Another mixed bag this week, but mostly good to very interesting, and more reds than whites to reflect the colder weather. One wine stood out like a beacon: Grant Burge Filsell Old Vine Barossa Shiraz 2010. This wine beat over 700 international Shiraz reds from France, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia to win the Greatest Shiraz in the World title from Winestar magazine.
Not sure it’s THAT good but it’s a very classy number. It’s a classy Shiraz with fragrant sweet fruit and seamless cedary oak. It has also depth and length and surprising finesse. And balance at 14%. Good to drink now but will improve for a few years. It’s a bit over our limit at $28.50 at Dan Murphy’s in a mixed half dozen, but it’s more than worth it. Read the Rest
Mount Eagle Eden Valley Riesling 2012 – $10 at GLUG
Terrific Eden Valley Riesling with all the class, depth and length of its more expensive neighbours. ‘This is another case of being able to drink the highest quality at a low price,’ says David Farmer. ‘It also vindicates our move to the Barossa Valley as you cannot do deals like this in a Sydney pub.’
Windy Peak Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2012 – $10 at Dan M’s
Soft and round, with ripe fruit the driver. Nothing too fancy but about as good a Chardy as $10 will buy.
Evans & Tate Metricup Road Margaret River Chardonnay 2011 - $13.65 at Vintage Cellars
The big retailers drive us nuts, as I keep saying. I ducked into the local Vintage Cellars to buy some Hewitson Miss Harry 2010 GSM for $18 and found one bottle on the shelf at $23. Turns out the special price is an EOFY online special only, yes it said so in the fine print when I checked.
I checked on other options and found the E & T 2011 as a clearance item for $13.65 (single bottle). The website doesn’t know the 2011 but lists the 2010 for $18. Drive you nuts, they do.
I like the 2011 better than the 2010. There’s a bit more to it, some nice hints of white peaches and cashews, and a nice line of lemon acid running through it for balance and length. Not a huge amount of mid-palate flavour and depth, but I think it will grow with a year or two in bottle (it did after a day in the open one). I think for <$14 it’s a really good deal; at its normal price close to $20, I’d go for the Hoddles Creek.
Paul Jaboulet Aine Cotes du Rhone Parallele 45 2009 – $12 at McGuiresCellarsOnline
My mate Reg gave me a bottle of this, I loved it and searched everywhere. Cracka wanted $22 for it but didn’t have any (why do they pop up on every web search six times when they rarely have the wine in question, Google?)
A final desperate search turned up this super special in Brisbane. It’s $15 shipping for an AusPost e-parcel of six but it’s still worth it since this is almost the perfect CdR IMHO. Lovely red fruits with a touch of slate and a hint of dust. Medium bodied, elegant, seductive.
Madeleines Nangkita Vineyard Shiraz 2009 – $18 at Kemenys
Never heard of Madeleines? Neither had we. It used to be called Vincognita, and it’s a boutique winery in McLaren Vale with vineyards in several locations. The fruit for this wine came from the Nangkita vineyard on the Fleurieu Peninsula, and the wine is quite different from McLaren Vale or Barossa Shiraz. It’s more elegant, more fragrant and the fruit is more refined suggesting cooler climate origins. A gentle touch of warm oak (American?) rounds out this lovely wine. $13.9%
Mike Press Adelaide Hills Shiraz 2012 – $13 at MyCellars
The wine is kind of compact, a bit like Mike is built, with a good concentration of red fruits on the middle palate and a touch of soft oak. It’s barely a year old but drinkable already, yet with plenty of headroom for growth. It’s not huge but it’s not exactly subtle either. Tyson Stelzer gives it 94 points, so does Campbell Mattinson at the Winefront. I saw it more as a 91/92 point wine, which is pretty good for the money. You can order direct from the winery as well, which makes sense if you live in Adelaide because the freight is minimal.
Crabtree Watervale Shiraz 2010 – $20 at MyCellars
Another boutique winery, this time in the Clare Valley, bought in 2006 by a Sydney couple making a sea change. The winemaker is Kerry Thompson of Wines by KT fame; in the early naughties, she made the wines at Leasingham. Crabtree wines are small production, hand picked and handmade and it shows: this red is a knockout.
It has that extra quality that lifts it above most Aussie reds, the way the French oak is integrated with the lush fruit. This wine is seductive yet quite complex too; it’s Clare Shiraz in exceptionally capable hands. A lot of SA Shiraz is dense, chunky and lumpy IMHO, but this is different. It’s a terrific food wine, for one thing, perfect with a slow-cooked lamb shoulder. Could hold its own against any Shiraz several times its price. Real bargain. JH gives it 95, and I’ll raise him one point.
Rosabrook Margaret River Cabernet Merlot 2011 – 2 for $22 at 1st Choice Liquor
Pretty much par for the course Margaret River Cabernet Merlot, soft and plummy with some dried herbs thrown in, fine acid and a touch of drying tannin. Lacks a little in the depth department but that’s being really picky in an $11 wine. Bargain.
Cape Mentelle Cabernet Merlot ‘Trinders’ 2010 – $20 at Kemenys
I wasn’t impressed with the 2010 and was very much the odd man out at the time, yet I reckon 2011 was a superior vintage in the west. This wine is more proof. It’s hard to imagine a richer, more perfumed, more velvety red in a medium-bodied format, with depth and length and lots of interesting touches. There’s a bit of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot thrown in to make it more interesting. Dollars cheaper here than elsewhere. Another bargain.
Evans & Tate Metricup Road Margaret River Chardonnay 2010 – $16 at Winestar
Just a week ago I said this: ‘I’m prepared to stick my neck out on this one because we had the 2009 on the weekend, and I wish I’d bought more of it. The 2010 was rated 96 Points and awarded a Gold Medal at Royal Queensland last year, Bert Werden at Winestar tells us. This opened the door to the National Wine Show – ‘the Grand Final of wine shows.’ Here it won the top Gold Medal and the trophy for the best Chardonnay against all comers including the usual suspects at 4 times the price.’
I should’ve waited. This isn’t bad but it’s nowhere near as good as the 2009. Quite elegant, perhaps too much so as it’s bordering on bland. Good length, nice mouth feel but not a lot of flavour. Maybe it’ll fill out get a lot better. The 2009 improved over a year or so. Right now, I’m not convinced.
Madfish Bay Golden Turtle Chardonnay 2012 - $14.25 at Dan M’s
I didn’t think much of this last time I checked, then saw Gary Walsh at The Winefront give it a great rap – excellent Margaret River chardonnay at an exceptional price – and 92 point. Gary has a pretty sharp palate and doesn’t throw points around so I thought I’d better have another look. What I found was exactly the same as the first time around: no strong Chardonnay character, this could be a blend of other white grapes. Didn’t like the slightly sweet-and-sour oak either.
I wanted to like this one, and it has pretty nice fruit and depth in a medium weight package. The problem is that there’s too much of that earthy character. I love hints of dust and slate but it’s burnt earth in this case. Shame.
Robert Oatley McLaren Vale Shiraz 2011 - $17 at MyCellars
This wine won a trophy & gold medal at the 2013 Decanter International Wine Challenge, for Best Australian Rhone Style. It does have a hint of that earthiness about it, but it’s not as good as the Paul Jaboulet above. You’d be hard pushed to guess where this wine came from, but it’s obvious that it was made by a skilful young Turk in the modern Aussie idiom. Larry Cherubino, I think , now under contract to Bob Oatley, or is it Robert – even the label is confused.
Karrawirra Barossa Valley Shiraz 2010 – $9 at GLUG
Just to prove that not every wine from David Farmer’s boutique set-up in the Barossa is a winner. This is big and ripe and without obvious faults. It’s also without charm: It’s a bit lumpy, a plodder not a dancer. IT’s OK for the modest price is the best I can say for it.
Waipara Hills Pinot Gris 2012 – $15
After the tour de force that was the 2011, this was a real disappointment. If most of the 2012 KiWI Savvies lack acid and length and structure, this Pinot Gris is flabby. The flavour is all over the shop as well and not authentic by my definition of either the ripe Pinot Gris or the leaner Pinot Grigio style. This wine is a disaster from a winery that usually puts out pretty decent wines.
In the last couple of weeks, we’ve been checking out the latest bargains from Kemenys’ Hidden and Devils Ridge labels. Not sure why they do 2 different ranges of bargain wines under their own labels. The only difference is that all Devil’s Ridge wines are $10 and sometimes mention the winery, while the Hidden Labels vary in price and invite you to guess the origin.
We also bring you some of Australia’s great dessert wine bargains since the nights are getting colder. They’re great with fruits and nuts and dark chocolate. Go to the end of the post to read about them.
Devils Ridge Block `16 Riesling 2012 – $10 at Kemenys
The Polish Hill River moniker has amused us for years – is it a hill or a river? Either way, it’s a bargain Riesling from the Wilson winery that shows the delicacy of this area but is more forward than you’d expect, filling out and opening up over several days in bottle. Not as much lime and acid as the best wines from this area but utterly enjoyable.
Bethany Barossa Semillon 2010 - $15 at Dan M’s
This was a fascinating foil for the Tyrrells Belford 2007 (see below), in the sense that it had the clearer line and length of fine acid, and the development potential of a decade or more. Classic grassy, lemony young Semillon at this stage. Surprised with its finesse, given the Barossa origin, but Bethany is quietly making great wines down there. 2010 was a great year too.
Essenze Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – $12.50 at Kemenys
Enjoyed another bottle of this and confirmed again that it’s one of the better 2012 Kiwi Savvies. Fresh and grassy with a hint of gooseberries and a very clean line of acid keeping it all on the straight and narrow. Much tighter structure than most of the soft and soggy 2012s.
Please note: the Hidden Label Savvy in the photo has since sold out – them’s the breaks.
James Halliday tells us that ‘The late Eric Pfitzner purchased and aggregated a number of small, subdivided farmlets to protect the beauty of the Piccadilly Valley from ugly rural development. His three sons inherited the vision, with the vineyard planted principally to chardonnay and pinot noir.’
This is not easy to find elsewhere but it’s a terrific modern style Chardonnay, fresh and vibrant with lovely integration of white peaches and gentle oak. Worth chasing.
Hoddles Creek Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2012 – $19 at MyCellars
Another winner from Franco d’Anna in the upper Yarra Valley. Lovely fruit in the white peach spectrum, creamy mouth feel from the classy oak that is seamlessly integrated. Already enjoyable but will be better in a couple of years. Can’t think of a better Chardonnay under $35.
Hidden label McLaren Vale Merlot 2011 – $12 at Kemenys
This turns out to be the Richard Hamilton Lot 148 Merlot, and it’s a beauty. The only clue to the wine’s identity was the Trophy for best Merlot at the Queensland show. More like a 50/50 Cabernet Merlot, not just simple plum compote. There’s lovely dark berry fruit here, and a hint of polished oak, and depth of flavour with elegance. Wonderful wine for the money.
Devils Ridge Cabernet Merlot 2011 - $10 at Kemenys
A plush, velvety number from Margaret River that slips down the hatch with great ease – soft and cuddly but not too big. 14%. Just perfect for all those times you just want an easy-drinking, mouth-filling, satisfying red.
Devil’s Ridge Block 15 Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 - $10 at Kemenys
More of the same here, but a touch longer and leaner, almost stylish. Margaret River again.
This is an eye-opener from GLUG, a convincing demonstration of the wonderful red Mataro/ Mourvèdre can produce in the Barossa. Sweet fruit and layers of silky flavours, all seamless and stylish. Lovely mouthfeel, soft but balanced. Great red with lamb. In France, this variety can make very tough reds and is known as Etrangle Chien (yes, dog strangler).
Houghtons White Classic 2012 - $6.50 at Kemenys
It doesn’t seem right to pick holes in a wine at this price, and it isn’t really that bad. If you don’t mind a bit of artifice, it’s OK to drink chilled on a hot day. We’d rather spend a couple of dollars more and buy a Montes Chardonnay from Chile.
Sudtirol is an area on the southern Alps that Austria ceded to Italy after the last WW, so it’s now called Alto Adige. We were expecting a PG with a bit more bite, backbone and minerals than our ripe down under versions; instead we got more ripe pears and peaches. Shame.
Tyrrells Belford Semillon 2007 – $24 at Kemenys
I’ve copped a fair bit of flak from my mates for my hard attitude to various Hunter Valley Semillons. The reason I chose this one is that it’s actually made from ripe fruit (12.6%). It’s the last of the Semillons picked by Tyrrells from the Belford vineyard near the New England Highway. This 6-year old wine proves my point that riper fruit makes better Semillons, but it tastes more like a Chardonnay. In that sense, it doesn’t quite convince. I think the Bethany Semillon is the better buy.
Mount Langi Cliff Edge Shiraz 2009 – $22 at MyCellars
This has been around for a while, despite James Halliday declaring it a great bargain and giving it 96 points. Yes, there’s a promising nose and nice soft, fragrant red berry fruit here but not a lot of complexity or length – the wine drops off the cliff instead of producing a decent finish. For my money, it simply lacks substance. There are better reds around for this money.
Bellarmine Pinot Noir 2012 – $18 at Kemenys
We admire this winery at Pemberton in WA which produces delicate boutique whites at modest prices , and we really wanted to like this wine. The nose promised classic red Burgundy (notes of dank leaves, forest floor and compost) but the palate failed to deliver on it. It lacks the sweet fruit we like to see in Pinot Noir, and the sharp line that keeps it in check. It’s short as well – three of us agreed on this, and the wine didn’t redeem itself over the following days. Again, Halliday sings its praises and rates it 95. We were disappointed.
These are unique wines to Australia, mostly made from muscadelle grapes around Rutherglen in North-Eastern Victoria. The rest of the world hasn’t discovered these treasures yet, and they’re largely ignored in their home country. As a result, these treasures are serious bargains.
Morris Classic Tawny 500ml 500ml – $17 at Dan M’s
Morris Classic Liqueur Muscat 500mL - $17 at Dan M’s
Morris Classic Liqueur Tokay 500mL - $17 at Dan M’s
Buller Fine Old Tokay 750 ml – $18 at Dan M’s
Big Reds for Cold Winter Nights
And a few good whites that are easy on the pocket
We have a wide-ranging collection this month, of wines tasted the usual way and with friends on other occasions. There are no wines in the AVOID category this week, which is surprising.
Mike Press Chardonnay 2012 – $10 at Winestar
A good $10 Chardonnay for everyday drinking is always a tough ask, but Mike Press has supplied an emphatic answer: an unwooded Chardy with ripe, almost sweet fruit, plenty of authentic flavour and morish mouth feel. Depth and length are good as well, no shortcuts here.
Please note: at this price, you have to buy an unbroken dozen (fair enough). You can buy the wine in a mixed dozen at MyCellars for $11.
Vasse Felix, Whither Hills, Margan, Tar & Roses
The BUYs include
Rosabrook Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2012
Margan Hunter Valley Chardonnay 2012
Hewitson Miss Harry GSM 2010
The disappointments included
Vasse Felix Cabernet Merlot 2011
Mitchell Sevenhill Cabernet Sauvignon
Stoneleigh Sauvignon Blanc 2012
Amelia Park Mishmash Red 2010
Essenze Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012
Red Claw Mornington Peninsula Sauvignon Blanc 2011
Villa Wolf Pinot Gris 2011
Among the disappointments were
Bay of Fires Pinot Noir 2011, despite winning Best Wine in Show in Sydney
Le Moire Annibale 2010
Turners Crossing Shiraz Viognier 2010
Good Pinot Noir under $25?
Another look at ‘Mission Impossible’
There were surprisingly few bad Pinots here, and a few good ones:
TarraWarra Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2010 - $20 at Dan Ms or Winestar
42 ⁰ South Pinot Noir 2009, Tasmania - was $22 but is no longer available
Punt Road Emperor’s Prize Pinot Noir 2010, Yarra Valley - $14 at Dan M’s
Aged Aussie Rieslings – affordable treasure
If you’ve missed out on these beauties, here are some shortcuts to Nirvana
Old Rieslings are among my all-time favourite wines, and they represent a unique Australian wine style. New Zealand comes close with many outstanding Rieslings but we don’t see most of these on this side of the Tasman. Alsace is another option for full-bodied, dry Rieslings that age well, but the best of Alsatians expensive. German Rieslings are different on the whole - more delicate, less ripe, less dry, and less affordable.
The great thing about Aussie Rieslings is that they’re dirt cheap. In the last month or two, you could buy Jim Barry’s Watervale Riesling 2012 for less than $13, O’Leary Walker Watervale Riesling 2012 and Pewsey Vale 2012 for less than $15, and Heggies 2012 for just over $16. These are commercial Rieslings of terrific quality, they’re absolute bargains and they’ll all improve for many years.
2012 was the best Riesling vintage for a decade. 2013 was the hottest summer on record
There were many days when I preferred cold beer to chilled white wine, but there were late evening picnics at the beach where Riesling improved the flavour of cold chicken. This is one of the best-kept secrets in matching food and wine: roast chicken and Aussie Riesling. Wine and food scribes always talk about eating oysters and shellfish with young Rieslings, because of their lime juice and mineral flavours. If people only knew that Riesling and roast chicken are a match made in heaven, the price would go through the roof. As it is, Rieslings resolutely remain super bargains.
Today we compare the Pewsey Vale 2012 and its sibling Heggies. And the a 2012 Jim Barry with a 2007. And we review more wines from Wither Hills, Vavasour, Nugan Estate, Tahbilk, M.Chapoutier, Paul Joboulet and more. As usual, we've grouped them into BUY, NOT CONVINCED and AVOID.
The bigger they are, the harder they fall
Bargains have been far and few in between out there. Coles seems happy to play distant second fiddle to Woolworths so the heat has gone out of the battle. Worse, they’re up to their old tricks: bumping up the Rec retail price and then putting the wines on special. One example: Dogpoint Savvy at 1st Choice on special for $25; you can buy it for $20 at Kemenys every day of every week.
Kemenys prices are always sharp but the latest cattledog didn’t really really tempt me with anything. Villa Maria Savvy 2012 for $11.50? Na. The Vavasour Avatere at $13.25 is most likely a better option – it’s waiting in the wings, I’ll let you know next time. Jim Barry Watervale Riesling 2012 for $13.50 is a bargain if you haven’t bought cases of this already. The Mount Langi Ghiran Billi Billi Shiraz 2010 is still on offer for $12.50, and you’d be hard-pushed to get a better BBQ red for the money my friends tell me.
Dandelion Vineyards Wonderland of the Eden Valley Riesling 2012
This wonderland seems to exert a powerful effect on all those who go near it. This is more than wine, clearly: what we have here is poetry and magic and fairy dust.
‘This is a highly impressive partnership,’ James Halliday tells us in his Wine Companion, ‘between Peggy and Carl Lindner (40%), Elena and Zar Brooks (40%), and Fiona and Brad Rey (20%). It brings together vineyards spread across the Adelaide Hills, Eden Valley, Langhorne Creek, McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley and Fleurieu Peninsula. Elena is not only the beautiful wife of industry dilettante Zar, but also an exceptionally gifted winemaker.’
Southern Highland Wines, Tempus Two & Bergerac
Treasures from local wine merchants
I read that Michael Cooper, NZ’s James Halliday, had pronounced the Spy Valley Chardonnnay 2011 the best NZ Chardy released in 2012. You can get all kinds of Spy Valley wines in Sydney but the Chardonnay isn’t one of them. After an exhaustive trawl of the internet, the only place that popped up as a source was Mosman Cellars.
Mosman Cellars? I didn’t even know that we had an independent wine merchant left around here. There’s Cremorne Cellars down in Spofforth St, holding out against the Vintage Cellars monopoly in this area. Coles bought the Theos chain some years ago, and Theo had bought just about all the grog shops from Neutral Bay to Mosman. It was time to do what I’ve been preaching and show support my local wine merchant some support.
Fraser Gallop Chardonnay to Audrey Wilkinson Shiraz
When it comes to wine tastings, there’s no shortage of surprises.
We opened a few interesting wines over Christmas and New Year, as you do. I wrote about some of them in this post
One of my followers asked me why I didn’t review Hunter Valley wines more often. My experience is that you have to pay more than $25 for good Hunters – for example the Tyrrells Bin reds and whites, and the better Brokenwoods – and that other wine areas offer better value. Another reason is that I’m not fond of most of the underdone Semillons that come out of the valley, even if I’m the odd man out here.
So I thought I’d better try some Hunter Valley wines, but Dan Murphy’s selection was remarkably small. Perhaps most Hunter wine is still bought direct from vineyards since its so close to Sydney. Nothing wrong with that but it didn’t help me on this occasion. Still, we have a few Hunters here for review.
Kooyong Clonale & Oakridge Chardonnays 2012, de Bortoli Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2010, Richard Hamilton Shiraz 2010
There’s some Christmas Cheer here, for sure.
How do we choose the wines we review?
That’s a simple question for most wine writers: they review the samples wineries or distributors send them. That’s why you see so many reviews of wines you’ve never heard of and can’t get hold of easily. I choose wines because:
- They’ve had positive reviews from Halliday, Hooke, Stock, Stelzer et al
- They’ve appeared on best or top lists such as Halliday’s Top 100 in 2012
- They’ve won significant trophies
- They’ve been recommended by friends who know their wines
- They’re being promoted /discounted by major outlets
- I was impressed with the previous vintage
The only other criterion is that the wines I write about are readily available and cost less than $25. Except for the Christmas selection I’ve just posted.
OK, let’s get down to the wines of the last 2 weeks. As always, the reviews are my views and often differ from those of other reviewers. Where the difference is marked, I add other views to provide a broader perspective. As always I buy the wines I review in the same shops you do. I don’t review samples as a rule, which may explain the different results.