We wine lovers are spoilt rotten. There's more good wine today than ever before.
It's a first-world problem, but every year it's more difficult to single out a few wines as the best of the crop. It would be simple to draw up a list of super-expensive bottles, unaffordable to most readers. Penfolds 2010 Bin 170 Shiraz (98 points from me) at $1800 a pop? Salon Blanc de Blancs 2002 ($850)? Dom Perignon 2004 ($200)? Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2005 ($350)? All great wines, but out of reach for most of us.
The wines that most excited me this year were not those with stratospheric prices – we expect them to be great – but those offering great value for money. That doesn't necessarily mean they're all cheap.
Top 20 wines
Tyrrell's Vat 1 Semillon, Hunter Valley 2009 $80 99/100
I have never rated a Hunter semillon as highly as this. I simply cannot recall being more impressed by a new release as this 5-year-old from Tyrrell's, the masters of the style. It is a great wine of phenomenal length and character. The light-yellow colour and bouquet are strikingly youthful for its age, the latter showing little sign of toasty development, instead, subtle notes of lemon, herbs, beeswax and candle-wax. It's amazingly full of fruit and richness on the palate, filling up the entire mouth with flavour that lasts and lasts. All this is delivered with impeccable harmony. A gob-smacking wine. Drink for 10+ years.
Pepper Tree Coquun Shiraz, Hunter Valley 2013 $60 97/100
Pepper Tree has released two great 2013 reds from the historic Tallawanta vineyard in Pokolbin. The other is the Tallawanta Shiraz 2013 ($90), which is a massive wine that will live for 40 or 50 years. I marginally prefer the Coquun for its greater elegance. Like the Tallawanta it has great drive and penetration, with smoky coal-dust regional characters, raspberry, cherry, violet and spices; a beautiful and concentrated wine which I can already enjoy, although it will also live long. Drink for 35+ years.
Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard The Peake Cabernet Shiraz, McLaren Vale 2012 $150 96/100
Jackson Family Estates of the US bought this established vineyard about three years ago and each year since 2012, California based winemaker Chris Carpenter has flown out to work the vintage with local winemaker Charlie Seppelt, crafting these outstanding new wines. The first release consists of a shiraz, a cabernet sauvignon and a merlot (all 2012, $75 and great), but the flagship cabernet shiraz is my pick. It has density, depth and extract rarely seen. A wine of great power and persistence. A new star is born – or should that be re-born? Drink for 25+ years.
Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz, Eden Valley 2012 $139 97/100
The 60th release from this famous vineyard is shaping as the most acclaimed Edelstone new release in years, a polished, elegant shiraz of perfect ripeness, fruit-driven and wonderfully harmonious in the mouth. The aromas are of spices, raspberry and violet with a charcoal note. Age for two to 30+ years.
Keller Von der Fels Riesling, Rheinhessen 2013 $54 96/100
Keller is a star winemaker in Germany's Rheinhessen, pushing out great riesling at many levels between about $40 and $300. This is one of his cheaper wines, but what a cracker! It offers a richness, concentration and textural charm that we simply don't see in the southern hemisphere. Zesty and vibrant, with a winning combination of power and finesse. Drink for 10+ years.
Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay, Tasmania, Henty & Adelaide Hills 2012 $150 97/100
I could have included at least five reds from the latest Penfolds releases but the honours fall to this, possibly the best Yattarna yet made. The mesmerising thing about Yattarna is its purity of flavour. It's insanely youthful, tight and refined, yet also concentrated and astonishingly long in the mouth. Flavours include nougat, almond, spices and citrus fruits. Drink for 12+ years.
Wines by KT Melva Riesling, Clare Valley 2014 $30 96/100
Kerri Thompson produces a suite of marvellous rieslings, grown and made with minimal intervention. Wild fermented riesling is far less common in Australia than, say, chardonnay. Kerri's wines have depth and character, this one especially appealing because of its texture and precision. Bright lemon/lime aromas with a tinge of dried herbs; the palate has tremendous line and length, delivered with terrific balance. Drink for 12+ years.
No, this is not a token Kiwi! It is simply the most amazing bargain from Marlborough I've seen this year, and just happens to also be one of the best "straight" New Zealand sauvignon blancs I've tasted this year. Retailer getwinesdirect.com has been selling it for $12, which defies reason (more stock is due late January). It has an intense and charming lemongrass aroma, ripe and not sweaty or vegetal. The flavour is focused, concentrated and intense, energised by mouth-watering acidity, the finish clean and properly dry. A far cry from your typical Marlborough savvy. Drink for six+ years.
By Farr Sangreal Pinot Noir, Geelong 2012 $75 97/100
I think this is the best Farr pinot made to date. It's dark-cherry scented, the foresty whole-bunch character an undercurrent rather than dominating. Fresh and alive with a fine texture and long carry, it has great power, purity and character. And loads of potential. Drink for 20 years.
Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay, Margaret River 2013 $68 96/100
Intense, complex grapefruit, lime and toasted-nut aromas of great charm and appeal. A superb wine of restrained but concentrated flavour, great finesse and persistence. Drink for 10+ years.
Hardy's Eileen Hardy Chardonnay, Tasmania & Yarra Valley 2013 $90 96/100
A multi-faceted style with traces of butter and smoky sulfides. Fresh acidity enlivens the crisp, bracing palate. Fine, tight and intense: great precision and length. Drink for nine+ years.
Arras E.J. Carr Late Disgorged Chardonnay Pinot Noir Brut, Tasmania 2002 $140 96/100
Australia's answer to Krug: a wine of monumental character thanks to its mellow, aged complexities derived from great fruit and 10 years on lees.
Seppelt Drumborg Vineyard Chardonnay, Henty 2013 $43 96/100
A pale and reserved wine that exemplifies mod Oz chardonnay. Restrained bouquet of straw/hay, grapefruit and honey. Very fine, reserved, long and distinguished. It has room to grow. Drink for nine+ years.
De Bortoli Estate Grown Chardonnay, Yarra Valley 2013 $30 95/100
A compelling biscuit, nougat, nectarine and complex sulfide bouquet. Rich, intense but fine palate, and it's only 12.7 per cent alcohol. Great value. Drink for seven+ years.
Briar Ridge Stockhausen Semillon, Hunter Valley 2014 $28 95/100
Crisp, grassy aromas of lemongrass and fresh salad leaves; very frisky on the palate, tangy and lifted. It would be hard to imagine a brighter, fresher young semillon. Great intensity. Superb now but well worth cellaring. Drink for 10+ years.
Yarra Yering Dry Red Wine No. 3, Yarra Valley 2012 $86 95/100
A brilliant blend of six Portuguese varieties. Spices, nuts and restrained black and blue fruit aromas of great charm and purity. Perfect ripeness and balance. Age for two to 18+ years.
By Farr Chardonnay, Geelong 2012 $68 97/100
The best chardonnay the Farr family has produced, and there have been some rippers. Lemony primary fruit plus nutty, mealy, creamy lees and oak inputs, all in perfect harmony. Deliciously mouth-watering. A great chardonnay that would beat almost anything you could pit against it. Drink for five+ years.
S.C. Pannell Syrah, Adelaide Hills 2013 $30 96/100
Tremendously intense black cherry, blood plum and sweet spice-cupboard aromas; licoricey fruit sweetness surrounded by fine but firm tannins, leading to a structured and incredibly long finish. The deserving 2014 Jimmy Watson Trophy winner. Drink for 25+ years.
Charles Orban Brut Blanc de Blancs, Champagne NV $46-$48 94/100
Complex and alluring bready, dried-flower and honey aromas, the palate full and fluffy-soft with mouth-filling richness and a clean, dry finish. My pick of the discount Champagnes for Christmas. A Dan Murphy's import.
Tudor Shiraz, Central Victoria 2013 $13 89/100
This Aldi exclusive is a giant-killer, winning three trophies, two gold and two silver medals in recent wine shows. Fresh cherry and banana aromas, medium-weight, soft and fruit-driven. One of the bargains of the year. Drink for seven+ years.