In identifying the places worth watching this year, some may seem familiar yet demand much closer forensic examination of individual producers and wines. It’s encouraging that lesser-known regions present increasingly exciting wines, which isn’t to overlook the fresh thrills and enduring stalwarts of the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and Yarra Valley. It’s just that new wines from Padthaway, Adelaide Hills, Tasmania and beyond carry the thrill of discovery. There’s a whole range of ideas at play, such as pet-nat, carbonic maceration and field blends; whatever makes a better, more delicious wine. And these should loom large this year.
1. Adelaide Hills
The cool kids of the Adelaide Hills have been hot news for a while, but remain fascinating as the shape of their vinous output keeps shifting. Initially notable as vanguards of a vaguely defined natural wine movement, key players are now focused on making lean, sinewy wines that have surprising juiciness and complex flavour melds. The common thread between these makers is producing wine they like drinking – “smashable”, as they love saying. Just right for a session with mates.
Winemaker Jasper Buttons from Commune of Buttons says the key to this outcome is a biodynamic approach to viticulture as well as picking fruit early to keep acids bright and fresh, and sugars and alcohol low. There’s lovely freshness to the svelte palate of his pinot noir and Red Blend (merlot with pinot).
Stephen Crawford’s Frederick Stevenson label cleverly reacts to vintage variations of the fruit parcels he can obtain, with good examples being his Dry Red, a blend of cinsault and shiraz with a splash of grenache and mataro, and his Syrah & Friends (shiraz fermented with marsanne and roussanne skins).
The same talent for reading each vintage differently marks the output of Gareth Belton of Gentle Folk, and Charlotte Hardy who produces Charlotte Dalton wines, which are beguiling for their generous, juicy flavour, but deep layers of structure and grip.
This maverick gang from Basket Range – with Taras Ochota of Ochota Barrels, Brendon Keys of BK Wines and Michael Downer of Murdoch Hill prominent among them – is consistently impressive. They refuse to stand still, with a current release of unconventional field blends embracing fresh ideas and intriguing flavour profiles.
Much is changing in South Australia’s Riverland, notorious for too long as bulk producers of non-descript fruit. Now there’s an exciting new edge, with several grape growers ignoring the status quo to change their viticulture practice. They’re embracing organics and biodynamics, and planting alternative southern European grape varieties with great success.
Pam and Tony Barich lead the way with their Whistling Kite Petit Manseng and a Montepulciano, and Bassham near Barmera is producing great lagrein, nero d’Avola and vermentino. Add
Eric Semmler’s 919 Wines and the Chalmers Vineyards from the neighbouring region of Euston in NSW for their impressive embrace of alternative varieties. But it is the Ricca Terra vineyard that has caused a sensation, providing outstanding fruit (nero d’avola, vermentino, montepulciano and more) for a series of exciting new wine brands, including Unico Zelo, Delinquente Wines, Brash Higgins in McLaren Vale, Amato Vino in Margaret River and Sue Bell’s Bellwether Wines at Coonawarra. These delicious wines are the new darlings of the wine bar scene – and deservedly so.
Padthaway’s grapes have mostly been blended anonymously into popular multi-regional wines, but the emergence of more family owned wine labels reflects the strength and merit of Padthaway fruit.
The impressive newcomer is Landaire Wines, produced from David and Carolyn Brown’s vineyard and made by Pete Bissell (winemaker for Balnaves of Coonawarra). The Landaire portfolio is a significant quality benchmark, with their notable vermentino, chardonnay, tempranillo and shiraz being lean and sensuous, deliciously modern and beautifully balanced.
Also look for impressive chardonnay from Browns of Padthaway, strong cabernet/shiraz blends from Oparina Wines and viognier from Sam Ward’s Giggling Goose label.
It seems naive to declare Tasmania as a region to watch when it has consistently presented many of the nation’s best cool-climate wines for the past decade. But the scene keeps shifting and wines keep improving. The picture becomes even more engaging once you pull focus on individual patches of dirt and the vignerons who tend them. These include Bob and Rita Richter of Grey Sands in the Tamar Valley, Gill Christian and Todd Goebel from Coal River Vineyard in the hills north of Hobart, and Gilli and Paul Lipscombe of Sailor Seeks Horse.
Nick Glaetzer of Glaetzer-Dixon Wines is among the new driving forces in Tasmania, with his Mon Pere Shiraz in 2011 becoming the first Tasmanian wine to win the Jimmy Watson trophy. His riesling and pinot noir are also well worth seeking out.
Other emerging talents include Richard Evans of Two Tonne Tasmania, making small-parcel wines in Tamar Valley. His juicy TMV Pinot Noir and Ziggurat spring wines (a textural riesling blended with gewurztraminer, and a light, yet feisty Nouveau Pinot Noir) are deliciously different.
Another chapter of Tasmania’s elite wine output is reflected in what Adam Wadewitz is doing with Tolpuddle Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, sourced from an outstanding Coal River vineyard and made at Shaw + Smith in the Adelaide Hills. Adam’s certain but restrained hand allows the site to speak loudly in wonderfully complex, sophisticated wines.
5. Great Southern
Parochialism results in wine regions such as WA’s vast Great Southern improving beyond most people’s field of vision. Too few appreciate that this area’s five
sub-regions each deserve special attention – Porongurup, Mount Barker, Albany, Denmark and Frankland River.
While respected producers such as Howard Park, Plantagenet, Alkoomi, Ferngrove, Frankland Estate and Goundrey continue ramping up their quality, there are also new stars emerging. The latest sensation is Yoko and Andries Mostert’s Brave New Wine label from Mount Barker. Andries’ avant-garde approach informs intriguing small-batch experiments, such as Little Sister Pet Nat, a wonderful pink, fizzy thrill; the sprightly and nimble grenache, tempranillo and shiraz blend El Rojo; and Doppelganger, presenting cool climate riesling as an orange wine with a curiously nutty, oxidative edge.
Andrew Hoadley also pushes boundaries by experimenting with conventional varieties in his La Violetta Wines – Das Sakrileg (German for sacrilege) being a prime example, blending riesling and some gewurztraminer for savoury, textural bite. His intriguing portfolio also includes Spunk Nat (riesling with shiraz), Ye-Ye Blanc (riesling, viognier and gewurtztraminer) and Nova Syrova (shiraz, grenache, nebbiolo, pinot noir and mourvedre).
Swinney Vineyards at Frankland River has staked its reputation on providing exceptional cabernet sauvignon and shiraz to the great Houghton wines that consistently win show trophies, but the family’s own label has equally intriguing wines. Try the Tirra Lirra Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo Grenache blend, and Tirra Lirra Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer blend.
Former Houghton winemaker Larry Cherubino has single vineyard and sub-regional wines that span many Great Southern vineyards, earning him Best Value Winery at the Halliday Wine Companion Awards. Excellence shows through Larry’s The Yard single vineyard range to Ad Hoc entry-level wines and vibrant field blends under the Apostrophe range. Best yet is the textural yet austere Cherubino Reserve Riesling – one of the region’s gems.