Best Australian wines of 2014: from shiraz to gruner veltliner

Illustration: Jim Pavlidis.
Illustration: Jim Pavlidis. Photo: Jim Pavlidis

There's a story about the 2014 harvest that beautifully – and painfully – puts the year's harvest across much of Victoria into perspective.

A Mornington Peninsula winemaker with 6.8 hectares of vines, knowing full well his crop would be low due to poor fruit set at flowering, put out his 400 kilogram bins and started picking. He filled just one bin, and there were many Victorian winemakers who shared his pain.

Overall, the Australian wine industry took in 1.7 million tonnes of grapes, which was less than last year but wasn't enough to reduce its oversupply issues.

Levantine Hill Estate.
Levantine Hill Estate. Photo: Brandon Rossen

The year started – and ended – with Australia's biggest wine producer, Treasury Wine Estates, rejecting a $3.1 billion takeover bid from a United Statesprivate equity firm. It was a long-running saga worthy of a soap opera.

There were birthdays: Yalumba celebrated 165 years, All Saints Estate turned 150, Brown Brothers was 125 years young while Wolf Blass (the man, not the company) blew out 80 candles.

There were deaths: Doug Lehmann, retired general manager of Peter Lehmann Wines was aged 63 and Gerry Sissingh, popular Hunter Valley wine man was 78.

Best new style: Hahndorf Hill 2014 gruner veltliner.
Best new style: Hahndorf Hill 2014 gruner veltliner. 

Births, too, with Levantine Hill Estate in the Yarra Valley starting work on its $5 million winery and cellar door, and d'Arenberg in McLaren Vale announcing its $10 million five-storey, function centre based on a Rubik's Cube – strange but true.

Stranger was the crackdown by the Winemakers' Federation of Australia on the use of the word "orange". Was there confusion out in the wine world between the wines of Orange, the wine region, and orange wines made with no additions that often look, well, orange in colour? Vigilant wine law bureaucrats thought so.

Here's the Best of 2014 . . .

Best shiraz:  Shiraz just got prettier and prettier as the year went along and I'm not talking in an ersatz pinot noir way where the fruit was so light it nearly floated away (there were those) but in a fragrant, floral way still with great presence and an abundance of charm. Shiraz doesn't have to be a brute. Wynns 2012 V&A Lane shiraz ($59.99) was such a wine. A seamless piece of winemaking.

Best cabernet: In one word: Heytesbury. The 2011 Heytesbury from Vasse Felix proved to be every bit as fine a wine as the 2010, confirming Margaret River's place at the front of cabernet sauvignon in this country. Winemaker Virginia Willcock is one talented interpreter of the grape.

Best pinot noir: Dirty Three Winemakers? Never heard of it? You will. Dirty Three 2013 Holgates Road pinot noir ($45) landed with a bang reminding us all just how good South Gippsland is with the grape. Winemaker Marcus "Satchy" Satchell goes for ultra-low yields and highly concentrated fruit characters that reveal a deliciously textural, herbal edge down among the red berries.

Best rose: Strictly speaking this isn't an Australian rose but it is made each year by an Australian winemaker and it proved to be the best of 2014, so it's in. Each year, after completing vintage in McLaren Vale, Rose Kentish of Ulithorne travels to Provence to make her Epoch rose ($34) at Domaine de la Sangliere. The grapes are 50-50 cinsault and grenache and in 2013 she got the delicious factor so right: fresh strawberries, clean, bright.

Best rose: Ulithorne 2013 Epoch rose.
Best rose: Ulithorne 2013 Epoch rose. 

Best riesling: "Each vintage you work within the won't and will of a rampart power," says Leo Buring winemaker, Peter Munro. Such was 2014 when his Clare Valley riesling vineyards suffered 11 days of 40C or more, then rain. After the rain he picked his 2014 Watervale Leonay DWR18. He landed a beauty, more in the generous mould than not, but so perfectly poised.

Best chardonnay: You know you are onto something when a wine still taste as delicious on day three as it did on day one. Such is the story with Giant Steps 2013 Tarraford Vineyard chardonnay from the Yarra Valley ($45), a complete and well-knit wine for one so young. Winemaker Steve Flamsteed puts its longevity after opening down to good tannins (yes, they're there in whites). Or maybe it's good management.

Best new style: Gruner veltliner –  "grooner" – suffers from one of those names that can prove tricky to pronounce for some, but persevere because it has a big future in this country and you'll be seeing a lot more of it. Think green (the name translates as "the green wine of Veltlin"). Green apples, green herbs, citrus, texture, and plenty of it, with a Germanic-style spiciness can all be found in Hahndorf Hill 2014 gruner veltliner ($28) from the Adelaide Hills.  

Best chardonnay: Giant Steps 2013 Tarraford Vineyard.
Best chardonnay: Giant Steps 2013 Tarraford Vineyard. 

Best imported wine: What, a pinot noir from Germany? Every time Bernhard Huber's Schlossberg Spatburgunder pinot gets an airing it receives the same incredulous remark. Get over it. Germany can do pinot very well, lead by top exponent, Bernhard Huber. Sadly, he died in June but he leaves big shoes for his son, Julian, to fill: 2011 Schlossberg Grosses Gewachs, $160 – a single vineyard wine with a powerfully aromatic presence. Tight as a drum and yet to make the full reveal.

Best sparkling: No more the oxymoron, aged Australian sparkling wine is very much a reality. This year, Jansz 2005 late-disgorged cuvee chardonnay pinot noir made a strong pitch on both quality and price, just $50. Top value there. Extended bottle ageing explores a new world of flavours and here, Jansz sings: buttered toast, nougat, berry compote with scintillating fresh acidity carrying clean line and length.

Best fortified: Brother John May, a national wine treasure, saw fit to plant touriga, the Portuguese port variety, at Sevenhill Cellars in the Clare Valley. He loves the grape. What's not to love, especially when it is used for what it was intended? The 2008 vintage touriga ($45, CD) is way too young to drink, still vinous and fruit forward, but complexity and richness are promised. One for the cellar.