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Introducing Kim Bickley, our new Tasting Panel member!

We’re excited to introduce our new Tasting Panellist, Kim Bickley. As one of Australia’s most highly respected sommeliers with over 10 years’ experience and an avid wine-lover, Kim is going to make a wonderful addition to our team of experts.

What first attracted you to working with wine?

I'd always had an interest in wine, but my interest truly peaked when I began a job in a restaurant while studying a degree in Communications. I worked alongside a talented sommelier who encouraged all the team to taste, read and attend tastings. I loved the anticipation of what was in the bottle, the older wines in particular, and I still do. 

You qualified through the Court of Master Sommeliers – what did that involve?

The Court of Master Sommeliers includes a 3-part examination: theory, tasting and service. You need to know about wine and spirits from all around the world, including being able to differentiate them in a blind tasting. Also, how to cellar, serve and maintain a restaurant wine list. The study never really stops if you’re really into wine, things are always changing, new regions emerging and older ones reinventing themselves. I just love it. 

You’ve since worked for some of Australia’s most impressive restaurants including Luke Mangan’s Glass Brasserie and Black by ezard – what are some of your standout memories?

I have so many, the team become like family to you; the regular customers like friends…things like that are what keep you in the game. I also enjoyed looking after some of the world’s best known celebrities and seeing what they like to drink. From Jerry Lewis (Barolo lover) to Cuba Gooding Jr (Sauvignon Blanc).

You’ve been a sommelier for over a decade, what are the top 3 changes you’ve seen in that time?

  1. When I started out, there were only a handful of true sommeliers working in Sydney, now almost every little restaurant has one. It has become accessible and easy for young and upcoming sommeliers to study and qualify now, for a long time there was very little available, aside from reading The Oxford Wine Companion, now almost every city has WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) available (and it's also possible to study online), there are multiple tastings on every week, and a great selection of truly talented Group Head Sommeliers for them to train under – it's a great time to be a somm. 
  2. Good Aussie Chardonnay has gone from over-oaked and overblown to incredibly restrained, balanced and often as good as some of the best in the world. 
  3. The increased popularity of so called 'natural wines', some of which are incredible and delicious, but many of which are faulty and horrible to drink. I find it fascinating that they have become so popular, given the risky nature of purchasing them if you don't know the producer well. 

 How has your love of wine changed over your career so far? Do you still have the same favourite varieties as you did when you started?

I still have the same favourites, plus a few more now. My love of wine has only deepened, I have been fortunate to have had the chance to travel Australia and the world to see so many amazing regions and their wines. Best of all, I have met so many great people, vignerons and sommeliers alike. 

You’re also a wine educator – what’s the most rewarding part of teaching people about wine?  Seeing people learning the basics of wine and have that 'ah-ha' tasting moment when they really get it, you know they'll be hooked for life. And seeing some of the young sommeliers that trained with me running their own wine lists in some of the world’s best venues; and a couple are even winemakers now. 

What are you looking forward to most about being on the Wine Selectors Tasting Panel?

Tasting and discovering some of Australia's best new wines with my talented Panel-mates, discussing these wines and seeing them enjoyed by the Wine Selectors customers. I especially look forward to tasting them at the airport cellar doors, next time I pass by! 

You now call the Hunter Valley home, what drew you to this region and what do you think are some of the most exciting wine styles being made there?

I always loved the Hunter Valley and its Semillon in particular. There is no other wine in the world like it. It's so delicate and yet powerful, it's flexible with food and is one of the handful of white wines that develop beautifully with age. Now with most being under screw cap, its ageing potential will be amazing to track in the next 50 years and beyond.

I also love Hunter Shiraz and am excited to see the historical blend of Pinot Noir and Shiraz making a very strong comeback. 

It's a beautiful place to live, I'm so happy to be here. 

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Wine
Top 50 Wines of 2016
Words by Mark Hughes on 4 Jan 2017
The Wine Selectors Tasting Panel tastes over 3000 wines from Australian producers per year. Here is the best of the best, the top wines that wowed them in 2016. Not many people know this, but I’ve always loved statistics. When I was younger, it was all sports related – D.K Lillee’s bowling average, Chicka Ferguson’s try scoring tally, that sort of stuff. These days I am using that love of maths to discover interesting info about wine. Throughout the year our  Tasting Panel  puts their collective expert palates to the test to determine what wines we send to our members. The wine tasting process is extremely rigorous. The wines are opened the morning of the tasting to allow them to breathe, placed into a bottle cover so no-one can see the label, and poured in brackets that group varietals or styles. The Panel tastes each and every wine and gives them a score out of 20, as per judging at an official wine show. This happens every Friday (and sometimes Wednesday) at Wine Selectors with our Panel tasting up to 100 wines a week. That equates to literally thousands of wines a year, from nearly every producer in every wine region across Australia. So collecting a year’s worth of scores from the Panel reveals some amazing statistics. And from that we can gather some pretty cool information. For instance, not only does it show which producers are leading the charge, what regions had a good vintage and what varietals are doing well – it also shows the changing face of wine. On Trend
That’s the exciting thing about wine – it is always changing. That’s a pretty simple sentence, but when you look at it from different angles, it really says a lot. Yes, it is changing in the bottle as it ages and develops, changes in weather from season to season determine the outcome of how the wine will taste, and there are changes in winemaking techniques and equipment that will improve the taste and the scope of a wine. Ultimately though, I think the biggest change in wine is driven by consumers. Fashion leads demand and if the demand is big enough, it will drive supply. This scenario is pretty evident when looking at our Top 50 wines of 2016. Even before you look at who made the Top 50, just the wines submitted tell a startling story – Aussie drinkers are demanding greater variety. How do we know? Well, in 2016 our Panel tasted more alternative wines than ever before and we are not just talking about a couple of Grigios . Try these on for size: Bianco d’Alessano, Garganega, Muller Thurgau, Verduzzo – and they’re just the whites, they also sipped Aglianico, Lagrein, Montepulciano, Saperavi and Saint Macaire – and that’s only a third of the list of alternative varietals they looked at. How many have you heard of, let alone tried? The exciting thing is, you probably will get to try some of these soon, because quite a few of them are performing exceptionally well – good enough to make it to our Top 50 wines of 2016. For instance, the Serafino Wines Bellissimo Lagrein (placing inside the Top 10, no less), The Pawn Wine Co En Passant Tempranillo and the Bird in Hand Montepulciano. There’s also Touriga, Fiano, Vermentino, Marsanne and more. Yep, it’s an exciting time to be a drinker of Australian wine. Traditional Stars Of course, our traditional varietals also excelled in 2016. Our two biggies, Shiraz (12) and Chardonnay (9) dominated the tallies, but it must be pointed out that their styles have changed to suit the drinking public. The top scoring wine, the Di Giorgio Family Chardonnay 2015, is lean and minerally, described as having “aromas of flint, struck match and oyster shell with a refined palate of intense fig, melon and nectarine,” while the top scoring Shiraz, the Ryan’s Reserve Vanessa’s Vineyard 2014 is a medium to full-bodied Hunter wine with “a ripe and lively core of red and black fruits with hints of Chinese spice.” Riesling was also a big surprise packet this year. Panellist Trent Mannell reckons Riesling is going to be one of the trending wines of 2017 and if the quality of current vintages is anything to go by, he may be right. The  Ferngrove Off Dry Limited Release Riesling 2016  from Western Australia’s Great Southern region was simply superb, taking out second spot overall and was described by the Panel as “impossible to put down”. In all, there were four Rieslings in the Top 50, all from different regions, which goes to show this varietal’s versatility. Read more about  the rise of Australian Riesling in this article Diversity and Consistency
In a nod to diversity, the Top 10 wines were made up of eight different varietals from eight different regions. That’s a real wow moment right there. Chardonnay , Riesling, Marsanne, Shiraz, Muscat, Semillon , Cabernet Merlot and Lagrein – Coonawarra , Great Southern, Nagambie Lakes, Hunter Valley, Rutherglen , Margaret River , Barossa , Adelaide Hills . What that tells us is that viticulturists are getting better at knowing what works in their region and how to get the best out of their grape. It also says that winemakers are becoming more skilled at taking that perfectly grown grape and making great wine. Out of the Top 50 there were only two producers who featured more than once – Howard Park ( Marchand & Burch Chardonnay  and  Howard Park Flint Rock Pinot Noir ) and Brown Brothers (Devil’s Corner Pinot Noir and Innocent Bystander Known Pleasures Shiraz). The same two producers both had two wines each in last year’s Top 50, so it speaks volumes of their ability to consistently produce top wines. And speaking of consistency, it must be noted that the Brown Brothers Devil’s Corner Pinot Noir 2015 replicated the success of the 2014 that featured in  last year’s Top 50 . This is a huge result, as anyone can have a great vintage, but to do it consistently is the mark of a great producer. Vintage and Age The stats show that The Hunter Valley (8), McLaren Vale (7) and Great Southern (7) had great vintages, with 2014 living up to the hype for reds and 2015 for white wines.It was also interesting to note the power of age. Nearly all the wine we buy is consumed soon after we’ve bought it (the same day in my case). However, some producers are lucky enough to be able to hold onto some of their wine to release it at a date when it has aged to perfection – the Tahbilk Marsanne 2010 and Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon 2011, for example. Of course, you can do the same thing, provided you have the ideal storing conditions and you can keep your hands off it. Or, if that seems too hard, you can just check out this list of amazing wines, tally up the ones you like, do the stats and get amongst them. The Best Australian Wines of 2016 Di Giorgio Family Chardonnay 2015 (Coonawarra) Ferngrove Off Dry Limited Release Riesling 2016 (Great Southern) Tahbilk Marsanne 2010 (Nagambie Lakes) Saddler’s Creek Ryan’s Reserve Vanessa Vineyard Shiraz 2014 (Hunter Valley) Stanton & Killen Classic Rutherglen Muscat NV (Rutherglen) Howard Park Wines Marchand & Burch Australian Collection 'Porongurup' Chardonnay 2015 Tyrrell’s Wines Vat 1 Semillon 2011 (Hunter Valley) Henschke & Co Tappa Pass Shiraz 2013 (Barossa) Hamelin Bay Wines Five Ashes Vineyard Cabernet Merlot 2014 (Margaret River) Serafino Wines Bellissimo Lagrein (Adelaide Hills) 2013 The Pawn Wine Co. En Passant Tempranillo 2013 (Adelaide Hills)   Briar Ridge Stockhausen Black Label Semillon 2016 (Hunter Valley) Tyrrell’s Wines 'Stevens' Single Vineyard Shiraz 2014 (Hunter Valley) Scotchmans Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Geelong) Innocent Bystander Known Pleasures Shiraz McLaren Vale 2014 (McLaren Vale) Byron & Harold The Partners Chardonnay 2015 (Great Southern) Brown Brothers Devil’s Corner Resolution Pinot Noir 2015 (Tasmania) De Iuliis Steven Vineyard Shiraz 2014 (Hunter Valley) Howard Park - 'Flint Rock' Pinot Noir 2015 (Great Southern) Rutherglen Estates Durif 2014 (Rutherglen) Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Vineyard (Organic) 2013 (Frankland River) Seville Estate Chardonnay 2015 (Yarra Valley) Woods Crampton Pedro Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2015 (Barossa) Dandelion Vineyards Sister’s Run Shiraz 2014 (Barossa) Forest Hill Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Mount Barker) try the  2011 vintage here Driftwood Artifacts Chardonnay 2014 (Margaret River) Lisa McGuigan Platinum Selection Chardonnay 2015 (Hunter Valley) Bleasdale Vineyards The Powder Monkey Single Vineyard Shiraz 2013 (Langhorne Creek) Hart & Hunter Single Vineyard Twenty Six Rows Chardonnay 2015 (Hunter Valley) Rockcliffe Quarram Rocks Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2016 (Great Southern) Taylors Wines Riesling 2015 (Clare Valley) Bird in Hand Montepulciano 2014 (Adelaide Hills) Alkoomi Black Label Riesling 2009 (Frankland River) Pertaringa Wines Undercover Shiraz 2014 (McLaren Vale) Shaw Vineyard Estate Olleyville Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 (Canberra) Five Geese Shiraz 2014 (McLaren Vale) Leconfield Wines Richard Hamilton Centurion 122-Year-Old Vine Shiraz 2014 SC Pannell Wines Grenache Shiraz Touriga 2014 (McLaren Vale) Shadowfax Pinot Gris 2015 (Geelong) Dominique Portet Fontaine Rose 2015 (Yarra Valley) McWilliams Wines Mount Pleasant High Altitude Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Orange) Tulloch - 'Cellar Door Release' Vermentino 2016 (Orange) Oliver’s Taranga Vineyards Fiano 2015 (McLaren Vale) Try the  2016 vintage here Montara Winery Chalambar Road Shiraz 2009 (Grampians) Henry’s Drive Vignerons Henry’s Drive H Syrah 2012 (Padthaway) Margan Family Limited Release Chardonnay 2013 (Hunter Valley) Bremerton Walter’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (Langhorne Creek) Vasse Felix Chardonnay 2015 (Margaret River) d’Arenberg The Dry Dam Riesling (off dry) 2015 (McLaren Vale/Adelaide Hills) Kirrihill Wines Montepulciano 2014 (Mount Lofty)
Wine
Meet Charles Smedley from Mandala Wines
We catch up with Charles Smedley – Yarra Valley winemaker, Pinot-fan and the owner and winemaker of Mandala Wines .   Can you recall the first wine you tried? I can’t recall the first wine I tasted (one of the side effects, I suppose), but I do remember the first significant wine I tasted where I had a ‘wow’ moment – it was a 1987 Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz – an absolute game changer. When did you fall in love with wine? I really fell in love with wine when I was about 19 or 20 years old; I was working in Clochmerel Cellars in Albert Park and studying at William Angliss. Do you remember that moment? What happened? Well, it was around that time that I started to spend money on wine to see if there was a noticeable difference. My mate Richard and I spent some $25 (1991) as to the normal $5 on a bottle and went for an Indian dinner…it was that night that we said: ‘THIS is why you spend money on wine’, and really understood the potential a good quality wine can have on an occasion, experience or meal. Do you have an all-time favourite wine? Why is it this wine? I don’t have an all-time favourite, but what makes me tick is when a bottle of wine exceeds all expectations and sharing that experience with family or friends. What is your all-time favourite wine memory (other than a wine itself)? I’d have to say my first trip travelling through Burgundy and just soaking up the history and technique of the region’s winemaking (it’s still the same for every trip there since); the barrel tastings were just superb. I also have fond memories of blending time at the winery! Other than your own wine, what is the wine that you like to drink at home? Timo Mayer Pinot Noir What is your ultimate food and wine match. Any type of game and Pinot Noir . Pinot Noir is, and has always been my passion, it brought me to the Yarra Valley years ago. The versatility of the grape means it can work with pretty much any meal but game, namely duck cassoulet and Pinot Noir (Gevrey Chambertin), would be the winner in my eyes. Can you cook? If so, what is your ‘signature dish’? I come from a family of cooks and chefs, so I started working in restaurant kitchens from when I was about 12 years old. Suckling pig is my signature dish. What do you think is special about your wine region? The Yarra Valley region is a viticultural marvel in itself; it’s a haven for a huge range of different varietals thanks to its diverse topography (saying this I chose the Yarra Valley due to its complete harmony with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir ), soil profiles and micro-climates. In 1999 I planted a Pinot Noir vineyard in the Upper Yarra, Yarra Junction, and the higher rainfall and volcanic soils provide the best conditions for nourishing our vines. We opened the second (and main) site in Dixons Creek 10 years ago, down on the ‘floor’ of the valley, and now have a range of varietals which enjoy the warmer weather and soils there. Not to mention the sheer beauty of the region – I believe it’s in the top three most picturesque wine regions in the world. What do you do to relax away from the winery? I love to travel, whether it’s activity-based or just to the beach I’m happy – especially if the family is with me too. I also love to read, and of course, enjoy a great bottle of wine. Do you have a favourite holiday destination/memory? It would have to be in Italy along the Amalfi Coast – the views, the food, the weather…stunning. I’ve been three times now and have very happy memories. Each time I’ve been there it felt like a wave of relaxation swept over me. What is your favourite… Book –  Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts – thought-provoking, thrilling and an eye-opener all in one.  Movie –   Harold and Maude – it shows how love comes in all forms, it has the best movie soundtrack and it's very funny. TV show  Breaking Bad – it’s all about how events can change life’s decisions and I found it to be a really good watch! The main character is very funny and always manages to (comically) get himself out of trouble. Restaurant – France-Soir in Melbourne  – great atmosphere. Breakfas t –  A classic English breakfast. Lunch –  Oysters and sashimi. Dinner  – Chilli mud crab. Time of day/night  Night – everything moves slower and this is the time of I can relax and enjoy the peace of the countryside. Sporting Team? Sydney Swans for AFL, Melbourne Storm NRL and Aussie cricket of course. Beer – Ceske Budvar
Wine
Screw Cap vs Cork - the Seal of Approval
Words by Dave Mavor on 5 Jun 2017
Tasting Panellist Dave Mavor tells why a crack wins over a pop when it comes to opening wine. Screwcap closures were first used in the Australian wine industry in the 1970s, but consumers at the time perceived these wines to be of lower quality, and the initiative soon fizzled out. The screwcap comeback came in the 2000 vintage when a number of  ClareValley  winemakers bottled some of their  Rieslings  under screwcap to prevent cork-related faults. The most common of these is cork 'taint', caused by a compound known as TCA, which was often present in cork bark. Before the proliferation of screw cap closures in Australia, the level of wines ruined by cork taint was 12-15%. To put this in perspective, for every two dozen you purchased, it was accepted that there would be at least two bottles affected. This relatively high occurrence of cork taint was due largely to cork suppliers providing Australia with (compared to Europe) second rate corks with a higher incidence of taint producing bacteria. Due to the airtight nature of screwcaps, the problem of premature oxidation was also eliminated, along with the 'flavourscalping' tendency of the porous cork material, and other potential flavour modifications. Another advantage now widely recognised by consumers is the convenience factor - screwcapped bottles are easy to open and re-seal!   SCREWING WITH TIME One of the criticisms of screwcaps, apart from the ridiculous (in my view) notion of missing the 'romance' of the sound of popping a cork, was that the seal was so good that wines would not mature with time, due to the absence of oxygen. However, there is normally a miniscule amount of dissolved oxygen within the wine itself when it is bottled, which will allow the wine to evolve, and each bottle will age at roughly the same rate, while retaining its freshness and vitality for much longer. With wines under cork, the maturation process is not only much faster, but each bottle will age at a different rate due to the variable consistency and therefore oxygen permeability of the corks. A recent innovation in screwcap technology has seen the development of closures that allow strictly controlled rates of oxygen transmission, giving winemakers the choice of differing maturation rates for different wine styles. I have now had the opportunity to taste wines that have been aging gracefully under screwcap for up to 15 years, including the same wine bottled under both cork and screwcap. I've even had the privilege of tasting wines from those early adopters in the 70's, which at the time were still going strong.   INTERNATIONAL EYE-OPENER To reinforce my beliefs, award-winning Australian wine writer Tyson Stelzer came up with some stunning results from a tasting at Italy's biggest wine show, Vinitaly, in March, 2015. Tyson presented five mature flagship Australian red wines under both cork and screwcap in a blind tasting. Some of Australia's most age-worthy and respected reds were presented, including the  Henschke  Hill of Grace Shiraz 2004. In a major surprise the panel of international wine professionals voted the screwcapped wines ahead of the corks. "The result was ground-breaking for Italy, where screwcaps remain controversial and until recently have been prohibited on the country's top wines," Tyson said. Even Venice sommelier Annie Martin-Stefannato admitted "we will have to change our mindset". So, given all the evidence for the superiority of screwcap closures, my personal preference will always be to hear a 'crack' rather than a 'pop' when I open a bottle of wine.      
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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