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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
The Story of Yalumba
Words by Paul Diamond on 15 May 2017
Cabernet and Grenache are two essential chapters in the story of Yalumba. Join us as we uncover the characters and the plot behind their creations with a dream vertical tasting in the Barossa As Australia’s oldest family wine brand, Yalumba has a rich history packed with incredible stories. And, like any family, the tales offer more about the individuals and their character than the brand itself. As time passes, these stories meld and form an identity that ultimately shapes the family’s place in the world. Yalumba is bursting with such yarns and if you visit its home, just outside Angaston in the  Barossa Valley , you will see mementoes of these moments, memories and people everywhere. As for the brand, ‘Yalumba’ is an Indigenous word that translates to ‘all the land around’ and is now connected to its home, the winery and cellar door just outside Angaston. This impressive structure, complete with clock tower, is made from Angaston marble and it stands as a five-generational, 168-year statement in winemaking vision and commitment. Interestingly, Yalumba’s story began not with wine, but beer, when brewer Samuel Smith came to South Australia in 1849. With the help of his son Sidney, Samuel set up shop and started planting vines on 30 acres on their land. Today, the Yalumba empire is considered a multi-regional, multi-layered, modern, family wine business that has plenty of products across a wide brand portfolio.  Most people will have a Yalumba taste or experience to call on if required, but what about the lesser known stories? Thankfully, a recent Yalumba tasting helped bring a couple of significant ones to light: its commitment to  Coonawarra  and its undertaking to  Grenache .    AN ODE TO SIR ROBERT Former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, who was well known for his love of Claret, once declared that a 1962 Yalumba Coonawarra was, “the greatest wine he had tasted.” Someone at Yalumba took note and in 1987 the first ‘The Menzies’ was born.  Today, The Menzies, under the custodial care of winemaker Natalie Cleghorn, is classic Coonawarra and represents the best of Yalumba’s Cabernet plantings on the magic terra rossa strip. The Menzies is a serious wine, built to last with elegant measures of everything – structure, complexity, balance and long term cellaring potential. From the current 2013 to the soon to be released 2014, all the way back to the original 1987 vintage, the bracket proved that this wine deserves its place in the Yalumba narrative.  Natalie, originally from the  Adelaide Hills , came to Yalumba to work in the lab and loves the frame that Cabernet offers to the winemaker’s palate. “To me, Coonawarra Cabernet is a building block; fruit and flavours are on top of the presence of its structure,” she explains. “When it comes to wine, it’s like looking at a beautiful building. It’s a hard thing to describe, but it’s about creating something that will live for a long time.” Structure is key when it comes to Coonawarra  Cabernet  and the impact of that factor in the life of a wine was not lost when we tasted the 1987 vintage of The Menzies. Fine and elegant with buckets of dusty violets, blackcurrants, cassis and chocolate flavours beguile the nose and palate, while the texture of this wine in the mouth is quite stunning.  HOLD THE OPULENCE Next up was  The Cigar , made from the same vineyards as The Menzies, but designed to be less opulent and therefore more of an approachable Coonawarra Cabernet statement.   The Cigar was first released in 2006, but has been steadily gaining popularity since. Now part of the ‘Distinguished Sites’ range, this wine shows controlled intensity and classic Cabernet flavours with satisfying, well-toned complexity and length. A standout was the 2013 for its dense blackcurrant and tobacco leaf aromatics balanced by a juicy palate of elegant black and red fruits. The not yet released 2014 shows plenty of elegant, feminine beauty and medium weighted potential, soon to become a new character in the Yalumba story.  A CHAPTER REBORN Grenache has been a blending partner with  Shiraz  and Mourvèdre for years, but only recently has the thick skinned, late ripening variety gained attention as a single expression.  Ironically, while it’s thought of as an alternative grape in Australia, Grenache was one of the first to be widely planted here and the Barossa has some of the country’s oldest vines. Yalumba has long recognised the important part this variety will play in its story and has entrusted it to senior red winemaker, Kevin Glastonbury.  Kevin has spent his working life in the Barossa and has been at Yalumba since 1999. Highly regarded and respected, he has a real soft spot for Grenache’s many vivid expressions and unique power to weight potential. Kevin has been on a Grenache crusade and all his wines are beautiful expressions of versatility, each with its own tale.  “One of my personal goals when I joined Yalumba was to bring focus onto Grenache, mainly because it’s my favourite single variety to work with,” Kevin describes. “Consumers are appreciating that Grenache isn’t just another big Barossa or  McLaren Vale  red wine. They are now wines of finesse and texture, with techniques like whole bunch fermentation playing a big role.  “At Yalumba, we have seen incredible growth with Grenache. When I started here 18 years ago, we had a couple of Grenache wines. Now we are making it in two Rosé styles, five single varietal wines, and one blended with Shiraz and Mataro. It is really fantastic to see how Grenache is being appreciated.” And with resources like the 820 gnarly, 128-year-old bush vines that Kevin has at his disposal for theTri-Centenary Grenache, it is easy to see why he is a happy Barossan. The Tri-Centenary line-up going back to 2005 was incredible. These wines are light, almost  Pinot Noir -like in weight, but all possess incredible depth and complexity. From the rustic, heady aromas and tart-ripe cherries of the 2005, to the exotic truffle and blackberry aromatics and rounded length of the 2011, these wines express a depth and intensity that is quite special.  WEIGHTY WONDERS Next bracket of wines were the Carriage Block Grenache planted in 1954 in the valley’s north towards Kalimna by local train driver at the time, Elmore Schulz. These wines showed a little more weight that the Tri-Centenary wines, but had wonderful layers of bright cherries, spices and raspberries. With all that ripe fruit you would expect some sweetness, but surprisingly, both wines had an attractive savoury finish. To finish up, we looked at the 2015 and 2016 Vine Vale wines, yet another expression of the Yalumba Grenache tale. These wines expressed a gamey, savoury complexity that was charming and again, exhibited bags of power and finesse, but in a light-weighted frame. As a variety that loves the warmth, Grenache can sometimes exude alcohol heat, but none of Kevin’s wines had fallen victim to this curse. Grenache is a wonderful old part of the Yalumba story that, through the support of the Hill-Smith family and the drive of Kevin, has become a new chapter. Similarly with Cabernet, Coonawarra and Natalie, we will start to see new stories emerge and find their as part of the bigger Yalumba picture.  If you haven’t formed your own Yalumba impression, you should take a closer look, the wines and the story are definitely worth it.  THE WINES OF THE TASTING Yalumba The Menzies Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 1987, 1995, 2006, 2010, 2013, 2014  Yalumba The Cigar Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, 2010, 2013, 2014 Yalumba The Tri-Centenary Grenache 2005, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016 Yalumba Carriage Block Grenache 2015, 2016 Yalumba Vine Vale Grenache 2015, 2016 RARE, FINE AND DISTINGUISHED YALUMBA WINES
Wine
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 Anthony Woollan of Nocton Vineyards
Tasmania’s Coal River region produces some of Australia’s finest cool climate wines. We chat with Anthony Woollan, general manager of Nocton Vineyards, whose N1 Pinot Noir 2013 is our Wine of the Month. What is it about Tasmania’s Coal River Valley region that makes it such a great region for producing Pinot Noir? The Coal River’s 200 million-year-old soils have the ability to produce that combination of power and grace which is so celebrated in the world’s other top Pinot regions. What other varietals do you produce? Chardonnay , of course, plus a particularly textural style of Sauvignon Blanc . On the rich clays in the upper part of the vineyard, we have Merlot which traditionally loves those heavier, cooler soils. Just a few weeks ago, we planted a brand new small block of Chenin Blanc on limestone near the cellar door. As far as we know, they’re the only Chenin Blanc vines in Tasmania, so watch this space. They will be joined this winter by some Cabernet Franc as a perfect partner for the Merlot. What makes the Nocton Vineyard N1 Pinot Noir 2013 stand out from the crowd? In general, 2013 wasn’t an outstanding year in the region, but occasionally there are some vineyards that can still produce top wines in lesser years. If there is a time that I feel most proud of what Nocton can do, it is in those vintages. In our Wine Selectors 2018 Calendar we’ve matched your Nocton Vineyard N1 Pinot Noir 2013 with salmon glazed with ponzu, mirin and sesame oil – what is your favourite food match?
In 2003, the incomparable pairing of Ben Canaider and Greg Duncan Powell wrote – “Apparently, it is now a federal Australian law that Pinot can only be served with duck. Crap!”. Sometimes though, clichés do ring true. The trick with Pinot is first to match it with fat; then to flavour intensity. Salmon is fatty, rump steak is fatty and duck is fatty. However, for this wine, I think slow roasted pork belly, cooled and fried with Chinese five-spice. Matched Recipe: Plank Salmon How is vintage 2018 looking? The best ever! Aren’t they all? What is your all-time favourite wine memory (other than a wine itself)? So many…some repeatable; some not! The first time I drove through the Côte d’Or seeing names on signposts that I’d only ever seen on expensive bottles of Burgundy was special. So was waking up on the first morning to a view of my own vines. I think the most satisfaction I get is from being in a restaurant somewhere a long way from Tasmania and watching a complete stranger drinking and enjoying my wine on the next table. Other than your own wine, what is the wine that you like to drink at home? The next one. That is not as glib or facetious as it first sounds. I know that if I don’t think the next bottle I open is going to be the best wine I’ve ever tasted, then I’m in the wrong job. What is your ultimate food and wine match? How long have you got? Sancerre and rabbit; blanc de blanc Champagne and pork rillettes; Chianti Riserva and spit-roasted woodcock; young red Burgundy and suckling pig; Tassie bubbles with Tassie oysters: eat and drink whatever is on the local menu and it will work, but great company is still the best ingredient. What do you do to relax away from the winery? Eat and drink, and spend time with my awesome daughters. Your must-do for visitors to the Coal River Valley? Start at one end and work your way to the other, tasting as many things as possible. What is your favourite… Book? Anything by Terry Pratchett. Movie? Four Weddings and a Funeral. I went to see it after my first Tasmanian vintage in 1994. I was a long way from home at the time and it made me laugh, cry and everything in between. It still does. TV show? Mash. Apparently, it went on for four times as long as the Korean war. It just goes to show that good things can come even from something as terrible as war. Restaurant? Tetsuya , Fat Duck; Espai Sucre in Barcelona (such theatre,) and so many others. However, there is a little place on a terrace halfway up Mt Ventoux in the Southern Rhône: no menu, no wine list, no choice, (no advertising:) you sit down, eat, drink and leave. It is always fabulous – the wine is local and good, and complements the food, and in some inexplicable way, it’s perfect. Not the only one either…a fish restaurant in Agios Nikolaos in Crete, the old seafood shack on the beach at Sanlúcar da Barrameda in Portugal (long gone, unfortunately) or Betjeman’s in Smithfield, London, that used to serve cheap bottles of Claret with the best steak sandwich in the world. Breakfast? Truffled scrambled duck eggs – there has to be some decadence. Lunch? Curried scallop pie – it is the national dish of Tasmania. Dinner? Surprise me! (Okay, it’s a quote from Ratatouille). Time of day/night? Dawn. I see a lot of them and they are always full of promise. Sporting team? The Wallabies Beer? Yes.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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