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Wine

Meet Ninth Island Winemaker Luke Whittle

To celebrate the Ninth Island Pinot Grigio 2016 from the Tamar Valley being the November Wine of the Month, we caught up with winemaker Luke Whittle to talk Tasmania, cool climate wines, and Pinot G.

You are originally from New Zealand where you started your winemaking career, plus you’ve done vintages in Canada, Germany and Central Victoria –  what drew you to Tasmania?

Ultimately, my passion to get back to cool climate wines, and Tasmania’s reputation for amazing wines and produce. I see a huge amount of potential for the Tasmanian wine industry as the region continues to produce world-class Sparkling and table wines and grow its reputation both domestically and abroad. I think the next decade will be a very exciting time for the industry here and I want to be a part of that future.

What makes the Tamar Valley such a special region?

The unique maritime climate, sheltered from the prevailing westerly winds resulting in consistency of ripening.  We’re situated on a beautiful big sweeping bend of the Tamar, which is not only an amazing place for grapes, but a beautiful setting for a vineyard with vine covered slopes rolling down to the water. It’s like a scene from an old-world region in Europe with a distinctly Tasmanian twist.

Our Wine of the Month is the Ninth Island 2016 Pinot Grigio – what is it about cool climate wines that you like so much?

In a word: elegance ­–  the way they are so fresh and expressive yet full of finesse.

In our food and wine matching calendar, we’ve paired it with a quick chicken cassoulet with preserved lemon – what’s your choice of food partner?

Coming from the coast of NZ, I’m really drawn to the amazing bounty of seafood here in Tasmania, and I love freediving. So combining those passions, I’d pair it with fresh barbeque crayfish and wasabi aioli, especially with the opening of the crayfish season just around the corner.

What makes cool climate wines like Pinot G so food-friendly?

The cool climate acidity lends itself to so many possibilities, especially when combined with the Pinot Grigios texture and delicate but expressive aromatics.

What’s your favourite wine memory?

The next one…

Other than your own wine, what wine do you like to drink at home?

I like to mix it up. Recently it’s been Riesling, especially some of the dryer style Rieslings out of Germany, something I fell in love with over my time working in the Mosel and the Pfalz.

What are your three top recommendations for a first-time visitor to the area?

  • Hit the incredible Tasmanian coastline! I’d suggest to go up to the top end of the east coast, where you’ll find no crowds, and amazingly beautiful beaches.
  • The Tamar Valley Wine Route, which we are a part of – the perfect way to sample a number of delicious Tassie wines.  
  • Head into Launceston to Stillwater Restaurant. The menu features Tasmanian produce and they’re known for an incredible wine list highlighting Tasmanian wine.

What’s your favourite …

Way to spend time off? In the ocean.

Holiday destination? Whangamata, my hometown, for a dose of NZ summer.

Wine and food match? Pinot and duck… it just needs to happen

Sporting team? All Blacks (of course)

Movie?  Anchorman – one of the classics

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Wine
Under pressure - Wine VS Mine
Words by Max Allen on 21 Dec 2016
Winemaker Andrew Margan is standing on a rock on a ridge overlooking his vineyard at Broke, in NSW’s Hunter Valley . The landscape is idyllic: vine rows plunge down the hillside; Wollombi Brook curls through the middle distance; tree-covered ranges rise up steeply behind. He’s talking about how different this country could have looked had energy company AGL got its way. “If CSG (coal seam gas) mining had gone ahead here as AGL were planning,” says Margan, “there could have been 300 wells sunk between here and Pokolbin.” Just five years ago it seemed that CSG was a foregone conclusion in the Hunter wine region. A couple of exploratory wells had already been sunk, not far from Margan’s vineyard at Broke, and AGL were attempting to ingratiate themselves with the local winemakers - buying vineyards, sponsoring a local winemaking scholorship, joining the wine industry association. But the local winemakers were having none of it. They had serious concerns about the environmental impact of CSG mining. They worried that hydraulically fracturing - or “fracking” - deep coal seams to release the gas could contaminate the local aquifer and lead to geological instability. And they were outraged that, under then-current legislation, the miners would be able to drill among the vineyards and wineries of the country’s leading wine tourism destination. As fourth generation winemaker Bruce Tyrrell told me at the time: “It’s simple. If any of those bastards come onto the land my family have owned for 150 yrs I’ll bloody shoot ‘em. And I’m still a good shot.” Eventually, the vignerons’ well-organised protest campaigns - including a high-profile march on the NSW Parliament in 2012 - helped encourage the state government to declare the viticultural and equine industries in the Hunter off-limits to CSG mining: boundaries were drawn around these two newly-declared Critical Industry Clusters that prevented any further resource exploration. “We won,” says Andrew Margan. “But it was a hell of a fight.” “The CSG battle almost destroyed us,” admits Andrew’s wife Lisa Margan. “Having to take on such a big issue like that fractures the community, it pulls resources out of the community, it exhausts the community.” ----- The Hunter isn’t the only wine region to have tussled with unconventional gas mining in the last few years. Just before Christmas 2013, resource company Beach Energy sank its first exploratory shale gas well just south of Penola, the main town in the famous wine region of Coonawarra , in South Australia’s Limestone Coast. I visited the region during vintage 2014, a couple of months later, and witnessed that first rig being moved to a second exploratory site west of the main vineyard area. It’s only when you see one of these installations up close - or as close as security will allow - that you get a feel for how much the landscape is affected and what impact dozens or hundreds of such wells would have on the nature of a region: temporary roads carved through paddocks, the four-storey rig itself, the holding ponds dug into the earth to retain contaminated water, lights and sound running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “I just can’t envisage co-existence with a gas well like that next to my cellar door,” said Dennis Vice of Highbank, one of Coonawarra’s leading wineries as we watched another truck loaded with drilling equipment roar by. “How can anyone argue that industrialized gas extraction can sit comfortably alongside wine - a brand that’s based on clean green production? Even if they do put a well in and I’m forced to sell, my vineyard would be worthless because of that rig. The implications for landowners are immense.” During the same visit, local vineyard manager Stuart Sharman, chair of the Limestone Coast Grape and Wine Council’s unconventional shale gas committee, detailed his deep concerns about shale gas extraction - a process that, like CSG mining, involves drilling down through the aquifer and using large amounts of local water in the process. “We don’t have a lot of confidence that the miners can give us an iron clad guarantee that well integrity will be maintained,” he said. “We know that the wells break down over time - their own documents show that. And (energy company) Santos has just been fined for contaminating the acquifer with uranium up in the Pilliga. If our vineyard irrigation water here becomes contaminated we can kiss goodbye to our sector of the economy: the Coonawarra brand and the whole district will be tarnished.” When I spoke to him again for this article, Sharman told me the pressure has eased. Not long after my visit during vintage in 2014, Beach Energy announced they had decided to concentrate on conventional gas extraction, and not in close proximity to the vineyards. The level of exploratory drilling I witnessed had “slowed right up”. But Sharman says it’s the slowdown in the energy market at the moment that’s contributed to the change of heart, not necessarily the very vocal opposition of the vignerons. “Depressed energy prices are slowing up further expectations,” he says. “It’s just not worth the miners’ while to go to the effort of unconventional gas extraction right now. But I think what we’re seeing is probably a lull, not the end. I imagine it could well ramp up again if the situation changes.” ----- It’s a similar story in the Hunter. Yes, says Andrew Margan, with the declaration of the Critical Industry Clusters, winegrowers have had a reprieve. And yes, AGL announced earlier this year that they were pulling out of CSG in NSW. But the state government hasn’t reversed its stand on CSG overall: the exploratory and mining licences haven’t been revoked. So if - when - the economic climate and the political balance shift, the pressure may build once more to start extracting precious hydrocarbons in the heart of wine country. And if that happens, says Stuart Sharman, there will always be a conflict between the short-term gain of the energy companies and the long-term sustainability of the winegrowers. “In the wine industry we’re busy spending millions of dollars redeveloping vineyards and setting ourselves up for another 50-plus years,” he says. “The mining guys are very publicly saying they’ll only be here for 20 years. But what’s it going to be like - what’s the impact not only to the physical environment but also the social environment - when they walk out in 20 years time and we’re still here.”
Wine
Meet Tom Carson of Yabby Lake
With the popularity of Australian Pinot G continuing to climb, we chat with Yabby Lake general manager and winemaker, Tom Carson, whose Red Claw Pinot Gris 2016 is so deliciously food-friendly. Along with being an award-winning winemaker, you’re also heavily involved with the Australian wine show circuit – including holding the position of Chairman of the Royal Melbourne Wine Show. What’s exciting you most about Australian wine? Australian wine is in a wonderful period at the moment, there are so many small producers producing stunning wine. As we have seen at the Royal Melbourne Wine Awards, this year a Grenache won the most coveted Trophy in Australian wine, the Jimmy Watson Trophy. Grenache is a wonderful variety and produces stunning wines, particularly from the incredible old vine resources of South Australia – couple this with a modern, sensitive approach to winemaking and we are finally realising the potential of this variety. You’ve worked in multiple wine regions across Australia and France, and this year celebrate ten years at Yabby Lake –  what drew you to Yabby Lake and the Mornington Peninsula?   Yabby Lake is a stunning property and is an amazing vineyard site. It was the unrealised potential of this site that really drew me in – just imagining what was possible with this vineyard had me hooked, and 10 years on that hasn’t changed. Fruit for the Red Claw Pinot Gris 2016 was harvested in early February 2016, which is quite early for the Mornington Peninsula! How’s vintage 2018 looking?  Yes, 2016 was the earliest vintage we have ever experienced here, picking 10 days earlier than ever before. 2018 is shaping up nicely and we should be harvesting late February this year! Both Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio have really found their place in the Australian wine market – what is it about Pinot G that makes it so popular? It is a wine that is easy to connect with – it’s subtle, finely detailed, but also wonderfully drinkable and really suits that summer weather when you are craving something refreshing but also interesting. What makes the Red Claw Pinot Gris stand out from the crowd? Red Claw Mornington Peninsula Pinot Gris captures the variety and region in a way that just draws you in and makes you an instant fan. What is your all-time favourite wine memory (other than a wine itself)? I remember when l was very young, maybe 5 years-old, treading grapes in a garbage bin and thinking what great fun it was getting covered in wine and grapes. It’s funny how things work out! Other than your own wine, what is the wine that you like to drink at home? I am massive fan of Yarra Valley Chardonnay, particularly from Oakridge, old vine McLaren Vale Grenache from S.C. Pannell, and Nebbiolo from Italy. What is your ultimate food and wine match? Chinese roast duck and Pinot Noir! Yes, it is a bit of a cliché, but have you tried it? What do you do to relax when you’re away from the winery? On a golf course! Well, l try to anyway, but that depends on how the game is going! Your must-do for visitors to the Mornington Peninsula. Peninsula hot springs in winter. Beach in summer. Golf in autumn and spring.
What is your favourite… Book ? Girt by David Hunt – every Australian should read this book and True Girt. Movie ? Alien. TV show? Game of Thrones. Restaurant?  Kisume. Breakfast ? Coffee. Lunch?  Long. Dinner? In summer a barbeque eating outside and enjoying a few nice wines. Time of day/night?  Morning. Sporting team?  Essendon FC. Beer?  Proper Italian brewed and canned Peroni Nastro Azzurro – not that rubbish they brew and bottle here, it is a scandal and should be exposed.
Wine
Sydney Royal Wine Show in Review
We join Selector publisher and wine educator, Paul Diamond for a behind the scenes look at the recent 2017 KPMG Royal Sydney Wine Show and speak with some of the winning winemakers. In late July the Royal Agricultural Society released the results from the 2017 KPMG Sydney Royal Wine Show . Among the judges this year was Selector Magazine publisher and wine educator, Paul Diamond, who lent a hand assessing the wines as an associate judge. “My role was to assess brackets of wines as part of the overall classes that they were entered into. To establish which wines were worthy of medals and establish a hierarchy of the quality presented," Paul explains. We recently caught up with Paul and some of our favourite medal-winning winemakers to give us an insight into the show. Here is what we learnt: Chardonnay is on the rise
For Paul, one of the highlights of the show was the high quality of 2016 Chardonnays he judged. “I have not come across a class with such a high level of consistent quality and expressive examples,” he said. “It’s a great time to be a Chardonnay lover.” The standard of Chardonnay at the show was evident with the Best Small Producer wine going to Clonal Brothers,  Flametree Wines taking out the Trophy for the Best Wine Judged by the International Guest Judge, and Tyrrell’s Vineyards winning the Trophy for Best NSW Wine for their 2012 Vat 47 Chardonnay . Tyrrell’s had an excellent Sydney Royal Wine Show, with their Stevens Vineyard Hunter Valley Semillon 2011 taking out Trophies for Best Semillon and Best Mature White. That takes the total tally of awards won by that wine to 15 Gold medals and two Trophies.  Australian Sauvignon Blanc is creating its own style Many of the judges noted that Australian Sauvignon Blanc is moving away from trying to replicate the herbaceous NZ style, with the best wines at the show focusing on citrus fruits with finesse and drive. Miles From Nowhere  continued their stellar performance with their 2017 Sauvignon Blanc from Cowaramup securing two Trophies and a Gold. It can be tough being a wine show judge
While spending a day tasting and assessing wine may sound like heaven to many, it’s a gruelling process requiring a high level of focus and concentration.

“Some brackets can have upwards of 50 wines! You don’t want to miss anything or be unfair to a wine that someone has put their hard work, time and money into.”

- Paul Diamond, Associate Judge
Shiraz is still Australia’s most versatile wine As the country’s most widely planted variety, it was clear that despite vastly differing climates, Australian winemakers continue to adapt and create a variety of examples of Shiraz and Syrah that express their unique terroir. A swag of Gold medals were awarded to wines from across a broad range of regions throughout the country. One such example is the Gold medal-winning Berrigan Syrah 2015 from South Australia’s Limestone Coast sub regions of Mount Benson and Robe. For winemaker Dan Berrigan, this was great news.

“It’s like a huge pat on the back,” says Dan. “So much hard work goes into my wines, starting in the vineyard and continuing all the way to bottling. Great wine show results fill you with confidence that you’re on the right track and that you're not insane for taking a chance on a new and exciting wine region."

- Dan Berrigan, Berrigan Wines
Congratulations to some of our favourite winemakers
All in all it was great to see so many wines and winemakers that we know and love here at Wine Selectors achieve the recognition they deserve with Gold Medals awarded to  Miles From Nowhere , De Bortoli , Tyrrells, Evans & Tate , Tulloch , d’Arenberg , Best’s, Andrew Thomas, Devil’s Corner, Bleasdale, Berrigan Wines and many more. A relative newcomer to Wine Selectors, Shingleback Wines, had a great wine show picking up the Best Value Red Trophy for their 2016 Red Knot Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre, plus three Golds. John Davey, the director of winemaking and viticulture at Shingleback, was thrilled, “Although we’re confident in the quality of our wines, and have achieved considerable acclaim over the years, the thrill of success at a wine show never diminishes and has an energising effect on the whole team,” he says. “I take great pride in my esteemed peers judging my children (my wines) worthy of merit.” To see the full results and all of the medal and Trophy winners visit the NSW RAS website.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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