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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
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The art of Italian
Words by Mark Hughes on 2 Jul 2015
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Pursuit of Perfection - Australian Pinot Noir
Words by Dave Mavor on 2 May 2017
Australia's established Pinot Noir regions are continuing to develop and evolve remarkable examples of this varietal. But for the big future of Aussie Pinot, we may need to look west. I'll admit it - not everyone is a fan of  Pinot Noir . But that fact, in itself, is what makes Pinot so enigmatic - aficionados swoon, swillers scoff. And this suits Pinot (and its lovers) just fine because in this land of the tall poppy, it is not always favourable to be too popular. That said, Pinot is one of the most revered and collected wine styles in the world, with the top examples from its homeland in Burgundy selling for outrageous sums of money. It is generally quite delicate (some say light-bodied), and it takes a certain development of one's palate to truly appreciate its delightful nuances, perfumed aromas, textural elements and supple tannin profile. 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The cool climate of Burgundy has proven to be a major factor, as is the geology of the soils there, but they have also shown the variety to be very site-specific - vines grown in adjacent vineyards, and even within vineyards, can produce very different results. Vine age too, is critical. True of most varieties, but especially Pinot Noir, the best fruit tends to come from mature vineyards, considered to be around 15 years old or more. Yields too, need to be kept low to get the best out of this grape, as it needs all the flavour concentration it can get to show its best. Australian winemakers have taken these lessons to heart - gradually developing ever cooler areas to grow Pinot, working out the best soil types, and carefully exploring the ideal sites within each vineyard to grow this fickle variety. They're also working out the best clones and the most appropriate vine spacing, and then managing the vine canopy to allow just the right amount of dappled sunlight to reach the ripening bunches. Our vines are getting older, reaching that critical phase of maturity, and yields are managed carefully to coax the maximum from each berry. Once in the winery, the grapes need careful handling due to their thin skins and low phenolic content, so physical pump-overs are kept to a minimum. These days more and more winemakers are including a percentage of stems in the ferment to enhance the aromatic and textural qualities of the finished wine, and oak usage is more skilfully matched to the style being produced. THE STATE OF PLAY OF PINOT Australian viticulturists and winemakers are getting better at producing top quality Pinot with every passing year. And that quality is truly on show in our most recent State of Play tasting. It's been five years since we last had an in-depth look at Pinot Noir in this country. And what a change we've seen in that time! The overall quality of Australian Pinot is certainly on the rise. But what is perhaps the biggest development in the last five years has been the emergence of a potential Pinot giant  in the west . As you will see in our reviews across the following pages, the established Pinot producing regions such as the  Yarra Valley ,  Tasmania  and  Adelaide Hills  are still well represented in our Top 20, but they are joined by newcomers, the cool-climate  Tumbarumba  region of NSW, and an impressively strong showing from the  Great Southern  and  Pemberton  areas of Western Australia. In fact, five wines in the Top 20 are from WA - an amazing statistic given that there were none five years ago. THE EMERGING PINOT GIANT - WA We have seen a marked increase in the number and quality of Pinots coming from the West in recent years, particularly from the vast  Great Southern  area encompassing the five distinct sub-regions of Albany, Denmark, Frankland River, Mount Barker and Porongorup, as well as a secluded pocket of the South West around Pemberton and Manjimup. So what has led to the emergence of WA as a Pinot powerhouse? According to second generation winemaker Rob Wignall, whose father Bill pioneered Pinot production in Albany, there have been a number of small improvements that make up the overall picture. He believes that climate change has been a significant and positive factor, moving the region's climate into more of a semi-Mediterranean situation with mild summer days and a reduction in rainfall throughout the growing season, leading to improvements in disease control and better canopy management. In addition, Rob feels that better oak selection and winemaking practices such as 'cold soaking' of the must prior to fermentation have led to improvements in the finished product. He is also a strong advocate for screw caps, believing that the delicate fruit characters of Pinot really shine under this closure, and that they also enhance the age-ability of the wines. Luke Eckersley, from regional icon Plantagenet Wines in Mt Barker, points to the variations in micro-climates and soil types across the Great Southern region as a factor. "Pinot Noir styles are varied with complex savoury styles from Denmark; elegant perfumed styles from Porongurup; rich fruit driven styles from Mount Barker; big robust styles from Albany; lighter primary fruit styles from Frankland River," he says. Michael Ng, winemaker from Rockcliffe in Denmark, adds that the cool climate with coastal influences allows full flavour development in the fruit, while still allowing for wines of finesse and savoury complexity. And a bit further west, Coby Ladwig of Rosenthal Wines points to the steep hills and valleys of the Pemberton region creating many unique micro-climates that enable varied grape growing conditions, "allowing us to create extremely complex and elegantly styled wines from one region", he says. While neighbouring Manjimup, with an altitude of 300m and therefore the coolest region in Western Australia, has cold nights and warm days ideal for flavour enhancement. PERFECTING THE FUTURE In summary, Pinot Noir in Australia is in a healthy position, with the established regions in Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia producing more consistent and ever improving results. Equally exciting are the emerging Pinot Noir regions such as those in WA, as well as Tumbarumba and Orange, that show that the future for Pinot in Australia is bright. So, if you find your Shiraz doesn't love you as much anymore, perhaps look to Pinot, and when doing so, glance west. THE WINE SELECTORS TASTING PANEL The wines in this State of Play were tasted over a dedicated period by the  Wine Selectors Tasting Panel , which is made up of perceptive personalities and palates of winemakers, international wine show judges and wine educators. With an amazing 140 years collective experience, they love wine and they know their stuff.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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