My top wines of the year naturally reflect personal taste – exciting wines that I tasted, loved and couldn’t forget. In every instance, they are wines I would love to drink.
They’re absolutely first-rate examples of the regions they come from, representing the best of modern Australian winemaking across a range of styles.
The two pinot noirs come from Victoria – one from the Shelmerdine family’s cool site in the Yarra Valley, the other from Phillip and Jenny Moraghan’s high altitude vineyard in the Macedon Ranges.
Australia owns shiraz, so I’ve included five. Three are fine-boned cool-climate styles from the Grampians region (Bests and Mount Langi Ghiran), Victoria, and one from Wayne and Jennie Fischer’s Murrumbateman vineyard here in the Canberra district.
Warm-climate shiraz is represented by the Marananga sub-district of the Barossa Valley and a lovely blend from the Barossa Valley and Eden Valley (itself a sub-region of the Barossa).
The three brilliant cabernet sauvignons hail from the variety’s maritime homes in Australia – Margaret River, Western Australia, and Coonawarra, South Australia.
The two bubblies included among the white selections come from Tasmania, definitely the coolest place for this style in Australia.
My white selections start with the stellar Clare Valley 2012 vintage rieslings (including one sweetie), though Canberra gets a look in, too. Three beautiful chardonnays earn a guernsey: one a cross-regional blend, but principally from Tasmania; the other two from the Yarra Valley.
And the Hunter Valley completes the line up with a brilliantly fresh but maturing five-year-old semillon.
These are not cheap wines – the prices range from $25 to $180. But they’re beautiful wines reflecting the best of the winemakers’ art; wines to savour on a special occasion.
Chris Shanahan is a wine and beer judge, former liquor retailer and freelance writer, chrisshanahan.com
TOP 10 REDS
PHI Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010
Lusatia Park Vineyard, Woori Yallock, Yarra Valley, Victoria
PHI is a joint venture, established in 2005, between Leanne De Bortoli and husband Steve Webber (winemakers) and Stephen and Kate Shelmerdine (grape growers). PHI pinot comes from selected rows of vines on the Shelmerdine’s elevated Lusatia Park vineyard, in the cool south-eastern edge of the Yarra. Webber makes the wine at De Bortoli winery, Yarra Valley. PHI 2010 made history in November 2011 as the first pinot to carry off the wine-of-show award at the National Wine Show. The name PHI means perfect harmony and balance – and the wine delivers it. This is great pinot noir by any measure.
Curly Flat Pinot Noir 2010
Curly Flat vineyard, Macedon, Victoria
Vigneron Phillip Moraghan says, ‘‘Vintage 2010 was a joy after the incredibly low yielding 2009.’’ We could add it’s a joy to drink, too, and likely to remain so for a few decades. I place it in the very top ranks of Australian pinot noir – and all the more appealing because it moves well away from the strawberry-like fruit flavours we see in so many. Fruit sweetness remains crucial, but top pinot should also be earthy, savoury and richly, smoothly textured with a quite firm but fine tannin backbone. This pretty well describes the outstanding Curly Flat. Released in November and available cellar door and at George’s Liquor Stable, Phillip.
Nick O’Leary Bolaro Canberra District Shiraz 2011
Wayne and Jennie Fischer Nanima Vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra district, NSW
By a quirk of fate, this wine shares more than an equal billing at the Melbourne show with Best’s Great Western Bin 1 Shiraz. O’Leary explained, ‘‘In Canberra Hardy’s recommended clones from their experience in South Australia. Most didn’t work.’’ Expensive but more suitable ones are being introduced. Here, Wayne and Jennie Fischer grafted the Great Western clone - one of the greats for Canberra, O'Leary says - to the roots of a lesser clone. Its first outing tends to confirm O'Leary's view. The Melbourne judges ranked it slightly ahead of O’Leary’s standard shiraz (both won gold medals) – perhaps noting the extra savouriness, flavour depth and firmer structure of a very classy, cellarable wine indeed. ‘‘I made Bolaro for the future,’’ O’Leary says. Bolaro won another gold medal at the recent National Wine Show of Australia.
Best’s Thomson Family Shiraz 2010
Concongella Vineyard, Great Western, Grampians, Victoria
In 1867, Henry Best planted the Concongella vineyard, Great Western. The Thomson family bought the vineyard in 1920 – and today those same shiraz vines, tended by Viv Thomson and family, supply the grapes for this extraordinary red. Much has been written of vine age and wine quality. In this instance, we drink the glory of venerable old vines completely at home in their environment – delivering an elegant wine of enormous, sweet-fruited flavour concentration. Thomson makes only about 300 dozen and only in exceptional years. It’s a great and unique shiraz, capable of long-term cellaring.
Mount Langi Ghiran Langi Shiraz 2010
Mount Langi Ghiran vineyard, Grampians, Victoria
Australia’s great diversity of shiraz styles range from the inky black colour and full-bodied power of those from warm climates to more subtle, medium-bodied versions from cooler areas. And even within the subtle cool-climate versions, styles vary widely. Somewhere out on its own sits the Langi, a limpid, perfumed, peppery, comparatively delicate shiraz sourced from old vines at Mount Langi Ghiran. The musk, pepper and spice of the aroma and flavour come with an intriguing stalky note, probably from whole-bunch maceration. The delicate, harmonious palate weaves all these flavours in with the finest, silkiest tannins imaginable – a brilliant, unique wine.
Penfolds Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz 2009
Marananga, Western Barossa Valley, South Australia
Marananga, towards the western side of the Barossa, produces powerful shiraz, often making the grade for Grange. The quality of shiraz from the area prompted large-scale vineyard expansion there in the ’90s, opening the way for Penfolds to produce a sub-regional wine, Bin 150, in 2008. The second vintage, matured in both French and American oak, is a powerful but graceful Barossa shiraz. The oak and fruit work beautifully together, the fruit always at the centre but enriched by the oak flavour and tannins.
John Duval Eligo Shiraz 2010
Barossa and Eden Valleys, South Australia
Through either modesty or commercial embargo, John Duval declares on the back label, ‘‘Over the last three decades in the Barossa I was given the opportunity to make Australia’s most famous wine.’’ Duval made Penfolds Grange and remained close to its creator, Max Schubert, until Schubert’s death in 1994. But ever confident as a winemaker, Duval offers in Eligo his own interpretation of shiraz – a powerful but elegant French-oak matured blend from the Barossa and Eden Valleys.
Vasse Felix Heytesbury 2009
Northern Margaret River, Western Australia
Vasse Felix’s flagship cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, malbec blend presents the powerful but elegant, potentially very long-lived side of the Bordeaux style. We use descriptors like fragrant, pretty and delicate for the drink-now blend Vasse Felix offers at about $25. But for Heytesbury we move to deep, brooding, ripe, leafy, intense, firm, grippy and multi-layered. It’s a potent, well-proportioned blend of cabernet sauvignon (69 per cent), petit verdot (16 per cent) and malbec (15 per cent), needing many years in the cellar. Winemaker Virginia Willcock says the cabernet is from their oldest vines, dating from the late 1960s.
Cullen Diana Madeline 2010
Cullen vineyard, Margaret River, Western Australia
Like Penfolds Bin 707 reviewed earlier in the year, Cullen Diana Madeline enjoys a cellaring potential measured in decades, not years. But the wines contrast starkly in style. Bin 707 shows an impenetrably dark, powerful face of cabernet – overwhelmingly dense and tannic as a young wine but becoming increasingly elegant as the decades pass by. Cullen is limpid and approachable on release – a wine of delicate violet-like aroma and seductive, subtle, supple, fine-grained palate. It’s a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot, malbec and cabernet franc, planted 40 years ago by winemaker Vanya Cullen’s parents, Kevin John and Diana Madeline.
Majella Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Majella Vineyard, Coonawarra, South Australia
Simply sensational. How else to describe Brian and Anthony Lynn’s latest release. They own one of Coonawarra’s great vineyards, established in 1968, and have tended it ever since – originally as suppliers to other wineries but from 1990 as winemakers, too. Bruce Gregory makes the wine on site and in 2010 produced a particularly floral, fragrant wine to equal anything made to date from the property. The seductive violet-like aroma leads to an equally seductive, supremely elegant cabernet with layers of juicy, sweet fruit and fine tannins.
TOP 10 WHITES
Arras Methode Traditionelle Blanc de Blancs 2001
Pipers River and Upper Derwent, Tasmania
For Champagne buffs, the name Salon-sur-Oger conjures images of delicate but powerful and complete sparkling wines made from chardonnay alone – unaided by pinot noir or pinot meunier, the majority varieties in most Champagnes. In good years, chardonnay from the Salon sub-region stands alone, creating sublime wines personified in the rare and expensive Krug Clos du Mesnil and Salon le Mesnil. Australian sparkling maker Ed Carr says, ‘‘I have always been a fan of this style and to have a 2001 Tasmanian wine for the first release is as close to perfect as one could wish.’’ Carr has good reason to be excited. His subtle and powerful Arras Blanc de Blanc 2001 is stunning – and so fresh at 11 years.
Stefano Lubiana Vintage Brut 2004
Lubiana Vineyard, Granton, Derwent Valley, Tasmania
Lubiana, along with Arras (made by Ed Carr), demonstrate why cool Tasmania became Australia’s bubbly hot spot. It starts with the intense but delicate flavours of the purpose-grown fruit. After that, Steve Lubiana’s winemaking and blending skills come into play – capturing the fruit flavour, then clever blending (55 per cent chardonnay, 45 per cent pinot noir) and almost six years’ maturation in bottle on yeast lees. Like France’s great Champagnes, it’s rich and textured beyond the fruit – because of the winemaking and maturation. But delicate fruit remains at the centre. Indeed, without these the winemaking inputs would add up to nothing.
Grosset Springvale Riesling 2012
Grosset Springvale vineyard, Watervale, Clare Valley, South Australia
The Clare Valley riesling excitement continues with the release of Jeffrey Grosset’s amazing 2012s. A normally reserved Grosset can’t bottle his enthusiasm, writing, ‘‘The 2012 vintage has turned out to be one of the best experienced at Grosset. Weather conditions were ideal.’’ Springvale, from Clare’s Watervale sub-region, presents a delicate, pristine, utterly irresistible face of riesling. Spritely, lime-like acidity carries the fruit flavour across a nevertheless delicate, soft palate – the upfront fruit flavour and softness making delicious current drinking (though the wine should evolve for many years).
Skillogalee Riesling 2012
Skillogalee vineyard, Clare Valley, South Australia
Skillogalee, established in the early 1970s, first caught my attention when the 1978 vintage won a trophy at the national wine show. Its dazzling freshness and shimmering fruit character sent a ripple of excitement across the wine trade. The now mature vines, planted about 500 metres in south-western Clare, make even better wines today – in this instance, a blend of many individual parcels picked for optimum ripeness at different times during vintage. The wine pulses with life – the thrilling, juicy, intense lime-like varietal flavour cut with racy acidity on a nevertheless soft, deeply textured palate. This is another remarkable Clare riesling from the outstanding 2012 vintage. It drinks well now and should age deliciously for at least 10 years if well cellared.
Clonakilla Riesling 2012
Murrumbateman, Canberra district, NSW
Shortly after vintage, winemaker Tim Kirk said he had picked riesling early, ahead of the rain, describing it as ‘‘a very fine, bony style along the lines of 2011 – acid driven, fresh and appley, but delicious’’. He retained unfermented juice for adding back after ferment should the wine need rounding out. Months later, the wine shows a delicate floral aroma with a citrusy note, showing particularly on the palate. High natural acidity intensifies the floral and citrus fruit flavours, carrying the wine to a long, tart, dry finish, with a fresh, feijoa-like aftertaste. It’s delicious now in Canberra’s tart and tight style, but should be even better as time ameliorates the acidity and allows the fruit to emerge.
Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling 2012
Clare Valley, South Australia
After the atypical botrytis-affected 2011 vintage, Stephanie Toole’s famous sticky returns to its delicate, pristine fruitiness in 2012. The pure floral and lime-like varietal character sets this luscious, refined crisply acidic riesling apart from most other Australian dessert wines. O’Toole suggests serving it with ‘‘foie gras or similar savoury-toned appetisers or citrus and stone-fruit desserts’’. On a hot Christmas day, moving it up front of the menu with savoury appetisers provides a refreshing and luscious start.
Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay 2009
Derwent Valley, Tasmania, Henty, Victoria, and the Adelaide Hills, South Australia
Penfolds releases Yattarna alongside Grange and its other top-end reds. However, Grange, and the accompanying retail price war, invariably upstage Yattarna. It’s a beautiful chardonnay, driven by the intense flavour and elegant structure of fruit from some of our coolest growing regions – principally the Derwent Valley, Tasmania, and the old Seppelt vineyard at Drumborg in Victoria’s Henty region. Winemaker inputs from barrel fermentation and maturation on yeast lees add another layer of complexity in an exceptionally graceful white with considerable cellaring potential.
Oakridge 864 Single Block Release Chardonnay 2011
Drive Block, Funder and Diamond Vineyard, Wandin East, Yarra Valley, Victoria
David Bicknell explores the vineyard blocks available to him in great detail – in this instance, a north-facing block at 230 metres above sea level, planted to the P58 chardonnay clone in 1990. Bicknell whole-bunch pressed the handpicked, hand-sorted fruit direct to French oak barrels for fermentation and maturation – blocking the secondary malolactic fermentation to preserve the cold season’s high acidity. The high acidity, in tandem with intense grapefruit and barely ripe nectarine-like varietal character, creates an exquisite flavour sensation. The barrel-derived complexities, including sulphur compounds, add exotic complexities to the fruit flavour. The fruit flavour built in intensity for several days after we opened the bottle. The wine has huge potential. I’d be buying now for drinking at Christmas 2014. Gold medal winner at this year’s National Wine Show of Australia.
Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard Chardonnay 2011
Sexton Vineyard, Yarra Valley, Victoria
Proprietor Phil Sexton offers three single-vineyard Yarra Valley chardonnays – the vineyards managed by Stuart Marshall and wines made by Steve Flamsteed. The wines reflect the fruit flavours of the different sites, some clonal variation and subtle variations in winemaking, including the use of various types of oak. These are beautiful modern chardonnays. Of the three, Sexton Vineyard, near Yarra Yering and Coldstream Hills appeals most. It’s a multi-dimensional wine, based on vivid, luscious nectarine and grapefruit-like varietal flavour. These thread through a sensuous, slick-textured but exceptionally fine, dry palate.
Brokenwood Stanleigh Park Vineyard Semillon 2007
Lower Hunter Valley, NSW
People tend to love or hate the Hunter Valley’s idiosyncratic semillon style. If, like me, you love it; or if you’ve heard of it but haven’t tried it, Brokenwood’s just-released 2007 provides the perfect opportunity. It’s travelled through the early, lemony, austere stage of its development, and at five-and-a-half years, reveals the first of the magic extras that come with bottle age. The classic, ultra-fresh lemon and lemongrass flavours remain. But bottle age has added the beginnings of richer toasty and honey characters. These fill the palate out deliciously, despite an alcohol level of just 10.5 per cent. The wine won a trophy at the recent National Wine Show of Australia. (Available cellar door, www.brokenwood.com.au).