Samantha Connew: Best pinot noir.
Samantha Connew: Best pinot noir. Photo: Peter Stoop

A fast and mostly pain-free vintage was a positive start to 2013 for Australian winemakers.

Then came the reality check. The release of 2011 reds got commentators and drinkers talking. Was it a thin and weedy vintage or fabulous?

If you were a chardonnay maker in the Yarra Valley, a Hunter Valley semillon producer or had vines in Margaret River you were rightly miffed by some of the negative fallout. The high Australian dollar and sluggish exports continued to bite. Nothing new there. Wineries got into financial difficulties, including the biggest of them all, Treasury Wine Estates. The company, by the end of the year, is looking down two class action suits; one by shareholders, following a decision this year to destroy $35 million of old and aged wines in the US.

Timeless: Xanadu 2011 reserve chardonnay.
Timeless: Xanadu 2011 reserve chardonnay.

On the bright side, the New Zealanders turned the tables and invested in Australian wine with Delegat's Wine, the force behind the Oyster Bay brand, buying Barossa Valley Estate.

The refinement of shiraz continued apace, we enjoyed some of the best chardonnays in years, the Jimmy Watson Trophy went to a pinot noir for the first time and Casella celebrated its one billionth bottle of Yellow Tail.

Here's the best of 2013 . . .

Just desserts: Aline Baly of Chateau Coutet.
Just desserts: Aline Baly of Chateau Coutet. Photo: Supplied

Best shiraz: Put together a great year - 2010 - and an iconic Victorian wine producer trying to re-invent itself (not for the first time) and suddenly the planets aligned. Seppelt produced a fine Chalambar shiraz in 2010 ($26.99) blending parcels of fruit from Bendigo and the Grampians, highlighting the latter's pronounced spice and pepper and the former's richness of fruit. A welcome return to form.

Best cabernet: Is there a cabernet sauvignon in Australia that can rival Cullen's Diana Madeline? I doubt it and certainly not when winemaker Vanya Cullen has a wonderful vintage at her disposal, as she did in 2011, which resulted in another dazzling, seamless wine ($115).

Best pinot noir: Samantha Connew has long worked in the Australian wine industry employed by Wirra Wirra and Tower Estate. This year we saw the first wines under her own brand, Stargazer. One question. Why so long? Her 2012 pinot noir ($50) from the Huon Valley in Tasmania is an exciting debut, a wine of energy and beauty. More please. stargazerwine.com.au

Best use of an Aussie classic grape variety: The 2013 malbec joven from the Clare Valley made by Nav Singh of the Matchbox Wine Co ($30) looks youthful and fresh, bouncy in fruit and smooth in texture and what colour! Something you might call extreme purple plum. Visions of malbec as a boring third leg in blends of Australian cabernet are smashed for a six. matchboxwine.com

Best rosé: Sangiovese, nebbiolo, tempranillo … seems anything goes in rosé these days. Sam Scott in the Adelaide Hills has chosen the southern Italian grape aglianico for his La Prova 2013 rosato ($23). Pretty tea rose with the scent of raspberries and sweet strawberries, the wine ticks all the boxes: dry, dusty, lightly savoury, cherry, moreish, refreshing and just 12.5 per cent alcohol.

Best $20 and under red: What do we look for in a $17 red? Drinkability, of course. Solid fruit, arresting flavour, moderate alcohol, moderate tannin, structure? Yes. It's all there in Brokenwood's 2011 Cricket Pitch, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, merlot, petit verdot.

Best riesling: Following on from the great 2012 riesling vintage, we were treated to another ripsnorter of a year in 2013. So many wonderful wines but standing out, not only for her approach to the grape but for consistent excellence is Di Miller at Bellarmine Wines in Pemberton. Her 2013 dry riesling ($24) looks to layered complexity and depth of flavour with texture. bellarmine.com.au

Best chardonnay: While debate raged over where styles are heading, there were some makers standing to the side, letting their fruit do the talking. There's a timelessness to Xanadu 2011 reserve chardonnay ($85) from Margaret River that defies categorisation.

Best new style: Tempranillo is working its way into our hearts - not the sweet shiraz knock-off, high in alcohol as interpreted by some; but a fully dry wine, spicy in intent with some savoury interest. Mayford in the Alpine Valleys delivered such a wine in its 2012 tempranillo ($35) along with a fine, gentle purity of fruit.

Best $20 and under white: There is but one contender and that's a $10 wine that beat wines triple the price, to take out the best riesling trophy at this year's Melbourne Wine Show. It's a wine made by this country's most underrated riesling maker in a style plush with lemon juicy fruit but importantly embracing acidity to keep a tight line in youth, along with potential for some serious ageing. Take a bow, Jacob's Creek 2012 riesling made by Don Young.

Best imported wine: The arrival of Aline Baly of Chateau Coutet in Melbourne this year certainly revived flagging interest in Barsac dessert wines. Why followers of the lusciously decadent style have dropped off can only be guessed at but I sense the 2001 Chateau Coutet Cuvee Madame ($470), a profoundly complex 100 per cent semillon, will bring them back around. Or there's always the baby, 2007 ($85, 375ml).

Best sparkling: There's no denying Tasmania is coming to dominate the upper end and a name more commonly associated with Tassie pinot noir showed scintillating form in 2013. Moorilla Estate has a strong range of bubblies with no weak links led by the 2008 Extra Brut rosé ($49), no flippant interpretation but a seriously complex wine.

Best fortified: Giving credence to industry talk of a fortified revival at the premium price end and sensing a gap in that market, Morris Wines created a new level of muscat and topaque (tokay) this year, positioned between the entry level ''classic'' and penultimate ''grand''. Cellar One Classic ($35) is a bit of a woolly name but basically the average age of the blend slots in around 10 years and it offers increased sweetness with distinct youthful fruitiness. Isn't it good to see someone increasing his range of fortifieds instead of the opposite?