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Wine

Discover our Top 12 Whites of 2017

In 2017, our Panel tasted and rated over 4,000 wines. The Best Wines of the Year is always a hotly contested list and this year was no exception.

From tried and true favourites like Howard Park Margaret River Chardonnay, to fabulous alternative varietals such as Fiano from Chalk Hill’s McLaren Vale vineyard, plus Trophy-winning Tahbilk Roussanne Marsanne Viognier, here (in no particular order) are the Top 12 Whites that really stood out from the crowd and wowed all of our Panellists.

View our Top 12 red wines here.

In Dreams Chardonnay 2015, Yarra Valley

In the glass: Pale lemon green. 
On the nose: Apple, grapefruit, oatmeal and almond aromas. 
On the palate: Fine and elegant and yet it has power and drive with a delicious core of white and yellow fruits. A savoury, almost salty layer adds complexity, velvety texture and racy acidity. 
RRP $23 or $19.55 per bottle in any dozen. 

Chalk Hill Fiano 2016, McLaren Vale

In the glass: Bright straw. 
On the nose: Opulent white fruit with honeydew, Tahitian lime and guava. 
On the palate: Remarkably bright and focussed core of juicy white fruits with satiny, delicate texture and length from start to finish and crunchy, almost salty acidity running to a thrilling finish. 
RRP $25 or $21.25 per bottle in any dozen.

Tahbilk Roussanne Marsanne Viognier 2015, Nagambie Lakes

In the glass: Pale lemon green.
On the nose: Stonefruit, florals, ginger. 
On the palate: A light to medium weight and fine wine with loads of stonefruit and citrus zest underpinned by zesty acidity, mouth-coating texture and good length. 
RRP $27.95 or $23.76 per bottle in any dozen. 

Long Rail Gully Riesling 2016, Canberra District 

In the glass: Bright pale yellow straw. 
On the nose: Lime zest and fresh herb.
On the palate: Delicate yet intense and flavoursome with strong citrussy varietals and notes of talc and mineral. Mouth-feel is supple and lightly creamy with vibrant acidity. A really classic Riesling with delicious purity.
RRP $22 or $18.70 per bottle in any dozen. 

Cape Barren Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Adelaide Hills 

In the glass: Vibrant pale lemon.  
On the nose: Lime juice, nettle, grapefruit, vanilla. 
On the palate: Stylish and intense lime, passionfruit and cut grass varietals, tempered by a light nutty layer with minerally acid dryness on the finish. 
RRP $19 or $16.15 per bottle in any dozen. 

De Iuliis Special Release Grenache Rosé 2017, Hilltops

In the glass: Very fine pink with green and copper flashes. 
On the nose: Hints of pink flower and Turkish Delight. 
On the palate: Elegant and savoury with juicy fruit and green olive-like astringency creating a dry finish. 
RRP $28 or $23.80 per bottle in any dozen.

Howard Park Chardonnay 2016, Margaret River/Great Southern

In the glass: Beautifully vibrant lemon with a green hue. 
On the nose: Delicate lime juice, light stonefruit, grapefruit and cedary oak. 
On the palate: Refined yet intense with juicy layers of stonefruit and citrus with creamy yet poised acidity.
RRP $54 or $45.90 per bottle in any dozen.

Tinklers Mount Bright Semillon 2017, Hunter Valley

In the glass: Pale lemon green. 
On the nose: Bright citrus, white melon, mineral and lanolin perfume. 
On the palate: Driven by beautiful tingling acidity, it’s deliciously layered with an amazingly vibrant fruit core and quinine-like texture.
RRP $22 or $18.70 per bottle in any dozen.

Heggies Vineyard Estate Chardonnay 2015, Eden Valley

In the glass: Pale lemon, green hue. 
On the nose: Fresh yellow fruit lift with spice and grilled nut complexity. 
On the palate: Slightly spicy and strongly varietal with nectarine, green melon and marzipan, subtle background vanillin oak, fresh leesy depth and ginger spice.  
RRP $30 or $25.50 per bottle in any dozen

Gatt High Eden Riesling 2011, Eden Valley

In the glass: Pale lemon straw.
On the nose: Still vibrant lemon and lime lift with very faint hints of kero development.
On the palate: Still so youthful, pristine and precise with a multi-layered, savoury and vibrant core of fruit and just the start of secondary development. 
RRP $40 or $25.50 per bottle in any dozen.

Umamu Sparkling Chardonnay 2005, Margaret River

In the glass: Youthful lemon straw. 
On the nose: Buttered toast, preserved lemon and background smokey notes.   
On the palate: Full-bodied, layered and rich yet still vibrant with a strong undercurrent of leesy depth under a butterscotch-like core of fruit.  
RRP $63 or $53.55 per bottle in any dozen.

Bunnamagoo Estate Kids Earth Fund Autumn Semillon 2013 (375ml), Mudgee

In the glass: Medium to full gold.
On the nose: Lifted toffee, butterscotch and crème brulee. 
On the palate: Luscious and viscous, with sweet layers of candied fruit complemented by bright lemony acidity. 
RRP $25 or $21.25 per bottle in any dozen. 

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Behind The Vine At Helen's Hill
To celebrate the  Helen's Hill Ingram Road Pinot Noir 2015  being our April Wine of the Month, we caught up with Allan Nalder from  Helen's Hill . What makes the Ingram Road 2015 Pinot Noir so appealing? To answer that I need to take a step back. All of our wines are 100% single vineyard and are all made at my winery. Only fruit that we grow on our vineyard goes into the wines that we make. It's not that we don't trust anyone, it's just that we don't trust anyone. We think this is super important. Come visit and I can take you to the very vines that make the wine you are going to enjoy. Call us "control freaks". I'll take it as a compliment. The  Ingram Rd 2015 Pinot Noir  benefits greatly from this approach. Pristine  Yarra Valley  single vineyard fruit, French oak maturation, careful "hands-off" winemaking and a great vintage all combine to produce a wine that expresses hallmark  Pinot Noir  characteristics. And its price point is extremely compelling. You have over 50 acres of Pinot Noir, what makes you so enthusiastic about this often-difficult grape? You're right, Pinot Noir is a difficult grape to grow and can really only grow well in specific, little tucked away corners of the world. The Yarra Valley, and the little patch of dirt I call home, is one of those places. It also helps to be a bit of a Pinot Noir fanatic. To me, it is one of the most remarkable red wines in the world. I once saw a quote about Pinot Noir growers from a wine writer: "its makers are lunatic-fringe, questers after the holy grail…" - Marc de Villiers wine writer. We fit that mould. Who is the Helen of the hill? We bought the property from Mr. Fraser in the mid 90s. He had owned the pasture land from the early 1950s. The reason he bought the land was because he fell in love with a woman called Helen, who wouldn't marry him unless he owned a farm. True love prevailed and he bought the farm. Sadly, Helen passed away some 6-7 years after their marriage. Mr Fraser never re-married and throughout the property inspection, he recalled many stories of Helen and her time there. From his stories, it was obvious that she had a passion for the land. We share that passion and thought it appropriate to name the vineyard after her. What makes Scott McCarthy a standout winemaker? To be blunt, the fruit. We live by the very old, well used, but absolutely true saying: "great wine is made in the vineyard". The most important decision we make in the winery is deciding when to pick the fruit. The rest of the process is relatively simple. Pristine quality fruit allows us to rely on natural fermentation, minimal filtering and minimal winemaking intervention. Our ethos is not to describe "perfection" as when there is nothing left to add, but rather, when there is nothing left to take away. We feel this is the key to winemaking. Ensure that we do as little as possible so we can deliver mother nature in the bottle. You also  make a range of beers  - why did you decide to go into brewing and what do you think makes a top beer? It gets pretty hot and sweaty picking grapes. Added to that, I ain't getting any younger, so after a big day in the fields a nice, cold craft beer is a perfect tonic. As winemakers and vignerons go, we drink a lot of beer, so it wasn't that hard to come up with the idea of brewing our own. Getting the recipe right, the choice of hops and quality malt is critical and keeping the fermentation process under control. The rest depends on what you like. We serve our brews at Cellar Door and luckily our customers reckon they're pretty tasty. What are the top 3 attractions you'd recommend to a first-time Yarra Valley visitor? The great thing about the Yarra Valley is the diversity. You can visit the  YV Dairy  and sample a variety of cheese, the Chocolate Factory, world class art museum, on-farm produce stores for things such as apples, strawberries, etc, 6 top golf courses, mountain biking, bush trails, historic buildings, micro breweries, gin distillery and of course the odd cellar door and vineyard restaurant. The valley really has a huge range of things to do. Obviously, a great place to start is Helen's Hill. Full al-carte restaurant on top of the hill with sensational views or our Cellar Door and casual dining nestled down in the winery amongst the vines.
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Meet Flying Fish Cove’s senior winemaker, Simon Ding
The  Flying Fish Chardonnay 2014  is our Wine of the Month for March. What makes this such a special wine? Chardonnay   is a  Margaret River  star, famous for being rich and powerful. This plush drop fits the bill and with its layers of peachy fruit supported by oak and zesty acidity, it's a classic example of why the variety is a natural match to rich seafood. When you work in a stunning seaside location like Margaret River, nobody can blame Simon Ding for slipping out of the winery for the occasional quick swim. Your Gold medal-winning Flying Fish Chardonnay 2014 is our Wine of the Month for March. What makes this such a special wine? Over time we have seen the Margaret River region produce many high-quality Chardonnay wines. The dedication of the people involved from the grower to the winemaking team at  Flying Fish Cove  has allowed us to craft a pure and fine expression of excellent modern Chardonnay. I think there is a little bit of love in each and every bottle of Flying Fish Cove Chardonnay, that we hope you can taste. In recent years, there’s been a switch from traditional big, buttery, oaky Chardonnay to the crisper, modern styles. What are the best attributes of both? Big, buttery, oaky Chardonnay is like a blast from the past and a look at where we have come from. Sometimes, it is good to look at where you have been to know that you don’t want to go back. Fine, delicate and crisp Chardonnay styles are favourable now. The nature of these styles seems to appeal to a broader range of maturing palates amongst the drinking public. I think it is the lightly oaked and delicately balanced nature and more often than not, the lighter alcohol content of these styles that is appealing to the modern wine drinker. We’ve matched your 2014 Chardonnay with barbequed WA marron withgarlic and herb butter – what’s your suggestion for a great food match? It’s also absolutely delicious paired with a butterflied and barbequed free range chicken, with a garlic, lemon rind and thyme rub, served with a side of seasonal roasted vegetables. How is vintage 2017 going for Flying Fish Cove and Margaret River? So far, the vintage is looking great, which we hope will continue given the late start and cool ripening conditions we have had this season. When did you fall in love with wine? I fell in love with wine whilst travelling throughout Europe, South America, the Middle East and Asia in the 1990s. It’s a tough question, but do you have a favourite wine or varietal? I can’t seem to go past Chardonnay and  Cabernet Sauvignon , however  Riesling   and some of the new Spanish varietals are interesting as well. What is your favourite wine memory? I don’t have any one specific wine memory that stands out. I’d have to say that the industry people I have met along my wine journey have been a great memory to me and a few memorable bottles have been shared with them along the way. How do you spend your time when you’re not making wine? There’s always plenty do around the winery, but the best way to spend time out is with my family exploring Margaret River and its beautiful surrounds.
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Margaret River’s 50th
Words by Danielle Costley on 12 Nov 2017
As WA’s Margaret River wine region celebrates its 50th anniversary, we celebrate the pioneers who brought it all to fruition. A hundred years ago, a couple of Italian immigrants arrived in the south west corner of Western Australia with some cuttings of a little-known grape variety called Fragola. These vines produced the first wines to be sold in Margaret River for the hefty price tag of two shillings a flagon. Fondly dubbed ‘red dynamite’ by the enthusiastic community, this wine was in high demand at the local dance halls where it was sold from the back of a truck. And it was said to pack quite a punch. Times have certainly changed since then and while other growers produced small batches of wines in the ensuing years, it wasn’t until the mid 1960s when agronomist Dr John Gladstones published a report identifying Margaret River’s vast potential for viticulture, that the region, as we know it today, was born.
The Gladstones report attracted the attention of budding vignerons and medical practitioners, Thomas Cullity and Kevin and Diana Cullen. In mid 1966, the Cullens organised a meeting in the Margaret River township of Busselton inviting Dr Gladstones to speak. It was the final push those attending needed. Soon after, the Cullens, in partnership with Tom Cullity, and Geoff and Sue Juniper, planted vines in Wilyabrup, which unfortunately didn’t survive. It was left to Cullity, who in 1967 purchased a mere eight acres of land, to plant Margaret River’s first commercial vines – Cabernet Sauvignon , Shiraz , Malbec and Riesling . He named his venture after French sailor, Thomas Vasse, who had drowned in Geographe Bay. Hoping for better fortunes than the Frenchman, he added the Latin word for happiness – Felix. His first crop, too, was all but a disaster, decimated by birds and succumbing to bunch rot. Undeterred, but determined, Cullity persevered. In 1972, Vasse Felix won a gold medal at the Perth Show for its Riesling. The following year, gold for its Cabernet. Happy days, indeed. The Cullens also persevered. In 1971 they planted vines on their own land where their current vineyard still thrives. At this stage, Moss Wood had been established for two years and within another two years, Cape Mentelle, Leeuwin Estate, and Woodlands had also been established. In what was a fledgling industry at the time, these founding wineries worked tirelessly to forge the region’s reputation as a premium wine producer. “I pay tribute to the winemakers and grape growers of Margaret River,” says Dr Gladstones, who is still a proud member of the Margaret River community today. “It’s one thing to have an idea and put it forward, it’s another this to be brought to fruition. The work and financial commitment that had to go into it has been a big factor in bringing Margaret River to its present world-class status.”
Left: Bob Hullock. Right: Cullen Wines co-founder Diana Cullen  An American influence While the pioneering wineries may have simply dreamed of making good wine, there was a certain Californian who knew of Margaret River’s enormous potential – Napa Valley wine baron, Robert Mondavi. As the story goes, Mondavi was searching the globe for the next great wine region. His search took him to Margaret River and a patch of land owned by Denis Horgan, a chartered accountant, and his wife Tricia. Today, it is Leeuwin Estate. “Mondavi arrived on our doorstep wanting to buy the place,’ says Denis. “We weren’t the selling type, so he became our mentor in setting up a winery. He and his son and winemaker, Tim, came out on numerous occasions to advise on what varieties we should plant, where to plant them, about oak treatment and so on.” Mondavi’s advice was also greatly accepted by Cullity and Kevin Cullen, who Denis befriended and met up with regularly to discuss all things wine. “You would have sworn you were in a dog fight,” Denis says of the trio’s rendezvous. “They used to swear and curse and talk about one another’s wines, and then we’d all sit down and have lunch like we were the greatest of friends.  “They were fabulous guys. It was the best education I could have had because they didn’t pull any punches. They set out to make wines that ranked with the best in the world, and they damn well did it.” A region evolved
Three generations of Credaros in their Woolston vineyard Fifty years on, Margaret River is indeed a world class wine region. While it only produces three percent of Australia’s wine, it contributes 20 per cent of our premium wine production. It is recognised internationally for exceptional Cabernets and Chardonnays, and also produces a stylish signature blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. The handful of wineries have now boomed to over 200 with most of them producing the flagships, while also experimenting with other varietals and blends that suit the Mediterranean climate, cooling sea breezes and rich gravelly soils. In the northern districts lies the family-owned Credaro Wines, where some of the region’s first vines were planted by the pioneering Meleri and Credaro families to produce the ‘red dynamite’. These days, they have over 140 hectares of vines spread across five vineyards and alongside the legendary Fragola, and Chardonnay, Cabernet and SBS, they are doing well with Pinot Grigio, Shiraz and Merlot. Thompson Estate is renowned for its Chardonnays and Cabernets, but is also finding favour with its Cabernet Merlot, Malbec and famed Four Chambers Shiraz. The 20-year-old vines are organically grown and produce impressive wines under the watchful eye of Bob Cartwright of Leeuwin Estate acclaim.
Hay Shed Hill, Margaret River At Hay Shed Hill, whose vineyards were first planted in the 1970s, the Block 6 Chardonnay is the star. Dry grown and located on a steep south facing slope, it is lean, light and fresh, but also has “flavour, aroma, body and textural interest,” says winemaker and owner, Michael Kerrigan. In concert with the Block 6, he is also giving plenty of attention to a stunning Cabernet Franc, as well as an intoxicating Shiraz Tempranillo blend. In the cooler, southern parts of the Margaret River, Sauvignon Blanc really finds voice as a single varietal. In close proximity to the Indian Ocean, you will find Redgate Wines, a winery that takes its name from a nearby property that once had a prominent red gate and was known for the production of a rather powerful moonshine. This estate, established by the Ullinger family in 1977, produces a sublime Sauvignon Blanc that is layered with gooseberry and lime. Their Cabernet blends are also beguiling, and they have a Chenin Blanc that is also turning heads. Even further south lies Hamelin Bay Wines, a quaint winery with a simply breathtaking outlook. It produces one of the region’s finest Sauvignon Blancs – fresh, vibrant and tropical, while their Rampant Red, a blend of Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet, is winning fans. Something Totally New When Moss Wood winery was sub-divided in 1982, architect Bruce Tomlinson purchased the land and established Lenton Brae winery. Putting his talents to use, he built a striking rammed earth winery and cellar door with two towers that are home to quintet bells from Westminster and chime on the quarter-hour. A few years ago, the Tomlinsons introduced a new varietal to the region, Pinot Blanc. This unassuming grape is a mutation of Pinot Noir, yet genetically similar to Chardonnay. Winemaker, Edward Tomlinson, says he was drawn to the subtle charm of this early ripening variety. “Essentially, it is a Sauvignon Blanc for grown-ups,’ he says. “The decision to plant Pinot Blanc was a big call. Having seen my father wrestle with the implications of uprooting two hectares of Pinot Noir in the early days, I was amazed at how supportive he was for me to take a punt on Pinot Blanc.” And these are not the only newcomers to the region. There’s been an influx of plantings of Mediterranean varietals in recent years, with Fiano, Vermentino, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese finding favour amongst the growing band of winemakers. A Fitting Half Century
As the 50th celebrations kick off in earnest, it is heartwarming to see much love given to the traditions of the pioneers. Vasse Felix’ s ‘tractor bucket’ party recreated the spirit of founding producers who celebrated each of those crucial early vintages in style with tractor buckets turned into eskys, filled with ice and wine and enjoyed out amongst the vines, even serving as a bed on some occasions. “Anniversaries such as this are an opportunity to share with the world just how special Margaret River is. It is a wine paradise,” says current Vasse Felix owner, Paul Holmes a Court. The single remaining bottle of the 1972 Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec is on display in the Vasse Felix vault and to celebrate the winery’s 50th anniversary, they have released a Tom Cullity Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec made from those original vines. I am sure the good doctor would approve. And while he would be astounded to see how big the region has grown, he always knew how good the wines were going to be. “I knew because Mondavi told me so,” says Denis Horgan. “He always said that Margaret River was going to make wines that ranked with the best in the world. It was his catch cry.” The best is still yet to come says Dr Gladstones, who fittingly gets to have the last word. “I strongly believe that we’ve only seen the beginning,” he says. “This region has tremendous natural advantages for grape growing to produce top quality wines. “With its environments, experience and now increasing vine age, Margaret River is undoubtedly ripe to walk with the greatest.”
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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