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Top 50 wines of 2015

The Wine Selectors Tasting Panel, made up of nine highly tuned palates belonging to iconic winemakers and wineshow judges, meet almost every Friday at Wine Selectors HQ to taste and rate wines. Each and every wine that is submitted to Wine Selectors is reviewed in a blind tasting format, meaning their label is masked from the Panel, so as to remove any bias. Therefore, each and every wine is tasted purely on its merit in the glass. On average, the Panel tastes around 60+ wines a week. For 50 weeks a year, that equates to...well, a lot of wines!

Up until now, this regimented tasting ritual has had the sole purpose of ensuring that the wines we send out to our Members are top quality, every time. The rule is, if the wine doesn’t score 15.5 out of 20 or above, Wine Selectors won’t buy it. In real terms, this means that every wine that we sell is of medal-winning standard. It has been the golden rule that Wine Selectors has operated on for 40 successful years.

As an editor, and as a wine lover, I saw the Panel’s arduous tasting schedule as an opportunity to generate a ‘best wines of the year’ list.

More than meets the eye

Examining the results makes for some pretty interesting reading. The Top 50 is a mixture of old favourites, recent acquaintances and brand new friends, which is all very exciting. The most popular varietal in the Top 50? Shiraz with 11. To be expected really, with it being our most widely planted and produced grape. Chardonnay with nine listings was next, not totally unexpected, but a pleasant result given the fact it has taken a battering in the white wine world over the past decade or so from other young dames. It must also be noted that two of these were Hunter Valley Chardonnay! Then followed: Cabernet Sauvignon (6), Pinot Noir (4) and three blends involving Shiraz.

What is very promising is the fact that there are a number of alternative varietals on the list: Roussanne, Malbec, Grenache, Tempranillo and even a Gewürztraminer! This bodes extremely well for the wide variety available to the Australian wine drinker. There were also two Semillons (but only one from the Hunter), two Fortifieds, but perhaps disappointingly, only one Sparkling and a lone Riesling.

Regions

It appears that the last few vintages have been pretty good for winemakers in the Hunter Valley, Margaret River and the emerging giant, Great Southern, who each topped the pile with six wines represented. Adelaide Hills (5), Barossa (4), McLaren Vale (4) and Coonawarra (3 – but only one of them Cab Sauv) also performed well. Regions that surprised many included: Heathcote, Goulburn Valley and Great Western, while Rutherglen proved that it is still producing world-class Fortifieds, including the top scoring wine from All Saints Estate.

Speaking of producers, there were only two who had multiple entries in the Top 50 – Howard Park with their Marchand & Burch Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay; and Brown Brothers with a Tempranillo and a Pinot Noir. So hats off to those guys, they are obviously getting their sites and winemaking spot-on.

Overall, this Top 50 list is great news for wine lovers. The results show that we can rely on wines we have admired for decades, some faithful styles are being produced better than ever before, while at the same time, there is a rich range of top quality emerging varietals on the market.

Top 50 Wines of 2015

1. All Saints Estate Grand Rutherglen Muscat (Rutherglen, $72)

2. Leconfield Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Coonawarra, $35)

3. Driftwood Estate The Collection Shiraz Cabernet 2012 (Margaret River, $21)

4. Best’s Great Western Bin No 0 Shiraz 2013 (Great Western, $75)

5. Marchand & Burch Mount Barrow Pinot Noir 2014 (Mount Barker, $50)

6. Eppalock Ridge Shiraz 2013 (Heathcote, $20)

7. Ballabourneen ‘The Three Amigos’ Cabernet Petit Verdot Merlot 2013 (McLaren Vale/Orange/Hunter Valley, $35)

8. Thistledown The Vagabond Grenache 2014 (McLaren Vale, $40)

9. Murray Street Vineyards Black Label Shiraz 2012 (Barossa Valley, $25)

10. Rymill gt Gewürztraminer 2015 (Coonawarra, $20)

11. Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Frankland River, $38)

12. Tyrrell’s Wines Vat 47 Chardonnay 2011 (Hunter Valley, $70)

13. Howard Park Western Australia Chardonnay 2014 (Great Southern/Marg River, $54)

14. Shaw & Smith Incognito Chardonnay 2013 (Adelaide Hills, $19)

15. Innocent Bystander Mea Culpa Chardonnay 2013 (Yarra Valley, $60)

16. Brown Brothers 18 Eighty Nine Tempranillo 2013 (Victoria, $19)

17. Rutherglen Estates Classic Muscat NV (Rutherglen, $15)

18. Mr Riggs Generation Series The Magnet Grenache 2013 (McLaren Vale, $27)

19. X by Xabregas Figtree Riesling 2014 (Mount Barker, $40)

20. Château Tanunda Terroirs of the Barossa Lyndoch Shiraz 2012 (Barossa Valley, $49.50)

21. Ferngrove ‘Dragon’ Shiraz 2012 (Frankland River, $32)

22. Brown Brothers Devil’s Corner Pinot Noir 2014 (Tamar River Tasmania, $25)

23. Henry’s Drive Shiraz Cabernet 2010 (Padthaway, $35)

24. Jansz Single Vineyard Sparkling Chardonnay 2009 (Pipers River Tasmania, $64.95)

25. First Creek Semillon 2013 (Hunter Valley, $25)

26. Mitchell Wines McNicol Shiraz 2006 (Clare Valley, $40)

27. Serafino ‘Sharktooth’ Shiraz 2009 (McLaren Vale, $70)

28. De Iuliis Steven Vineyard Shiraz 2014 (Hunter Valley, $40)

29. Bird in Hand Two in the Bush Shiraz 2013 (Adelaide Hills, $20)

30. Peos Estate Four Aces Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Margaret River, $36)

31. Tomich ‘T’ Woodside Vineyard 1777 Pinot Noir 2013 (Adelaide Hills, $30)

32. Brokenwood Maxwell Vineyard Chardonnay 2014 (Hunter Valley, $55)

33. Alkoomi Wandoo Semillon 2005 (Frankland River, $35)

34. Draytons Family Wines Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Hunter Valley, $20)

35. Pindarie Western Ridge Shiraz 2015 (Barossa Valley, $28)

36. Yering Station ‘Little Yering’ Cabernet Shiraz 2010 (Yarra Valley, $18)

37. Geoff Hardy Wines K1 Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Adelaide Hills, $35)

38. Box Grove Vineyard Roussanne 2009 (Goulburn Valley, $28)

39. Bleasdale Second Innings Malbec 2013 (Langhorne Creek, $20)

40. Thorn-Clarke Shotfire Quartage Cabernet/Cabernet Franc/Petit Verdot/Merlot 2013 (Barossa, $25)

41. Redgate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Margaret River, $38)

42. Harewood Estate Chardonnay 2014 (Denmark, $27.50)

43. Millbrook Winery Limited Edition Chardonnay 2012 (Margaret River, $45)

44. Hungerford Hill Classic Range Chardonnay 2014 (Tumbarumba, $33)

45. Tower Estate Coombe Rise Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 (Hunter Valley, $38)

46. Seville Estate ‘Old Vine Reserve’ Pinot Noir 2013 (Yarra Valley, $90)

47. Thompson Estate Four Chambers Shiraz 2013 (Margaret River, $22)

48. Penny’s Hill Footprint Shiraz 2012 (McLaren Vale, $65)

49. Bremerton ‘Tamblyn’ Cabernet Shiraz Malbec Merlot 2012 (Langhorne Creek,  $19.90)

50. Rockcliffe Third Reef Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Great Southern, $26)

Further reading: the of Best wines of 2016

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Discover our Top 12 Reds of 2017
2017 was a super-busy year for our Panel who tasted and rated over 4,000 wines. With so many wines in the running, the Best Wines of the Year is always a hotly contested list and this year was no exception. From tried and true varietal champions like Hunter Valley and Great Southern Shiraz, to fabulous blends such as Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre from the Barossa, plus magical Margaret River Malbec, here are the Top 12 Reds that really stood out from the crowd and wowed all of our Panellists. View our Top 12 white wines here.
Howard Park Flint Rock Shiraz 2015 , Great Southern In the glass: Deep purple.  On the nose: Black plum, blackberry, pepper and vanillin oak.  On the palate: Black, blue and purple fruits, subtle peppery depth and great balance of tannins and acidity. Rich, flavoursome and intense yet elegant. RRP $26 or $22.10 per bottle in any dozen.   Kaesler Stonehorse Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2014 , Barossa Valley In the glass: Medium density red.  On the nose: Complex lift of dark berry, plum, cedar and earth.  On the palate: Medium to full bodied with a core of black fruit and layers of cassis and vanilla. Silken with balanced tannins giving a rich, velvety texture.  RRP $22 or $18.70 per bottle in any dozen.  Lou Miranda Leone Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 , Barossa Valley In the glass: Full red garnet.  On the nose: Bright plum, currant, cassis, mint and cedar.  On the palate: Full bodied with a core of black and blue fruit, firm yet ripe tannins and vibrant acidity. Savoury with hints of liquorice, spice and dried herb.  RRP $22.95 or $19.51 per bottle in any dozen.  Erin Eyes Gallic Connection Cabernet Malbec 2015 , Clare Valley In the glass: Deep red.       On the nose: Blackberry, mulberry, bay leaf and vanillin oak.  On the palate: Powerful yet poised with saturated black fruits, well-judged supporting oak, fine and persistent tannin drive and balancing acidity.  RRP $30 or $25.50 per bottle in any dozen.  Leconfield Merlot 2016 , Coonawarra In the glass: Bright red black.  On the nose: Powerful aromas of black cherry concentrate with flashes of spearmint and eucalypt.   On the palate: Generous kirsch, mulberry and cassis with dense inky power, a velvety core and deluxe  oak harmony.   RRP $26 or $22.10 per bottle in any dozen.  Helen & Joey Inara Pinot Noir 2016 , Yarra Valley In the glass: Pale to mid ruby.  On the nose: Pure, fresh red berry, floral perfume.  On the palate: Vibrant and silken with delicious strawberry and blueberry depth, tea-like notes, fine tannins and a complete finish. Packs so much flavour into a lighter-bodied wine. Gorgeous.  RRP $23 or $19.55 per bottle in any dozen. 
Tyrrell's Wines Special Release Shiraz 2014 , Hunter Valley In the glass: Brilliant deep purple. On the nose: Violet, plum, blackberry and black pepper.  On the palate: Shows power and finesse. Loaded with spicy black fruit depth with on-point acidity and savoury tannins driving the long finish.  RRP $40 or $34 per bottle in any dozen. Dandelion Vineyards Red Queen of the Eden Valley Shiraz 2013 , Eden Valley In the glass: Deep purple.  On the nose: Plum, blackberry, graphite, pepper and clove.  On the palate: Layered and complex, it opens with savoury black fruits, an alluring spice complexity and fine yet deep tannins. RRP $100 or $85.00 per bottle in any dozen David Hook Reserve Barbera 2016 , Hunter Valley In the glass: Medium density red.  On the nose: Plum, bramble, black olive and tobacco aromas. On the palate: Medium weight with typical varietal freshness showing vibrant plummy fruit, savoury tannins and a touch of cigar box on the finish. A lovely young Barbera with plenty potential.  RRP $30 or $25.50 per bottle in any dozen.  Kimbolton Fig Tree Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 , Langhorne Creek In the glass: Full dark red.  On the nsoe: Classic Cabernet red berry, currant, cassis and cedar lift.  On the palate: Beautifully textured and deep yet only medium weight with a varietal core of black fruit, cassis and crushed leaf.  RRP $25 or $21.25 per bottle in any dozen.  Hay Shed Hill Malbec 2015 , Margaret River In the glass: Intense red black scarlet. On the nose: Hugely concentrated black cherry with interwoven complex notes of black pepper, currant and spicy oak.  On the palate: A gentle giant with super-ripe, glossy black cherry fruit power, beautiful velvety texture and deluxe spicy oak support. Classy!  RRP $30 or $25.50 per bottle in any dozen.  Riorret Lusatia Park Pinot Noir 2016 , Yarra Valley In the glass: Vibrant mid-red.  On the nose: Sweet cherry and raspberry fruit with notes of stalk and spice.  On the palate: Vibrant and fresh, supple and juicy with ripe cherry and plum, subtle stalky complexity, warm earthy notes and integrated vanillin oak.  RRP $50 or $42.50 per bottle in any dozen.
Wine
Italian Stallions
Words by Max Allen on 12 Aug 2015
Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, Italy’s best-known red grape varieties, are relative newcomers on the Australian wine scene. Tiny patches of Italian varieties have been grown here since the very early years of viticultural settlement. The Dolcetto vines at Best’s Great Western date back to the 19th century, for example, and Sydney surgeon/winegrower Thomas Fiaschi planted the rare Aleatico grape in Mudgee in the 1920s. But Tuscany’s Sangiovese and Piedmont’s Nebbiolo didn’tarrive here until late in the 20th century. Its pioneers were Carlo Corino at Montrose in Mudgee, Mark Lloyd at Coriole in McLaren Vale, and the Brown Brothers in Victoria’s King Valley. I have been monitoring the progress of these Italian varieties in Australia for over 20 years. I first tasted Australia’s fledgling Sangioveses and Nebbiolos in 1993. We managed to find around a dozen examples of Australian-grown Italian varieties for a tasting – including the first Pinot Grigios from T’Gallant on the Mornington Peninsula and a Dolcetto under Garry Crittenden’s (also now-defunct) Schinus label. I remember being particularly impressed by Coriole’s Sangiovese. That tasting made me wonder why more Italian varieties weren’t grown in Australia – why local vignerons were so wedded to the so-called ‘classic’ French varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. After all, Italy’s warmer Mediterranean climate is far more similar to many Australian grape-growing districts than chilly northern French regions such as Burgundy. By the end of the 1990s, I wasn’t the only one asking this question: Italian varieties were becoming trendy among grape growers and winemakers, and Sangiovese was leading the charge. So in 1999 another tasting was organised – this time by vine nurseryman Bruce Chalmers, vine specialist Dr Rod Bonfiglioli, and chef Stefano di Pieri, along with various interested parties (including your correspondent) – to assess the potential of the grape in Australia. The ‘Sangiovese Challenge’ was a tasting of two-dozen Australian-grown examples of the grape followed by an Italian-themed long lunch (cooked by Stefano) at the Grand Hotel in Mildura. This event morphed into the Italian Varieties Wine Show the following year, and the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show the year after. I have been chief judge of this show, the AAVWS, since 2005. Sangiovese has been the most popular red grape among growers and winemakers since the boom in Italian varieties began in the 1990s. The 2010 Australian Wine Industry Directory lists 260 producers of the variety, with more than 500 hectares planted across the country. This is understandable: it’s the grape responsible for Italy’s most famous red wine, Chianti; it is meant to be relatively easy to grow; and while the wine it produces can be quite savoury and tannic, it is also generally medium-bodied and has plenty of attractive red fruit flavour. This means that Australian Sangiovese is likely to appeal to a wide range of wine drinkers, and its fame and heritage make it an easy wine for marketing and cellar door people to talk about. Nebbiolo, on the other hand, has remained a niche player: the 2010 Directory lists 90 producers and just 100 hectares of vines. This is also no surprise: Nebbiolo is notoriously difficult to grow well, being quite fussy about where it grows (generally preferring cooler, more marginal spots). It is responsible in Italy for wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco - not as widely-known as Chianti - and can produce wines that are unfashionably pale, tough, low in fruit volume and very high in astringent tannin. Looking at some stats from the Alternative Varieties Show gives you a very good idea of how both these grapes are travelling in Australia at the moment. At the 2010 AAVWS, there were 60 Sangiovese entries (including Sangiovese blends) and 24 Nebbiolos. Only a third of the Sangioveses were awarded medals, with just three silvers and 17 bronzes. By contrast, more than half of the 24 Nebbiolos were medal winners, with seven bronzes, five silvers and two golds. It has been a similar story in almost all the previous shows: in 2007, for example, the 87 Sangioveses entered yielded just one gold, three silvers and 12 bronze medals – but the 25 Nebbiolos entered were awarded two golds, one silver and eight bronze. So while Sangiovese might be the most popular Italian red variety in Australia by volume, it is not only struggling to realise the huge potential everyone thought it had, but its fortunes also appear to be waning (as you can see, entry numbers at the AAVWS dropped by 30 per cent between 2007 and 2010). Nebbiolo, on the other hand, is proving itself to be a very strong and improving performer, albeit in smaller quantities. The question is: why? Why is Australian Sangiovese so frequently disappointing? And why has Nebbiolo excelled? Part of Sangiovese’s problem lies in the clone that was planted in most vineyards throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. Originally developed at the University of California at Davis, this clone of Sangiovese was bred to produce heavy crops rather than high quality, and many Australian growers have struggled with its tendency to overcrop (newer, lower-yielding clones, coming into bearing now, are showing much more promise, but have yet to make their presence widely felt). More important, I think, is that Sangiovese is obviously fussier and more difficult to grow and make well than many Australian winemakers thought. It not only needs some time in the ground before the vines come into balance and produce their best quality fruit, but it also takes a few vintages to learn how best to make that fruit into good wine. Far too many Australian Sangioveses still suffer from a lack of fruit concentration and/or heavy-handed oak treatment. It’s no coincidence, I think, that the best producers of Sangiovese are those with both the requisite experience (such as Coriole, with over two decades of vintages under their belt) and the cultural connection (such as that of the King Valley’s Italian growers) to the variety. The underwhelming producers tend to be those who just planted Sangiovese because it was trendy and weren’t prepared to make the effort to reduce yields in the vineyard and treat the wine sensitively in the cellar. Most of Australia’s Nebbiolo vineyards, by contrast, have been planted by complete Nebb-nuts who are besotted with the magical wines of Piedmont. These people will do whatever it takes to make the best wine possible, and are fastidious in both vineyard and winery. This drive, this passion, this attention to detail is a big reason, I believe, why there are (relatively speaking) so many great Nebbiolos (and why they tend to cost a bit more). These are my observations based on years of tasting and judging at the AAVWS. And the results of the Selector State of Play tasting reflected the same thing. Thirty-five Sangioveses were tasted - the ones that scored well fell into two general groups: pretty, up-front, snappy-fruity wines that displayed Sangiovese’s lovely juicy cherry characters, and more ‘serious’ savoury wines that had good balance of more ripe fruit characters and drier, powdery tannins. But – for this taster at least, and for some of the others – very few, if any, of the Sangioveses we tasted were truly outstanding, automatic gold-medal standard wines (unlike the Nebbiolos). Most of the top wines were from places (King Valley, McLaren Vale ) and names (Pizzini, Dal Zotto, Crittenden) where there is a long association with Sangiovese. We tasted fewer Nebbiolos – just 13 – but the overall standard was higher and there were more outstanding wines. There was also much more animated discussion between the tasters: with its sometimes ethereal, elusive perfume, it’s often quite a disarmingly pale orange colour, and with its occasionally mouth-puckering level of bone-dry tannins, Nebbiolo can elicit strong reactions. To the Panellists’ surprise, the Adelaide Hills emerged as a particularly good area for Nebbiolo, with two of the top wines coming from the same vineyard, Frank and Rosemary Baldasso’s Kenton Hill (this vineyard also supplies the fruit for the trophy-winning SC Pannell Nebbiolo and is just over the hill from the Arrivo vineyard, the source of another trophy-winning Neb). Wine Selectors Tasting Panelist Keith Tulloch also touched on a fundamental problem with many new, alternative varietal wines in Australia – a problem that is also cause for hope. “The challenge with a lot of these varieties is the fact they come from young vines,” he said. “It was a similar story in the Hunter in the 1970s when we had thin wines that didn’t have any weight because the vineyards were so new. You need 10 years of age or more before you get reliable quality and the true essence of the grape.” This means, though, that as good as the top wines we tasted today are, the best are yet to come. Check out Wine Selectors great range of Sangiovese & Nebbiolo today.
Wine
Be cool. Cool climate Shiraz
Words by Mark Hughes on 12 Aug 2015
My father-in-law, Neville, is your typical knock-about Aussie bloke. A former brickie, he used to drive his Holden Kingswood ute to work and cruise the weekends in his white Torana LJ Sedan. He loves fishing, hunting and knocking back a couple of Tooheys New while charring some animal flesh on the barbecue. But since his retirement a few years ago things have changed. He mostly spends his time drawing the jack rather than mixing the mortar, he has a flashy new Korean-built SUV to tow his caravan and he’s pretty much swapped the beers for red wine. When he started drinking vino his preferred drop was the big fruit-driven reds from South Australia: juicy, plummy, peppery and pretty big on the alcohol – perfect for his medium rare steak and snags. Recently though, his palate seems to have matured and he asked me for a red with more elegance. I gave him a gorgeous Yarra Valley Pinot , but it wasn’t for him. “Tastes a bit posh,” he said. “A bit too watery.” Maybe I had aimed a bit high. What really caught his attention was a medium-bodied Shiraz from the Canberra Distric t. “Now this is pretty good,” he said, while putting on his glasses to read the label – always a positive sign. I didn’t get to have any more of that wine after he had poured another one for himself and his wife, and my wife, and one more for himself. Now, I’ve never really thought of Nev as a trend-setter. He’s happiest in t-shirt, shorts and those sandals with Velcro tabs, but apparently when it comes to Shiraz, he’s in fashion! Neville is part of a shift in the drinking public that is looking for more restraint and elegance in Australia’s most iconic red wine. If the drinking public was thinking it, the critics confirmed it when in 2009, the judges at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show awarded the Jimmy Watson Trophy for the best young red wine in the country to a wine from the Canberra District: the Eden Road Wines ‘Long Road’ Hilltops Shiraz 2008. It made the wine world sit up and take notice. Just to confirm this trend, this year’s Jimmy Watson winner was the Glaetzer-Dixon Mon Pere Shiraz 2010 from Tasmania. A Shiraz from Tasmania? It was unfathomable. The Jimmy Watson is an award that has almost exclusively gone to the Barossa or McLaren Vale or maybe the Hunter, but not the Canberra District and certainly not Tasmania! Apparently it is not just a trend that is happening here in Australia. At the 2011 International Wine Challenge in London, Adelaide Hills winery Bird in Hand was awarded the trophy for the Best Australian Red Wine and the Best Australian Shiraz. What is cool? The common thread between all these award-winning wines is that they come from cool climate regions. There was something here that definitely needed investigating, so we thought we should do a State of Play tasting on cool climate Shiraz. First of all we had to define what a cool climate is as it is a phrase that is bandied about with almost gay abandon with little regard for the official meaning. Perhaps the strongest definition comes from the International Cool Climate Wine Show. This annual event began in the Mornington Peninsula and has been running since the year 2000, so it has some pedigree. It defines cool climate wines as: Wines made from grapes grown either: south of latitude 37.5 degrees south, or north of latitude 37.5 degrees north or from a property in the Southern or Northern hemisphere which has an average January/July (whichever is applicable) temperature below 19ºCelsius, as confirmed by the nearest Bureau of Meterology site, or vineyard site above 800m in altitude. Therefore Australian wine regions that automatically qualify as cool climate are: Tasmania, the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, and Western Australia’s Great Southern region. Then there are a few grey areas. According to these criteria, the Adelaide Hills does not qualify as cool climate. Its elevation and latitude are well off and its average temperature in January is 19.1. However, most would agree that it is cool climate, and for the sake of point one of a degree, one must admit that this really does qualify as cool climate. Likewise the Canberra region and Orange in New South Wales should also be considered cool climate. There are some vineyards in these regions above 800 metres, but their average January temperature is around the 20 degree mark. But I challenge anyone to stand out in a vineyard on the slopes of Mount Canobolas in the middle of winter and dispute whether it is a cool climate. Therefore some of the parameters, especially in Australia, still need to be defined. A recent cool climate wine show in Tasmania had the elevations at 500 metres, which seems more logical and perhaps we need to look at a combination of average temperatures across the whole year. However the upshot is: regions where Australian Shiraz has an outstanding pedigree, i.e., Barossa, McLaren Vale and the Hunter Valley, are not cool climate regions. All that jazz It is perhaps the amazing success of Shiraz from these warmer regions that has hampered the progress of cool climate Shiraz. Winemakers in cool climates convinced themselves it would be pointless to pursue Shiraz as the Barossa, McLaren Vale and Hunter were already delivering outstanding wines custom-made for the tastes of the drinking public. Scott McCarthy, winemaker at Helen’s Hill in the Yarra Valley, echoed these sentiments when he joined our Tasting Panel for this tasting, but added that things have changed. “In the past, for us, the focus has been on Pinot and Chardonnay and looking for the best places to plant those,” he said. “Shiraz has always been there as a good workhorse to produce good wines, but no-one has really given it the same attention as they have some of the other varieties. “But now we are looking at clones and root stocks and looking at actually planting it in the best part of the vineyard, not just the part that is left over from Pinot and Chardonnay.” Scott is well credentialed to be the spokesperson for cool climate winemakers. He grew up in a vineyard and spent his first 10 years as a winemaker in the Barossa before experiencing vintages in the Napa and France (Loire Valley and Languedoc). During a four-vintage stint in Marlborough, New Zealand, Scott fell in love with cool climate winemaking and he continued that affair by settling back in Australia in the Yarra, where he makes Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Shiraz. While winemakers like Scott are convinced of the future of cool climate Shiraz, critics have traditionally been sceptical. The purveying perception of Shiraz from these regions was of a wine that was green, stalky and under-ripe. That may have been somewhat true a decade ago, but as Scott explains, a better understanding of Shiraz in the vineyard, and in the winery, has allowed cool climate Shiraz to be far more expressive. “My experience in the Yarra is that Shiraz is one variety that is made in the vineyard and probably the biggest decision that has to be made that influences the outcome of the wine is the day that you pick it. “I believe there is only a day or two between really getting out of that green phase and when it is starting to get over-ripe. You have to work with the vineyards and taste the fruit over a period of time to know how each block is going to react, how quickly they ripen and when is the best time to pick each block,” Scott says, while also stressing the attention to detail that must be given to micro-climates, even in the same vineyard. “Instead of testing the whole vineyard as one block of Shiraz we have isolated different aspects. We know the cool, low-lying areas are going to ripen a little bit later and we make sure that we test them independently." “You used to go out and pick your whole vineyard. Now it is literally one side of the hill to the other and we are talking a distance of just 50 metres and we will pick a week, two weeks later in some cases, just because the aspects are quite different. “We want to get it through that green spectrum – so we are looking for that tomato leaf character to go out of the juice and to get a ripe spectrum with those nice blueberry characters.” The tasting The Panel sat down to 40-odd wines from across a dozen cool climate regions. The results were outstanding. Nearly all the wines medalled and the overall scoring was very high. Importantly, the tasting confirmed that these wines had busted the perception of having ‘green and stalky characters’. The key descriptors that came forth were of punchy red fruits and blueberry flavours, some spiciness and pepperiness as well as minerality and earthiness. Furthermore there was a noticeable shift to a more graceful style of Shiraz. While most were medium-bodied, some were full-bodied and fruit-driven, but with an elegant core, great balance and an alcohol content of around 14 per cent. “Some of the traditional descriptors you look for in Shiraz – those big ripe plummy characters, strong tannins and big vanillin oak – they were not in the wines we looked at today,” commented Scott. “We were using descriptors like oyster shell, cassis and minerality; descriptors that lend themselves to be able to match to food.” Wine Selectors Tasting Panelist Christian Gaffey was equally impressed with the elegance displayed across these wines in the tasting. “There was one wine today that was described as ‘Burgundy-like’, which for Shiraz is somewhat unheard of,” he said. “Not that Burgundy is the be all and end all, but for it to be compared to a wine of finesse like a Pinot Noir versus your classic 15 per cent Shiraz, means a lot, especially if you want to match it to food.” Regionality and diversity The top 20 scoring wines contained a great spread of wines from different regions. Five were from the Yarra, four from Adelaide Hills, three each from the Canberra District and Mornington Peninsula, two from West Australia’s Great Southern region, one each from Great Western, the Grampians and Tasmania. Within those wines there was an amazing diversity. While wines from certain regions had similar benchmark characters, each wine had its own life and there were amazing differences between wines from the same region, from vineyards within a stone’s throw from each other. “It really is a celebration of the differences you can get with cool climate Shiraz,” remarked Scott. “I think the biggest thing with cool climate Shiraz is the ability to show the terroir – the sense of place with the wines, which you don’t always see in some of the warmer climates.” Combined with a sense of grace and elegance, it is this diversity in the wines that suggests that cool climate Shiraz is a great food-matching wine. The Shiraz from the Yarra versus Mornington and Pyrenees are all very different so they should lend themselves to a greater variety of food than classic Aussie Shiraz matched with steak. Aging potential and the future Perhaps the most surprising result to come out of this tasting was the superb natural acid balance these wines displayed. This acid lends itself to the minerality character displayed in these wines and, more importantly, suggests superb aging potential. This was confirmed by the fact that towards the end of the tasting the Panel was giving very high marks to all the wines that had a bit of age to them. If that is any indication of what is going to happen over time, then in 10 years time we are going to have some sensational back stocks of cool climate Shiraz. Furthermore, the wine that had the most acid was from Tasmania, which suggests the cooler the climate, the better. “Tassie is going to be a tough place to grow Shiraz consistently,” remarked Christian. “But we have known through the years that sometimes it is the inconsistent places that produce the best wines in the good years.” Finally, as cool climate Shiraz is a fairly recent endeavour, most of the wines are from vines with an average age of 15 years or younger. We know that generally the older Shiraz vines get, the better the fruit they produce. These vines are still in their teenage years, so as they mature we can expect to see some world-beating examples of cool climate Australian Shiraz. I can hear Neville firing up the barbie now. Check out  Wine Selectors great range of Shiraz today .
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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