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Wine

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’

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Wine
Meet Alex Russell of Alejandro Wines
More and more alternative wine varietals are being grown and produced here in Australia. We catch-up with Alex Russell to chat about his passion for these delicious drops and his exciting alejandro range. Your alejandro label focuses on a diverse selection of alternative varieties of European origin including Montepulciano, Nero d’Avola, Fiano and Arneis – why these varieties? Shortly after starting work for Angove in Renmark, the then chief winemaker Warrick Billings, introduced me to Riverland Vine Improvement Committee (RVIC). RVIC at the time was an importer of new varieties and they would propagate the vines and produce trial wine from them. I agreed to produce trial wine for them on a voluntary basis. I bottled their 2008 vintage and started making wine for them in 2009, in addition to my role at Angove. Before long, we were crushing far more than anticipated and the facility was filled with small winemaking equipment I had been accumulating since the early 2000s. As far as choosing different varieties, I’ve never accepted the status quo. In 2011, Fiano , Vermentino and Montepulciano were bullet-proof during the worst vintage we had had in 30 years and the latter two went on to win Gold medals at the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show. From there I led RVIC into their own label, Cirami Estate. It was a little too entrepreneurial for RVIC and we parted ways after vintage 2014 at which point alejandro was born. I didn’t choose these varieties, they chose me. These varieties are perfectly suited to being grown in the Riverland and Mildura and produce textured, flavoursome and distinctly varietal wines. What would you say to our Members to encourage them to try more of these varieties?

If you enjoy wine enough to purchase through Wine Selectors, you know enough about wine to broaden your horizons. Have an open mind, ignore the name, even set up a blind tasting with friends, and just take the wine for what it is – it’s much easier to remember Saperavi or Bianco d’Alessano when you’ve had a great experience with them.

What makes the Riverland region so suited to growing Mediterranean-style and alternative varieties? Riverland and Mildura regions are equally suited to alternative varietal wines. If you’ve travelled to Spain or Italy during summer months, you’ll know the climates in Mildura and Renmark are very similar. The regions are hot and dry, with low disease pressure and there is so much sun. These varieties love sun and heat with Montepulciano ripening among the latest of all – late April for vintage 2017. Many of these wines, Graciano and Tempranillo , are as boozy in Spain as they are here. That said, the whites are produced with moderate alcohol to retain their fresh, distinctive flavours. Can you recall the first wine you tried? My parents always drank wine – from a cask. We had sips of wine here and there, but the best memory of my first wine was following work selling pies at the footy – the MCG. I was 14 or 15 years old and I had made my first wine by this stage, but I remember this fondly because it involved getting wine from the super boxes of the old northern stand. The foil capsule had been removed from these reds and were therefore unsalable. I took the bottles home with quite a number of Four’n’Twenty pies and my father and I sat on the couch and we ate pies and drank red wine together. Making it more memorable for me was how hot and red in the face I became having bumped consumption from a few sips to a couple of glasses. When did you fall in love with wine? I think I fell in love with making booze before I fell in love with wine. I was always close with my dad, he’s gone now, but he loved his beer. I used my pie selling income to buy a home brew kit from Kmart and produced Coopers Lager – though this was after I’d made my first mash beer using 4.5L demijohns and every item of stainless in the kitchen. Do you remember that moment? What happened? After the first mash came, Coopers, ginger beer, apple cider, elderberry wine and in Year 10, I made my first Shiraz, ironically from Shiraz juice concentrate out of a can from the Riverland ’s Berri. Another memorable moment was vintage 2002 in Mildura, working for Littore Family Wines. At the time they had a Merlot block in Gol Gol with 2000m long rows. I found a rogue vine in row 57 from the north end, 16 panels to the south. It was an off-white variety, I picked the fruit and soon realized it was Gewürztraminer. My housemates and I drank that wine before it had finished fermenting. Do you have an all-time favourite wine to make? Why is it this wine? That’s like asking who your favourite child is – all wines are different and there’s an occasion for each. I do like making Montepulciano, but mainly drink Tempranillo and Durif. Now with a vineyard in Tasmania, I also produce Pinot Noir which is a very interesting wine. There’s a wine for every occasion and every appetite. There are some 15 wines in my range – gives me a lot of choice! Other than your own wine, what is the wine that you like to drink at home? I like to compare competitors’ wines, like varieties and other obscure varieties, but the quaffers I like are Rosé wines. I’m not a fan of Cabernet Rosé or ‘drain off’ Rosé but give me a purpose produced Rosé with four days cold soak and I’m all over it. What is your ultimate food and wine match? My first experience with such food was at the 2012 Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show where Stephano di Pierre cooked and we had Vermentino with freshly shucked oysters with lemon and fresh oregano. Tempura Sardines are great with Bianco d’Alessano. In Tasmania we grow Wiltshire Horn sheep for meat. They mow the vineyard down in winter and keep hard to slash areas clean during the growing season. The meat is rich, tender and moist – Lagrein is a good match for this lamb. Can you cook? If so, what is your ‘signature dish’? My wife and I lived in China for 12 months, near the North Korean border. I used to cook a lot more but now my wife cooks anything and everything, she has a knack for it. When I cook I go Chinese and cook the dongbei cai from the north east of China, Dalian and Pulandian. These are better suited to Tsingtao and Mi Jiu and although considered qiung ren cai (poor man’s food) they are simple and delicious: Ban san ding is chopped cucumber and red onion with fresh roasted peanuts (skin on) with fish sauce and sesame oil dressing (and a dash of MSG). Tu dou zi is shredded potato with carrot, green chilli and garlic, stir fried for about 30 seconds with fish sauce and sesame oil. Xie hong shi chao ji dan is stir fried egg and tomato, again with fish and sesame, and don’t forget the garlic. It’s simple and really quick to prepare. What do you think is special about your wine region? Tasmania is now home and we are expanding our vineyard. Pinot is a great variety to grow and produce and the whites are excellent – although most visitors are left a little wanting for a big red. Riverland and Mildura (and Riverina) are the work engines for Australian wine and where I gained all my experience. They are quickly snubbed by many but do produce good wine. My greatest criticism of South Australia and the Riverland is that even many Riverland businesses dismiss their own wines when tourists ask for something local, offering Clare or Barossa instead. Do you have a favourite holiday destination/memory? Spain. Fly into Barcelona and jump in a rental car and head up to Ainsa, Mont Serrat. We have a winemaker friend named Ara there who I worked at Zilzie with in 2008. She came back to Australia for vintage 2012 in the Riverland and might have helped a little with alejandro in 2016 when she was here on holiday. Ara lives in Hellin and produces wine from Murcia region. Spanish food, wine and beer – ahhh! What is your favourite… Movie? Gladiator. I’m a wanna be Maximus, and the sound track I used to play when I slept – my housemates were worried at the time. TV show? Dexter, everyone loves it when a baddie gets it. Big Bang Theory because I was one of those nerds – a cross between Howard and Leonard. Sport/Sporting Team? Cricket…. Beer? My taste constantly changes depending on the day or the menu, but I love hoppy beers and stouts and pilsners with saaz and hallertau hops.
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.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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