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Wine

Top 50 Wines of 2016

The Wine Selectors Tasting Panel tastes over 3000 wines from Australian producers per year. Here is the best of the best, the top wines that wowed them in 2016.

Not many people know this, but I’ve always loved statistics. When I was younger, it was all sports related – D.K Lillee’s bowling average, Chicka Ferguson’s try scoring tally, that sort of stuff. These days I am using that love of maths to discover interesting info about wine. Throughout the year our Tasting Panel puts their collective expert palates to the test to determine what wines we send to our members. The wine tasting process is extremely rigorous. The wines are opened the morning of the tasting to allow them to breathe, placed into a bottle cover so no-one can see the label, and poured in brackets that group varietals or styles. The Panel tastes each and every wine and gives them a score out of 20, as per judging at an official wine show. This happens every Friday (and sometimes Wednesday) at Wine Selectors with our Panel tasting up to 100 wines a week. That equates to literally thousands of wines a year, from nearly every producer in every wine region across Australia. So collecting a year’s worth of scores from the Panel reveals some amazing statistics. And from that we can gather some pretty cool information. For instance, not only does it show which producers are leading the charge, what regions had a good vintage and what varietals are doing well – it also shows the changing face of wine.

On Trend

That’s the exciting thing about wine – it is always changing. That’s a pretty simple sentence, but when you look at it from different angles, it really says a lot. Yes, it is changing in the bottle as it ages and develops, changes in weather from season to season determine the outcome of how the wine will taste, and there are changes in winemaking techniques and equipment that will improve the taste and the scope of a wine. Ultimately though, I think the biggest change in wine is driven by consumers. Fashion leads demand and if the demand is big enough, it will drive supply. This scenario is pretty evident when looking at our Top 50 wines of 2016. Even before you look at who made the Top 50, just the wines submitted tell a startling story – Aussie drinkers are demanding greater variety. How do we know? Well, in 2016 our Panel tasted more alternative wines than ever before and we are not just talking about a couple of Grigios. Try these on for size: Bianco d’Alessano, Garganega, Muller Thurgau, Verduzzo – and they’re just the whites, they also sipped Aglianico, Lagrein, Montepulciano, Saperavi and Saint Macaire – and that’s only a third of the list of alternative varietals they looked at. How many have you heard of, let alone tried? The exciting thing is, you probably will get to try some of these soon, because quite a few of them are performing exceptionally well – good enough to make it to our Top 50 wines of 2016. For instance, the Serafino Wines Bellissimo Lagrein (placing inside the Top 10, no less), The Pawn Wine Co En Passant Tempranillo and the Bird in Hand Montepulciano. There’s also Touriga, Fiano, Vermentino, Marsanne and more. Yep, it’s an exciting time to be a drinker of Australian wine.

Traditional Stars

Of course, our traditional varietals also excelled in 2016. Our two biggies, Shiraz (12) and Chardonnay (9) dominated the tallies, but it must be pointed out that their styles have changed to suit the drinking public. The top scoring wine, the Di Giorgio Family Chardonnay 2015, is lean and minerally, described as having “aromas of flint, struck match and oyster shell with a refined palate of intense fig, melon and nectarine,” while the top scoring Shiraz, the Ryan’s Reserve Vanessa’s Vineyard 2014 is a medium to full-bodied Hunter wine with “a ripe and lively core of red and black fruits with hints of Chinese spice.” Riesling was also a big surprise packet this year. Panellist Trent Mannell reckons Riesling is going to be one of the trending wines of 2017 and if the quality of current vintages is anything to go by, he may be right. The Ferngrove Off Dry Limited Release Riesling 2016 from Western Australia’s Great Southern region was simply superb, taking out second spot overall and was described by the Panel as “impossible to put down”. In all, there were four Rieslings in the Top 50, all from different regions, which goes to show this varietal’s versatility. Read more about the rise of Australian Riesling in this article

Diversity and Consistency

In a nod to diversity, the Top 10 wines were made up of eight different varietals from eight different regions. That’s a real wow moment right there. Chardonnay, Riesling, Marsanne, Shiraz, Muscat, Semillon, Cabernet Merlot and Lagrein – Coonawarra, Great Southern, Nagambie Lakes, Hunter Valley, Rutherglen, Margaret River, Barossa, Adelaide Hills. What that tells us is that viticulturists are getting better at knowing what works in their region and how to get the best out of their grape. It also says that winemakers are becoming more skilled at taking that perfectly grown grape and making great wine.

Out of the Top 50 there were only two producers who featured more than once – Howard Park (Marchand & Burch Chardonnay and Howard Park Flint Rock Pinot Noir) and Brown Brothers (Devil’s Corner Pinot Noir and Innocent Bystander Known Pleasures Shiraz). The same two producers both had two wines each in last year’s Top 50, so it speaks volumes of their ability to consistently produce top wines. And speaking of consistency, it must be noted that the Brown Brothers Devil’s Corner Pinot Noir 2015 replicated the success of the 2014 that featured in last year’s Top 50. This is a huge result, as anyone can have a great vintage, but to do it consistently is the mark of a great producer.

Vintage and Age

The stats show that The Hunter Valley (8), McLaren Vale (7) and Great Southern (7) had great vintages, with 2014 living up to the hype for reds and 2015 for white wines.It was also interesting to note the power of age. Nearly all the wine we buy is consumed soon after we’ve bought it (the same day in my case). However, some producers are lucky enough to be able to hold onto some of their wine to release it at a date when it has aged to perfection – the Tahbilk Marsanne 2010 and Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon 2011, for example. Of course, you can do the same thing, provided you have the ideal storing conditions and you can keep your hands off it. Or, if that seems too hard, you can just check out this list of amazing wines, tally up the ones you like, do the stats and get amongst them.

The Best Australian Wines of 2016

Di Giorgio Family Chardonnay 2015 (Coonawarra)

Ferngrove Off Dry Limited Release Riesling 2016 (Great Southern)

Tahbilk Marsanne 2010 (Nagambie Lakes)

Saddler’s Creek Ryan’s Reserve Vanessa Vineyard Shiraz 2014 (Hunter Valley)

Stanton & Killen Classic Rutherglen Muscat NV (Rutherglen)

Howard Park Wines Marchand & Burch Australian Collection 'Porongurup' Chardonnay 2015

Tyrrell’s Wines Vat 1 Semillon 2011 (Hunter Valley)

Henschke & Co Tappa Pass Shiraz 2013 (Barossa)

Hamelin Bay Wines Five Ashes Vineyard Cabernet Merlot 2014 (Margaret River)

Serafino Wines Bellissimo Lagrein (Adelaide Hills) 2013

The Pawn Wine Co. En Passant Tempranillo 2013 (Adelaide Hills)

 Briar Ridge Stockhausen Black Label Semillon 2016 (Hunter Valley)

Tyrrell’s Wines 'Stevens' Single Vineyard Shiraz 2014 (Hunter Valley)

Scotchmans Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Geelong)

Innocent Bystander Known Pleasures Shiraz McLaren Vale 2014 (McLaren Vale)

Byron & Harold The Partners Chardonnay 2015 (Great Southern)

Brown Brothers Devil’s Corner Resolution Pinot Noir 2015 (Tasmania)

De Iuliis Steven Vineyard Shiraz 2014 (Hunter Valley)

Howard Park - 'Flint Rock' Pinot Noir 2015 (Great Southern)

Rutherglen Estates Durif 2014 (Rutherglen)

Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Vineyard (Organic) 2013 (Frankland River)

Seville Estate Chardonnay 2015 (Yarra Valley)

Woods Crampton Pedro Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2015 (Barossa)

Dandelion Vineyards Sister’s Run Shiraz 2014 (Barossa)

Forest Hill Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Mount Barker) try the 2011 vintage here

Driftwood Artifacts Chardonnay 2014 (Margaret River)

Lisa McGuigan Platinum Selection Chardonnay 2015 (Hunter Valley)

Bleasdale Vineyards The Powder Monkey Single Vineyard Shiraz 2013 (Langhorne Creek)

Hart & Hunter Single Vineyard Twenty Six Rows Chardonnay 2015 (Hunter Valley)

Rockcliffe Quarram Rocks Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2016 (Great Southern)

Taylors Wines Riesling 2015 (Clare Valley)

Bird in Hand Montepulciano 2014 (Adelaide Hills)

Alkoomi Black Label Riesling 2009 (Frankland River)

Pertaringa Wines Undercover Shiraz 2014 (McLaren Vale)

Shaw Vineyard Estate Olleyville Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 (Canberra)

Five Geese Shiraz 2014 (McLaren Vale)

Leconfield Wines Richard Hamilton Centurion 122-Year-Old Vine Shiraz 2014

SC Pannell Wines Grenache Shiraz Touriga 2014 (McLaren Vale)

Shadowfax Pinot Gris 2015 (Geelong)

Dominique Portet Fontaine Rose 2015 (Yarra Valley)

McWilliams Wines Mount Pleasant High Altitude Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Orange)

Tulloch - 'Cellar Door Release' Vermentino 2016 (Orange)

Oliver’s Taranga Vineyards Fiano 2015 (McLaren Vale) Try the 2016 vintage here

Montara Winery Chalambar Road Shiraz 2009 (Grampians)

Henry’s Drive Vignerons Henry’s Drive H Syrah 2012 (Padthaway)

Margan Family Limited Release Chardonnay 2013 (Hunter Valley)

Bremerton Walter’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (Langhorne Creek)

Vasse Felix Chardonnay 2015 (Margaret River)

d’Arenberg The Dry Dam Riesling (off dry) 2015 (McLaren Vale/Adelaide Hills)

Kirrihill Wines Montepulciano 2014 (Mount Lofty)

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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!
Wine
Embracing isolation with Frankland Estate’s Hunter Smith
To celebrate the Frankland Estate Riesling 2015 being our October Wine of the Month, we caught up with winemaker Hunter Smith to talk isolation, organics and a special Guinea fowl. What was it like growing up in Frankland River – WA’s most isolated wine region? Looking back, amazing! The concept of isolation was not there, we had total freedom after school (a thriving 60-student primary school) to go horse riding, rabbit trapping and yabbie catching, help out on the farm, kayak down the Frankland River, camp, fish and explore on the spectacular south coast and have big farm picnics where friends would join us at the farm and the folks would drink magnums of red well into the evening around a big fire.   Your parents weren’t always in the grape-growing game – how did that come about? Farming and the land are a big part of both my father’s and mother’s family histories in Australia. My father Barrie grew up on a vineyard in South Australia’s Riverland and his family moved to a farm in the Frankland River region back in the 50s, so I guess it was always in his blood. Fast forward a little and Judi and Barrie met in Perth and purchased a farm in Frankland River down the road a bit from my grandparents and started farming sheep and wheat. Dad was always making a barrel of wine a year and in the early 1980s, Judi and he went on a trip through France with Bill Hardy and let’s just say they got the bug to plant some vines. The first vines were planted in 1988 and, over time, sheep numbers have gone from 15,000 to pretty much just a handful now as the wine business has become our main focus. Did you always imagine you’d end up working in the wine industry? Standing in 5ºC pruning vines in the middle of a Frankland River winter would make any teenager look for greener pastures. I was adamant I would do anything but winemaking and grape growing. I spent 10 years after school in university and travelling and this made me realise how much I loved the industry and the region in which we farm our vines. A vintage with Eric and Bertold Salomon in Kremstal, Austria was probably the point in time when it all changed for me. Given how pristine the Frankland River region is, and the fact that it’s virtually pollution free, is there a commitment among local growers to organic viticulture? I think generally, viticulturists are looking to be as sustainable as possible and this region is very much that way inclined, we have a very complementary climate to help with this. While we remain the only certified organic vineyard and winery in the Frankland River region, there is a big move in this direction.
One of the more unique members of your team is Gladys – what contribution does she make to the vineyard? As a family, we don’t believe in hierarchy in the workplace, but Gladys is the matriarch of our amazing Guinea fowl flock. Every year, Barrie incubates eggs found by the vineyard workers and a breeding program sees a few hundred new birds added to the team. Under Gladys command, they help control pests such as weevils. It’s all the one percenters that help make a successful organic farming system. What difference do you think your organic approach made to the 2015 Riesling? I could bang on about organics for hours, but what I will say is, we have seen vine health improve remarkably through the attention to detail in every aspect of nutrition, soil biology and climatic conditions. As a result, we are seeing very exciting developments to fruit balance and we are finding natural acidity is retained nicely. We have also been able to increase ripening a fraction, giving this wine delicious generosity of flavour, while maintaining that delicate and a nervous framework of acidity that make Frankland Estate Rieslings a stand out. In our 2017 calendar, your Riesling is matched with steamed snapper with Asian flavours – what’s your favourite meal to enjoy with it? That sounds pretty good! Being just an hour’s drive to the Southern Ocean, I love sitting on the beach catching fresh whiting and the humble herring, these cooked over an open fire with a Riesling (with a couple of years’ age) is spectacular.   What’s your favourite wine memory? Gosh, too many great wine moments to pin it down to one, but a very memorable night was 10 years ago when our great late friend and wine importer to the USA John Larchet, with his great friend Ray Harris and a group of fellow Australian winemakers, spent an unbelievable evening enjoying some of Ray’s finest bottles in his New York apartment overlooking the NYC skyline. I remember thinking I would never see some of these wines again and I couldn’t help but think how amazing it was to be sitting on the other side of the world in a city so far removed from our Isolation Ridge vineyard in Frankland River, a special memory! What’s your favourite… Way to spend time off? With the family on the farm or at the beach. Holiday destination? Bremer Bay (south coast WA) whales, fishing, spectacular white beaches and probably even more remote than Frankland River! It’s a must see for anyone that’s never been. Wine and food match? I don’t get too caught up with that, if there’s food and wine, I’ll be there! Sporting team? Wallabies (sometimes!) Book? Something with a bit of Australian history – I always enjoy reading, nothing too dry!  I’m reading Peter FitzSimons’ Eureka right now, which is a good read.
Wine
Screw Cap vs Cork - the Seal of Approval
Words by Dave Mavor on 5 Jun 2017
Tasting Panellist Dave Mavor tells why a crack wins over a pop when it comes to opening wine. Screwcap closures were first used in the Australian wine industry in the 1970s, but consumers at the time perceived these wines to be of lower quality, and the initiative soon fizzled out. The screwcap comeback came in the 2000 vintage when a number of  ClareValley  winemakers bottled some of their  Rieslings  under screwcap to prevent cork-related faults. The most common of these is cork 'taint', caused by a compound known as TCA, which was often present in cork bark. Before the proliferation of screw cap closures in Australia, the level of wines ruined by cork taint was 12-15%. To put this in perspective, for every two dozen you purchased, it was accepted that there would be at least two bottles affected. This relatively high occurrence of cork taint was due largely to cork suppliers providing Australia with (compared to Europe) second rate corks with a higher incidence of taint producing bacteria. Due to the airtight nature of screwcaps, the problem of premature oxidation was also eliminated, along with the 'flavourscalping' tendency of the porous cork material, and other potential flavour modifications. Another advantage now widely recognised by consumers is the convenience factor - screwcapped bottles are easy to open and re-seal!   SCREWING WITH TIME One of the criticisms of screwcaps, apart from the ridiculous (in my view) notion of missing the 'romance' of the sound of popping a cork, was that the seal was so good that wines would not mature with time, due to the absence of oxygen. However, there is normally a miniscule amount of dissolved oxygen within the wine itself when it is bottled, which will allow the wine to evolve, and each bottle will age at roughly the same rate, while retaining its freshness and vitality for much longer. With wines under cork, the maturation process is not only much faster, but each bottle will age at a different rate due to the variable consistency and therefore oxygen permeability of the corks. A recent innovation in screwcap technology has seen the development of closures that allow strictly controlled rates of oxygen transmission, giving winemakers the choice of differing maturation rates for different wine styles. I have now had the opportunity to taste wines that have been aging gracefully under screwcap for up to 15 years, including the same wine bottled under both cork and screwcap. I've even had the privilege of tasting wines from those early adopters in the 70's, which at the time were still going strong.   INTERNATIONAL EYE-OPENER To reinforce my beliefs, award-winning Australian wine writer Tyson Stelzer came up with some stunning results from a tasting at Italy's biggest wine show, Vinitaly, in March, 2015. Tyson presented five mature flagship Australian red wines under both cork and screwcap in a blind tasting. Some of Australia's most age-worthy and respected reds were presented, including the  Henschke  Hill of Grace Shiraz 2004. In a major surprise the panel of international wine professionals voted the screwcapped wines ahead of the corks. "The result was ground-breaking for Italy, where screwcaps remain controversial and until recently have been prohibited on the country's top wines," Tyson said. Even Venice sommelier Annie Martin-Stefannato admitted "we will have to change our mindset". So, given all the evidence for the superiority of screwcap closures, my personal preference will always be to hear a 'crack' rather than a 'pop' when I open a bottle of wine.      
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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