably Australian. I'll happily give this 94/100. $55. www.paxtonwines.com.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Yangarra Blanc 2018

This brand new wine in the Yangarra range is, to my knowledge, the first serious Australian take on Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc. A blend of co-fermented grenache blanc (35%), clairette (30%), roussanne (20%), picpoul (10%) and bourboulenc (5%) it is a vibrant but savoury white of considerable charm made using cuttings from the Rhone Valley on the Yangarra estate vineyard in McLaren Vale. The fruit has been hand-picked, wild-yeast fermented in ceramic eggs with no acid or sulphur additons, hole-bunch pressed in a basket press for softness and then kept on lees in the eggs and stirred regularly. Minimal preservatives are used. My tip: look for more impresssive Rhone-style blends from winemaker Peter Fraser and his team. Organic, biodynamic and delicious. $25. www.yangarra.com

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Shaw+Smith 2018 Sauvignon Blanc


The wine industry is constantly looking for the next big thing. A new style, a new variety. Back in 1989, when it was first released, Shaw+Smith sauvignon blanc was the next big thing. This wine helped pave the wave for sauvignon blanc's immense popularity over the past 30 years and remains a "go to" wine for many of the nation's leading sommeliers. A sustainably-produced Adelaide Hills benchmark, it is slightly tweaked each year by winemaker Adam Wadewitz, depending on the vintage, but it remains supremely stylish with zippy grapefruit characters on the palate. Outstanding with fresh seafood and best enjoyed in its youth, this remains is as fashionable as ever. $27. www.shawandsmith.com    

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Gemtree 2016 Ernest Allen Shiraz


You don't have to spend a motza to buy a McLaren Vale shiraz of real style and character. Mike Brown at Gemtree has the Midas touch with his premium organic fruit, producing a range of styles at various price points. This is both organic and biodynamic and immediately captured my affection with its intensity and superb balance. Brown says it is made "naturally" then spends 18 months in French oak. Ernest Allan was a market gardener and the grandfather of Melissa Buttery, viticulturist and co-owner at Gemtree. The wine has fruit sweetness, oak, tannins and acidity all perfectly in place. If someone told you it was twice the price you would not bat an eyelid. Bring on a fillet steak and French mustard. 
$50. www.gemtreewines.com.  

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Jim Barry 2018 Lodge Hill Riesling

There is a whole lot of pleasure to be found in the zesty, crispness of refreshing new-release Clare Valley rieslings. In most years I prefer the entry-level Jim Barry Watervale Riesling ($20) to its slightly more serious sibling, but in 2018 it is the Lodge Hill that is shining brightly in its youth, perhaps to celebrate its new-look label. In a very dry Clare vintage, drip irrigation paid a key role in keeping the fruit fresh and lively. The higher-altitude Lodge Hill vineyard's cool nights encourage slower ripening and the end result is a very vibrant, citrus-driven dry wine with terrific acid, balance and appeal. Match with a Thai green curry or stir-fried prawns for maximum gratification. $25. www.jimbarry.com

Friday, July 27, 2018

St Hugo 2015 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon

Not many smaller producers would be able to produce a wine of this quality for this price. It is all about economies of scale and this traditional favourite offers excellent value for lovers of refined, potentially long-lived Coonawarra cabernets. This is a red with both power and grace, with dark inky, black fruit characters, quality oak, spice and nutty nuances all combining with impressive cohesion. This would be a perfect partner for a roast lamb, or rump steak, but would look equally at home for a decade in the cellar. $55. www.sthugo.com.     

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Margan 2018 Breaking Ground Albarino

The more albarino I taste from Australia the more I am convinced it is the white wine variety of the future in warmer regions. The Spanish variety got off to a bad start in the local marketplace when it turned out that fruit that was planted as "albarino" was actually savagnin. Now albarino vines are starting to mature we are seeing impressive results, with Andrew Margan and his team in the Hunter Valley among those leading the way with the Galician grape variety. This is medium-bodied and flavoursome with some bright acid and spicy grapefruit tang on the palate. Serve chilled with seafood or Asian dishes. Yum! $30. www.margan.com.au

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Leasingham 2015 Bin 56 Cabernet Malbec


There may be days when you only have $20 in your pocket but still want to drink something decent. This old favourite comes up trumps on one of those days, offering plenty of power and intensity in a red blend that highlights quality Clare Valley fruit. The Leasingham Bin range has been a reliable source of drinking pleasure since it was launched in 1967 and this is a standout with robust regional character, a plummy earthiness and plenty of depth on the palate thanks to the malbec component; it is a grape that thrives in the Clare. Think dark currants, chocolate, herbs and spices and some impressive structure. This would be terrific with a medium-rare steak and chips. $20. www.leasingham-wines.com.au 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Dalwood Estate 2018 Semillon

Dalwood Estate is the re-birth of the first wine producing facility in the Hunter Valley - and continues production from the longest-running commercial vineyard in Australia. Established on the banks of the Hunter River in 1828, Dalwood is regarded as the birthplace of Hunter Valley wine. The wines are the first under the Dalwood label since the 1970s (the site was more recently known as Wyndham Estate) and the first since developer and hotelier Sam Arnaout’s Iris Capital group bought Dalwood last December. With talented winemaker Bryan Currie at the helm, the current releases are very impressive. This is a classic young Hunter semillon grown in sandy loam soils. Picked in mid-January, the fruit offers aromatic lemon/lemongrass notes with purity and length on the palate. Pair with fresh oysters for a gourmet treat. $27. http://dalwoodestate.com.au/

Monday, June 25, 2018

Yangarra 2015 Ironheart Shiraz


Winemaker Peter Fraser and his team are really getting the best out their certified organic and biodynamic vines at Kangarilla in McLaren Vale. This is Yangarra flagship and the fruit comes from a 20-year-old single vineyard which produces reds of both power and elegance. This is a delicious wine of superb balance that speaks of its sense of place. It is a wine with intensity and complexity but it never tips over into being over-powering. There is 25% whole bunch here, open fermenters, wild yeast ferment and lees treatment. Almost 50% new oak for 15 months, but the fruit soaks it up. If you like bigger reds with a sense of style and swagger this dark and inky number will be a winner. 96/100. $105. www.yangarra.com.au

Saturday, June 16, 2018

d'Arenberg 2017 The Hermit Crab

If this isn't one of the best-value white wines out there, then I walk like an Egyptian. Often overlooked given the massive range of wines produced by d'Arenberg in McLaren Vale, this blend of viognier and marsanne, two varieties originally from the Rhone Valley in France, shines when matched with food. The fruit is basket-pressed with a small proportion matured in older oak and the end result is a wine that manages to be both refreshing and texturally interesting - all for the bargain basement cost of $15. Think candied fruit and nut characters with a dry finish and crisp acid. Impressive. www.darenberg.com.au.    

Monday, June 11, 2018

Ten Minutes by Tractor 2016 Coolart Road Pinot Noir

Depending on the vintage, my favourite Ten Minutes by Tractor pinot has generally been the McCutcheon, then the Judd and then the Wallis. All are among the Mornington Peninsula's finest expressions of pinot noir. This time around, to my surprise, it is the younger vines of the Coolart Road vineyard that shone brightly (all are superb and we are talking stylistic hair-splitting here). First planted in 2000, and now 100% pinot noir, the site is a relative warm one, with fruit ripening two weeks earlier that the other 10X vineyards. It is much darker and more savoury than we have seen in the past; and that earthy substance makes it more of a cellaring prospect than previously. Pair with rare duck breast, or a platter of salumi. FYI, the Judd was my second favourite this time around. $78. 
www.tenminutesbytractor.com.au.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Artwine 2018 The Real Thing Albarino

One of the first 2018 vintage wines to his the market is this debut albarino from Artwine in the Adelaide Hills, grown on the Woodside vineyard. Like many in Australia, owners Judy and Glen Kelly initially planned to plant albarino in 2009. It was then discovered the "albarino" rootlings in Australia were actually savagnin. This really is albarino - and it is a lovely young wine, deliciously vibrant. It is made in a fresh, drink-young style, like a lot of alvarinho in Portugal, with vibrant grapefruit and apricot flavours to the fore, along with some flinty minerality. Well worth checking out for $30. www.artwine.com.au 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Montara 2017 Hill Block Single Vineyard Pinot Noir

The Grampians of Victoria are perhaps not the first place you would look for top-quality pinot noir but Montara has hit a home run with this new release single-vineyard wine made from vines planted over 40 years ago. Recent signing Simon Fennell, in his first run as chief winemaker, brings a wealth of experience, including from Best's Great Western, and the single vineyard range (which also includes a riesling and shiraz) is his baby, aimed at reflecting vineyard, soil, micro-climate and aspect. I liked this a lot, with its delicate perfume and clever balance between lightness and intensity. Around 50% of the fruit was whole bunch and spent two weeks on skins before being matured in second-use French barriques. It's all about the fruit - and it stars. $40. www.montarawines.com.au

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Natural Wine Co. 2017 Organic Rosé

This is a relatively new label from Jason O'Dea of Windowrie Estate and Pig In The Middle. I tasted the 2017 sauvignon blanc and rosé and both offered excellent flavour and value. This is made from sangiovese grapes grown at Canowindra in the Western Ranges of New South Wales. All the wines in the range are organic and made with minimal intervention and are vegan friendly. Wild ferment and free-run juice here have produced a wine with real personality; dry but on the strawberries and cream side of the spectrum. Great as a stand-alone refreshment, or paired with Lebanese dishes. $18. 
Natural Wine has been getting abit of attention these days, but while the term has stuck, it's rather misleading. No wine can be totally 'natural', because there is always some human intervention (I've never heard of grapes picking & squeezing themselves), and we'd rather argue that's it's better to think of these wines as 'low-intervention'
The guiding philosophy is to get from grapes to wine with minimal input - thus making the grapes, and therefore the PLACE, the hero, rather some nip-and-tuck interventions from the winemaker.
This means they need good, chemical-free grapes, organic or biodynamic fruit is ideal. The winemaking is about leaving it alone: Wild yeast only, no additions, no subtractions, no sneaky alteration & limited filtering.
Because they don't use much new oak, the flavours are generally from the grapes and the yeast, which means lots of bright, fresh fruit and earthy, savoury or yeasty flavours. Most natural wines are a little cloudy.
At there best, natural wines express there place better than conventional wines: there is a sense of transparency, elegance, lightness and wildness! The best wines are mind-blowing, they defy theory and experience!
The Natural Wine Co.
Things CAN be done differently.......
Xx Tristian & Jason

Thursday, May 17, 2018

St Hallett 2015 Blackwell Shiraz

This serious red is named in honour Stuart Blackwell, who has been a St Hallett winemaker since 1972. And Blackwell will be doubtless be very happy with this tribute from a year that posed some vintage difficulties - although not with this particular wine, which shines. It is rich and dense in colour, as befits a wine made from low-yielding grunty vines, and has plenty of length of traditional Barossa flavour and intensity on the palate. There is a real opulence here, terrific structure, and the potential for long-term cellaring. $45. www.sthallett.com.au.   

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Hoddles Creek Estate 2017 Pinot Noir


I was all set to review the superb 2017 Hoddles Creek PSB Pinot Noir ($60) - but it sold out before I got my A into G. Not to worry, this may be a whole lot cheaper but it offers excellent value, typicity and drinking pleasure from the cool-climate Yarra Valley. There are dark cherry and berry notes here, firm but not intrusive tannins. Several batches were made in different ways before blending. On completion of fermentation, the wine was pressed and transferred to one-year-old barrels and older oak. After 11 months of barrel maturation, the wine was blended and bottled without filtration or fining. The restrained but delicious fruit is the star here; not the wood. If you love classic Burgundy but find it well out of your price range then a bottle or two of this quite splendid estate wine might lift your spirits. $24.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Ferngrove 2017 Pinot Noir Rosé


The Ferngrove White Label range from Frankland River in Western Australia may just offer two of the best-value wines around right now. This is a delightfully pale pink rosé, aromatic, soft and fairly dry with some nice biting acid allied to cherry and cream flavours. It paired superbly with a Indian-style beef curry. Also part of the same range is the Ferngrove 2017  Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, a light, crisp and refreshing blend made in a drink-now style that's a perfect foil for Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. 
Both wines retail for $16 - which makes them well worth seeking out. www.ferngrove.com.au  

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Oakridge 2016 Over the Shoulder Chardonnay

There are several brilliant chardonnays in the impressive Oakridge range, but this is arguably the best value of them all - a wine that shines with its structure and length but can be found on special for under $20. I'm a little late reviewing this wine, but it has settled into serious gorgeousness since its release, as you would expect from chardonnay-meister David Bicknell and his team. A blend of fruit from four different Yarra Valley vineyards, this offers varietal flavours (think stone fruits and flinty minerality), fresh acidity and really pleasurable drinking. Excellent with roast chicken. $23. www.oakridgewines.com.au

Monday, April 16, 2018

Rising 2017 Yarra Valley Pinot Noir

Rising is a new project from funkmeister Tom Belford and the crew at Sticks winery in the Yarra Valley. The four wines in the range come from the Rising vineyard in the Christmas Hills, and other hand-picked sites, and are made in tiny quantities (there are just 500 cases of this exceptional pinot noir). As is Belford's natural inclination, the wines are made with minimal intervention. This is very nicely put together with bright fruit allied to some great architecture. It finishes cloudy, a sign that it is unfined and unfiltered, and it has a wonderful rustic and muscular pinosity. Terrific value at $30. www.risingwines.com.au     

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Wirra Wirra 2016 Church Block

Vintage after vintage, Wirra Wirra's Church Block is one of those rare wines that can be guaranteed to deliver both quality and value for money. That's certainly the case with the lip-smackingly good new 2016 release, a blend of McLaren Vale cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and merlot. Church Block was the first wine released by the late Greg Trott under the Wirra Wirra label, back in 1972. Today it maintains its reputation as a big softy; a wine with plenty of flavour and power but equally easy to drink. Matured in French and American oak, it is nonetheless fruit driven; enjoyable in its youth but with the structure to mature over the years. Terrific buying at $22. www.wirrawirra.com

Monday, March 26, 2018

TarraWarra Estate 2016 Chardonnay

TarraWarra winemaker Clare Halloran is producing some excellent Yarra Valley wines, but this is an absolute standout when it comes to value for money. This estate-grown, hand-picked chardonnay just oozes class. It's clean and fresh with a bright acid finish but also offers real palate interest and is made with minimal intervention while retaining mainstream appeal. It is a wine of delightful balance; down to earth and definitely sessionable in a Chablisienne style. I remember attending the opening of TarraWarra some three decades ago (it seems like yesterday) and it has certainly established a reputation for excellence over those years. $28. www.tarrawarra.com.au.    

Monday, March 19, 2018

Matriarch and Rogue 2017 Dot Riesling

Marnie Roberts is a busy, and talented, winemaker in the Clare Valley. Roberts not only makes three stellar rieslings for Claymore Wines, her full-time employer, but also makes two more rieslings under her own label Matriarch and Rogue, which is named in tribute to the strong women in her family. This is a classic Watervale riesling at a sensible price point, named after her great aunt Dot. Brilliantly tart and refreshing, it comes with lemon, lime and grapefruit notes to the fore, alongside racy minerality and acidity. Lots of energy here and with no additions other than sulphur, it is vegan friendly. Pair this with some King George Whiting fillets pan-fried in butter. Divine. $25. www.matriarchandrogue.com.au
  

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sabre by Mitchell Harris Sparkling

It is no surprise that John Harris from Mitchell Harris Wines produces outstanding sparkling wines that stand with some of the best in the country. Harris was for several years the chief winemaker at Domaine Chandon in the Yarra Valley before upping sticks and moving to Ballarat, from where he sources top-class fruit from growers in the Pyrenees, Macedon, Ballarat and Henty regions. The stellar 2013 vintage of this lifted and elegant bubbly is 60% chardonnay & 40% pinot noir from the Macedon and Pyrenees ranges. A reserve dosage liqueur adds just 5g/L sugar to help create a strikingly clean and complex aperitif style. Seriously lovely drinking. $42. www.mitchellharris.com.au.  

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Katnook Estate 2015 Founder's Block Merlot

There were four of us tasting a small batch of reds, not one of us particularly enamoured of soft and simple merlots. That this wine stood out from the crowd is a tribute to former Katnook Estate winemaker Wayne Stehbens, who died a couple of months ago. The range is named after the original land holding of John Riddoch, the founder of Coonawarra wine region. This stands out with its intensity and structure; on the opposite side of the spectrum to some of the sweet and wimpy merlots that are still being made. Medium-bodied with dark berry and plum notes and some perky spice, it has excellent structure with French and American oak adding to the picture. Available at Dan Murphy’s and at selected independent retailers Australia wide. Terrific value for $20. www.katnookestate.com.au.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Brokenwood 2011 ILR Reserve Hunter Valley Semillon


Aged Hunter Valley semillon is a wine style like no other - and the winemaking team at Brokenwood are masters at making semillons that shine when young and zesty that develop after a few years into toasty, complex beasts. This reserve wine is six years old but isn't yet fully mature. It still boasts some youthful citrus fruit flavours and soft plushness on the palate. There's length here, intensity, complexity and still a good decade or more to go until it reaches its peak. $75. www.brokenwood.com.au.  

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Swan Bay 2017 Pinot Grigio

Scotchmans Hill's Swan Bay range has been given a lift by new colour-coded labelling that makes the wines stand out on crowded bottle shop shelves. There are several excellent wines crafted by winemaker Robin Brockett in the $20-ish range but this blend of Geelong region and Adelaide Hills fruit caught my fancy with its youthful joie de vivre. There is a plenty of summer refreshment here with pear, tropical fruit and citrus flavours jostling for attention on the lively palate. Enjoy the crispness and length and serve well-chilled. Deftly balanced and vegan friendly. Match with a chickpea salad. $22. www.scotchmans.com.au

Monday, January 22, 2018

Houghton 2016 Shiraz


Wines from Houghton in Western Australia (180 years in the business and counting) used to be all the rage when it came to value but you don't see them around as much as you used to, despite the label being owned by the Accolade behemoth. At a time of year when many of us are operating on tight wine budgets, this new release is one to keep an eye out for; a fruit-driven number that would grace any barbecue. It's soft, medium-bodied  and easy to drink with bright, juicy dark fruit flavours. Tannin structure and oak influence are secondary but it doesn't matter because the balance is there and this certainly won't break the bank. Look for it on special - it can be found for under a tenner. $12.99. www.houghton-wines.com.au

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Lane Block 10 Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc


I'm out and proud this summer - happy to say that I'm drinking more sauvignon blanc than I have for several years. The reason is that excessive green/herbal characters are out, as are over-ripe tropical flavours. More Australian savvy blancs are being made with a deft touch like this one from the cool Adelaide Hills, where the fruit is grown in limestone vineyards, adding tangy minerality. It is unmistakeably varietal but with all the harsh edges removed. Think fresh citrus notes, fresh leafiness, some white stone fruit notes, and that vibrant line of acid minerality. One for enjoying well-chilled as an after-work pick-me-up, or paired with spicy Asian seafood dishes like sambal pink ling. Drinkability plus. $25. www.thelane.com.au. 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Mesh 2017 Eden Valley Riesling

In these days of instant gratification, it is rewarding to come across a white wine that is constructed with longevity at least partially in mind. Mesh is a joint venture between Jeff Grosset and the Hill-Smith family of Yalumba and uses Eden Valley fruit to produce a wine that is certainly approachable now but will shine with time in the bottle. The 2012 vintage, available as a classic release, is stunning.Think lemon/lime notes, talcum powder and fresh acid on the finish. Classy and excellent value. $30.