Rich harvest … 2012 saw the release of one of the greatest Bordeaux vintages. Photo: Getty Images
IT MAY BE AN UNFASHIONABLE call, but I am declaring pinot gris, and to a lesser extent pinot grigio, to be one of the highlights of 2012. Yes, there was a welter of superb 2012 rieslings released this year, and the 2011 chardonnays from the cooler southern parts of the country are very appealing in a lighter-bodied style, but pinot gris is one of the categories that impressed this year.
Other wines that wowed me were some great champagnes, such as the 2000 Krug, '02 Bollinger, the entire Charles Heidsieck portfolio, and some local sparkling wines led by a new discovery, Tumbarumba's Courabyra, whose 2001 won the sparkling trophy at the NSW Wine Awards. Not to mention Ed Carr's ultra-fine Arras Blanc de Blancs 2001 from Tasmania.
Guigal's Cotes du Rhone red is regularly among the great imported buys of the year at $25, but the 2009 made an even bigger impression than usual.
This was also the year that brought us the 2009 Bordeaux red wines, one of the greatest Bordeaux vintages of our lifetime. But don't fret if you missed the opening prices: the 2010s are reported to be also outstanding. Just don't expect the trade to make too much noise about them until they have quit their stocks of '09s.
Closer to home, we saw the release of many red wines from the stellar 2010 vintage from across South Australia and Victoria. They are superb. They'll be followed by the 2011s, which was a much less successful year. The '11s won't be all bad, but they are quite patchy. Never fear: 2012 is being hailed as even better than '10 in many parts of SA and Victoria.
The first dry whites from 2012 are out and there is much joy among the rieslings, semillons and other unwooded or lightly oaked varieties, including sauvignon blanc and pinot gris.
Pinot gris/pinot grigio is a variety that ''experts'' are fond of pooh-poohing. Yes, there is a great preponderance of watery, bland examples. But the fact is that with each passing year, Australia is producing more and more good ones.
In a recent tasting, I was impressed by how many I found that I could enjoy drinking. It struck me that these wines tread a welcome path between the sometimes overpowering aromaticity and shrill acidity of young dry riesling, and the oak-powered weightiness - and attendant lack of quaffability - of many chardonnays. Good pinot gris has weight and richness without heaviness; freshness and fruit without being tart or strident. The ones to chase (all from the 2011 vintage) are Bay of Fires, Ten Minutes by Tractor 10X, Pierrepoint, Deviation Road, Kooyong Beurrot, Curly Flat Pinot Grigio, Clyde Park, Willunga 100, Native Point, Moorilla, Arete The Chameleon, De Bortoli La Boheme Act Three (2011 or '12). From 2010: Scotchmans Hill Cornelius. And from 2012: Casa Freschi Ragazzi, Paracombe, Angullong, Paradigm Hill, Devil's Corner, Ad Hoc Nitty Gritty Pinot Grigio, and a delicious newie from the Canberra district, Domaine Rogha Crois.
These are all labelled ''gris'' unless otherwise stated. Australian pinot gris is truly coming of age.
The New Zealand versions are often too sweet for my taste, but Greywacke and Nautilus 2011s are on the right track.
I tasted a lot of great 2008 barolos this year, but none stuck in the memory quite like the Elio Grasso Ginestra Vigna Casa Mate ($135). This had all the magical perfume, explosive power and complexity of flavour you could want in barolo.
Other highlights were the fabulous 2010 German rieslings and an extraordinary tasting hosted by Tuscan producer Castello di Ama, the highlight being the 2007 special bottlings, of which my pick was the Vigneto Bellavista Chianti Classico ($395): an eye-watering price for a mesmerising wine.
Australian cabernet and shiraz are categories I almost fear to discuss because there are so many worthy contenders for best of the year. Merely singling out a ''best of'' risks offending so many others. Pinot noir perhaps less so, because the 2011s, while many are very pretty, lighter wines, make up the bulk of this year's offering. I'm going back to 2010 for the two pinot noirs that rocked me this year: Kooyong Meres and Freycinet. The Kooyong is a sexy beast with a bewitching perfume (its sibling, Haven, is equally lovely); the Freycinet is beautifully complex and complete, with astonishing persistence.
New Zealand is hard to leave out of any pinot discussion, and I was blinded by a wine I'd never tasted before: Schubert Block B 2010 from the Wairarapa. I'll be over there in February and I intend to check out the source of this stunner.
In cabernet, it's hard to go past two wines I mentioned recently in this column. Cape Mentelle 2009 stood up straight and tall alongside some great wines from Bordeaux. I was even more impressed by the Woodlands Alma May '09. Rare, and expensive at $130, but worth it.
So, to the year's best shirazes. No shortage of candidates, of course, especially among the 2010s. Penfolds alone has a raft of great 2010 reds, but most are yet to be released; they're a story for another day. Rob Gibson, of the Barossa's Reserve Shiraz 2010, Penley Estate's Special Select 2009 (yes, that rare thing, a great, full-bodied Coonawarra shiraz), or Best's Great Western Bin No.1 Shiraz 2011, winner of the Jimmy Watson trophy? The latter is a lovely wine: perhaps a lucky Watson winner, but few would begrudge Best's such an accolade. My award goes to their top-rank shiraz: the 2010 Best's Thomson Family Shiraz (exxy at $180, and rare). So let's award a best-value shiraz of 2012. THAT would be the Best's Bin No.1 Shiraz 2011, at $25 a pop.