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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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Debortoli Dream Vertical – Taste of Yarra
Words by Paul Diamond on 4 Dec 2017
Leanne De Bortoli and Steve Webber put on a tasting that reflects 30 years of Yarra Valley history. It’s almost 30 years since newly wedded Leanne De Bortoli and Steve Webber headed to the Yarra Valley to take up the family dream of building a cool climate addition to De Bortoli’s wine portfolio . Much has happened in those decades and the De Bortoli offering is, like the family itself, getting better with age. To reflect this, Selector headed to the Yarra, where Steve and Leanne dug out some old bottles and dusted off the stories that came with them. Where it all began
Vittorio De Bortoli from Castelcucco in Italy’s alpine north, immigrated to Australia in 1924, leaving his young fiancé Giuseppina behind. He landed in Melbourne, but soon found himself in the newly irrigated Riverina , sleeping under a water tower and eating from his vegetable patch. After four years, he had saved enough to buy a farm and send for Giuseppina. In the first year of Vittorio and Giuseppina’s Bilbul farm, there was a glut of grapes, so Vittorio constructed a concrete tank and crushed 15 tonnes, officially kicking off De Bortoli Wines. Deen makes his mark With Giuseppina and Vittorio together, the farm thrived and they soon had three children: Florrie, Eola and Deen. Of the three, Deen was fascinated with the machines that operated the winery and as he got older became a permanent fixture. He was a passionate about progress and as the responsibility passed from Vittorio to Deen, he began expanding, experimenting and looking toward the future. Deen married Emeri Cunial, a Griffith girl with Castelcucco heritage and soon the third generation – Darren, Leanne, Kevin and Victor – arrived. The third generation
Deen’s passion for wine was passed down to all his children. Oldest son Darren, now managing director, studied winemaking at Roseworthy College and decided to experiment with botrytis affected Semillon grapes . That wine eventually became the highly awarded 1982 Noble One that propelled De Bortoli to become one of Australia’s great wine brands. Third born Kevin pursued viticulture and now manages the 300 ha of the family estate that produces some 60,000 tonnes of grapes per vintage, while Victor, the youngest, is export manager. Leanne followed her brother Darren to Roseworthy and completed a diploma in wine marketing and was advised by her big brother, “whatever you do, don’t marry a winemaker!” But she did exactly that and married Steve Webber, who was making wine for Leo Buring and Lindeman’s. In 1987, the family purchased the Dixon’s Creek property in the northern edge of the Yarra Valley , which Leanne and Steve moved to in 1989, beginning the Yarra chapter of the De Bortoli story. To help tell it, Steve and Leanne presented us with a range of wines that best reflect their Yarra journey.  The Tasting
​ Sauvignon Blanc is a polarising variety, so it makes sense that Steve and Leanne did not add the ‘blanc’ to their labels. Plus, their versions are textural and savoury, inspired by the Sancerres of the Loire rather than those from across the ditch. “They need to be delicious, and great with food,” said Steve. “When we went to France, we loved the delicate, savoury wines of Sancerre and we decided that was what we wanted to make here.” The 08 Estate Sauvignon was surprisingly fresh, fine boned and creamy, whilst the 2010 single Vineyard PHI, and the mouth-wateringly juicy 2017 Vinoque reinforced that Steve and Leanne make wines they are proud to share at their table. The evolution of Chardonnay Next came the 1990 Estate Chardonnay and as the first wine they made at Dixon’s Creek, it was a treat to taste and contemplate how far Steve’s winemaking and Australian Chardonnay have come . “When I think about some of the wine we made in the early days, we thought we were doing some pretty amazing things,” Steve recalled. “But really we were just babes in the woods.” “Now we have a greater understanding of climate, viticulture and how to approach winemaking, with less interference, letting the wines make themselves.” The 2000 was in great shape with secondary stonefruit, fig and nut aromas and a poised, fleshy, peach-lined palate, but the next three wines really illustrated Steve’s points. As we moved from the 2005 Estate to the 2015 Reserve and the 2015 A5 Section it was like the volume was turned up on complexity, minerality and concentration, while the background noise of weight, oakey textures and mouth-feel was quietly turned off. The A5 Section Chardonnay topped the bracket as it had the greatest complexity, but was delivered without weight, showing citrus blossom characters, with mouth-watering flinty minerals. Reflecting on Pinot
Pinot was next and the same evolution was occurring. Less new oak and a focus on producing perfume not structure became evident as we moved from the 2000 and 2005 Estate and 2005 PHI, through to the glorious 2010 and 2010 PHI from the recently acquired Lusatia Park vineyards. “Pinot has to taste like it is grown, not made,” Steve remarked as we finish discussing the merits of the 2010 and 2014 Phi Pinots . “When it comes to winemaking, it’s sometimes really hard to do nothing, to sit back and let the wines find their way. But that’s when you start to see texture and finesse come into play and reflect this place.” The conversation then turned to the future as we tried three styles that reflect a desire to show the potential of blends and lighter styles reds. The Vinoque Pinot Meunier/Pinot Noir blend was light, concentrated and dangerously delicious. The Vinoque Gamay Noir was in the same vein, but with appealing layers of dried strawberries, rose petals and savoury blackberries and the Gamay/Syrah blend from the La Bohéme range showed that Gamay, particularly as a blending partner with something with more concentration and tannin, has a bright future in Australia. This wine was silky and textural with the fruit hallmarks of Shiraz, but with a soft and juicy red fruit casing. You Say Shiraz, I Say Syrah
Shiraz was next, or I should say Syrah, as this is what Leanne and Steve call most of their Shiraz, as it’s closer to the European, savoury and mid weighted style. The 1992 Estate bottle showed how beautifully these wines can age with delicious leathery development and a soft core of plummy, black cherry fruits. The 1999 was similar, whilst the still very youthful 2004 Reserve was mirroring the stylistic, bright fruited, savoury and textural changes that had occurred with Chardonnay and Pinot at that time. The 2008s, one with Viognier, one without, were both excellent; broody and lifted with silky mocha lines. Lastly came the 2014 and possibly the most exciting Australian Shiraz tasted all year. Juicy and complex with fine layers of mace, five spice, white pepper and mountain herbs, it had soft tannins and layers of acid that make the mouth hum. Looking ahead The De Bortolis have certainly put their stamp on the world of wine and equally, Leanne and Steve on the Yarra. Their genuine love for the place that they call home shines through in the wines they produce and share. As for the next chapter, Steve and Leanne are keen to provide a sustainable future for their kids and enjoy their home. “The Yarra is a beautiful part of the world,” said Leanne. “There’s a wonderful food and wine culture with cool people doing cool things with gin, beer, cider, wine and food. What’s not to love?" Enjoy a De Bortoli dream tasting of your own De Bortoli Section A5 single Vineyard Chardonnay 2015 Restrained, fine and seductive with elderflower, lime and peach blossom aromas and balanced layers of white peach, citrus and grapefruit flavours. De Bortoli PHI Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014 Captivating and ethereal with complex dark cherry, stalk and mineral aromatics. The palate is savoury, textural and fine with plums, spice and blackberries. De Bortoli Section A8 Syrah 2016 Concentrated and fine with perfumed, floral, black fruit and spice aromas. Generous, mid weighted and savoury, dominated by cherries and plums.
Wine
Behind The Vine At Helen's Hill
To celebrate the  Helen's Hill Ingram Road Pinot Noir 2015  being our April Wine of the Month, we caught up with Allan Nalder from  Helen's Hill . What makes the Ingram Road 2015 Pinot Noir so appealing? To answer that I need to take a step back. All of our wines are 100% single vineyard and are all made at my winery. Only fruit that we grow on our vineyard goes into the wines that we make. It's not that we don't trust anyone, it's just that we don't trust anyone. We think this is super important. Come visit and I can take you to the very vines that make the wine you are going to enjoy. Call us "control freaks". I'll take it as a compliment. The  Ingram Rd 2015 Pinot Noir  benefits greatly from this approach. Pristine  Yarra Valley  single vineyard fruit, French oak maturation, careful "hands-off" winemaking and a great vintage all combine to produce a wine that expresses hallmark  Pinot Noir  characteristics. And its price point is extremely compelling. You have over 50 acres of Pinot Noir, what makes you so enthusiastic about this often-difficult grape? You're right, Pinot Noir is a difficult grape to grow and can really only grow well in specific, little tucked away corners of the world. The Yarra Valley, and the little patch of dirt I call home, is one of those places. It also helps to be a bit of a Pinot Noir fanatic. To me, it is one of the most remarkable red wines in the world. I once saw a quote about Pinot Noir growers from a wine writer: "its makers are lunatic-fringe, questers after the holy grail…" - Marc de Villiers wine writer. We fit that mould. Who is the Helen of the hill? We bought the property from Mr. Fraser in the mid 90s. He had owned the pasture land from the early 1950s. The reason he bought the land was because he fell in love with a woman called Helen, who wouldn't marry him unless he owned a farm. True love prevailed and he bought the farm. Sadly, Helen passed away some 6-7 years after their marriage. Mr Fraser never re-married and throughout the property inspection, he recalled many stories of Helen and her time there. From his stories, it was obvious that she had a passion for the land. We share that passion and thought it appropriate to name the vineyard after her. What makes Scott McCarthy a standout winemaker? To be blunt, the fruit. We live by the very old, well used, but absolutely true saying: "great wine is made in the vineyard". The most important decision we make in the winery is deciding when to pick the fruit. The rest of the process is relatively simple. Pristine quality fruit allows us to rely on natural fermentation, minimal filtering and minimal winemaking intervention. Our ethos is not to describe "perfection" as when there is nothing left to add, but rather, when there is nothing left to take away. We feel this is the key to winemaking. Ensure that we do as little as possible so we can deliver mother nature in the bottle. You also  make a range of beers  - why did you decide to go into brewing and what do you think makes a top beer? It gets pretty hot and sweaty picking grapes. Added to that, I ain't getting any younger, so after a big day in the fields a nice, cold craft beer is a perfect tonic. As winemakers and vignerons go, we drink a lot of beer, so it wasn't that hard to come up with the idea of brewing our own. Getting the recipe right, the choice of hops and quality malt is critical and keeping the fermentation process under control. The rest depends on what you like. We serve our brews at Cellar Door and luckily our customers reckon they're pretty tasty. What are the top 3 attractions you'd recommend to a first-time Yarra Valley visitor? The great thing about the Yarra Valley is the diversity. You can visit the  YV Dairy  and sample a variety of cheese, the Chocolate Factory, world class art museum, on-farm produce stores for things such as apples, strawberries, etc, 6 top golf courses, mountain biking, bush trails, historic buildings, micro breweries, gin distillery and of course the odd cellar door and vineyard restaurant. The valley really has a huge range of things to do. Obviously, a great place to start is Helen's Hill. Full al-carte restaurant on top of the hill with sensational views or our Cellar Door and casual dining nestled down in the winery amongst the vines.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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