THERE'S A COMPETITIVE streak that runs deep and strong through the Australian psyche, and the rivalry between our states and territories is staged and celebrated on every possible front. Wine is one of those battlegrounds, albeit with a fun social edge - it is home to sometimes generation-old rivalries that stretch across the country.
The 2013 edition of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald Good Wine Guide introduces a new set of special awards - Wine of Provence Awards - that single out iconic wines to represent the very best of each state or territory.
Choosing just one wine to stand at the pinnacle of its state-based peers is a tough exercise that will no doubt start more arguments than it will settle. Each iconic wine sits at the top of an elite group, the vinous equivalents of a lifetime achievement award or hall of fame-style recognition.
On the fiercely competitive global wine stage, critics have challenged the quality, even the very existence, of great Australian terroir. These wines will settle the score once and for all. They are the voice of authentic Australian terroir.
The new Wine of Provenance Awards recognise wines that embody absolute uniqueness, authenticity, consistency and, of course, superior quality. And whereas a wine such as the famous Penfolds Grange represents the combined prowess of far-reaching resources (and grapes from different regions), the essence of these award-winners is focused on individually distinctive and distinguished locations.
To be recognised here, these wines must have proven themselves age-worthy and demonstrated sustained excellence over time - in some cases, decades.
These are definitive wines, they are the wines against which others shall be measured, both directly and indirectly, and these are wines of true pedigree and utter distinction.
The great attributes of these wines - complex aromas, deep flavours, noble structure, captivating textures and the compelling ability to improve with age - are all underwritten by their provenance - the unique places they are from - hence the name of these awards.
These are wines that will be opened to celebrate, inspire, debate and defend all that is great about Australian wine.
Tyrrell's Vat 1 Semillon, Hunter Valley
ONE of the most unique expressions of the semillon grape found anywhere in the world, Vat 1 defines the benchmark for the Hunter Valley's hero wine style. These can be cryptic wines when young - wound tight, built of invisible layers that reveal only after time in bottle.
There's magic in the way Vat 1 semillons change with time. They grow and enrich, yet retain their delicate filigree edge. These are vinous stayers and, of all Australian wine styles, perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the arrival of life-preserving screw-cap seals.
Different vintages set the momentum for each edition and the 2006 has just sailed magically into focus. It delivers a slice of youthful freshness; a smooth-honed palate and a sliver of toasty bottle-aged character that suggests it will eventually peak on a distant horizon.
Stockists Dan Murphy's; Kemenys; Camperdown Cellars.
ACT (Canberra district)
Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier, Murrumbateman
A WINE that has galvanised a nation of wine lovers, it has inspired a whole genre of cool-climate, spicy and exotic shiraz-based reds. Along with his family, most notably his father John, the priestly Tim Kirk recently presented a 20-year anniversary tasting of his prized wine, convincingly demonstrating its handsome evolution and enduring nature.
Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier is a modern hero. John Kirk established the vineyard in 1971 and Tim returned to the family farm armed with inspiration from wines tasted far afield in France, determined to etch a new persona of shiraz on the Australian landscape.
It is an exotic wine that grows immensely complex fragrance on a reliably elegant, fine and precise base of graphite-like tannin. It has a paradoxical nature and shows that longevity is best derived of core strength and not brute muscle.
Stockists Annandale Cellars; Dan Murphy's.
Campbells Merchant Prince Rare Muscat, Rutherglen
THE diversity of Victorian wine is unchallenged by any other state of Australia, making this a hotly contested award. Merchant Prince Rare Muscat is an incredible wine in every sense. A masterpiece, it sits consistently at the summit of quality in one of the most rare and distinctive wine styles found anywhere in the world.
More than any other wine awarded here, the dual factors of place and time are key to shaping this wine's character. Born of hardy vineyards established by John Campbell in 1870, the long ageing process means this wine spans generations of winemakers.
The base of this wine is more than 60 years old and the rare classification indicates that only the material of the highest quality is granted entry to the blend. An exclusive, rare and distinctly unique elixir, it tastes of raisins, burnt toffee, dark roasted nuts and more - the texture is spellbinding.
Stockists Five Way Cellars; Castlecrag Cellars.
Wendouree Cabernet Malbec, Clare Valley
AS FAR as wineries go, Wendouree is a kind of reluctant hero. Current custodians Tony and Lita Brady humbly tend the historic vineyard and craft straightforward wines that make no attempt at artefact. Instead, they rely solely on provenance and the inherent depth that comes with very old vines.
This ancient oasis sits off the Main North Road in a tiny hamlet of Sevenhill in the Clare Valley, hidden away like a secret garden, planted to shiraz, mataro, cabernet sauvignon, malbec and muscat. It is without doubt the strongest expression of terroir yet unearthed in Australia.
The composition of its suite of red wines historically varies according to the season and, while the shiraz is the most sought after on the secondary market, the cabernet malbec is the wine that most profoundly speaks of the place.
These are wines that taste firstly like Wendouree, varietal characters are secondary, and they are renowned long-term prospects in the cellar.
Stockists Langtons (sold at auction); Cellar Door.
Cullen Diana Madeline, Margaret River
One of the pioneering wines of the Margaret River region and a wine that has, from its inception, been on a trajectory of refinement and greatness (it is a mix of the five Bordeaux red grapes including cabernet sauvignon).
The late Diana Madeline Cullen, after whom this wine is named, planted the first trial vines in the region in 1966 and established the family vineyard in 1971.
Today, that vineyard is the source of one of the region's most elegant, profound and soulful red wines. It is a benchmark for biodynamic farming practice and the entire process of crafting this wine has been steadily pared back to an essence that is driven by provenance and guided by a carefully evolved philosophy.
The greatness of this wine rests on the careful decisions made at the vineyard's inception, the quality of the site, the age of the vines today and the intuitive, sensitive and driven nature of current custodian Vanya Cullen and her team.
Stockists Camperdown Cellars; crackawines.com.au
Freycinet Pinot Noir, East Coast
Tasmania is at the centre of keen interest and excitement in Australian wine. The prospect of this pristine, cool-climate island as a prime source of high-quality pinot noir is one that has the world of wine salivating.
Under the gaze of Claudio Radenti, Freycinet has paved the way for pinot noir in Tasmania to achieve depth, complexity, consistency and age-worthy pedigree. Recent vintages demonstrate an in-built, layered complexity and assertive fruit presence, hallmarks of great pinot noir the world over.
There are many great pinot noir wines on offer. The best, such as Freycinet, are those that will blossom and improve exponentially over many years.
Stockists Surry Hills Fine Wines; Victoria Park Cellars.
Best-value wines $25 and under (highest scoring in each category)
Sauvignon Blanc Paracombe Sauvignon Blanc 2012, $21
Riesling Knight's Granite Hills Riesling 2011, (and 2010), $25
Semillon Audrey Wilkinson Winemakers Selection Semillon 2012, $22
Chardonnay Hoddles Creek Estate Chardonnay 2011, $19
Pinot Grigio Pizzini Pinot Grigio 2012, $18.50
Pinot Noir Diamond Island Pinot Noir 2010, $22
Shiraz Head Red 2011, $25
Cabernet Sauvignon Best's Great Western Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, $25
Merlot Pizzini Merlot 2011, $20
Rose Mitchell Harris Rose 2011, $22
The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald GoodWine Guide 2013 is available from bookstores for $26.99 and as ebook from amazon.com, apple iBookstore, Google e-books, Kobo, ReadCloud and Booki.sh; or see online at The Age Shop.