Nothing really happens that quickly in the world of wine, new vineyards take years before they even produce fruit that is good enough to squash and bottle and further decades to peak.
We’ve been making wine for thousands of years and over that time have eked out many of the planets greatest terroirs (though climate change may re-draw that map somewhat in future), is there a vineyard out there that has yet to be planted or reach a peak that may rival yards like Romanée-Conti or Montrachet? It’s possible and I certainly hope so but I wouldn’t hold your breath!
To say that there is a new wave of Australian wines hitting our shores may be pushing it a bit, most of the producers talked about below have been grinding for years and written about in the U.K press for some time. Yet each year a new wave of recent vintages laps in, sometimes there feels to be a slight sea-change or that some form of critical mass has been reached, this is where I feel Australia is at the moment. If it’s been a while since you indulged in a decent bottle from down under, I’d like to reacquaint you.
Australia, a (brief) recent history.
It’s no secret that Oz has been making great wine for a good old while but over the last decade or so they’ve also been making plenty of less exciting (though very popular) bulk production, coca-cola style stuff for the super markets and convenience stores that love the £5 fodder they’ve been kicking out (one of my uncles almost exclusively buys ‘that Yellow Tail stuff’, swears by it!). Though certainly not the only country doing this, the popularity of their big oaky chardy’s became unpopular sometime ago and gave ground to everyone’s new beau – Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc (for whites), with Shiraz losing ground to newly popular Malbec from Argentina. Yes, Australia has had MJ’s Man in the Mirror on repeat as they lost market share to places like California & Chile, they’ve gone from having a wine lake (more vino than they can flog) to drought, wash out vintages they found hard to handle (2011) and even smoke taint from bush fires. The global economy and exchange rates haven’t helped when it comes to exporting keenly priced vino either.
Internally, Australian wine competitions are far too powerful and often have the effect of promoting good wines but rarely exceptional wines and in a certain way homogenizing wines in a way that Parker’s palate has done for many regions and markets. In short, they have too much power within the Australian wine industry.
It’s been a tough transition from cheap and cheerful to a more premium offering, almost falling into farce with things like Penfold’s Ampoule. Selling for £120,000 it will no doubt have a limited market and is no doubt one of the least likely bottles of wine ever to be opened, its something I’d imagine even a super villain having second thoughts about buying.
‘I jus don’t sink it vill look right in missile silo cellar No.3, It’s just not my style ja, Doctor Doom is coming round for a Sine Que Non vertical unt even he vill be taking zee mikey’
I suppose things like this are only made to grab worldwide headlines and probably do help to change the general public’s overall perception of Australia to that of a premium producer in some way.
Anyway, let’s forget the past and look at the present and future of Australian wine. A new wave is here, the wines are the proof and more than stand up to some of the best of the old world’s standards as well as more cutting edge stuff coming from places like South Africa, California and certain parts of France. The reasons are multifarious but include; a focus on cooler climate regions/vineyards, better clonal selection, vine age, denser canopies and shading of fruit, earlier harvesting, use of native yeasts, older oak, larger barrels and reduced treatments.
There are also plenty of up and coming young winemakers that follow their own rules, making edgy, interesting wines from the heart, not the wallet. This ever expanding group, many of them second or third generation winemakers are challenging the way their parents have farmed the vineyards and pushing for a change to organic and biodynamic farming, getting rid of pesticides and using lessons learnt in France & Italy. This is Australia though and they are dealing with a different climate which has meant that they have had to adapt the lessons learnt in cooler climates in Europe to suit their home turf.
A recent tasting at Dvine cellars down in Stockwell was a real eye opener on some of these new skool cats, Greg the owner is Australian and like anyone with a hint of national pride shouts about good Australian wine (and bemoans the bad stuff) he and Oli had picked a great little selection for this packed out consumer tasting.
Many of these wines are made in tiny quantities and there is a hungry audience for them down under so we’re lucky someone manages to smuggle any of them out of Oz and into our glasses. If any of these sound like your cup of tea I wouldn’t hang about (they won’t!). Some of the wines are a bit out-there and have extended skin contact which can morph a grape that you know and love into something almost unrecognizable which can be a good or bad thing, but is always interesting. If you are interested in any of these wines contact Greg & Oli and they should be able to hunt some down for you pronto.
Based in the southern part of the Margaret River in Western Australia Sarah & Iwo farm organically and biodynamically with only a bit of sulphur prior to bottling which is without fining or filtration, they’ve been going since 2010 and have just over 8 hectares under vine most of which was planted in 1978.
The Si White is a 70/30 Semillon – Chardonnay blend that shows notes of melon & grapefruit skin on the nose and has a thick texture in the mouth with plenty of definition, pithy citrus fruit and a salty snap on the finish.
The Si Red is a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Malbec. A bit more classic in style than the white with mulberry fruit on the nose and plenty of grip in the mouth.
They also produce a fantastic Pinot Noir based rose and a very interesting sounding Semillon called Chincheclé that is made from low yielding 35 year old vines. Whole bunch pressed and naturally fermented in concrete eggs (for TWO BLOODY YEARS!) under a naturally occurring flor. I’m yet to try this wine but I have it on good authority that it kicks and should be sought out. They only made 768 bottles though so good luck (try Vagabond, you might get lucky).
Angus Wines – Paolo & Gustav Wildstyle Riesling 2013
A Riesling that is partly made in ‘Dora the Amphora’, partly foot crushed and then spends around three weeks on the skins, not exactly what you’d call a traditional style Riesling this would no doubt be slated by purists. It’s certainly interesting, cloudy in colour, intense with apricot and peach skin tannins and plenty of texture.
Lucy Margaux Vineyards – Adelaide Hills
Anton Von Klopper’s domaine is set amongst the untouched wilderness of the Basket Range, a series of hills to the west of Adelaide which at around 500m above sea level is cool enough to make some killer Pinot. He has just over 4ha spread over 4 different plots in what used to be a cherry orchard and dry farmed and 100% biodynamic and be also buys in fruit from neighbors that have similar principles and makes small amounts of everything from Sauvignon Blanc to Sangiovese.
Egg wine 2013 £23.50
A wild ferment Sauvignon Blanc that is made in a concrete egg fermenter which softens the fruit making it more layered and with better lees contact. Fresh and floral nose with good intensity complexity & weight. Very well rounded hate to say this but has an egg like roundness in the mouth, clean finish with some citrus/tropical fruit on the length.
Wildman Blanc 2013 £24.00
This really is a wild one. 100% Sauvignon Blanc that is picked late enough that some of the fruit has a touch of noble rot, whole bunch carbonic maceration and a long ferment in natural barrels followed by about 8 months under a natural flor. This is Sauvignon but not as you know it! It does manage to keep the essence of Sav Blanc though in a concentrated form, a wonderfully fragrant nose, rich texture in the mouth with orange & apple fruit chased along by some snappy acidity. My kind’a Savignon.
Domaine Lucci Red Blend 2013 £17.50
An eclectic mix of 45% Merlot – 15% Syrah – 12% Cabernet Franc – 12% Pinot Noir – 10% Sangiovese -6% Chardonnay, this may not be hugely complex but it is irresistibly drinkable stuff. Full of red fruits, raspberry, cranberry and a very appealing sweet & sour palate with plenty of weight.
Jauma – Adelaide Hills
Jauma is the Catalan for James and the James behind these wines is James Erkine, an ex-restaurateur with an honours degree in soil chemistry who is somewhat of a Grenache specialist. You won’t find any fancy winemaking equipment in his Basket Range, sandstone cellar (built in 1841) and all the fruit from his un-irrigated bush vines is hand harvested with minimal intervention other than a small dose of sulphur just before bottling so the wine can make it to your mowzer in one piece.
Like Raindrops – McLaren Vale Grenache 2013 £24.00
A blend of Grenache from their three vineyards in the McLaren Vale this is unashamedly drinkable stuff with bright cherry fruit and an absolutely killer palate, Aussie Grenache can often underwhelm but this is cracking.
Bindi, Michael Dhillon – Macedon Hills
Bindi is one of Australia’s greatest producers of Pinot Noir & Chardonnay, they are simply exceptional wines that are rare as hens teeth as they have only two hectares or Chardonnay and 4 of Pinot Noir. Understated wines made by the humble Michael Dhillon who looks for balance more than power, the wines are not cheap but this is for a reason and when compared to the price of many Burgundy wines they are outstanding value and will last in the cellar, if you ever see their wines and you have the dosh, don’t hesitate.
Bindi Composition Chardonnay 2012 £39.00
Struck match, wet stone and delicate, lacy tropical fruit on the elegant nose. Wonderful balance in the mouth with a succulence and gentle power, long finish.
Bindi Quartz Chardonnay 2011 £59.99
Restrained and delicately spiced green fruits and and outstanding length, tasted along with some of Australia’s best Chardonnays this still managed to stand out.
Bindi Composition Pinot Noir 2012 £42.20
Wonderfully opulent, elegant herbal spiciness, multilayered & medicinal. Palate has bitter red berry fruit and an outstanding depth of flavour followed by a smoky finish
Castagna – Beechworth
Castagna was not a producer that I was familiar with up until recently and to be perfectly honest I was blown away by their wines, they are not cheap due to a small production and the winemaker Julian Castagna (rightly) wanting a fair price for what they produce. The vineyard’s are at an elevation of 500m in the foothills of the Australian Alps, they are 100% biodynamic and won’t release any wine in poor vintages (such as 2011). They produce Viognier, Syrah (including a sparkling), a rose called Allegro and a Sangiovese/Syrah blend called Un Segreto. The second label is called Adams Rib and is made by Julians son Adam who is the estates assistant winemaker, Two wines are usually made ‘the White’ which is usually a Chardonnay/Viognier blend depending on the quality of the vintage (a 100% Chardonnay was made in 2010 alongside the white, ‘The Red’ is usually a subtle blend of Nebbiolo & Syrah.
Castagna Genesis Syrah 2010 £56.50
Would you hate me if I used ‘mysterious’ to describe the nose of this wine? Okay that may be pushing it a bit far but this is certainly one of the best Syrah wines I have tried this year (and that includes 2 weeks sniffing around the Northern Rhone in May). Lovely, smoky dark plum and blackberry fruit on the nose with anise, earth, dried herbs and cracked black pepper. In the mouth there is plenty of red fruits along with cinnamon & nutmeg spice, beautifully soft tannins and a lifting acidity that makes this incredibly refreshing and a true pleasure to drink. Worth splashing out on and should age well.
Castagna – Adam’s Rib Blend 2010 £32.50
A blend of 70% Nebbiolo & 30% Syrah, this is a very serious wine and though it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the Genesis, is not that far behind and has bags of finesse. The nose shows dried flowers and Chinese five spice and some plush and expressive raspberry and cherry fruit that also comes through in the mouth along with an elegant tannic structure.
Patrick Sullivan – Yarra Valley
Patrick Sullivan makes small batch, minimal intervention wines from some great plots around the Yarra such as the evocatively named ‘thousand candles’ site, working with growers to procure the healthiest fruit possible. After moving to London at 19 and working in Selfridges wine department Patrick travelled for a couple of years getting a taste for honest wines that showed a sense of place and that had not been over worked in the winery. Heading back to Oz he enrolled in a winemaking course but quickly switched to viticulture realising that he would never use the majority of what was being taught in today’s modern winemaking courses for his wines. So in essence he’s a bit of an old school producer believing in all the effort going into the quality and health of the vineyards and fruit rather than modern jiggery-pokery in the winery.
Breakfast Wine 2013 £32.50
Sauvignon Blanc fruit that comes from a sunny, well exposed section of the already rather infamous Thousand Candles vineyard in Yarra Valley that Patrick can see while eating his breakfast, hence the name (as far as I know this isn’t meant to be drunk with your cornflakes though is certainly food friendly). The colour of the wine instantly points at extended skin contact which gives this wine great texture in the mouth and a lovely nose that is full of bay and mint leaf as well as a juicy tropical edge.
William Downie – Gippsland
Bill Downie is a Pinot man through and through, it’s pretty much all he makes (you’ll be lucky if you find a bottle of his Petit Menseng), he spent a number of years in Burgundy working with legends such as Hubert Lignier & Domaine Fourrier and is considered to be one of the best producers of Australian Pinot Noir. He is a big fan of regionality and makes Pinot in Yarra Valley, Mornington Penninsula & Gippsland. These are intricate wines that have a savoury/sweet character all of their own and it will be fantastic to see how the wines develop with age. The bottles are very distinctive, sturdy Burgundian bottles, usually topped with green wax and beautiful art work from Reg Mombassa a.k.a Chris O’Doherty whose art you may remember adorning Mambo surf wear back in the 90’s.
No So2 2010 Gippsland Pinot Noir – £20
I have to admit that this style of Pinot doesn’t ring my bell but at the price is a good introduction to Bill’s wines and if you’re a fan of stalky and smoky whole bunch fermented pinot then this will be up your street and there’s plenty of crunchy black fruit (I’d buy this for the label art alone).
William Downie 2013 Yarra Valley Pinot Noir – £46.99
Now this is great stuff but a wine that really will deserve some time in the cellar, well defined small berry fruit, smoke, this wine has great finesse and really does show a fantastic mineral flair.
Luke Lambert – Yarra Valley
Luke is another of Australia’s young wine turks, eschewing what he learnt at wine school to make wines in a riskier more hands off way, concentrating on the vineyard far more than the winery. Growing up in Brisbane, Queensland not traditionally a wine producing region he was introduced to wine by his parents whose palates favored wines with less fruit sweetness and following on from many trips to various cellar doors as a youngster decided that wine making was what he wanted to do as a career. Travelling in Europe he fell in love with amongst others the wines of Cornas & Barolo and realised that the more you try to push wine in a certain direction in the winery the more it lacks the character of the vineyard he was looking for.
He bottles both a Shiraz under his Crudo label and a Syrah under Luke Lambert, both from the same vineyard in Yarra Valley just separate blocks with the Crudo coming from the lower slopes and having a bit more muscle than the Syrah which works well with defining the style of these two very different wine. It is worth noting that he was one of the first Australian producers to use Syrah rather than Shiraz in Oz. Luke also makes a Nebbiolo a rosé that is a shiraz/nebbiolo blend and a sparkling Chardonnay, these are all small production, hard to find and nearly all his wines will certainly benefit an extended decant before you get stuck in.
Crudo Chardonnay 2012 – £21
This is the first white bottling under Luke’s Crudo label and takes its lead, in part from sous voile Chardonnay made in Frances Jura region. With a mixture of extended skin contact and some of the barrels being aged under flor its safe to say that Luke was making a bit of a gamble making this wine. The gamble however has paid off and this is a fantastic wine that does need to be coaxed out somewhat but has very precise and direct apple, pear, lime fruit profile along with some almond nuttiness.
Luke Lambert Syrah 2012 – £31.00
40% whole bunch fermentation with natural yeast in large, 40 year old barrels really lets the fruit sing with this wine which has a very expressive perfume that is backed up by a herbal, spicy black fruit, great acidity and incredible length on the finish.
Tom Shobbrook – Adelaide Hills
Tom along with Sam Hughs, Anton Von Klopper & James Erskine is part of Natural Selection Theory, these guys are among the GodFathers of Australia’s new (natural, if you will) wine movement.
Tom spent a good old time in Chianti making wine at organic & biodynamic producer Reicine and returning to the Barossa valley decided that he wanted to do things differently to the mainstream. He found it hard even to convince his own parents that there was another way to do things and that there where alternatives to what had become the norm in Barossa. Tom likes to experiment a fair bit and will use everything from a concrete egg to an open top barrel to ferment his wines, he’s got three main ranges; Didier, Didi & Shobbrook and works with quite a few different grape varieties, everything from Riesling to Merlot. The two wines that I like best from his range are the Didi Giallo and the Shobbrook Golden Circle, both Sauvignon Blanc (probably the grape I am least likely to go for) that has spent time on the skins turning it into a completely different animal, if you are new to this style of wine I’d start off with the Golden Circle before heading to the Giallo.
Shobbrook Pineapple Egg Golden Circle Sauvigon Blanc 2013 – £17.50
Such a great, complex nose that shows spiced pineapple chunks, golden syrup, apple blossom, wild mint leaf and bay leaf. In the mouth its not as expressive but has a great orchard apple skin tannic texture along with pear fruit, scrumpy but in a good way.
Wine Australia and in particular Emma Symington have been doing a outstanding job of nurturing an interest and love of Australian wines within the U.K trade for many a year now, putting on a fantastic range of tastings and master classes that have really highlighted the quality of Australian wine across the board. It was with great sadness to the whole trade that Yvonne May passed away earlier this year, I’m sure that she would be hugely proud of the work her team have done to promote the wines that she was so passionate about.
One of the most recent tasting they put on was in the grandiose surrounds of Australia House on the Strand and included a Master class with Justin Knock MW on a number of Australia’s top Chardonnays, looking at differing styles over a number of vintages. There was also a tasting of 102 wines that had been handpicked by a cross section of the British wine trade and covered the main grape varieties, ranging in price from under £10 to £80.
The below is a list of wines that particularly stood out at the tasting, I would highly recommend searching any of them out (especially the ones with the *).
Inocent Bystander Moscato 2014 – VIC £9.99
Peter Lehmann ‘Black Queen’ Sparkling Shiraz 2009 – Barossa £16.95
*mac forbes RS16 Riesling 2013 – Strathbogie Ranges, VIC £22.00
Jacob’s Creek Steingarten Riesling 2011 – Barossa, SA £16.59
Jacob’s Creek Reserve Chardonnay 2012 – Adelaide Hills, SA £9.99
Henschke Julius Riesling 2013 – Eden valley, SA £21.50
*Fox Gordon Princess Fiano 2012 – Adelaide Hills, SA £16.75
Ochota Barrels, The Slint Chardonnay 2013 – Adelaide Hills, SA £28.00
Leeuwin Estate, Prelude Vineyards Chardonnay 2011 – Margaret river, WA £24.00
Vasse Felix, Heytesbury Chardonnay 2012, Margaret River, WA £28.95
*Philip Shaw, The Dreamer Viognier 2013 – Orange, NSW £14.95
*Moorooduc Estate Pinot Noir 2010 – Mornington Peninsula, VIC £29.50
Ochota Barrels, A Forest Pinot Noir 2013 – Adelaide Hills, SA £27.00
*Spinifex, Esprit 2009 – Barossa, SA £25.00
Islander Estate, Sangiovese 2013 – Kangaroo Island, SA £12.00
Jamsheed Syrah 2012 – Yarra Valley, VIC £31.00
Logan Shiraz 2012 – Orange, NSW £17.99
Shaw + Smith Shiraz 2012 – Adelaide Hills, SA £25.90
*Skillogalee Basket Pressed Shiraz 2010 – Clare Valley, SA £16.98