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Wine

Green with envy: Organic wine

This issue’s State of Play reveals that despite the challenges, Australia’s organic wine producers are a committed bunch and the proof of their dedication is in the tasting.

Maurice O’Shea was Australia’s first great organic winemaker. He didn’t use synthetic chemical fertilisers to help his vines grow, he didn’t use herbicides like Round-Up to keep the weeds away, nor did he spray his Hunter Valley vines with synthetic pesticides that kill any and all bugs that dare to step a tiny foot near his verdant green vines. O’Shea was organic way before any trendy sommeliers, or some wine writers for that matter, thought it was cool. The thing is, though, O’Shea was organic because, at the time, there was no other way. He was an organic winegrower by default. There were plenty of pesticides available for him to use, but these were derived from naturally occurring (though still potentially harmful) minerals and plant products, like copper, lead, manganese, zinc, and nicotine sulphate extracted from the relatives of tobacco. All that changed after the Second World War when the scientific boffins who had developed particular products to use in explosives and chemical warfare, by manipulating molecules and rearranging atoms, also discovered that some of these new synthetic chemicals were sometimes less lethal to humans, yet still just as lethal to insects. And so, the agrochemical industry was born.

What is organic wine?

Nowadays, many winegrowers can choose whether to use these synthetic agrochemicals, or not. Those that do choose to use such chemicals are said to farm ‘conventionally’ – which is a little odd considering it’s a less than 100-year-old tradition – and those that choose not to use such synthetic chemicals are said to farm ‘organically’. Thus, organic wines are wines made from grapes that have been grown without the use of any synthetic chemicals.

“Growing and making organic wines means no artificial herbicides, pesticides, chemicals or fertilisers are used in either the vineyard or the winery,” says Richard Angove from Angove wines in McLaren Vale. Richard is a fifth generation Angove winegrower. His family has been growing and making wine in McLaren Vale since 1886.

“As a multi-generational, family-owned business, looking after our environment has always been an important philosophy. Organic farming is just a natural extension of that thinking,” says Richard. “We think that if we look after our soil, our vines will produce grapes of the highest quality every season. So, it’s important we nurture our soils to keep them healthy for many more seasons and many generations to come.”

It must be said that not all regions are made the same. Some are better suited to organics than others. Climate plays a huge part in the production of any wine, but even more so with organic wines. As demonstrated by our Top 20, McLaren Vale has, perhaps, the most favourable conditions for chemical-free winegrowing in Australia. “McLaren Vale is well suited to organic viticulture,” says Battle of Bosworth winegrower, Joch Bosworth. “The climate is pretty similar to the Mediterranean, with good rainfall in winter and a generally dry growing season with low disease pressures.”

By contrast, the Hunter is one of hardest regions anywhere in the world to grow wine. But, as Maurice O’Shea proved incredibly well, it can be done. These days, there are four certified producers making wine without a synthetic safety net in the Hunter Valley, and two of them feature in our Top 20. “We have long, hot, and sometimes very wet summers,” says Peter Windrim from Krinklewood. “During the growing season our vineyards are ripe for disease, but agriculture is never easy, so we just see it as another one of life’s little challenges. We’ve been certified for ten years now, so there’s no way we’ll change how we do things.”

Converting to organics

It’s much easier to convert your wine drinking habits over to organics than it is to convert your wine growing habits. A vineyard needs to have been farmed without the use of any synthetic chemicals for a period of three years before it can be legally recognised as being organic. For a wine producer to make any organic claims in the marketplace, including labelling their wines ‘organic’, ‘biological’, ‘ecological’, or any other word to that effect, they must be certified by one of Australia’s many organic certifying organisations, such as Australian Certified Organic (ACO). Those winegrowers who complete the conversion process must stop using artificial chemicals on their vineyard(s) if they wish to keep their certification ongoing.

“We get audited at least once a year to make sure we’re complying with the standards of organic certification,” explains Jason O’Dea from Windowrie wines, in Cowra. “An inspector will arrive on the property and conduct soil tests and ask to see our paperwork, including spray diaries and receipts for various purchases related to the vineyard.”

Not all wine producers who practice organic grape growing are certified, for one reason or another. For instance, Australian wine icon Henschke are known to practice organic viticulture in many of their vineyards, including the renowned Hill of Grace vineyard, but have decided not to get certified. Jasper Hill, from Heathcote, Victoria, is another of Australia’s renowned winegrowers who also don’t wish to be certified.

“I’m not certified, and I don’t wish to be,” explains Ron Laughton from Jasper Hill. “I think the dirty bastards that are using chemicals on their vineyard should be licensed. Why should I be certified to be clean and do nothing harmful in my vineyard? It’s the wrong way around,” argues Ron.

Tasting is believing

Some say that the way organic wines are grown is better for the environment, some say they’re more sustainable, and some even say that organic wines taste better. That last one is still up for debate. In order to help you decide for yourself, have a read of our list of Top 20 organic wines from Australia, each tasted and selected by our expert panel, then grab a few bottles, taste them and decide for yourself.

Top 20 Organic Wines

Giant Steps Known Pleasures Shiraz 2014
Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Vineyard Chardonnay 2013
Battle of Bosworth Sauvignon Blanc 2015
Angove Wild Olive Organic Shiraz 2014
Paxton MV Shiraz 2014
Em’s Table Riesling 2014
Kalleske Wines Rosina Rosé 2016
Pure Vision Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
Gemtree Vineyards Luna Temprana Joven style Tempranillo 2015
Cape Jaffa La Lune Field Blend 2014
Yalumba Organics Shiraz 2015
Krinklewood Biodynamic Vineyard Semillon 2015
919 Tempranillo 2013
Spring Seed Wine Scarlet Runner Shiraz 2014
Tamburlaine Block 14 Single Vineyard Malbec 2015
The Natural Wine Co. Sauvignon Blanc 2015
Rosnay Shiraz 2009
J & J Wines Rivers Lane Shiraz 2013
Ascella Wines Reserve Chardonnay 2014
Red Deer Station Shiraz 2014

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Wine
Who makes my wine?
Words by Tyson Stelzer on 28 Apr 2016
Walk the aisles of your local Dan Murphy’s or First Choice store and you won’t find a wine labelled “Dan Murphy’s Select” or “First Choice Home Brand”. But lurking on those shelves are more than 100 brands owned by the supermarket chains with no disclosure on the label. In an age in which we are more interested than ever in the origins of our products, how can we distinguish a small family estate from a supermarket brand? The growth in supermarket “Buyer’s Own Brand” wines in Australia has been substantial, estimated to have mushroomed from five percent a decade ago to between 16 and 25 percent of the market today. The wine industry is concerned that this growing category of major retailers could mislead consumers. In February 2016, a Senate Inquiry report into the Australian Wine Industry put forward a proposal from the Winemaker’s Federation of Australia (WFA) “that the Government amend labelling requirements so wine labels must declare whether wine is produced by an entity owned or controlled by a major retailer.” “What we would like to see is that home brands are identified so consumers can make their choice,” WFA Chief Executive Paul Evans told the Inquiry. The enquiry’s report is not binding, but the government is expected to respond within six months. It can choose to accept or reject the recommendations. Not so simple The question of whether it should be the government’s place to legislate on this issue has been widely debated, but even if it is, the dilemma of how it could be defined and regulated is perhaps more pertinent. Buyer’s Own Brand wines have a fully valid and important place in the market, and the major retail chains own perfectly legitimate wineries under which some of their labels are branded. Some retailers’ own brands are even made by small, private estates. Further, many high profile winemakers, including Giaconda, Clonakilla, Oakridge and St Hallett, make exclusive labels for particular retailers under the winemaker’s own brands. Such relationships are of value for all levels of the wine industry. And if retailers are required to declare brand ownership, what of companies like Treasury Wine Estates, Accolade Wines and Pernod Ricard, who together own many more brands and a much greater market share than the supermarket groups? And, for that matter, what of the hundreds of private little “virtual” wine brands who own no vineyards, buy fruit and have it contract made in someone else’s facility? The big issue behind this discussion is the market dominance of Woolworths (who owns BWS, Dan Murphy’s, Cellarmasters and Langton’s) and Wesfarmers (Liquorland, First Choice and Vintage Cellars) and the increasing presence of Metcash (Cellarbrations, IGA Liquor and Bottle-O), Costco, and ALDI stores in the wine market. It is estimated that Woolworths and Wesfarmers together share just under 60 percent of the domestic wine retail market, with some estimates putting this at 70 percent. There is a bigger picture at play here, of which wine is just one small category. Controversy surrounds the supermarket duopoly and its increasing dominance across many categories. Legislative change for wine would not only be fraught with complications surrounding definitions and implementation, but such a precedent would have enormous ramifications for groceries, fuel, hardware, office supplies, insurance, etc.
Wine
Biodynamic – going beyond organic
Words by Jackie Macdonald on 5 Apr 2016
If someone told you that filling a cow’s horn with dung and planting it at a certain phase of the moon would help your vines to grow, you’d probably think they were bonkers. Far out it may indeed sound, but this is one of the central steps in biodynamics, a form of organic viticulture that’s being embraced by an increasing number of Australian wineries. While it might sound like a theory cooked up by modern hippies, biodynamics actually has its origins in Europe over 90 years ago. Let’s set the scene. It’s 1924 in Silesia, Germany (now part of Poland) and a group of farmers has gathered to hear a series of lectures by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. The farmers are looking for an alternative to chemical fertilisers, which they believe have caused extensive damage to their soil and brought poor health to their livestock and crops. Steiner proves sympathetic as he reveals a system of agriculture that shuns chemicals and treats the farm as an individual, self-contained entity. Rather than focus on the health of individual plants, Steiner’s system teaches that good health requires that the entire eco-system in which the plant exists be thriving. This includes the other plants, the soil, the animals and even the humans who are working the land. The system he describes he calls biodynamics. By taking away all artificial fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides, Steiner presented one of the earliest models of organic farming. However, it’s the next steps that really separate biodynamics from organics (and it’s at this point that I imagine some of the listening farmers’ eyebrows began to rise). Steiner claims that for this environment to truly blossom, a series of field and compost preparations needs to be added. These preparations, nine in total, are man-made solutions, derived from nature, that are labelled 500 through to 508. To the conventional farmer, these preparations may appear somewhat far-fetched. For example, ‘500’ is made by filling cow horns with cow manure, which are then buried over winter to be recovered in spring. A teaspoon of the manure is then mixed with up to 60 litres of water, which is stirred for an hour, whirled in different directions every second minute. ‘501’ also requires a cow horn, this time filled with crushed quartz. It is buried over summer and dug up late in autumn, then mixed the same way as 500. Stretching his credibility even further in the eyes of the pragmatic farmer, Steiner brings a spirituality to his teachings by suggesting the growth cycles of the farm are influenced by astrological forces. Decisions such as when to spray the preparations, when to weed and when to pick should all be made according to a calendar that details the phases of the moon and stars. “Hocus-pocus!” you may very well cry. Not so, according to the ever-increasing number of wine producers in Australia and internationally who have embraced biodynamics. Choosing an environmentally sustainable approach to viticulture is obviously to be applauded in these times of climate crisis. However, talk to biodynamic producers and you’ll find that superior wine quality is the number one motivation for being biodynamic. At South Australia’s Cape Jaffa, the Hooper family has been using biodynamic principles for many years and their conviction in its effectiveness is complete. “We believe that cultivating the vines in this way is what allows them to achieve balance within their environment. Achieve balance, and the vines are able to fully express themselves – leading to a wine that bares a true and remarkable resemblance to its environment,” says Derek Hooper. The Buttery family of Gemtree in McLaren Vale are also converts. Since their biodynamic beginnings in 2007 they say they can now “see a noticeable difference in the health of our vineyard and quality of our fruit.” A fellow McLaren Vale winemaker, David Paxton of Paxton wines says, “Biodynamics is the most advanced form of organic farming. It uses natural preparations and composts to bring the soil and the vine into balance, resulting in exceptionally pure and expressive fruit.” The proof is in the tasting, however, so next time you’re looking for a new wine to try, why not put biodynamics to the test and see if you can taste the natural difference?
Wine
Change of Tempo with Tempranillo
Words by Jeni Port on 2 Jul 2015
In 2006 Melbourne academic, Professor Snow Barlow, offered some important advice to the Australian wine industry. As one of the leading agricultural scientists investigating the impact of climate change on viticulture in this country, he was succinct: adapt or else. Open your eyes, he implored, to the changes that increased levels of greenhouse gases and a warmer, drier climate are having on vines with earlier budburst, shorter winters, compressed vintages and extreme weather events. Learn to adjust. And then he returned to his vineyard, Baddaginnie Run, in the Strathbogie Ranges in Central Victoria and did just that. Out went his Merlot vines and in came Tempranillo. Merlot had worked well in the early days, but a combination of hot vintages with runs of 40+C days and drier conditions, were stressing the normally cool-mannered Bordeaux grape. Mediterranean-born Tempranillo was a better fit, he said. It lapped up the heat. It’s hard to say whether Prof. Barlow’s words and personal actions spurred Aussie wine growers and makers into action, but Tempranillo plantings did indeed take off. Exploded in fact. From 209 hectares in 2004, plantings ballooned to 712 hectares by 2012. And, perhaps not surprisingly, it was the warmer regions that took to it with the greatest gusto: Barossa Valley (20% of plantings), Murray Darling (19%), Riverina (15%), McLaren Vale (11%) and the Riverland (10%). The Riverina district was encouraged, no doubt, by Melbourne University projections showing it will be among the wine areas hardest hit by climate change. By 2030, research suggests rising temperatures could reduce grape quality in the region by up to 52 per cent. Growers in warm areas laud Tempranillo for its tolerance under hot conditions, its generosity of black fruits, its spice, its tannin structure. But, sadly, not its acidity. Professor Barlow had omitted the fact that the grape is naturally shy in acidity, a rather important piece of information to keep in mind when planting in a warm area. “It’s a bit of a sook actually,” says Peter Leske, a fellow scientist-winemaker behind the specialist Tempranillo maker, La Linea, in the Adelaide Hills. However, Leske maintains the grape’s good points still far outweigh its negatives. “It retains perfume and flavour, flesh and spice, so it makes a wine high in deliciousness despite warm and dry conditions,” he says. Deliciousness, it seems, wins out. Great in the heat, even better in the cool Warm climate Tempranillo is one thing. Cool climate Tempranillo is quite another. It is just possible that in the future the most exciting examples will come from winemakers who venture high up into the wilds, to places where Pinot Noir might also be suited, where the heat is less and the rainfall is more. A little like the 500-metre high nosebleed parts of Spain where it thrives: Rioja, Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa. Bright red fruits are to the fore in Tempranillo grown in cooler climes, the spice appears edgier, the structure is definitely firmer and more apparent. As the full impact of climate change is felt, it could be these areas that will ultimately be better suited to Tempranillo. Time will tell. In the meantime, Australian winemakers consider the newcomer amongst them. “We still have a lot to learn about Tempranillo,” admits Peter Leske. There are things we already know about the grape, like the little matter of pronunciation. If you know Spanish you know, Tempranillo is pronounced with the two lls silent: tem-pra-neee-o. That’s how it should be. It’s not too difficult. Many Aussie enthusiasts have already shortened it to ‘temp’ – clearly a display of endearment. We know that at first, quite a few Australian winemakers mistook Tempranillo for a grape just like Shiraz and made it like Shiraz, emasculating its vibrant Spanish passion into just another Aussie dry red. No identity. No excitement. Tempranillo is not Shiraz. It might act like it sometimes, taste like it occasionally, but its DNA – while not completely known – suggests one immediate relative is most likely Albillo Mayor, a grape from Ribera del Duero, in northern Spain. No Shiraz in sight. The tempraneo gang Some of the greatest advances in understanding the grape come from a group of six Aussie winemakers who got together in 2010, calling themselves ‘TempraNeo’. Each maker comes from a different region, covering most of the viticultural bases: Mayford in the Alpine Valleys, La Linea in the Adelaide Hills, Mount Majura in Canberra, Tar and Roses in Heathcote, Yalumba’s Running With Bulls in the Barossa and Gemtree in McLaren Vale. A number of winemaking bases, too, are explored. No two producers follow the same methods. Eleana Anderson at Mayford brings some basic Pinot Noir winemaking techniques to her Tempranillo including whole bunch fermentation with stalks for added tannin (now that’s simply not done in Spain) and extended time on skins to extract colour and flavour. Her take on Tempranillo is definitely fragrant, elegantly poised. Frank Van De Loo at Mount Majura introduces the notion of savouriness into his Tempranillo. He favours wild ferments, which by definition can be a bit feral and uncontrolled. At La Linea, Peter Leske and David Le Mire, MW, are seeing just what multiple site selections can do for Tempranillo. They source grapes from six vineyards in the Adelaide Hills from Kersbrook to the north (the warmest) through to Birdwood (the coolest location). Blending the blocks together is already producing some attractive characters: fragrance, structure, mouth feel, vibrant fruit, abundant spice. Mike Brown at Gemtree Vineyards, is a biodynamic grower who prefers a hands-off winemaking approach. Winemaker Sam Wigan at Running With Bulls is giving his Tempranillo time in Hungarian oak. “I’m using five to 10 per cent new Hungarian oak because it integrates well with the grape’s tannins,” he says, adding Hungarian oak doesn’t impart vanilla notes common to French oak, so it’s about looking to something out of the ordinary. At Heathcote in Central Victoria, a notable red wine producing region, winemakers Don Lewis and Narelle King at Tar & Roses are studying Tempranillo’s finickety acid profile, amongst other things. In 2014 they did a trial on a half tonne batch of Tempranillo, adding no acid. It didn’t work out well. “I don’t see it as a way forward,” says Don. When it comes to the fuller wine style of the Tar & Roses Tempranillo, he is now certain that it is essential to add acid. However, the grape does have other useful qualities he can employ to deliver structure, namely tannin. “If you taste the grape in the vineyard it’s not very juicy, it’s quite fleshy and it has a chalky tannin that no other variety has,” says Don. “Those two things – fleshiness and chalky tannins - are the epitome of Tempranillo to me. It was what I was used to seeing in La Mancha (Spain) when I was making wine there.” The TempraNeo group is also monitoring the growing number of Tempranillo clones (plant material) now available in Australia. The main sources are Spain, France and Portugal where the grape goes under the name of Tinta Roriz or Aragones. Some clones deliver fruit high in perfume, others show pronounced savouriness. Ten years of trials at Australian nurseries have revealed significant taste and aroma differences between the dozen clones available here. Importantly, Australian winemakers need to know where their clonal material hails from, because it is becoming clear that place of origin can dictate the clone’s performance in a foreign land. A clone taken from a vineyard in Rioja performs better in Rioja then in Valdepenas and vice versa. Comparing the region of origin with their own site’s climate, soil and topography could be a way forward for Australian producers. Tempranillo’s time As we head into a warmer, unpredictable future the role of Tempranillo in Australia is destined to loom large. Much larger. Despite its tendency to turn ‘sook’ and drop acid while on the vine, it has shown in a relatively short time that it is entirely well suited to parts of this country, both warm and cool. In warmer climes its generosity of black fruits, spice and sunny disposition is welcoming. What the grape lacks in sophistication it makes up for in pleasant drinkability. In cooler climes, where Tempranillo grapes are in top demand, each vintage with a price to match (averaging $1448 a tonne in 2012), we see a grape in the throes of reinvention, moulded by some of this country’s most forward-thinking winemakers. Here, the flavours are finer, more subtle, red and black fruits, spice and herbs and because these wines aren’t carrying a heavy weight, Tempranillo’s meagre acid backbone isn’t taxed quite as much. Sometimes savoury nuance surfaces, sometimes a textural loveliness. Exciting times indeed. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. It is early days still.

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Natural Wine
Words by Nick Ryan on 9 Aug 2016
Natural wine is the hottest thing in the world of wine right now, the boozy buzzword from Brooklyn to Bondi and all licensed points in between. The term ‘natural’ wine is problematic, more on that later, but in essence we’re talking about a winemaking movement that seeks to produce wines with the bare minimum of human intervention. That means no additions, no adjustments, no filtration or fining. Basically we’re talking about removing human intervention in the winemaking process from everything that happens between the picking of the fruit from the vine and crushing it to get the juice through to getting the resultant wine into the bottle. The juice begins to ferment not through the addition of commercially packaged yeast, but rather through the naturally occurring yeasts floating around in the vineyard and winery. The various options winemakers have to fill the gaps that the vagaries of vintage can create are also shunned, which means no added acid, enzyme, nutrient or tannin. Manic organics Any discussion of ‘natural’ wine will invariably touch on organic and bio-dynamic practices and while they’re intertwined, they’re not indivisibly so. When we talk about organic or bio-dynamic wines, we’re referring primarily to the farming practices in the vineyard, while most of the requirements for classifying a wine as ‘natural’ occur, or more accurately, don’t occur, within the winery. So any ‘natural’ wine worthy of the name will come from organic or bio-dynamic vineyards, but there will be wines produced from similarly certified vineyards that can’t be considered ‘natural’ because the winemakers responsible for them choose to be a little more ‘hands on’ when it comes to helping them along the journey from grape to glass. That’s just part of the difficulty with such absolutist terminology. Also tied up in this milieu are the wines that proclaim themselves ‘Orange’, not because they come from the central New South Wales wine region, but rather because they range in colour from the bruised umber of a hobo’s urine to a turbid tangerine akin to flat Fanta. Thrill or spill In essence, Orange wines are white wines made as if they were reds, meaning the juice is kept in contact with skins, often in oxidative environments, to allow the extraction of tannin, phenolic compounds and colour. This can make for some intriguing wines, but anyone expecting them to behave like conventional white wines might be seriously weirded out by the step up in texture and weight. Advocates for natural wine will say that the removal of winemaking fingerprints from these wines allows for the purest expression of terroir, a wine’s ability to express the true nature of the place from which it comes. In theory, this should be right, but experience tells me that’s not always the case. I’ve had natural wines that have thrilled me utterly and I’ve had natural wines that have made me wonder if I should rip my tongue from my mouth and wipe my arse with it rather than subject it to another drop. That’s part of the pleasure, and part of the problem, too. A natural division There is a political statement inherent in the whole ‘natural’ wine movement that makes me a little uncomfortable, an unfair juxtaposition that banishes all other wines that don’t fit the criteria into a bin implied to be ‘unnatural.’ I prefer the term ‘ low-fi’ that some of the best exponents use. It also has to be accepted that a more open-minded attitude to winemaking faults is required to enjoy a lot of these wines and I’m cool with that. There is beauty in the flawed as well as the perfect. But there is a worrying trend amongst the loudest advocates of natural wine to treat any criticism as simply the old-fashioned windbaggery of an old guard who just don’t get it and I think that’s wrong. A natural wine isn’t good just because it’s been made in line with the philosophies and methods that define the movement. A natural wine is good, just as any wine is, when it’s simply a delicious liquid you want to put in your mouth. The world of natural wine is one well worth exploring and some real thrills await those who seek them. Just remember, the best guide is always your own palate and a wine with nothing but a philosophy to commend it will always leave a bad taste in your mouth.
Wine
Italian Stallions
Words by Max Allen on 12 Aug 2015
Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, Italy’s best-known red grape varieties, are relative newcomers on the Australian wine scene. Tiny patches of Italian varieties have been grown here since the very early years of viticultural settlement. The Dolcetto vines at Best’s Great Western date back to the 19th century, for example, and Sydney surgeon/winegrower Thomas Fiaschi planted the rare Aleatico grape in Mudgee in the 1920s. But Tuscany’s Sangiovese and Piedmont’s Nebbiolo didn’tarrive here until late in the 20th century. Its pioneers were Carlo Corino at Montrose in Mudgee, Mark Lloyd at Coriole in McLaren Vale, and the Brown Brothers in Victoria’s King Valley. I have been monitoring the progress of these Italian varieties in Australia for over 20 years. I first tasted Australia’s fledgling Sangioveses and Nebbiolos in 1993. We managed to find around a dozen examples of Australian-grown Italian varieties for a tasting – including the first Pinot Grigios from T’Gallant on the Mornington Peninsula and a Dolcetto under Garry Crittenden’s (also now-defunct) Schinus label. I remember being particularly impressed by Coriole’s Sangiovese. That tasting made me wonder why more Italian varieties weren’t grown in Australia – why local vignerons were so wedded to the so-called ‘classic’ French varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. After all, Italy’s warmer Mediterranean climate is far more similar to many Australian grape-growing districts than chilly northern French regions such as Burgundy. By the end of the 1990s, I wasn’t the only one asking this question: Italian varieties were becoming trendy among grape growers and winemakers, and Sangiovese was leading the charge. So in 1999 another tasting was organised – this time by vine nurseryman Bruce Chalmers, vine specialist Dr Rod Bonfiglioli, and chef Stefano di Pieri, along with various interested parties (including your correspondent) – to assess the potential of the grape in Australia. The ‘Sangiovese Challenge’ was a tasting of two-dozen Australian-grown examples of the grape followed by an Italian-themed long lunch (cooked by Stefano) at the Grand Hotel in Mildura. This event morphed into the Italian Varieties Wine Show the following year, and the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show the year after. I have been chief judge of this show, the AAVWS, since 2005. Sangiovese has been the most popular red grape among growers and winemakers since the boom in Italian varieties began in the 1990s. The 2010 Australian Wine Industry Directory lists 260 producers of the variety, with more than 500 hectares planted across the country. This is understandable: it’s the grape responsible for Italy’s most famous red wine, Chianti; it is meant to be relatively easy to grow; and while the wine it produces can be quite savoury and tannic, it is also generally medium-bodied and has plenty of attractive red fruit flavour. This means that Australian Sangiovese is likely to appeal to a wide range of wine drinkers, and its fame and heritage make it an easy wine for marketing and cellar door people to talk about. Nebbiolo, on the other hand, has remained a niche player: the 2010 Directory lists 90 producers and just 100 hectares of vines. This is also no surprise: Nebbiolo is notoriously difficult to grow well, being quite fussy about where it grows (generally preferring cooler, more marginal spots). It is responsible in Italy for wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco - not as widely-known as Chianti - and can produce wines that are unfashionably pale, tough, low in fruit volume and very high in astringent tannin. Looking at some stats from the Alternative Varieties Show gives you a very good idea of how both these grapes are travelling in Australia at the moment. At the 2010 AAVWS, there were 60 Sangiovese entries (including Sangiovese blends) and 24 Nebbiolos. Only a third of the Sangioveses were awarded medals, with just three silvers and 17 bronzes. By contrast, more than half of the 24 Nebbiolos were medal winners, with seven bronzes, five silvers and two golds. It has been a similar story in almost all the previous shows: in 2007, for example, the 87 Sangioveses entered yielded just one gold, three silvers and 12 bronze medals – but the 25 Nebbiolos entered were awarded two golds, one silver and eight bronze. So while Sangiovese might be the most popular Italian red variety in Australia by volume, it is not only struggling to realise the huge potential everyone thought it had, but its fortunes also appear to be waning (as you can see, entry numbers at the AAVWS dropped by 30 per cent between 2007 and 2010). Nebbiolo, on the other hand, is proving itself to be a very strong and improving performer, albeit in smaller quantities. The question is: why? Why is Australian Sangiovese so frequently disappointing? And why has Nebbiolo excelled? Part of Sangiovese’s problem lies in the clone that was planted in most vineyards throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. Originally developed at the University of California at Davis, this clone of Sangiovese was bred to produce heavy crops rather than high quality, and many Australian growers have struggled with its tendency to overcrop (newer, lower-yielding clones, coming into bearing now, are showing much more promise, but have yet to make their presence widely felt). More important, I think, is that Sangiovese is obviously fussier and more difficult to grow and make well than many Australian winemakers thought. It not only needs some time in the ground before the vines come into balance and produce their best quality fruit, but it also takes a few vintages to learn how best to make that fruit into good wine. Far too many Australian Sangioveses still suffer from a lack of fruit concentration and/or heavy-handed oak treatment. It’s no coincidence, I think, that the best producers of Sangiovese are those with both the requisite experience (such as Coriole, with over two decades of vintages under their belt) and the cultural connection (such as that of the King Valley’s Italian growers) to the variety. The underwhelming producers tend to be those who just planted Sangiovese because it was trendy and weren’t prepared to make the effort to reduce yields in the vineyard and treat the wine sensitively in the cellar. Most of Australia’s Nebbiolo vineyards, by contrast, have been planted by complete Nebb-nuts who are besotted with the magical wines of Piedmont. These people will do whatever it takes to make the best wine possible, and are fastidious in both vineyard and winery. This drive, this passion, this attention to detail is a big reason, I believe, why there are (relatively speaking) so many great Nebbiolos (and why they tend to cost a bit more). These are my observations based on years of tasting and judging at the AAVWS. And the results of the Selector State of Play tasting reflected the same thing. Thirty-five Sangioveses were tasted - the ones that scored well fell into two general groups: pretty, up-front, snappy-fruity wines that displayed Sangiovese’s lovely juicy cherry characters, and more ‘serious’ savoury wines that had good balance of more ripe fruit characters and drier, powdery tannins. But – for this taster at least, and for some of the others – very few, if any, of the Sangioveses we tasted were truly outstanding, automatic gold-medal standard wines (unlike the Nebbiolos). Most of the top wines were from places (King Valley, McLaren Vale ) and names (Pizzini, Dal Zotto, Crittenden) where there is a long association with Sangiovese. We tasted fewer Nebbiolos – just 13 – but the overall standard was higher and there were more outstanding wines. There was also much more animated discussion between the tasters: with its sometimes ethereal, elusive perfume, it’s often quite a disarmingly pale orange colour, and with its occasionally mouth-puckering level of bone-dry tannins, Nebbiolo can elicit strong reactions. To the Panellists’ surprise, the Adelaide Hills emerged as a particularly good area for Nebbiolo, with two of the top wines coming from the same vineyard, Frank and Rosemary Baldasso’s Kenton Hill (this vineyard also supplies the fruit for the trophy-winning SC Pannell Nebbiolo and is just over the hill from the Arrivo vineyard, the source of another trophy-winning Neb). Wine Selectors Tasting Panelist Keith Tulloch also touched on a fundamental problem with many new, alternative varietal wines in Australia – a problem that is also cause for hope. “The challenge with a lot of these varieties is the fact they come from young vines,” he said. “It was a similar story in the Hunter in the 1970s when we had thin wines that didn’t have any weight because the vineyards were so new. You need 10 years of age or more before you get reliable quality and the true essence of the grape.” This means, though, that as good as the top wines we tasted today are, the best are yet to come. Check out Wine Selectors great range of Sangiovese & Nebbiolo today.
Wine
Top 50 wines of 2015
Words by Mark Hughes on 16 Jan 2016
The Wine Selectors Tasting Panel, made up of nine highly tuned palates belonging to iconic winemakers and wineshow judges, meet almost every Friday at Wine Selectors HQ to taste and rate wines. Each and every wine that is submitted to Wine Selectors is reviewed in a blind tasting format, meaning their label is masked from the Panel, so as to remove any bias. Therefore, each and every wine is tasted purely on its merit in the glass. On average, the Panel tastes around 60+ wines a week. For 50 weeks a year, that equates to...well, a lot of wines! Up until now, this regimented tasting ritual has had the sole purpose of ensuring that the wines we send out to our Members are top quality, every time. The rule is, if the wine doesn’t score 15.5 out of 20 or above, Wine Selectors won’t buy it. In real terms, this means that every wine that we sell is of medal-winning standard. It has been the golden rule that Wine Selectors has operated on for 40 successful years. As an editor, and as a wine lover, I saw the Panel’s arduous tasting schedule as an opportunity to generate a ‘best wines of the year’ list. More than meets the eye Examining the results makes for some pretty interesting reading. The Top 50 is a mixture of old favourites, recent acquaintances and brand new friends, which is all very exciting. The most popular varietal in the Top 50? Shiraz with 11. To be expected really, with it being our most widely planted and produced grape. Chardonnay with nine listings was next, not totally unexpected, but a pleasant result given the fact it has taken a battering in the white wine world over the past decade or so from other young dames. It must also be noted that two of these were Hunter Valley Chardonnay! Then followed: Cabernet Sauvignon (6), Pinot Noir (4) and three blends involving Shiraz. What is very promising is the fact that there are a number of alternative varietals on the list: Roussanne, Malbec, Grenache , Tempranillo and even a Gewürztraminer! This bodes extremely well for the wide variety available to the Australian wine drinker. There were also two Semillons (but only one from the Hunter), two Fortifieds, but perhaps disappointingly, only one Sparkling and a lone Riesling . Regions It appears that the last few vintages have been pretty good for winemakers in the Hunter Valley , Margaret River and the emerging giant, Great Southern , who each topped the pile with six wines represented. Adelaide Hills (5), Barossa (4), McLaren Vale (4) and Coonawarra (3 – but only one of them Cab Sauv) also performed well. Regions that surprised many included: Heathcote , Goulburn Valley and Great Western, while Rutherglen proved that it is still producing world-class Fortifieds, including the top scoring wine from All Saints Estate. Speaking of producers, there were only two who had multiple entries in the Top 50 – Howard Park with their Marchand & Burch Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay; and Brown Brothers with a Tempranillo and a Pinot Noir. So hats off to those guys, they are obviously getting their sites and winemaking spot-on. Overall, this Top 50 list is great news for wine lovers. The results show that we can rely on wines we have admired for decades, some faithful styles are being produced better than ever before, while at the same time, there is a rich range of top quality emerging varietals on the market. Top 50 Wines of 2015 1. All Saints Estate Grand Rutherglen Muscat (Rutherglen, $72) 2. Leconfield Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Coonawarra, $35) 3. Driftwood Estate The Collection Shiraz Cabernet 2012 (Margaret River, $21) 4. Best’s Great Western Bin No 0 Shiraz 2013 (Great Western, $75) 5. Marchand & Burch Mount Barrow Pinot Noir 2014 (Mount Barker, $50) 6. Eppalock Ridge Shiraz 2013 (Heathcote, $20) 7. Ballabourneen ‘The Three Amigos’ Cabernet Petit Verdot Merlot 2013 (McLaren Vale/Orange/Hunter Valley, $35) 8. Thistledown The Vagabond Grenache 2014 (McLaren Vale, $40) 9. Murray Street Vineyards Black Label Shiraz 2012 (Barossa Valley, $25) 10. Rymill gt Gewürztraminer 2015 (Coonawarra, $20) 11. Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Frankland River, $38) 12. Tyrrell’s Wines Vat 47 Chardonnay 2011 (Hunter Valley, $70) 13. Howard Park Western Australia Chardonnay 2014 (Great Southern/Marg River, $54) 14. Shaw & Smith Incognito Chardonnay 2013 (Adelaide Hills, $19) 15. Innocent Bystander Mea Culpa Chardonnay 2013 (Yarra Valley, $60) 16. Brown Brothers 18 Eighty Nine Tempranillo 2013 (Victoria, $19) 17. Rutherglen Estates Classic Muscat NV (Rutherglen, $15) 18. Mr Riggs Generation Series The Magnet Grenache 2013 (McLaren Vale, $27) 19. X by Xabregas Figtree Riesling 2014 (Mount Barker, $40) 20. Château Tanunda Terroirs of the Barossa Lyndoch Shiraz 2012 (Barossa Valley, $49.50) 21. Ferngrove ‘Dragon’ Shiraz 2012 (Frankland River, $32) 22. Brown Brothers Devil’s Corner Pinot Noir 2014 (Tamar River Tasmania, $25) 23. Henry’s Drive Shiraz Cabernet 2010 (Padthaway, $35) 24. Jansz Single Vineyard Sparkling Chardonnay 2009 (Pipers River Tasmania, $64.95) 25. First Creek Semillon 2013 (Hunter Valley, $25) 26. Mitchell Wines McNicol Shiraz 2006 (Clare Valley, $40) 27. Serafino ‘Sharktooth’ Shiraz 2009 (McLaren Vale, $70) 28. De Iuliis Steven Vineyard Shiraz 2014 (Hunter Valley, $40) 29. Bird in Hand Two in the Bush Shiraz 2013 (Adelaide Hills, $20) 30. Peos Estate Four Aces Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Margaret River, $36) 31. Tomich ‘T’ Woodside Vineyard 1777 Pinot Noir 2013 (Adelaide Hills, $30) 32. Brokenwood Maxwell Vineyard Chardonnay 2014 (Hunter Valley, $55) 33. Alkoomi Wandoo Semillon 2005 (Frankland River, $35) 34. Draytons Family Wines Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Hunter Valley, $20) 35. Pindarie Western Ridge Shiraz 2015 (Barossa Valley, $28) 36. Yering Station ‘Little Yering’ Cabernet Shiraz 2010 (Yarra Valley, $18) 37. Geoff Hardy Wines K1 Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Adelaide Hills, $35) 38. Box Grove Vineyard Roussanne 2009 (Goulburn Valley, $28) 39. Bleasdale Second Innings Malbec 2013 (Langhorne Creek, $20) 40. Thorn-Clarke Shotfire Quartage Cabernet/Cabernet Franc/Petit Verdot/Merlot 2013 (Barossa, $25) 41. Redgate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Margaret River, $38) 42. Harewood Estate Chardonnay 2014 (Denmark, $27.50) 43. Millbrook Winery Limited Edition Chardonnay 2012 (Margaret River, $45) 44. Hungerford Hill Classic Range Chardonnay 2014 (Tumbarumba, $33) 45. Tower Estate Coombe Rise Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 (Hunter Valley, $38) 46. Seville Estate ‘Old Vine Reserve’ Pinot Noir 2013 (Yarra Valley, $90) 47. Thompson Estate Four Chambers Shiraz 2013 (Margaret River, $22) 48. Penny’s Hill Footprint Shiraz 2012 (McLaren Vale, $65) 49. Bremerton ‘Tamblyn’ Cabernet Shiraz Malbec Merlot 2012 (Langhorne Creek,   $19.90) 50. Rockcliffe Third Reef Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Great Southern, $26) Further reading: the of Best wines of 2016
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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