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Wine

An organic matter

There is little doubt the organics movement is sweeping the world, particularly in relation to food. The reasons for this are simple – the belief that organic food not only tastes better, but is better for you and for the environment given it is sustainably farmed. When it comes to the wine world, the same fervent push of the organic movement is no less forceful, it’s just taken longer to catch on.

Mark Davidson, Managing Director and Chief Winemaker of Australia’s largest organic wine producer, Tamburlaine Organic Wines, reckons he knows why – a lack of understanding of organics in wine production, and a difficulty in breaking down long held practices in viticulture.

While conventional viticulture uses chemical fertilizers annually to maintain grape yields, and pesticides to indiscriminately kill bugs, organic farming only uses natural biodegradable inputs and treats bugs with a range of beneficial biodiversity such as companion plants and good bugs.

“At its heart, organic viticulture is about improving the health of soils naturally,” says Mark. “It’s about restoring organic matter, which is the home for moisture and microbiology in soils – that’s what makes soils and vines healthy.”

Conventional to contemporary

While Mark is a flag bearer for organic farming, he hasn’t always been. When he first started in winemaking at Tamburlaine in the Hunter Valley in the mid 80s, he too used conventional farming.

“I came in fairly naively, thinking the chemical providers to the wine industry must have identified what works and what doesn’t. But they didn’t always work and every time they didn’t, there was an excuse,” explains Mark.

“We have some challenging soils in the Hunter and I’d made 14 years of chemical applications to improve soils, but without much effect. So what was the alternative? That’s when I started thinking organics.

“After a long period of vineyard observation and trials, in 2002 we took the first steps toward organic certification for some of our Hunter Valley blocks. This meant a full management program which replaced synthetic chemicals, improved soil organic matter and simulated the vines’ natural defences.”

It was hard work. While there was some limited information on organic farming, hardly any of it was in relation to the wine industry, so Mark’s work into organic viticulture was pioneering. And viewed as somewhat risky.

“People thought I had lost it,” he says. “But it actually reminds me of the period when Australia changed to screw caps. Winemakers around the world thought we were mad. Nowadays, science and quality of wines aged under stelvin have proven we were right to ditch cork. I am confident it will be the same with organic winemaking. When you step back, it is really sound contemporary thinking.”

Scientifically sound

The other challenge to convincing people about organic wines is that it’s not just a bunch of hippies growing grapes and trying to make them into wine without any winemaking knowledge.  

“Twenty years ago, what had been produced in the name of organics was not necessarily good stuff,” Mark says. “But that has got nothing to do with what we do today in terms of contemporary organics farming. There is a whole lot of background science to this – it is not just some ethereal feel good philosophy.

“Science has moved quickly in our direction in providing biodegradable certified organic products for vineyards and wineries. So now there are many more tools at our disposal to make top class wine.

“I know that, so does Vanya Cullen (from Cullen Wines) in West Australia, Chester Osborn (d’Arenberg), Prue Henschke and various professionals around the country, and the world, are moving this way.

“We’re all enthused not only about the outcomes, but how practically and effectively we can farm using contemporary organic systems because science is providing improved solutions.

“So we’ve got the answers now that we didn’t have 10 years ago, to prove what we know benefits the vines without using inputs that are potentially destructive to soil. As far as sustainable viticulture goes, we now have the answers.”

Better wines

With 14 hectares of vines in the Hunter certified organic and 200 hectares recently certified in the Orange wine region, Tamburlaine’s award-winning wines are proof that organic winemaking is not only viable, but is the way of the future. Ultimately, consumers will decide by buying wines they love. But if you ask Mark two questions about his experience with organic winemaking at Tamburlaine Organic Wines, it is convincing.

Are the soils better, now?

“Yes, more organic matter and better pH –  they’re the two measureables.”

Are the wines better?

“Absolutely. The wines we are making are better than ever. And, they are of consistent quality, and that’s really important.”

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A Beginner’s Guide to Organic Wine
Know the difference between organic, biodynamic and vegan wines with this simple guide from Wine Selectors! If you’re an attentive wine lover, you may have noticed an increase in the number of wineries using terms like organic, natural or biodynamic on their labels, or when speaking about their product. These aren’t mere marketing diversions, either. Instead, each term reflects distinctive approaches to winemaking, many of which have emerged in response to a rise in the number of people practicing conscious consumption, and a desire on the part of growers and winemakers to experiment and embrace more sustainable techniques. So, what makes each different from the next? Let’s find out. ORGANIC WINE At its simplest, organic wines are exactly what they sound like – wines produced with organically-grown grapes, free from herbicides, pesticides and other artificial chemical agents. To control for weeds and bugs, growers utilise cover crops to attract benign bugs known to repel the nasties, or have livestock like sheep graze between the rows to reduce weeds. The idea is that the vineyard becomes a self-regulating ecosystem. It doesn’t mean that these wines are free from sulphur or other additives, however – many of which are also organic – but they are often present in lesser quantities.  There are two certifying bodies in Australia that wineries will cite to prove their organic credentials. One is Australian Certified Organic (ACO) , while the other is the National Association or Sustainable Agriculture (NASAA) . Seeing their logo is your assurance that the wine you’re thinking of drinking has passed the requirements for organic classification. They’ve certainly come a long way since they were first introduced to market, with wineries such as the Hunter Valley ’s Tamburlaine turning out award-winning examples of the category. And with younger drinkers in particular choosing organic produce wherever possible, we believe organic wines will only grow in popularity. BIODYNAMIC WINE Not to be confused with organic wine, biodynamic wine is an approach to winemaking that takes inspiration from the work of late 19 th -century spiritual thinker Rudolf Steiner. Like organic wines, growers and winemakers refrain from pesticides and chemical fertilisers, and consider the vineyard as an integrated and holistic system. One key distinction from organic wines however is the use of biodynamic soil ‘supplements’ and astrologically-informed planting, pruning and harvesting schedules. From chamomile and yarrow formulations to cow horns loaded with manure, buried and then dug up again according to specific lunar timings, it’s a blend of solid scientific thinking and inspired mysticism ­­­– with the resulting wines gaining increasing recognition for their quality and varietal expressiveness. Think of it as a supercharged version of organic farming, which is finding more and more fans and proponents of its distinctive approach. PRESERVATIVE-FREE WINE As mentioned above, just because you’re buying an organic wine doesn’t mean it will be preservative-free. For that, you’ll need to seek out a preservative-free wine – often referred to as a wine created through ‘minimal intervention’. The most common preservative used in wine is sulphur dioxide (SO2). Often, you’ll see it listed on the label as ‘preservative 220’, or even ‘antioxidant 220’. It’s an entirely natural by-product of winemaking, and not necessarily a bad thing at all. It’s typically produced by yeast during the fermentation process – and happens to act as protection against bacteria and other nasties, while helping neutralise the effects of oxygen exposure during the winemaking process. Sulphites are common as preservative agents also – hence the ‘may contain sulphites’ notice you’ll see on many bottles. But the better the grapes are handled in the vineyard and the better the quality of the fruit, the less need there is to add any such preservatives.  And, despite the common misconception, sulphites aren’t really to blame for your wine headache – a more likely cause is the phenolics (tannins), the alcohol content, or even the wine’s natural acidity. However, if you’re someone who experiences tightness in the chest, coughing or symptoms similar to asthma when drinking wine, they are likely signs of a sulphite allergy or intolerance – making any wine labelled ‘preservative-free’ the best choice to indulge in when it’s time for a tipple. VEGAN WINE A lot of people may wonder, how is my wine not vegan already? It’s a fair question, as wine is essentially fermented grape juice where yeasts facilitate the conversion of the fruit’s natural sugars into alcohol… isn’t it? Well, yes… but that’s only part of the typical winemaking process. Where things get un-vegan is in the fining process, which is meant to clear up the ‘haze’ created by the proteins, tannins and tartrate during the creation of a wine. To speed the settlement of this haze, winemakers generally use fining agents such as isinglass (fish protein), gelatin (animal protein), catein (a milk-derived protein), and egg whites (albumin) to act as coagulants, binding the elements that make up the haze, and making them easier to remove from the final wine.  Happily for vegans, a number of wines are appearing today that use alternative fining agents like activated charcoal, or bentonite – a clay-based agent. More and more winemakers are also leaving their wines to ‘self-fine’ or stabilise without the use of any such protein agents. That means that if you’re a vegan wine lover, you’ll find more options out there to satisfy that love than ever – but make sure to check the label for the vegan symbol, the words vegan-friendly, or for whether the wine is unfined/unfiltered. If in doubt, ask. For more info on vegan wines, check out our guide here .  A WIDER WORLD OF WINE No doubt, innovation and an increasingly educated consumer base has broadened the availability and acceptance of such wines. And the best thing about it all is that there really is no trade-off in quality, unlike the bad old days when organic wines were largely to be avoided. Today’s organic, biodynamic and vegan wines are delightfully delicious expressions in their own right. So, who’s for a glass of wine with fewer chemicals, a smaller ecological footprint and perhaps less chance of leaving you a little sorry the next morning? We’ll drink to that! Interested in experiencing that organic flavour for yourself? View our range of organic and vegan-friendly wines here !
Wine
Hunter Valley Shiraz Member Tasting
Words by Jackie Macdonald on 31 Aug 2016
Hunter Valley  winemakers have embraced their unique style of Shiraz and it’s set to become a timeless classic Fashion is a strange beast. Whether it’s moulding what we wear, what we eat or the car we drive, it’s hard to escape its influence. Even winemaking is at the mercy of fashion with critics often the ones to set the trends. One of recent history’s greatest influencers has been Robert Parker Jr, a US-based doyen of wine who has been described in  The Wall Street Journal   as being “widely regarded as the world’s most powerful wine critic.” Parker has always shown a predilection for  Barossa  Shiraz with its bold, generous, full-bodied characters and during the 1990s he really helped put this South Australian region on the world wine stage. But where did that leave other regions whose Shiraz fell short of Parker’s preference for the voluptuous? According to Hunter Valley winemaker Andrew Thomas,  Shiraz  producers in his region attempted to emulate the Barossa style. “They left the fruit on the vine for longer, added tannins, used too much new oak.” That wasn’t the only challenge affecting Hunter Valley Shiraz at this time. Unfortunately, some of the region’s wineries were affected by a spoilage yeast called Brettanomyces, which led to the development of the ‘sweaty saddle or barnyard character’ you might have heard associated with the style. While it should be savoury, Andrew says, Hunter Shiraz shouldn’t have these characters. An Optimistic Outlook
This all added up to a crying shame because the Hunter has its own unique brand of Shiraz that’s very different to that of the Barossa, but with equal appeal. Thankfully, Andrew goes on to describe, around ten years ago, Hunter winemakers made a unified effort to rid the region of Brettanomyces. They also came to the realisation that they had something special to offer and embraced the Hunter’s distinct style of Shiraz. The key to allowing Hunter Shiraz to show its true beauty is “letting the vineyard do the talking”, says Andrew. Fellow Hunter winemaker and Hunter Valley Living Legend Phil Ryan agrees, calling the vineyard the “principle number one factor” in Shiraz success. Add to that vine age and site selection, where you’ve got red soils over limestone, and you’ve got a winning formula. The result is a style of Shiraz that’s vibrant, fruit driven and, as Phil describes, “more user friendly”. While in the past winemakers had to rely on bottle ageing to soften the wines, Phil says, today “they’re basically made to drink as they’re bottled.” That’s not to say that Hunter Shiraz has lost its capacity to age. “The great vineyards have the potential to mature for decades,” Phil says. So Hunter winemakers are excited about their Shiraz and success is rolling in on the wine show front, but does this equate to consumer appeal? Happily, contemporary Hunter winemakers now have fashion on their side. Having recently returned from a European sojourn, Phil experienced first hand the demand for fresh, flavoursome reds with a lighter tannin structure. “Hunter Shiraz with its medium body and fruit sweetness on the palate can compete with what people see as modern red wines – Sangiovese  ,  Tempranillo  or even  Pinot Noir  from various countries.” The Wines of the Tasting Peter Drayton Wines Premium Release Shiraz 2014 Tulloch Wines Pokolbin Dry Red Shiraz 2014 Allandale Matthew Single Vineyard Shiraz 2014 Brokenwood Wines Shiraz 2014 Pepper Tree Limited Release Shiraz 2014 Margan Shiraz 2014 Hart & Hunter Single Vineyard Series Ablington Shiraz 2014 Mount Eyre Three Ponds Holman Shiraz 2014 De Iuliis Shiraz 2014 Sobels Shiraz 2013 The Little Wine Co Little Gem Shiraz 2013 Andrew Thomas Elenay Barrel Selection Shiraz 2014 First Creek Winemaker’s Reserve Shiraz 2014 Usher Tinkler Wines Reserve Shiraz 2014 Tyrrell’s Wines Vat 9 Shiraz 2013 Mount Pleasant Rosehill Vineyard Shiraz 2013 Leogate Estate Wines The Basin Reserve Shiraz 2013 Petersons Back Block Shiraz 2013 Judge and Jury
When it comes to the attraction of Hunter Shiraz, the Tasting Panel needs no convincing. As our  resident Hunter expert Nicole Gow  describes, “there’s nothing overpowering about this style and its beautiful savouriness and medium weight makes it a wonderful food wine.” The question is, are Australian wine-lovers on board with the new face of Hunter Shiraz? To find out, the Panel decided to put a line-up of Hunter Shiraz to the taste test in the company of some Wine Selectors members. Joining the judging team of Nicole Gow and Trent Mannell were members Melissa and Tony Calder and Marilyn Willoughby, along with winemaker Andrew Thomas. The Tasting When the guests were asked what they liked in their reds, the resounding answer was smoothness. One of the smoothest Shiraz of the tasting turned out to be Andrew Thomas’ Elenay Shiraz 2014 , which Marilyn also admired for its lovely spicy appeal. The story behind this wine is a colourful one, so perhaps skip to the next paragraph if you’re sensitive to strong language. In 2011, Andrew found himself with some leftover barrels of two of his other premium Shiraz. These barrels became known as the ‘lips and arseholes’, but when they were blended together, they actually produced a standout Shiraz. So the label – Elenay (L and A) was continued and has enjoyed great success since. While the majority of the wines in the tasting lived up to the regional reputation for being medium-bodied, there were a couple of fuller styles among the standouts. The Little Wine Company Little Gem Shiraz 2013 was described as “a wine for the oak-lovers”, which Melissa and Marilyn both enjoyed. The other was the Pepper Tree Limited Release Shiraz 2014, which Nicole praised for its generous plummy fruit. The wine that really brought all the tasters together was the De Iuliis Shiraz 2014, which was described as having “beautiful balance with long, spicy elegant tannins”. Overall, our members left impressed with the Hunter Shiraz they tasted and will definitely be adding more examples to their collection. So let’s hope that now there’s a new found confidence in the style from local winemakers, wine-lovers will share in their enthusiasm and Hunter Shiraz will become a timeless classic in the world of wine fashion.
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Diversity in Wine
Words by Michael Davey on 8 May 2018
Diversity is a word that sits well with Australian wine. The continent is large, with a vast range of soils and climates. We also have a wide range of cultures, which are most evident in the food we share, and the wine we drink.  In the 1990s, Australia was known for predictable, consistent, mass-market, well priced, flavoursome wines. Predictable and consistent are great when you turn on a tap, not when you open a bottle of wine. The past two decades have seen Australians embrace the new and the different. This change parallels Corrina Wright’s winemaking career. Fifteen years ago, she was responsible for producing 18 million bottles annually of Lindemans Bin 65 Chardonnay. Upon returning to her family’s McLaren Vale vineyard, Oliver’s Taranga Vineyard, the technical, hands-on discipline of Lindemans gave way to a low intervention, hands-off approach. At home, this sixth generation winegrower quickly made her mark, producing exemplary regional wines, particularly Shiraz . But rather than letting this define her, Corrina turned her hand to crafting a diverse selection of alternative varietals including Fiano , Vermentino , Mencia and Sagrantino . “We have ultimate freedom here to do whatever we want. We did our homework and planted heat and drought tolerant varieties, with high natural acidity.”  It was a fine old Barolo that piqued Garry Crittenden’s interest in Italian wines. He tasted widely, read up on Italian wine growing and making methods, then took a pioneering study trip to Piedmont in 1992. The following year, Garry launched his cleverly branded ‘i’ range of Italian varietals with a Great Western-grown Dolcetto. Meanwhile, Brown Brothers were growing a diverse selection of alternative varieties in their nursery vineyard. These were vinified in small, experimental batches in their ‘kindergarten’ winery, then trial marketed at their cellar door. The food-friendly Italian varietals did well at their restaurant, and the high demand flowed on to local growers. These included Fred Pizzini, who grew Nebbiolo , and his cousin Arnie Pizzini, who grew Barbera , both sources for Crittenden ’s ‘i’ wines. Garry’s studies led to him penning the influential book, Italian Wine Grape Varieties in Australia. This resource helped new growers of Italian wine varietals avoid planting the wrong grapes in the wrong areas. Garry encountered a lot of objections early on, but found the demand for Italian varietals was led by young, open-minded wine-lovers, and enthusiastic sommeliers.
Som’ observations Australian sommeliers actively seek diverse wines for their lists. Recently named Best Sommelier of Australia, Italian-born Mattia Cianca, has lived and worked here for the past decade. In that time, he has noticed Australians move away from mass-produced wines, to more individual, unique styles and has seen a surge in varietals from his homeland. Four years at Melbourne’s idiosyncratic Attica restaurant gave Mattia an insight into adventurous Australians’ pursuit of new food and wine experiences. Attica’s philosophy, evocative menu and the mentorship of eccentric head sommelier, Banjo Harris Plane pushed boundaries and made him more courageous.  Mattia is, he describes, “excited by South Australian-grown, southern Italian varietals, like Unico Zelo’s single site Fiano and Brash Higgins’ vibrant, mid-weight Nero d’Avola , which is fermented and aged in clay amphora vessels.” Empowered Through Education The Australian Alternative Varietal Wine Show has championed diversity since 2001. In that time, it has provided a platform for less mainstream wines, and witnessed the ongoing rise in wine, exhibitor and class numbers. Pinot G has gone mainstream, and Prosecco will surely follow. The AAVWS shares intelligence via its ‘Talk and Taste’ sessions, where the wine trade gathers to share viticulture, winemaking and marketing experiences.  An increase in structured education has vastly added to Australian wine diversity. The past decade has seen Sommeliers Australia and the Court of Master Sommeliers educate and advance their members’ knowledge and wine service.  Trade initiatives like Negociants’ Working with Wine and the Galli Scholarship programs have provided diversely focussed educational forums, and the Wine & Spirits Education Trust has offered Australians internationally accredited wine levels. This has all broadened the wine trade’s outlook, empowering wholesalers, sommeliers and retailers to list new and diverse wines, giving Australian consumers more choice.
In the Vineyard There’s also great diversity amongst Australia’s wine regions and vineyards, and how they’re managed. Winemaker Vanya Cullen feels a strong connection to her family’s Margaret River vineyard, where she strives for constant improvement. While it’s always seen minimal chemical inputs, Cullen’s vineyard was certified organic in 2003, then biodynamic in 2005. This has coincided with an increase in vineyard health and fruit quality.  The soils are balanced and alive, allowing roots to plunge deeply to access nutrients. Vanya’s aim is to create a community of living systems and the whole Cullen team are on board. While scientifically trained, Vanya prefers to work with nature to grow quality fruit in a sustainable way. “The illusion is that you can’t farm without chemicals, but the reality is nature.” As well as being certified biodynamic, the naturally powered Cullen winery is certified carbon neutral. This requires great passion and commitment. All fruit is hand picked according to the biodynamic calendar, then hand sorted, pressed and transferred to barrel, or tank. The yeast is wild, and no artificial cooling, gasses or additions are used. Along with the Margaret River classics, Cullen produce the ‘natural’ Amber – a Sauvignon Blanc made with skin contact in the style of a red wine.  Diversity will continue to describe Australian wine, as long as there are brave winemakers wanting to experiment, and open-minded consumers willing to broaden their taste experiences.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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