Births, deaths, openings and closings, the Good Food wine writers reflect on the year and share their top wines of 2015.
There are many in the Australian wine industry who can't wait to see the back of 2015. While vintage conditions across the country were generally good, and no doubt some cracker wines were made, it was other matters that weighed on the minds of those in wine. Mostly they had to do with profit and taxes.
In July, the Winemakers' Federation of Australia released a bombshell of a report naming the least profitable regions across the country (the warm inland areas such as the Riverland, Margaret River, the Hunter Valley) and the odd few not going backwards (Tasmania, Barossa Valley).
Profit was also at the centre of the long-running debate on whether the WET (Wine Equalisation Tax) rebate should be scrapped following revelations of widespread rorting.
There were birthdays: Tahbilk 1860 Vines shiraz (150), Chateau Tanunda (125), Coldstream Hills (30), Jim Barry Wines The Armagh shiraz (30), Domaine Chandon (30), House of Arras (20) and Grampians Estate (20).
There were deaths: highly influential South Australian wine men, Guenter Prass (Orlando) and the big-hearted Bob McLean (Orlando, St. Hallett). And retirements announced for winemakers Bernard Hicklin at Jacob's Creek and fifth generation of the famous Hardy's Wines family, Bill Hardy.
On the Mornington Peninsula, pioneering producer, Main Ridge was sold by retiring owners, Nat and Rosalie White; Penfolds unveiled a multi-million dollar renovation at Penfolds Magill Estate including a swish new Grange tasting room and long-time Hunter winemaker, Andrew Thomas finally got around to launching his own cellar door.
Italian grape varieties fiano and prosecco made a move into the mainstream, cabernet sauvignon continued to feel unloved while pinot noir could do no wrong.
And in the hottest year ever recorded, Australian winemakers were greeted with the news that El Nino was back this summer.
Which wines stood out this year? Here's the Good Food wine writers' hit list.
Jeni Port's top five
La Violetta 2014 Das Sakrileg Riesling, $32
A rebellious wine, preaching a different winemaking credo, from the Great Southern region – oxidised juice, wild ferment in barrel, little protective sulphur, ageing in old oak barrels to introduce texture – bringing forth something dark, suggestive of wild things. This is not bright and bouncy, rather drawn out, complex, savoury and textural. We can look forward to the 2015 release in January.
Ageing? Will do five years easy.
Drink this when … You're feeling adventurous.
Eat with … Antipasto or caramelised onion tart.
Stockists include Blackhearts & Sparrows (Vic), Australian Wine Centre (NSW), website differentdrop.com.
Ben Haines 2012 Warramunda Encore Marsanne, $32
Lovers of marsanne – and they're out there – will see the hand of an experienced marsanne maker behind this spectacularly delicious wine. Ben Haines, ex-Mitchelton, has history with the grape and, importantly, an open, enquiring mind. He sources Yarra Valley fruit and plays to the grape's subtle fruit side – spring flowers, citrus, beeswax honey thread, jasmine – adding some spice and texture after leaving the wine 10 months on lees.
Ageing? Should still be looking good in 2020-21.
Drink this when … You're tired of chardonnay or pinot gris.
Eat with … Roast chicken with preserved lemon stuffing.
Stockists include Bonds Corner Fine Wine (NSW), firstname.lastname@example.org and Cutler & Co. (Vic).
Penfolds Max's 2013 Shiraz Cabernet, $35
Launched around the same time as the new $450 Penfolds super red – Max 2012 shiraz cabernet – its modestly priced sibling was all but ignored. The sceptic might doubt the maker's intentions (how many times can Penfolds name a wine in honour of the creator of Grange, Max Schubert?) but this trad Aussie blend deserves attention by the power of its highly polished personality, its dark berries, spice and smoothness. Penfolds does effortless elegance so well.
Ageing? No reason why it won't see eight to 10 years.
Drink this when … You're after a great Aussie all-rounder.
Eat with … Eight-hour smoky pulled pork and slaw.
Stockists include Dan Murphy's, Templestowe Cellars (Vic), Chambers Cellars (NSW).
James & Co. 2013 Sangiovese, $35
Too many Aussie sangioveses taste like nondescript dry reds, which is why this Beechworth-born sangio stands out in the pack. Working with excellent fruit is obviously the key. Bright red fruits to start, layers of spice, touch of charcuterie, macerated cherries dominating the expansive middle palate, this wine has a savoury, dry European feel.
Drink this when … Planning an Italian-inspired meal.
Eat with … Grilled Italian sausages, pancetta and porcini mushroom risotto.
Stockists include jamesandcowines.com.au, Tani Eat & Drink (Bright), the Border Wine Room (Albury).
Clyde Park Block D 2014 Pinot Noir, $75
A Geelong vineyard that has had its ups and downs over the years, is definitely on the up under new owners Terry Jongebloed and Sue Jongebloed-Dixon. This is a marvellously complex wine, so expressive in its youthfulness with so much yet to reveal. Red-black berries, a touch of wild ferment funk, a smoothness through the mouth with persistent tannins, Block D highlights the beauty, individuality of the single vineyard ... and Geelong.
Ageing? Serious potential here, up to 10-15 years.
Drink this when … In the mood to celebrate.
Eat with … Pork belly salad, duck pie.
Stockists include clydepark.com.au.
Ralph Kyte-Powell's top five
Deviation Road Loftia Vintage Brut 2013, $40-$45
An Adelaide Hills sparkler that shows how far Oz fizz has come. Citrus and herb fruit character, light biscuit and vanilla cream notes, quiet complexity, lovely texture and balance.
Ageing? Drink over three years.
Drink this when … You need a tonic before facing family and guests at Christmas.
Eat with … Pre-dinner nibbles.
Stockists include Prince Wine Store (South Melbourne, Vic), City Cellars Sydney (NSW).
Pikes The Merle Clare Valley Riesling 2015, $42-$45
Clare Valley riesling rarely gets better than this. Musky florals, lime, white peach, cinnamon and steel on the nose; rich concentration yet easy poise in the mouth, an endless aftertaste.
Ageing? Yes, from two to 20 years.
Drink this when … You need to show somebody what Australian riesling is all about.
Eat with … Chicken with lemongrass and chilli.
Stockists include Five Way Cellars, Paddington (NSW); Prince Wine Store, South Melbourne (Vic).
Tolpuddle Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, $60-$65
Tasmanian chardonnay that nods towards chablis. White stone fruits, citrus, dissolved mineral notes, near invisible oak on the nose, superfine, lip-smacking, sustained in the mouth.
Ageing? Yes, two to eight years plus.
Drink this when … You have a dozen freshly shucked oysters in front of you.
Eat with … The freshest of seafood.
Stockists: Tasted in late 2015 and due for release in early 2016. Check website tolpuddlevineyard.com.
Hay Shed Hill Block 2 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, $50-$55
Margaret River cabernet can top $100, but this is great regional style for half that. Violets, cassis, cedar and briary characters run through a middleweight mouthful of superb purity and balance.
Ageing? Drink it over 15 years.
Drink this when … You're entertaining men in suits.
Eat with … Roast leg of lamb.
Stockists include Sixty Darling Street (NSW); Star City Liquor (Vic).
Seppelt St Peters Shiraz 2014, $75-$80
A Victorian classic from a benchmark Great Western estate. Complex, harmonious, rich, mellow, soft and long on the finish, it drinks well now but will evolve beautifully with age.
Ageing? Drink it over 15 years.
Drink this when… You're saluting Australia's red wine heritage.
Eat with … Beef fillet with mushroom ragout.
Stockists include Prince Wine Store, South Melbourne (Vic), Zetland (NSW).
Huon Hooke's top five
Crawford River Riesling, Henty 2014, $40
A wine of wonderful finesse, as aromatic as a bouquet of wildflowers, the palate not austerely bone-dry but soft and balanced. It's never released until it's 18 months old.
Ageing? Best now to 2029.
Drink this when … You need to soften up your mother-in-law for a big favour.
Eat with … Ceviche of kingfish.
Stockists include Rathdowne Cellars (Vic), Five Way Cellars (NSW).
Voyager Estate Project V9 Old Block Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River 2011, $90
A powerful yet elegant cabernet loaded with black fruit and olive, liquorice nuances, no herbal notes and terrific depth of palate flavour. Its age is a bonus.
Ageing? Now to 20+ years.
Drink this when … You're snow-bound by a blizzard on a skiing holiday.
Eat with … Thick-cut, rare, barbecued rump steak.
Winery: voyagerestate.com.au 08 8 9757 6354.
Tyrrell's Johnno's Shiraz, Hunter Valley 2014, $70
Arguably the rarest and greatest of the clutch of Tyrrell's single-vineyard shirazes, from one of the Hunter's best red-wine years in living memory. Tight, earthy/savoury, powerful, tremendously long.
Ageing? Best 2020 to 2049.
Drink this when … You can't bear to leave it in the cellar any longer.
Eat with… Aged parmigiana reggiano cheese.
Thomas Wines Braemore Cellar Reserve Semillon, Hunter Valley 2009, $50
Beautifully mature and rich, as opulent as Hunter semillon gets, but still delicate, savoury and just a little bit racy.
Ageing? Best now to 2020.
Drink this when … You have guests who enjoy great aged dry whites.
Eat with … Pan-fried flathead with plenty of lemon juice.
Stockists include Prince Wine Store (Vic), Five Way Cellars (NSW).
Framingham F-Series Trockenbeerenauslese Riesling Marlborough 2014, $97 (375ml)
The top of a very tall tree for Andrew Hedley's Framingham. It's hard to name a better sweet wine producer in the southern hemisphere. Fragrant, luscious, penetrating.
Ageing? Now to 10-plus years.
Drink this when … You have a famous German or Austrian winemaker visiting whom you want to impress.
Eat with … Pavlova – and argue whether it's an Aussie or Kiwi dish.
Stockists include City Wine Shop (Vic), Best Cellars (NSW), and Prince Wine Store (both cities).
Cathy Gowdie's top five
Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve NV, $70
With so many small champagne grower-producers making wines of character and refinement, the non-vintage output of some of the biggest French houses sometimes seems a little run-of-the-mill. Billecart's pale, fine-beaded, lightly toasty NV is a reminder that long-established marques are capable of great elegance and precision as well as consistency.
Ageing? You could, but it's made for drinking now.
Drink this when … You can find the cash and a plausible excuse.
Eat with … Your sweetheart; scrambled eggs with salmon roe optional.
Stockists include Camperdown Cellars (NSW), Nicks Wine Merchants (Vic).
Tyrrell's Lost Block Semillon 2015, $18
My vote for loveliest semillon of the year goes to Briar Ridge's Dairy Hill 2015 ($35) but the one I drank most often was Tyrrell's lemony, juicy, easy-on-the-pocket Lost Block 2014. They've moved to the 2015 but earlier vintages are worth hunting down. Despite the jokey label, it's true Hunter semillon in a zesty unoaked style that loves south-east Asian cooking.
Ageing? Good plan, up to five years.
Drink this when … Takeaway Vietnamese looks irresistible.
Eat with ... Rice paper rolls; lemongrass chicken.
Stockists include Camperdown Cellars (NSW), Mayerling Cellars, Croydon (Vic).
Paringa Estate Chardonnay 2014, $35
A cool-climate wine from the hills of the Mornington Peninsula, this Red Hill chardonnay from Lindsay McCall is beautifully paced: fine and floral on the nose with a whiff of white peach, a modicum of nutty French oak on the palate, and a clean but lingering finish.
Ageing? Yes, four to six years.
Drink this when … Your dinner guest claims not to like chardonnay. They won't know what they're missing; all the more for you.
Eat with … Pan-cooked snapper or barramundi; pasta primavera.
Stockists include Elwood Wine & Spirits (Vic), Prince Wine Store, Zetland (NSW).
Cullen Amber 2014, $39
Vanya Cullen took her family's Margaret River vineyard biodynamic long before "natural" was fashionable. Her first foray into the orange zone shows the character and balance you'd expect of a winemaker of her pedigree and smarts. It's textural without being overly tannic, with autumn fruits and a touch of honey.
Ageing? This is the first vintage; Cullen suggests up to 10 years.
Drink this when … Feeling fretful about your carbon footprint – when it comes to treading lightly on the earth, anything from Cullen is the genuine article.
Eat with … Herbed, grilled quail or chicken; sweet potato fries.
Stockists include City Wine Shop, Melbourne (Vic), Castlecrag Cellars (NSW).
Pooley Pinot Noir 2013, $36
If I had a dollar for every pinot aficionado I've heard applaud this wine from southern Tasmania's Coal River region I'd have enough to buy another bottle. It's earthy, savoury, replete with red and dark fruits, and thumbs its impressively aromatic nose at those misguided folk who don't think pinot can stand up to beef dishes.
Ageing? Yes, to 2018.
Drink this when … You've got burgundy geeks coming for dinner, to show 'em what Tassie can do.
Eat with … Rare roast beef; Chinese barbecue duck.
Stockists include Annandale Cellars (NSW), Harry + Frankie, Port Melbourne (Vic).