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Wine

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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Embracing isolation with Frankland Estate’s Hunter Smith
To celebrate the Frankland Estate Riesling 2015 being our October Wine of the Month, we caught up with winemaker Hunter Smith to talk isolation, organics and a special Guinea fowl. What was it like growing up in Frankland River – WA’s most isolated wine region? Looking back, amazing! The concept of isolation was not there, we had total freedom after school (a thriving 60-student primary school) to go horse riding, rabbit trapping and yabbie catching, help out on the farm, kayak down the Frankland River, camp, fish and explore on the spectacular south coast and have big farm picnics where friends would join us at the farm and the folks would drink magnums of red well into the evening around a big fire.   Your parents weren’t always in the grape-growing game – how did that come about? Farming and the land are a big part of both my father’s and mother’s family histories in Australia. My father Barrie grew up on a vineyard in South Australia’s Riverland and his family moved to a farm in the Frankland River region back in the 50s, so I guess it was always in his blood. Fast forward a little and Judi and Barrie met in Perth and purchased a farm in Frankland River down the road a bit from my grandparents and started farming sheep and wheat. Dad was always making a barrel of wine a year and in the early 1980s, Judi and he went on a trip through France with Bill Hardy and let’s just say they got the bug to plant some vines. The first vines were planted in 1988 and, over time, sheep numbers have gone from 15,000 to pretty much just a handful now as the wine business has become our main focus. Did you always imagine you’d end up working in the wine industry? Standing in 5ºC pruning vines in the middle of a Frankland River winter would make any teenager look for greener pastures. I was adamant I would do anything but winemaking and grape growing. I spent 10 years after school in university and travelling and this made me realise how much I loved the industry and the region in which we farm our vines. A vintage with Eric and Bertold Salomon in Kremstal, Austria was probably the point in time when it all changed for me. Given how pristine the Frankland River region is, and the fact that it’s virtually pollution free, is there a commitment among local growers to organic viticulture? I think generally, viticulturists are looking to be as sustainable as possible and this region is very much that way inclined, we have a very complementary climate to help with this. While we remain the only certified organic vineyard and winery in the Frankland River region, there is a big move in this direction.
One of the more unique members of your team is Gladys – what contribution does she make to the vineyard? As a family, we don’t believe in hierarchy in the workplace, but Gladys is the matriarch of our amazing Guinea fowl flock. Every year, Barrie incubates eggs found by the vineyard workers and a breeding program sees a few hundred new birds added to the team. Under Gladys command, they help control pests such as weevils. It’s all the one percenters that help make a successful organic farming system. What difference do you think your organic approach made to the 2015 Riesling? I could bang on about organics for hours, but what I will say is, we have seen vine health improve remarkably through the attention to detail in every aspect of nutrition, soil biology and climatic conditions. As a result, we are seeing very exciting developments to fruit balance and we are finding natural acidity is retained nicely. We have also been able to increase ripening a fraction, giving this wine delicious generosity of flavour, while maintaining that delicate and a nervous framework of acidity that make Frankland Estate Rieslings a stand out. In our 2017 calendar, your Riesling is matched with steamed snapper with Asian flavours – what’s your favourite meal to enjoy with it? That sounds pretty good! Being just an hour’s drive to the Southern Ocean, I love sitting on the beach catching fresh whiting and the humble herring, these cooked over an open fire with a Riesling (with a couple of years’ age) is spectacular.   What’s your favourite wine memory? Gosh, too many great wine moments to pin it down to one, but a very memorable night was 10 years ago when our great late friend and wine importer to the USA John Larchet, with his great friend Ray Harris and a group of fellow Australian winemakers, spent an unbelievable evening enjoying some of Ray’s finest bottles in his New York apartment overlooking the NYC skyline. I remember thinking I would never see some of these wines again and I couldn’t help but think how amazing it was to be sitting on the other side of the world in a city so far removed from our Isolation Ridge vineyard in Frankland River, a special memory! What’s your favourite… Way to spend time off? With the family on the farm or at the beach. Holiday destination? Bremer Bay (south coast WA) whales, fishing, spectacular white beaches and probably even more remote than Frankland River! It’s a must see for anyone that’s never been. Wine and food match? I don’t get too caught up with that, if there’s food and wine, I’ll be there! Sporting team? Wallabies (sometimes!) Book? Something with a bit of Australian history – I always enjoy reading, nothing too dry!  I’m reading Peter FitzSimons’ Eureka right now, which is a good read.
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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