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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.

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Castagna Wines - Cult Wines & Legends
Words by Paul Diamond on 16 Aug 2017
If you are an Australian wine lover and haven’t heard of Castagna, don’t be surprised. Julian Castagna and his family, located just outside the Victorian Alps town of Beechworth , produce a small range of high quality, biodynamic wines that fly well below the radar. They aren’t in any of the chains and to find them you will have to visit one of the handful of independent wine shops scattered around the country or be sitting in a restaurant looking at one of the few special wine lists that carry them. There is no cellar door that you can ‘just visit’, you have to make an appointment. And, if you are not on his mailing list or buy directly from his site that often has ‘sold out’ next to his products, you will struggle to find them. It’s no accident that these wines are not easy to find. A filmmaker earlier on in his life, Julian understands the value of having to dig to search something out, get to understand and eventually cherish it.

The Genesis range, like all the Castagna wines we tasted, presented somewhat of a conundrum. Old wine that tastes young?! Australian Shiraz that tastes like France?! 

Julian’s Path
Like most Australians full of youth and wanderlust, Julian ventured to Europe, searching for his path. After a stint in Spain, he found himself in London, working in film and advertising, and hanging out with people who were into the wine scene. “I got absorbed,” explained Julian at a recent tasting of his wines at his kitchen table. “They didn’t know very much but pretended to know a lot. “So I started reading, going to tastings and the guy that I worked for who had a lot of money, said “buy me wine” so I did. “So when I went anywhere to taste, I was treated very well, and got to taste a lot of wine because I spent a lot of money…that’s where it all started.” Julian eventually made his way back to Australia to make a film that didn’t get off the ground, so he continued with advertising in Sydney and began buying, travelling and exploring the wines of Australia. After a while he became disenchanted with the advertising world and began asking himself questions about his and his family’s future. “I was sitting in boardrooms and they were paying me so much money that it was a sin,” Julian explained. “But they weren’t listening…research and numbers were becoming more important than experience and creativity and I knew that was the precursor to ‘not’ working. “So I asked myself, ‘What do I know? I know two things. I know wine and film, so if I’m not going to do film maybe I’ll do wine? As he explored, he discovered a lot that he didn’t like, but a chance meeting with a glass of Giaconda Cabernet piqued his interest and led to him forming a relationship with Giaconda’s Rick Kinzbrunner and Beechworth. “I kept coming back to two places; Margaret River and Beechworth, he explained. “I really didn’t want to come back to Victoria having grown up here, but I was wrong.” Putting down roots
In 1996 Julian and his wife purchased land just outside Beechworth, planted vines and built a house. “The intention was to make something really great, but I didn’t know what type of wine I wanted to make,” remarked Julian. “For me the wine that I wanted to make came from the land. “I came here, looked at the land and it seemed to me the wine that would work here would be Sangiovese and Shiraz .” Driven to make wines that were taken seriously, one of the many decisions Julian took to was biodynamics. “I believed and still do, that wine with character comes from the vineyard, not the winery,” he explained. “ Biodynamics as a complete way of farming made so much sense.” Julian is not evangelical about the methodology or its underlying principles. He simply sees it as common sense. It’s a refreshing attitude, given the fervent advocacy behind the current perception of biodynamics and its connection to the natural wine trend. The Castagna website says it best. “The land is farmed biodynamicaly using Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamic principles. We believe this is the best way to achieve optimum fruit quality that best expresses its terroir. Our intention is to make, as simply as possible, wine which is an expression of the place where it is grown.” The Wines
On a cold, wet and foggy Beechworth morning, Wine Selectors Head of Product, Matt White, and I were treated to a spread of wines that showed just how special Castagna is in our wine industry. The 2002 Allegro Shiraz Rosé was first and it was, quite simply, a revelation! Most Rosés fall over after about five years, but this wine, with 15 years under its belt, was aging incredibly. It had some developed aromatics and a little colour development, but it was still showing primary fruit with a fresh vibrant mouthfeel. The wine had the kind of flavours and complexity that you get in vintage Rosé Champagnes and a palate length that went on and on. When asked how this was actually possible, Julian grinned, shrugged his shoulders and remarked, “It’s the vineyard,” and left it at that. Next was the 2010 Ingénue, a 100% Viognier that had some delicate and pretty blossom florals, preserved lemon and beeswax aromatics that you see in only a select few Australian Viogniers. On the palate, the wine was all structure and complexity, with tight but flowing lines of grapefruits, rock melons, ginger and almonds. Again, the youth of this wine defied its age. Two vintages of Julian’s Un Segreto Sangiovese Shiraz came next and the seven year span seemed hardly noticeable. The Sangiovese is weighted in the majority with 60% and the savoury, mid-weighted mouthfeel was a signature for both wines. The aromatics were sweet and perfumed with dusty red fruits, cassis, sour cherries and white pepper spice. In the mouth, both were fine yet complex with mocha, cocoa tinted red fruits, both stunning wines that again showed youth, despite their age, with class to match. Next were two examples of Julian’s La Chiave Sangiovese . Generally, Sangio is not taken too seriously in Australia and is known mostly as a fleshy, ‘drink now’ food wine. But, like the age potential of Castagna wines previously sampled, these wines defied normality. They had the juicy, tar and cherries hallmark of Sangiovese, but there was a density to the mouthfeel that was juxtaposed with restrained, earthy flavours. These were delicious wines that could have you thinking you were sipping Brunello. Biblical proportions
Three examples of Genesis followed and if there was going to be red wine that showed you what was possible with Shiraz from Beechworth, these wines would have to be at the top of the list. Julian’s intention is clear with Genesis in that he wanted to emulate the best Shiraz in the world and for him, these are the great wines of France’s Rhône valley. Like the medium weighted, fine and perfumed wines of Côte Rôtie, Genesis has a small amount of Viognier co-fermented with the Shiraz, but the wines show characters from other great Rhône regions. The 2005 had the gnarly grunt and structure and spice reminiscent of Cornas, the 2004 had the earthy complexity and slippery mouthfeel of Hermitage, and the 2010 had the dried herbal aromatics and tight, complex black fruited layers and youth that had not decided whether it was Côte Rôtie, Cornas or Hermitage. We rounded out the tasting with Castagna 2009 Sparkling Genesis. This is the same wine as the still Genesis, but it has spent two years on its lees and has been treated with a nicely balanced dosage that keeps the acid in check and the tannins slippery. Quite possibly the best in the country, this wine has complexity and depth in spades and the savoury, medium-bodied fruit makes for a compelling and delicious mouthful of bubbly Shiraz. The Genesis range, like all of the Castagna wines we tasted, presents somewhat of a conundrum. Old wine that tastes young?! Australian Shiraz that tastes like France?! Beautifully crafted, insightful wines using weird farming practices from someone with no training? And from a place that is not considered a major region? It’s a beautiful, inspiring story made sweeter by the wine that underpins it.
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Vine Change for the Good Life
Words by Jackie Macdonald on 27 Nov 2017
Ever dreamed of making a vine change? Meet some daring individuals who took a leap of faith to embrace the good life – vinous style. We’ve all been there. Visited a winery, wandered through the vines, dreaming of days spent pruning tips and tasting wines straight from the barrel. Of course, this romantic picture glosses over the constant stress of too much or not enough rain, grape-eating pests and the changing tastes of fickle consumers. But for a special selection of wine producers, the challenges were never too great. Their dream of a life on the land was enough motivation to pack in their career and take up the secateurs for a life dictated by vines, veraison and vats. For Todd and Jeff of Belford Block Eight in the Hunter Valley , it was love at first sight of their property’s driveway. As Jeff explains, “Todd and I turned off the car, listened to nature, admired the olives, turned to one another and said, ‘this is it.’” Jeff gave up his job in the finance department for CanTeen and Todd left Ebay, where he’d worked for 12 years in strategy, marketing and analysis. Neither knew anything about winemaking. But on their property were around 12,000 vines, so, as Todd describes, “Jeff and I tracked down a bottle of 2006 Brokenwood Block Eight Semillon, a single vineyard release made only using our grapes and it was truly remarkable. So, we thought, maybe there’s an opportunity to make some nice wine from these grapes, let’s give it a go!” And given it a go they certainly have with their first ever wine, the 2014 Reserve Semillon now an award-winner. It hasn’t been all plain sailing, though, and they’ve learnt some valuable lessons. Apart from the vagaries of harvest, the necessity of tractor headlights and that their deckchairs are just for show, they also know that un-neutered piglets turn into boisterous 150kg boars and goats can be as loyal as dogs. But regrets? “No bloody way, mate!” is Jeff’s answer, “One day we’ll sit on those deck chairs, sipping on a 20-year-old Block Eight, admiring what we’ve built.” Healthy vines
Back in 1997, while Jeff and Todd were still slogging away in the corporate world, over in South Australia’s Clare Valley, medical professional, Anura Nitchingham planted his first vineyard. He’d chosen Clare because, he says, “The region is really an unsung hero in the world of viticulture. It’s unique and has some really great producers in a very small, but beautiful region.” That first planting has grown into Claymore Wines , one of Australia’s most unique wine brands. While Anura hasn’t left his medical career, he says that winemaking provides something medicine can’t: “Vines don’t complain! And there’s wine!” The medical theme is also part of the story of Hobbs of Barossa Ranges . Allison Hobbs was a nurse and her husband was a former policeman turned firefighter when they bought their vineyard in the Barossa. Their decision to make a vine change was borne of a desire to provide a rural lifestyle for their children. Like Jeff and Todd, Allison and Greg knew very little about making wine, but the stars aligned, providing them with some strokes of good fortune in the early years. Foremost was they happened to buy the property next door to local winemaking expert, Chris Ringland, who provided invaluable advice and made their wines. While being a nurse, police officer or fire fighter might be worlds away from making wine, Allison and Greg feel they brought vital skills from those professions to their new endeavour. As Greg says, “attention to detail is very important to both nursing and winemaking”, and Allison adds, “the observation techniques you learn in nursing, the police and fire brigade are important as we wander through the vineyard and take note of what’s right and what’s not.” Livin’ in the 70s
Although Allison, Greg and Anura faced challenges in the mid-1990s, things were even more basic in the 1970s. Having left successful careers in the emerging computer industry, Linda and Ian Tyrer bought a property in WA’s Mount Barker region to establish Galafrey Wines . Again, they had no experience, but, as Linda describes, she arrived at their new home four months pregnant, armed with a few thousand grape cuttings – “naive but starry-eyed, full of enthusiasm.” A lack of money meant a lot of back-breaking work, but by 1985, they had won their first Trophy and Ian’s tireless dedication saw him awarded the George Mulgure Award for outstanding service to the industry in 2003. Unfortunately, the same year, Ian lost his battle with cancer. However, his legacy lives on with Linda still at the helm, along with daughter Kim, who left her own career as an artist to return to the vines. One thing all these people would agree on is that a life among the vines is a hard slog. But is it the good life? Absolutely!
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Meet Warren Proft from Chrismont
To celebrate Chrismont’s La Zona Prosecco being our Wine of the Month for September, we caught up with winemaker, Warren Proft. You’ve made every Chrismont wine since it began in 1999 – what major changes in Australian wine tastes have you seen during that time? Australian wine consumers in the last 20 years have made a quantum leap from what was really just 6 varieties and styles to being interested in wines from all over the world. People are more interested in trying different styles and varieties and celebrating the diversity that is wine. What made you decide to stay in the King Valley? King Valley is a beautiful area close to all the places I like to hang out. But ultimately the local community is incredibly warm, generous and hospitable which made us feel at home the minute we moved in. Prosecco is a style that’s really taken Australian wine-lovers by storm – what do you think makes it so appealing? Prosecco is a very friendly wine to drink unlike other sparkling wines that are traditionally more acidic. Prosecco also has an image of being fun and unashamedly promotes itself with mixing cocktails as well as being great on its own. What makes the La Zona Prosecco stand out from the crowd? Coming from the King Valley, The La Zona Prosecco inherits the regions strong expression of varietal fruit which is an aspect we try to preserve. A well balanced level of dosage to complement the acidity and a dry finish makes the wine memorably moreish. What is your all-time favourite wine memory (other than a wine itself)? When I was working in Spain, the local community held their ‘fiesta del vinos’ which was an eye opener and experience. The main parade involved everyone, children to grandparents, all dancing and squirting each other with wine having a great time. It really drove home the point to me how wine is so integrated into their society and way of life. Other than your own wine, what is the wine that you like to drink at home? I like to try everything. We are always bringing home different wines. What is your ultimate food and wine match? Seafood pasta with a crisp white like Riesling or Arneis . What do you do to relax away from the winery? Chill out with my family and friends, and make (real) cider. What is your favourite… Book ? Into the void Movie ? Pulp Fiction – all time classic TV show? No time for TV Restaurant?  Rinaldos – Wangaratta Provenence – Beechworth Breakfast? Fruit, yogurt, muesli Lunch?  Pasta carbonara Dinner? Slow cooked lamb Time of day/night?  Dawn and dusk Sporting team?  Daughters’ netball teams Beer?  Bridge road ‘Robust Porter, King River Brewing ‘Saison’
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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