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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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Change of Tempo with Tempranillo
Words by Jeni Port on 2 Jul 2015
In 2006 Melbourne academic, Professor Snow Barlow, offered some important advice to the Australian wine industry. As one of the leading agricultural scientists investigating the impact of climate change on viticulture in this country, he was succinct: adapt or else. Open your eyes, he implored, to the changes that increased levels of greenhouse gases and a warmer, drier climate are having on vines with earlier budburst, shorter winters, compressed vintages and extreme weather events. Learn to adjust. And then he returned to his vineyard, Baddaginnie Run, in the Strathbogie Ranges in Central Victoria and did just that. Out went his Merlot vines and in came Tempranillo. Merlot had worked well in the early days, but a combination of hot vintages with runs of 40+C days and drier conditions, were stressing the normally cool-mannered Bordeaux grape. Mediterranean-born Tempranillo was a better fit, he said. It lapped up the heat. It’s hard to say whether Prof. Barlow’s words and personal actions spurred Aussie wine growers and makers into action, but Tempranillo plantings did indeed take off. Exploded in fact. From 209 hectares in 2004, plantings ballooned to 712 hectares by 2012. And, perhaps not surprisingly, it was the warmer regions that took to it with the greatest gusto: Barossa Valley (20% of plantings), Murray Darling (19%), Riverina (15%), McLaren Vale (11%) and the Riverland (10%). The Riverina district was encouraged, no doubt, by Melbourne University projections showing it will be among the wine areas hardest hit by climate change. By 2030, research suggests rising temperatures could reduce grape quality in the region by up to 52 per cent. Growers in warm areas laud Tempranillo for its tolerance under hot conditions, its generosity of black fruits, its spice, its tannin structure. But, sadly, not its acidity. Professor Barlow had omitted the fact that the grape is naturally shy in acidity, a rather important piece of information to keep in mind when planting in a warm area. “It’s a bit of a sook actually,” says Peter Leske, a fellow scientist-winemaker behind the specialist Tempranillo maker, La Linea, in the Adelaide Hills. However, Leske maintains the grape’s good points still far outweigh its negatives. “It retains perfume and flavour, flesh and spice, so it makes a wine high in deliciousness despite warm and dry conditions,” he says. Deliciousness, it seems, wins out. Great in the heat, even better in the cool Warm climate Tempranillo is one thing. Cool climate Tempranillo is quite another. It is just possible that in the future the most exciting examples will come from winemakers who venture high up into the wilds, to places where Pinot Noir might also be suited, where the heat is less and the rainfall is more. A little like the 500-metre high nosebleed parts of Spain where it thrives: Rioja, Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa. Bright red fruits are to the fore in Tempranillo grown in cooler climes, the spice appears edgier, the structure is definitely firmer and more apparent. As the full impact of climate change is felt, it could be these areas that will ultimately be better suited to Tempranillo. Time will tell. In the meantime, Australian winemakers consider the newcomer amongst them. “We still have a lot to learn about Tempranillo,” admits Peter Leske. There are things we already know about the grape, like the little matter of pronunciation. If you know Spanish you know, Tempranillo is pronounced with the two lls silent: tem-pra-neee-o. That’s how it should be. It’s not too difficult. Many Aussie enthusiasts have already shortened it to ‘temp’ – clearly a display of endearment. We know that at first, quite a few Australian winemakers mistook Tempranillo for a grape just like Shiraz and made it like Shiraz, emasculating its vibrant Spanish passion into just another Aussie dry red. No identity. No excitement. Tempranillo is not Shiraz. It might act like it sometimes, taste like it occasionally, but its DNA – while not completely known – suggests one immediate relative is most likely Albillo Mayor, a grape from Ribera del Duero, in northern Spain. No Shiraz in sight. The tempraneo gang Some of the greatest advances in understanding the grape come from a group of six Aussie winemakers who got together in 2010, calling themselves ‘TempraNeo’. Each maker comes from a different region, covering most of the viticultural bases: Mayford in the Alpine Valleys, La Linea in the Adelaide Hills, Mount Majura in Canberra, Tar and Roses in Heathcote, Yalumba’s Running With Bulls in the Barossa and Gemtree in McLaren Vale. A number of winemaking bases, too, are explored. No two producers follow the same methods. Eleana Anderson at Mayford brings some basic Pinot Noir winemaking techniques to her Tempranillo including whole bunch fermentation with stalks for added tannin (now that’s simply not done in Spain) and extended time on skins to extract colour and flavour. Her take on Tempranillo is definitely fragrant, elegantly poised. Frank Van De Loo at Mount Majura introduces the notion of savouriness into his Tempranillo. He favours wild ferments, which by definition can be a bit feral and uncontrolled. At La Linea, Peter Leske and David Le Mire, MW, are seeing just what multiple site selections can do for Tempranillo. They source grapes from six vineyards in the Adelaide Hills from Kersbrook to the north (the warmest) through to Birdwood (the coolest location). Blending the blocks together is already producing some attractive characters: fragrance, structure, mouth feel, vibrant fruit, abundant spice. Mike Brown at Gemtree Vineyards, is a biodynamic grower who prefers a hands-off winemaking approach. Winemaker Sam Wigan at Running With Bulls is giving his Tempranillo time in Hungarian oak. “I’m using five to 10 per cent new Hungarian oak because it integrates well with the grape’s tannins,” he says, adding Hungarian oak doesn’t impart vanilla notes common to French oak, so it’s about looking to something out of the ordinary. At Heathcote in Central Victoria, a notable red wine producing region, winemakers Don Lewis and Narelle King at Tar & Roses are studying Tempranillo’s finickety acid profile, amongst other things. In 2014 they did a trial on a half tonne batch of Tempranillo, adding no acid. It didn’t work out well. “I don’t see it as a way forward,” says Don. When it comes to the fuller wine style of the Tar & Roses Tempranillo, he is now certain that it is essential to add acid. However, the grape does have other useful qualities he can employ to deliver structure, namely tannin. “If you taste the grape in the vineyard it’s not very juicy, it’s quite fleshy and it has a chalky tannin that no other variety has,” says Don. “Those two things – fleshiness and chalky tannins - are the epitome of Tempranillo to me. It was what I was used to seeing in La Mancha (Spain) when I was making wine there.” The TempraNeo group is also monitoring the growing number of Tempranillo clones (plant material) now available in Australia. The main sources are Spain, France and Portugal where the grape goes under the name of Tinta Roriz or Aragones. Some clones deliver fruit high in perfume, others show pronounced savouriness. Ten years of trials at Australian nurseries have revealed significant taste and aroma differences between the dozen clones available here. Importantly, Australian winemakers need to know where their clonal material hails from, because it is becoming clear that place of origin can dictate the clone’s performance in a foreign land. A clone taken from a vineyard in Rioja performs better in Rioja then in Valdepenas and vice versa. Comparing the region of origin with their own site’s climate, soil and topography could be a way forward for Australian producers. Tempranillo’s time As we head into a warmer, unpredictable future the role of Tempranillo in Australia is destined to loom large. Much larger. Despite its tendency to turn ‘sook’ and drop acid while on the vine, it has shown in a relatively short time that it is entirely well suited to parts of this country, both warm and cool. In warmer climes its generosity of black fruits, spice and sunny disposition is welcoming. What the grape lacks in sophistication it makes up for in pleasant drinkability. In cooler climes, where Tempranillo grapes are in top demand, each vintage with a price to match (averaging $1448 a tonne in 2012), we see a grape in the throes of reinvention, moulded by some of this country’s most forward-thinking winemakers. Here, the flavours are finer, more subtle, red and black fruits, spice and herbs and because these wines aren’t carrying a heavy weight, Tempranillo’s meagre acid backbone isn’t taxed quite as much. Sometimes savoury nuance surfaces, sometimes a textural loveliness. Exciting times indeed. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. It is early days still.
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