If, on looking through the wines I have chosen for this year's Top 100, you think I have been unduly kind, just remember these have come from a total field of over 10,000 wines. The pre-qualified process I necessarily employ to avert up to half of these arriving at already stretched resources means that 1233 crossed the starting line.
From this point on, there were a series of elimination steps to arrive at the Top 100 which I briefly outline (in numeric terms) at the start of each group. While the majority of the criteria aimed at ensuring a balance of variety, style and maker were the same as in prior years, I decided to pay particular attention to two issues: the closure and the alcohol of each wine.
The latter question has led to an innovation this year: to show the alcohol of each wine. While the numbers are simply objective facts, there is a line in the sand behind the numbers. In reviewing my tasting note for each wine, I paid attention both to the closure (more of which in a moment) and the alcohol level.
Road safety and alcohol abuse to one side (however important they may be) there are real issues and concerns from a quality/sensory viewpoint about the elevated levels of alcohol affecting Australian chardonnay (in the white wine sector) and all red varieties and styles.
It is true that part of the red equation can be loosely called the Parker Factor. The United States is an export market of enormous importance to Australia, both at the yellow tail price point all the way to the top of the quality tree. Never forget that while economy class accounts for well over 95 per cent of all passengers, airline images and reputations are driven by what happens up front.
By and large, it is the red wines (typically shiraz) with alcohol levels at or above 15? which have attracted the most attention, and highest prices from consumers who believe Parker is indeed the emperor of wine, with papal infallibility. Many of these are what I might call 'trophy wines', not in wine show parlance, but big game hunting.
So to the line in the sand. I have given preference in most instances to medium-bodied wines with an alcohol level below 15?, the exceptions doing no more than proving the rule. A lesser weighting has been put on the closure, simply because the winemakers have been doing the job for me.
Virtually all the young white wines submitted had screwcap closures. Some of the exceptions were designer or proprietary bottles which don't come in screwcap conformations, and wines predominantly headed for export markets (Jacob's Creek, yellow tail and so forth). The other exception was six or seven-year-old white wines (Hunter semillons, South Australian rieslings) which, in the years ahead, will come with screwcaps.
Needless to say, a lower percentage of red wines came with screwcaps, but even here it was noticeable that technical closures (Diam, ProCork and Twin-Top) were often preferred to one-piece natural corks.
There was less premeditation when it came to choosing between big company and small company wines. Excluding the 12 champagnes, 20 per cent (22 out of 88) of the wines chosen came from the big companies, 80 per cent from smaller producers, because — as in prior years — I have deliberately sought to present the widest possible spread of maker, variety, region and style.
Enough of such boring protocols. Last year I was very happy with the quality of the selections, taking particular strength from the 2002 vintage reds and older vintage white wines, the concerns lying chiefly with the 2004 white wines.
Once again, nature has smiled on this lucky country. There is no doubt the large 2005 vintage has produced white wines of exceptional quality right across the board, and all my intelligence reports suggests the red wines will be equally good. In the meantime, there is a veritable smorgasbord of both white and red wines from the 2001 to 2004 vintages (plus those 2005 aromatic or unwooded) to choose from.
In the end, I found the choice so difficult you will find there are 101 wines in the Top 100: I simply couldn't bring myself to delete one from the final list when I realised I had one too many. Moreover, there are so many wonderful wines which were arbitrarily excluded, I will devote some of my forthcoming weekly columns to look at these wines grouped on a variety-by-variety basis. 747 words
Key to closure abbreviation - C Cork, QC Quality Cork, D Diam, P ProCork, S Screwcap, SY Synthetic, TT Twin-Top Cork, Z Zork
Whites Under $20
The excellent 2005 vintage dominates the selection, as do screwcaps. The wines come from an original field of 254 wines, shortlisted after tasting to 56 wines, and a final selection of 17.
Yalumba Oxford Landing Sauvignon Blanc 2005 88 points $7.95
Arguably the most difficult white variety to grow well in the Riverland, it is equally arguable that this wine is ultimate testament to the quality of the 2005 vintage. In an admittedly light frame, it offers clear varietal fruit in a tropical/passionfruit spectrum, with a crisp, well balanced finish.
Drink now S 11? alc Riverland, SA
Orlando Jacob's Creek Chardonnay 2005 90 points $9.99
I tasted this with some care against most of its big name competition, including yellowtail and Lindemans Bin 65, and it emerged the clearest of winners. The bouquet has aromatic stone fruit and grapefruit, the distinctly elegant palate long and balanced (just a whisper of oak) and a lingering, dry finish.
Drink now QC 12.5? alc Southeast Australia
St Hallett Poacher's Blend 2005 91 points $12.50
The blend is in fact of unwooded semillon and sauvignon blanc. Wines such as this explain the enormous popularity of this synergistic marriage, coupled with keen pricing. It has attractive gooseberry and tropical fruit aromas, the flavours filling the mouth in seductively brilliant fashion, and without cloying.
Drink now S 12? alc Barossa/Eden Valleys, SA
De Iuliis Semillon 2005 94 points $14
Performed very well at this year's Hunter Valley Wine Show, besting many of its peers in a large and competitive class. Bright and clear yellow-green, it has the power of the vintage, replete with masses of gently ripened lemon/lime fruit, braced by the excellent acidity so much part of the Hunter style.
Drink now-2012 Z 11.5? alc Hunter Valley, NSW
Tahbilk Marsanne 2005 93 points $14.25
A recent vertical tasting of marsanne at Tahbilk back to 1974 showed (sporadic oxidation to one side) just how well this wine can age, the '79 still great - and now there is the screwcap. Fragrant, honeysuckle aroma mixes with the passionfruit of the long and vibrant palate. Lovely acidity wraps a bow around the parcel.
Drink now-2015 S 13.5? alc Nagambie Lakes, Vic
Primo Estate La Biondina Colombard 2005 93 points $14.50
Yes, I know this wine makes the Top 100 almost every year, but it's impossible to resist, and if it were to miss out, one of Joe Grilli's reds would force its way in. Vibrantly fresh grapefruit, stone fruit and mineral aromas and flavours lead through to an amazingly zesty finish and aftertaste.
Drink now S 12? alc Adelaide Plains, SA
Sticks Chardonnay 2004 93 points $15
Former Aussie rules footballer-turned-winemaker Rob (Sticks) Dolan, brought the wheel full circle when he (and others) bought, and renamed Sticks, the Yarra Ridge winery where he was once the winemaker. This is a great example of unpretentious Yarra Valley chardonnay style, fruit-driven with nectarine, honeydew and citrus, line and length its foundation.
Drink now-2008 S 13? alc Yarra Valley, Vic
Tyrrell's Lost Block Semillon 2005 95 points $15
Tyrrell's is unchallenged as Australia's foremost semillon specialist, with at least five different wines of varying ages available at any one time, all great value. It offers fragrant mineral and lemon blossom aromas, the palate a masterly exercise in welding delicacy with abundant flavour, and, above all else, length.
Drink now-2020 S 11? alc Hunter Valley, NSW
West Cape Howe Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2005 94 points $16
The undoubted skills and long regional experience of owner/winemaker Gavin Berry (and his team) shine through in all the West Cape Howe wines. A spotlessly clean, fine and harmonious mix of grapefruit, gooseberry and passionfruit on the bouquet and palate is braced by a touch of minerality woven through the long finish.
Drink now-2007 S 12? alc Great Southern, WA
Tel (08) 9848 2959
McWilliam's Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon 2000 94 points $18
If only, I muttered, these mature semillons had screwcaps, choosing this above the better but more expensive 1999 Lovedale because the cost of an oxidised bottle isn't such a disaster. Glowing yellow-green, it still has delicacy, combined with honey, lime and a touch of toast, and archetypal acidity and length. Four gold medals.
Drink now-2010 C 11.5? alc Hunter Valley, NSW
Paringa Estate Peninsula Chardonnay 2004 94 points $18
Master craftsman and one-time school teacher Lindsay McCall can't put a foot wrong with the Paringa wines, nor with their prices. This is a very complex wine, proclaiming wild yeast and barrel ferment inputs into ripe nectarine and citrus fruit via notes of toast and cashews, the balance impeccable.
Drink now-2009 S 14.5? alc Mornington Peninsula, Vic
McWilliam's Regional Collection Eden Valley Riesling 2003 95 points $18
It was a toss up between this and the 2004 Clare Valley Riesling under the same banner. This earned its place for the way it has developed over the past 18 months. Glowing yellow-green, a potent lime, lemon, toast and kerosene bouquet herald a palate of utterly impressive intensity and length.
Drink now-2010 S 11.5? alc Eden Valley, SA
Ashbrook Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2005 95 points $19
Here the choice lay between this wine and the equally good semillon from the fastidious winemakers, brothers Tony and Brian Devitt. The spotlessly clean bouquet has unusually super-intense and powerful varietal character, the palate flooded with ripe gooseberry and passionfruit, yet without a trace of phenolics.
Drink now-end 2006 S 14? alc Margaret River, WA
Tel (08) 9755 6262
Brookland Valley Verse 1 Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2005 95 points $19
In a postscript to its selection in the Top 100, this wine won a trophy at the October 2005 Qantas Western Australia Wine Show for best unwooded blend. The bouquet has a clean, zesty, vibrant mix of herbaceous and tropical fruit, the palate driven by crunchy, lemony acidity on its finish giving outstanding length.
Drink now-2007 S 13? alc Margaret River, WA
Wilson Vineyard DJW Riesling 2005 95 points $19.50
This is the Watervale sister to the Polish Hill river wine made each year by David Wilson, father/founder Dr John Wilson in the background. A model of consistency from year to year, intense spice, mineral and lime aromas flow into a palate with great finesse, long, fine and sculptured.
Drink now-2015 S 12.5? alc Clare Valley, SA
Gibraltar Rock Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2004 94 points $20
I don't know why or how this wine was not submitted prior to this Top 100 tasting, but it is proof-positive that semillon-dominant blends from this region are not one-day wonders. Totally delicious, fresh and lively, it has finely balanced passionfruit and green apple flavours running through to a long finish.
Drink now-2007 S 13? alc Great Southern, WA
Tel (08) 9481 2856
O'Leary Walker Polish Hill River Riesling 2005 95 points $20
David O'Leary and Nick Walker had jointly spent over 30 years as winemakers for big companies before they bravely took the plunge into the icy waters of the small winery business. This wonderfully fragrant and floral, lime blossom accented wine, has great mouthfeel, balance, and a lingering finish.
Drink now-2015 S 12.5? alc Clare Valley, SA
Whites Over $20
Here 200 wines were submitted, shortlisted to 52 after tasting, then to 18 selected. While 2005 provided more wines than any other vintage, there is a smattering of mature whites, some back to 1999. Chardonnay is the dominant player.
Diamond Valley Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2004 95 points $22
This is the blue label version made from contract-grown grapes, as opposed to the white estate label; both wines show finesse which has passed from father David to sone James. Bright straw-green, very fragrant nectarine, grapefruit and lime fruit runs through a lively, fresh and long palate, oak a background murmur.
Drink now-2014 S 13.5? alc Yarra Valley, Vic
Howard Park MadFish Chardonnay 2004 95 points $22
Eeny, meeny, miny mo, how many of the Howard Park wines do I select? All, if space permitted. Barrel-fermented and matured, this brightly coloured, fragrant and stylish chardonnay remains fruit-driven notwithstanding the barrel inputs. Long and crisp, it has overtones of chablis at a quarter of the price.
Drink now or whenever S 13.5? alc Great Southern, WA
Geoff Weaver Lenswood Sauvignon Blanc 2005 95 points $23
There is ample evidence to show the cooler parts of the Adelaide Hills are the most consistent producers of high quality sauvignon blanc in Australia. Here a spotlessly clean and fresh bouquet and a palate which is the epitome of elegance, with haunting passionfruit blossom characters, has a wondrously lingering finish and aftertaste.
Drink now S 13.5? alc Adelaide Hills, SA
Peter Lehmann Reserve Riesling 2001 96 points $24
Given the illustrious history of Lehmann reserve rieslings, and the quality of this wine, I am curious about the price, but shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth. Bright green-yellow, flowery, lightly toasty, lime juice aromatics lead into a brilliantly incisive lime juice palate, finishing with lovely slippery acidity.
Drink now-2015 S 12? alc Barossa Valley, SA
Shaw & Smith Sauvignon Blanc 2005 95 points $25
New Zealand has embraced the screwcap with the same fervour as Clare Valley has for its riesling, but for its sauvignon blanc, and they were right to do so. Punchy, aromatic, gooseberry, green apple and passionfruit aromas and flavours permeate a bright, breezy and deliciously crisp wine.
Drink now S 13? alc Adelaide Hills, SA
T'Gallant Tribute Pinot Gris 2004 95 points $27
The back label says the aroma is of wild honey; I am still to work out what honey isn't wild, but the descriptor is spot-on. The bouquet exudes honey with abandon, running through strongly to the flavours of the palate, which adds to the impact with a touch of viscosity. Improbably compelling.
Drink now-2008 S 14.5? alc Mornington Peninsula, Vic
Seppelt Drumborg Riesling 2005 97 points $30
A gigantic tussle between this and neighbour's 2004 Crawford River Riesling, both celestial examples of the ultra-cool climate of the region, price (not quality) prevailing. A wonderfully delicate, pure, flowery bouquet is followed by a beautiful and intense, yet feather-light, array of bright and crisp flavours.
Drink now-2025 S 13? alc Henty, Vic
Penfolds Cellar Reserve Eden Valley Gewurztraminer 200596 points $30
Now this is a rare beast, and quite unexpected, even though the estate Woodbury Vineyard has been home to the variety for many years. Crystal clear spice, musk, lychee and rose petal aromas are all there, the excellent palate retaining the flavours promised by the bouquet, yet avoiding phenolics.
Drink now (or later) S 13.5? alc Eden Valley, SA
Grosset Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2005 96 points $30
At the last moment I decided to choose this wine rather than the as-always brilliant Grosset Rieslings (or, for that matter, his 2004 Chardonnay). Intense herb, spice and asparagus aromas foreshadow a beautifully flavoured and structured palate, which progressively builds fruit intensity all the way through to the long finish.
Drink now-2009 S 13? alc Clare Valley/Adelaide Hills, SA
Leo Buring Leonay Eden Valley Riesling DW117 2005 96 points $33
The Leo Buring Riesling legacy of John Vickery (still very much alive, but these days with Richmond Grove) is on a par with that of Max Schubert. Spice, mineral, lime and apple aromas lead into a palate of great finesse, the special - almost sweet - regional lime juice caressing the mouth.
Drink now-2020 S 13? alc Eden Valley, SA
Hardys Eileen Hardy Chardonnay 2002 96 points $38
This blend from Tasmania, the Yarra Valley, Tumbarumba and the Adelaide Hills has three trophies and five gold medals from the best Australian wine shows to its credit, making the price incomprehensible. The nectarine and citrus-tinged fruit, barrel and malolactic fermentation inputs are all part of a wine evolving with extreme grace.
Drink now-2012 S 13? alc Southeast Australia
Cape Mentelle Chardonnay 2004 96 points $40
As befits its regional provenance and fully mature vines, always from the top drawer. The usual winemaking tricks, with barrel fermentation and nine months on lees, result in a potent, complex and powerful wine. A delightful streak of minerally acidity holds the generous nectarine and melon fruit together, the positive oak in balance.
Drink now-2012 S 14? alc Margaret River, WA
Tarrawarra Estate Chardonnay 2003 96 points $40
Around 1500 cases of this wine were made from the mature vineyards of the estate. Clare O'Halloran has brought a lighter touch to the winemaking, but without sacrificing the complexity of barrel fermentation and so forth evident here. Melon and stone fruit are at the heart of a wine with great length, line and drive.
Drink now-2013 S 13.5? alc Yarra Valley, Vic
Tyrrell's Vat 1 Semillon 1999 97 points $40
It wasn't the two trophies and four gold medals which edged this past numerous other contenders so much as the hope Tyrrell's screens each bottle with a photospectrometer to weed out oxidised bottles. Superb colour, almost floral lemon juice aromas, and a brilliantly fresh, fine, long and lingering palate mark a perfect bottle.
Drink now-2010 C 10.3? alc Hunter Valley, NSW
Yalumba The Virgilius Eden Valley Viognier 2004 96 points $50
The top tier in the Yalumba viognier stable, reflecting the greater experience Yalumba has than the increasingly numerous players with this fashionable variety. Spotlessly clean peach and apricot aromas flow into an ultra-complex and supple palate with no adverse impact whatsoever from the alcohol. A brilliant exercise in controlled power.
Drink now-2007 S 14.5? alc Eden Valley, SA
Pierro Chardonnay 2003 96 points $65
When I first tasted this wine 12 months ago, its potential was obvious, but I was blown away by the way it has developed. Normally Mike Peterkin's chardonnays take no prisoners, but his utterly delicious wine has great restraint, beautiful balance and mouthfeel, stone fruit and quality oak seamlessly woven together.
Drink now-2013 S 13.5? alc Margaret River, WA
Tel (08) 9755 6220
Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2002 97 points $80
Long live the King, and there is no death here. This vintage shows yet again why this is the best chardonnay in Australia. It effortlessly shows the flawless and seamless balance and integration of all the winemaking techniques without imperilling the supremely elegant stone fruit, citrus and melon running through a seemingly endless palate. So there.
Drink now-2015 C 14.5? alc Margaret River, WA
Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay 2002 96 points $120
Yattarna is the would-be King, the Prince-in-waiting, but I fear the wait is going to be a long one. However, this wine shows no signs of falling over as some of its predecessors have done. White peach and citrus fruit has surged through the complex, toasty barrel ferment characters which have been part of the wine since the outset, the finish long and cleansing.
Drink now-2012 C 13.5? alc Southeast Australia
Reds Under $25
In the interests of quality, and because using the $25 dividing line led to a nigh-on equal number of reds in each group, I reverted to $25 this year (last year $20). The 339 wines gave rise to a shortlist of 84, and a final selection of 19.
De Bortoli Deen Vat 8 Shiraz 2004 90 points $10
This is an absurdly good wine at the price, which apparently spent 12 months in oak, helping explain the quality (but not the price). The abundance of black fruits punch way above their weight, as does the structure. Moreover, that oak is not just to be found on the back label, but in the wine.
Drink now-2007 QC 13.5? alc Riverina, NSW
Tel (02) 6963 0171
Yalumba Y Series Shiraz Viognier 2004 89 points $11.95
Yes, there is a premium attached to shiraz viognier blends, and they are very hard to find under $12. Yalumba is a dab hand with this blend, the fragrant and lifted bouquet in typical style. A light to medium-bodied palate has very pleasant, sweet red fruits in abundance, oak and tannins incidental.
Drink now-2006 TT 14? alc Southeast Australia
Hardys Oomoo Shiraz 2004 94 points $12.95
This represents even more awesome value than the De Bortoli Shiraz. It may be a long time before another sub $13 wine receives 94 points, but given prior vintages of Oomoo, it isn't as surprising as it might be. The wine has exceptionally rich and luscious red and black fruits, the tannins ripe, and well-balanced and integrated. Will repay cellaring.
Drink now-2014 C 14? alc Southeast Australia
Moondah Brook Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 92 points $14.50
Moondah Brook regularly comes up with wines such as this, doubtless reflecting its viticultural tentacles reaching every region of Western Australia. A medium-bodied, clean, fresh, fruit-forward style, it has clear-cut varietal definition from start to finish, ranging from redcurrant to mulberry to blackcurrant. Soft, supple tannins and controlled oak finish the package.
Drink now S 14.5? alc Southern WA
Morris Rutherglen Shiraz 94 points $14.99
The usual story is rooster to feather duster. In this instance, it is the reverse, a wine which was (to change metaphors) originally an ugly duckling, after three years in bottle becoming something quite special. Dense, almost thick, rich and concentrated black fruits ooze from every pore; magically, the wine is not over-extracted nor too tannic.
Drink now-2015 S 13.5? alc Rutherglen, Vic
Pothana The Gorge Shiraz 2003 93 points $15
It doesn't matter where Hunter shiraz from this top vintage sits on the price totem pole, you can rest assured the value will be great - here, very great. It is a wonderfully rich and textured wine, with abundant black fruits and ripe tannins, oak somewhere in the background. It will age well if you can keep your hands off it.
Drink now-2013 S 13.5? alc Hunter Valley, NSW
Wirra Wirra Scrubby Rise 2004 94 points $15
Wow, is this or is it not, sensational value? My answer is obvious for this blend of shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot. Densely coloured, it has an archetypal regional mix of black fruits and bitter chocolate, splendidly rich and complete, simply oozing flavour, and will be very long lived.
Drink now-2020 S 14.5? alc McLaren Vale, SA
Stonehaven Hidden Sea Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 93 points $15.99
This wine won gold medals at both Adelaide and Canberra Shows last year, medals which carry more weight than all other shows except Sydney. Winemaker Sue Bell has avoided the tannin trap, this is an appealing exercise in harmony and balance, with ripe blackcurrant and mulberry fruit, a twist of oak and soft tannins.
Drink now-2011 C 13.6? alc Limestone Coast, SA
Hoddles Creek Estate Pinot Noir 2004 91 points $16.99
A recent arrival in the Yarra Valley, gaining instant recognition for young winemaker Franco D'Anna when his 2003 Chardonnay won the Chardonnay Trophy at the 2004 Victorian Wines Show. Light to medium-bodied, clean and fresh, it has attractive plum and red fruits in a supple, silky smooth and long palate.
Drink now-2009 S 13.2? alc Yarra Valley, Vic
Temple Bruer Shiraz Malbec 2002 93 points $17
Some may be prepared to simply label a wine such as this 'organic', leaving consumers to draw whatever conclusions they wish. David Bruer in fact correctly labels it 'organically grown'. Plum, mulberry, herbs and spice run through the bouquet and strongly structured palate, supported by a nice touch of sweet oak and ripe tannins.
Drink now-2017 S 14? alc Langhorne Creek, SA
Yering Station Rose ED 2005 94 points $17.50
Quite complex winemaking techniques are used to produce this pinot noir-based rose, selling as fast in the United Kingdom (at full tote odds) as it does here. Salmon-tinged colour, it has spicy strawberry and plum aromas, the elegant and textured palate having more length than other top-end roses.
Drink now S 13? alc Yarra Valley, Vic
Charles Melton Rose of Virginia 2005 94 points $19.90
After years in the wilderness, rose has become the flavour of the month, indeed day, in all corners of the globe, Australia no exception. Vivid, deep fuchsia, this has real depth to its plum and raspberry fruit, yet is not heavy and certainly not sweet. Has attitude.
Drink now S 13? alc Barossa Valley, SA
d'Arenberg d'Arrys Original Shiraz Grenache 2003 94 points $19.95
d'Arry Osborne was the first to give grenache and shiraz grenache wines the standing they deserved, lighting the fire in 1961. Bright and clear in colour, the fragrant bouquet bursts into full-throated song on the light to medium-bodied palate with a glorious mix of spice, raspberry and blackberry fruit.
Drink now-2015 C 15? alc McLaren Vale, SA
Woodlands Cabernet Merlot 2004 94 points $20
Once again, Woodlands has made some superb single variety, micro super-cuvees, but overall this wine best displays the quality and value offered by the Watson family. Brilliantly clear purple-red, this medium-bodied wine has a seductive mix of classis, blackcurrant and black cherry, great balance and fine tannins.
Drink now-2010 C 14? alc Margaret River, WA
Taltarni Three Monks Cabernet Merlot 2003 94 points $21.20
The breath of fresh air at Taltarni, and its willingness to look beyond its large estate vineyards to other premium regions of Victoria, has paid off. Strong red-purple, the wine abounds with ripe, but not jammy, blackcurrant, cassis and mulberry fruit, the medium-bodied palate rounded off by soft tannins and positive oak.
Drink now-2013 C 14? alc Central Victoria
Diamond Valley Vineyards Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2004 93 points $24
The conditions in the Yarra throughout 2004 were absolutely perfect, arguably too much so, for the berries were big, the yields high. Fears of dilute pinot did not materialise; instead, supple, smooth and graceful wines such as this, with fragrant, spicy red fruits, and a long, lingering finish, were the outcome.
Drink now-2009 S 13? alc Yarra Valley, Vic
Hackersley Merlot 2004 95 points $24
A group of university friends decided in later life it would be cheaper to grow their own wine than buy it, which they now know was a terrible mistake. This wine must be some recompense; strongly coloured, it has substantial texture and structure, replete with dark red fruits, black olive and spice, bang on the varietal button.
Drink now-2011 C 14? alc Geographe, WA
Chalkers Crossing Hilltops Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 95 points $24
As always, there were Chalkers Crossing wines knocking on every door, including some beautiful prior vintages. Sommeliers take note; this is a serious producer. This wine has absolutely classic, cool-grown cabernet sauvignon fruit definition, with perfectly balanced cassis, blackcurrant and cedary oak supported by fine, ripe tannins.
Drink now-2019 C 14.5? alc Hilltops, NSW
Ferngrove Majestic Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 95 points $25
First tasted seven months ago, it looked very good; now, it is even better, with felicitous weight and mouthfeel. The colour is as vibrant and strong as ever, the clear blackcurrant, cassis, olive and earth in a firm, well structured, medium-bodied palate. Precisely articulated cabernet expression.
Drink now-2015 C 14? alc Frankland River, WA
Reds Over $25
Here we come to the big end of town: 316 starters were reduced to a long shortlist of 116, and somehow this became 27, an agonising process. All of these lovely wines deserve their inclusion, but there were many equally meritorious wines which missed out.
Stella Bella Cabernet Merlot 2003 95 points $26
All the strikingly labelled Stella Bella and Suckfizzle wines made by Janice McDonald have a vibrancy and sense of style befitting the labels. Bright purple-red, this immaculately crafted wine has spotless cassis and blackcurrant aromas and flavours; the tannins are super-fine and ripe, the French oak the same sure touch.
Drink now-2013 C 14? alc Margaret River, WA
Clyde Park Vineyard Shiraz 2004 95 points $27
Within a matter of days, I tasted this wine under quite different circumstances, but with virtually identical notes and points. Vibrantly coloured, it has a spotless array of black cherry, blackberry and plum aromas and flavours. The medium-bodied palate has great focus and balance, supported by high quality oak.
Drink now-2015 S 14? alc Geelong, Vic
Voyager Estate Shiraz 2004 95 points $29.95
One of four wines from Voyager all deserving a place in the Top 100, with impressive quality and value for money. Bright, deep colour suggests the fragrant, spicy black fruits aromas which indeed follow; the palate has concentrated, sweet blackberry and licorice fruit, and exemplary oak and tannins.
Drink now-2019 S 14? alc Margaret River, WA
Pondalowie Vineyards Shiraz Viognier 2003 94 points $30
Dominic and Krystina Morris accumulated world-wide winemaking experience before they established Pondalowie, producing finely crafted, medium-bodied red wines. This wine has developed beautifully over the past year, offering a seamless fusion between the shiraz and five per cent viognier. A floral bouquet is followed by supple, silky mouthfeel to its red fruits.
Drink now-2013 S 14.8? alc Bendigo, Vic
Farr Rising Pinot Noir 2004 94 points $33
There's By Farr (father Gary Farr, once of Bannockburn) and Farr Rising, 'son of a gun' Nick Farr's label - their play on words, not mine. Never mind, this is a lovely pinot, with very good texture and structure; long, evenly distributed tannins lie behind the plummy varietal fruit, supported by exactly the right amount of oak.
Drink now-2009 D 13.5? alc Geelong, Vic
Tel (03) 5281 1979
Chatto Wines Shiraz 2003 95 points $35
Jim Chatto's major occupation is part of the contract winemaking team at Monarch Winemaking Services. An up and coming show judge, he has an excellent palate. This is a super-elegant and refined style, with spotless, clean cherry and blackberry fruit; fine, silky tannins give the wine great length.
Drink now-2015 S 14? alc Hunter Valley, NSW
Howard Park Leston Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 96 points $35
Yet another outstanding cabernet sauvignon/cabernet blend from the Margaret River region, and another irresistible wine from Howard Park. It has brilliant colour, the bouquet spotlessly clean, and it floods the mouth with blackcurrant fruit and whisps of mocha and chocolate.
Drink now-2018 S 13.5? alc Margaret River, WA
Murdock Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 97 points $40
When first tasted three years ago, not long after it had been bottled, I wrote "will become a classic in time", but didn't dream it would emerge so magnificently. It delivers a sensuous cascade of luscious, ripe blackcurrant fruit around a base of perfect tannins and quality French oak. Gloriously mouthfilling.
Drink now-2015 C 13.5? alc Coonawarra, SA
Turkey Flat Shiraz 2003 96 points $45
I simply don't understand why this wine, made from some of the oldest shiraz vines in the world (dating back to 1847) continues to be available at $45. So long as it is, it has a permanent position in the Top 100. It has superb structure and mouthfeel to blackberry fruit and a seamless background of French oak.
Drink now-2023 S 14.5? alc Barossa Valley, SA
Glaetzer Godolphin 2004 95 points $49
You may actually be able to buy this, unlike its on-strict-allocation big brother Amon Ra. Winemaker Ben Glaetzer has blended shiraz and cabernet sauvignon, and bottled it unfiltered after 18 months in quality oak. It is quite delicious, with supple and luxuriant blackcurrant, cassis and blackberry intermingling with fine and soft tannins.
Drink now-2015 QC 15? alc Barossa Valley, SA
Hewitson The Mad Hatter Shiraz 2003 95 points $50
With an exemplary winemaking CV, spanning California, France and 10 years with Petaluma, Dean Hewitson makes great wines from old vineyards under long-term lease. Here spice, chocolate, blackberry and mocha aromas and flavours are coupled with fine, ripe tannins, the wine carrying its alcohol with ridiculous ease.
Drink now-2018 S 15? alc Barossa Valley, SA
Kooyong Meres Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2003 95 points $55
This is lighter in colour and lower in alcohol than its less expensive ($42) 'standard' Kooyong stable-mate. Its lovely, lively, juicy fragrance is all about the delicacy of great pinot, with an ultimate, silky mouthfeel and great length. This is strictly for the true believers.
Drink now-2009 D 13? alc Mornington Peninsula, Vic
Paringa Estate Pinot Noir 2003 96 points $55
Lindsay McCall makes either two or three pinots each vintage, and has to be regarded as Australia's most consistent producer of high quality pinot, with an awesome show record. Developing slowly, this wine has immaculate balance and mouthfeel to its dark plum, spice and forest floor fruit, with a long finish.
Drink now-2010 C 13.7? alc Mornington Peninsula, Vic
Yering Station Reserve Shiraz Viognier 2003 96 points $58
Tom Carson was named International Winemaker of the Year in London in recognition of his extreme skills with this blend. The wine has developed slowly and with absolute conviction over the past year, deeply coloured, with smooth and supple plum and blackberry, appealing oak and lovely tannins.
Drink now-2018 S 15? alc Yarra Valley, Vic
Freycinet Pinot Noir 2003 95 points $62
A justly-revered pinot producer from Tasmania's east coast, made as much in the natural amphitheatre site as in the no-frills winery. It is holding its hue well, its bell-clear bouquet of plum, black cherry and spice followed by a very long, immaculately balanced palate. Has flourished in bottle over the past 10 months.
Drink now-2010 C 13.5? alc Tasmania
Shadowfax One Eye Shiraz 2002 96 points $70
This was a great red wine vintage, marked by cool weather and low crops thanks to small berries and small bunches. Clear, bright red-purple, it has fragrant spicy overtones to black fruits, a finely structured and perfectly balanced palate providing power without alcohol. Still improving.
Drink now-2015 C 14? alc Bendigo, Vic
St Hallett Old Block Shiraz 2002 96 points $70
This is one of the best Old Blocks I can remember, an exercise in positive elegance from start to finish. It has very good colour, and excellent texture, structure and length to its red and black fruits, with a cornucopia touch of mocha-accented oak. The tannins, too, are fine and long.
Drink now-2014 C 14.5? alc Barossa Valley, SA
Yarra Yarra The Yarra Yarra 2002 96 points $75
This was the runner-up to the 2001 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon in the 2005 Tri-Nations Wine Challenge, in a very strong field of 21 wines. Deeply coloured, it is a notably rich wine, layered and textured, with velvety, profound blackcurrant, earth, spice and beguiling, cedary oak.
Drink now-2022 C 13.5? alc Yarra Valley, Vic
Tel (03) 5965 2380
Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2004 96 points $78
It is said practice makes perfect, and Tim Kirk has had more practice than most with this blend, consistently fine-tuning the technique for a decade. Brilliantly coloured, the spotlessly clean bouquet has that hallmark whiff of apricot; blackberry, plum and spice drive the silky palate through to a long, perfectly balanced finish.
Drink now-2019 S 14? alc Canberra District, NSW
Balnaves of Coonawarra The Tally Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 96 points $80
Parcels from three different vineyard blocks were given extended maceration by Wine Magazine's Winemaker of the Year Pete Bissell before spending 20 months in new French oak. Densely coloured, this powerful yet graceful wine has saturated black fruits, an opulent mid-palate, then tightened and lengthened by cedary oak and lingering tannins.
Drink now-2026 C 14? alc Coonawarra, SA
Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Merlot 2001 96 points $90
A blend of 72 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 20 per cent merlot, and four per cent each of petit verdot and malbec from the hand of Vanya Cullen, named to honour her late mother. Crystal clear colour, bell-clear, intense redcurrant and blackcurrant fruit, built-in tannins and high quality French oak all make for a classic wine.
Drink now-2030 S 13.5? alc Margaret River, WA
Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz 2003 96 points $100
From one of the best red wine vintages in the Hunter for decades, grown on the low-yielding Graveyard Vineyard near the winery. It has very good colour, mixing blackberry and cherry fruit with touches of chocolate and spicy oak. Restrained power to a medium to full-bodied wine of immaculate balance and length.
Drink 2008-2023 S 13.5? alc Hunter Valley, NSW
Wirra Wirra Chook Block Shiraz 2002 97 points $100
Only 250 dozen bottles were made by the winemaking team at Wirra, headed by Samantha Connew, the father-figure of CEO Tim James in the background. Chock full of regional dark chocolate, it carries its alcohol with miraculous ease, the medium to full-bodied palate with concentrated black fruits and outstanding length.
Drink now-2022 S 15? alc McLaren Vale, SA
Hardys Eileen Hardy Shiraz 2001 96 points $105
A wine with a proud history, the first named in honour of the Hardy matriarch (the Chardonnay came much later). Holding its hue well, it is one of the most elegant in the long series; no more than medium-bodied, its cedar, black fruits and dusting of chocolate have marvellously silky texture; very long in the mouth.
Drink now-2020 C 14? alc McLaren Vale, SA
Wolf Blass Platinum Label Barossa Shiraz 2002 97 points $199
Barossa in this instance means Barossa Zone, which incorporates both the Barossa Valley and Eden Valley, each contributing 50 per cent of the wine. A multi-trophy winner, it is a super-elegant, beautifully crafted wine, with black fruits, tannins and oak seamlessly woven together through to a long, lingering finish.
Drink now-2025 S 14.5? alc Barossa/Eden Valleys, SA
Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz 2001 96 points $385
There are many experienced winemakers who believe the South Australian 2001 vintage is very underrated. Here a dusty, earthy black fruit and mocha bouquet is a slightly subdued opening, but the wine springs into life on the palate with wonderfully long and persistent red and black fruits, fine tannins and good oak.
Drink now-2016 C 14? alc Eden Valley, SA
Penfolds Grange 2000 97 points $400
This was not a great vintage, and this wine was trenchantly criticised by one prominent winewriter early in its life. Rigorous selection, a small make, and generations of experience have in fact produced a classic, slowly but surely evolving wine with abundant power and concentration. Sultry blackberry, dark chocolate, a strong tannin structure and balanced oak tell the tale.
Drink 2010-2030 C 14? alc Southeast Australia
Australian sparkling wine
There really isn't any comparison between Australian sparkling wine and champagne, and it is impossible to argue with the many drinkers who are more than happy with the value-for-money which modern sparkling wines (so much better than those of a decade ago) offer. The eight wines came from a field of 51, some (such as 2000 Arras) omitted because they were not commercially labelled.
Hardys Sir James Brut de Brut NV 89 points $11
Made from cool-grown pinot noir and chardonnay, spending two years on yeast lees, and the drier of the Sir James twins. It has good mousse (effervescence), with a hint of toasty lees on the bouquet, a citrus and white peach palate, the dosage balanced by acidity.
Taltarni Brut Tache 2003
92 points $22.35
Invigorated by the inclusion of material from Tasmania and Macedon; the blend is of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier. Salmon-pink, with fragrant berry and cassis aromas. Flavour-packed, but not heavy, with good acidity and length. Additional time on cork a plus.
Yarra Burn Chardonnay Pinot Noir Pinot Meunier 2001
93 points $25
Chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier predominantly grown in the high altitude Hoddles Creek vineyard, and a trophy and two gold medals to its name. It has fine mousse, high-toned grapefruit and spice aromas, the palate elegant, fine and long. Crystal bright and pure, it has a great finish.
Seppelt Salinger 2002
93 points $25.99
Salinger continues on the comeback trail, doubtless driven by the combination of high quality and very modest pricing. From the classic varieties grown in Victoria and Tasmania, it offers a gentle mix of toasty/bready yeast characters and tangy fruit on the bouquet. In the mouth, bright citrus, nectarine and white peach fruit precede a well-balanced, long and dry finish. Stylish.
Yarrabank Cuvee 2000
95 points $35
Always achieves an extra degree of elegance and finesse, and is one of my perennial favourites. A complex varietal and regional blend, it has excellent persistent and fine mousse. The palate has pure mineral, apple and gentle yeast autolysis, then an exceptionally fine and long finish.
Freycinet Radenti 1998
94 points $65
Winner of the 2005 Tri Nations sparkling wine class, overcoming some very classy competition. Extended lees and bottle age has not diminished the wonderfully fragrant orange blossom aromas; the intense citrussy palate is very long, the fine Tasmanian acidity balanced not so much by dosage as the power of the fruit.
Primo Estate Joseph Sparkling Red 94 points $50
The most complex sparkling red on the market, with the shiraz base wine including components back to the 1980s, the reserve wine for the dosage coming from the '60s and '70s. Disgorged in September 2003 after one year on yeast lees, it has an immaculately balanced mix of spicy dark fruits, the dosage low simply because there are no phenolics to be covered up.
Hanging Rock Macedon Cuvee VI RD 95 points $100
Fortune favours the bold, they say, in this case for the first $100 Australian sparkling. It is a re-release of Cuvee VI, having spent nine years on yeast lees. It is beautifully balanced, with a touch of biscuit from the pinot component; very good acidity lengthens the finish; overall, Bollinger-like.
A record field of 65 champagnes meant the selection process was nigh-on impossible. Prior to Christmas I shall devote one of my weekly columns to the dozens of other champagnes at all price points equally worthy of selection. There are still a surprising number of 1996 wines available, choose them without hesitation.
Pierre Gimmonet Cuis Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs NV 92 points $39.95
The cheapest of three brilliant wines from this specialist Blanc de Blancs estate-based producer, a name to remember. The clean and highly aromatic bouquet is followed by a tangy, lemony palate and some off-setting creamy notes. It has overall elegance and freshness, and a long, crisp finish and aftertaste
Available through Vintage Cellars.
Jacquesson Cuvee 729 Brut NV 94 points $72
All class from start to finish. It is a blend of 34% chardonnay, 34% pinot noir and 32% pinot meunier, with 58% from the 2001 vintage, 42% from older reserve wines. It is very intense, with aromas and flavours of apple, pear, nutmeg and citrus; while the dosage is low, the rapier-like balance is perfect.
Imported by Cellarhand, www.cellarhand.com.au
Gosset Grande Reserve Brut NV 95 points $79.95
Acquired by the Cointreau family in 1994 after a mere 410 years in Gosset family ownership, but with no loss of quality. Bronze, with the faintest touch of pink, it offers a complex but elegant array of strawberry and stone fruit aromas, then a deep, gently biscuity palate. Very good length and style.
Imported by Mezzanine, tel 1300 555 821.
Charles Heidsieck Brut Millesime Rose 1996 96 points $84.95
It really is a strange world. Whereas most champagne prices are on the rise, this glorious wine (also selected last year) has gone down to a bargain basement price. Pale salmon, it has intensely fragrant wild strawberry aromas with background toastiness. Beautifully balanced and elegant, the finish and aftertaste is sheer perfection.
Imported by Maxxium, www.maxxium.com
Piper-Heidsieck Millesime 1996 95 points $91.95
The non-vintage version of this wine has been generally regarded as one of the most reliable (and value-packed) on the market in recent years. This is another league above; straw-gold, a fragrant lemon and apple blossom bouquet leads into a silky, fine palate with an invisible steely core investing the wine with great length.
Imported by Maxxium, www.maxxium.com
Pol Roger Extra Cuvee de Reserve 1998 95 points $104.50
I have to confess this is one of my favourite champagne houses, but I have plenty of company in Australia, one of Pol's most important markets. Pale green-straw, it has good mousse and blossom and brioche aromas. In the mouth, it is ultra-lively and vivacious, yet silky smooth, not a hair out of place.
Imported by Negociants, tel (08) 8112 4200.
Billecart-Salmon Cuvee Nicolas Francois Billecart 1996 96 points $185
Billecart-Salmon elected to release its 1997 vintage wines before the '96s, so this is in no way a straggler on the market. Bright straw-green, it opens up with ultra-fragrant citrus/apple blossom, spice and biscuit aromas. It initially caresses the mouth, then pleasantly tightens up on a long finish, guaranteeing a long life.
Imported by DWS, tel (03) 9878 7848.
Krug Brut Grande Cuvee 97 points $260
My sainted aunt, what have they done? Taken away one of the greatest classic labels and substituted a bland, forgettable one. At least the wine style hasn't been eviscerated, with the bready, brioche and miraculously complex bouquet which defies description. The palate, too, is vibrantly complex, biscuity components welded with stone fruit and citrus.
Imported by Moet-Hennessy, contact Justin Walters, tel (02) 8344 9900.
Louis Roederer Cristal 1999 97 points $270
In the United States, Cristal is regarded as the ultimate champagne largely sold on allocation. It is the only luxury champagne to be made very vintage, courtesy of the 190 hectares of estate vineyards. Pungently fragrant and flowery, and equally intensely fruity, it also quietly introduces brioche, cream and biscuit into the equation, finishing with great length and drive.
Imported by Red + White, www.redandwhite.com.au
Bollinger RD 1995 98 points $275
The wine is 63% pinot noir, 37% chardonnay, 82% coming from grand cru vineyards, disgorged on 12 July 2004. Deep, bright green-gold, it has a gloriously complex bouquet of brioche, spice and nuts, the palate with an exceptional marriage of intensity and complexity which is not in the least heavy-footed, thanks to the low dosage. The champagne drinker's champagne.
Imported by Tucker Seabrook, www.tucker.com.au
Dom Perignon 1998 98 points $310
The vast resources of Moet et Chandon mean that every vintage of Dom is almost eerily perfect (the vagaries of cork permitting). The supreme elegance and grace of Dom is immediately apparent on the bouquet, and the citrus, pear and apple palate, with its superfine acidity, seems to last for an eternity.
Imported by Moet-Hennessy, contact Francois-Xavier Pigenau, tel (02) 8344 9900.
Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame Rose 1995 98 points $450
I intended to include the brilliant 1996 La Grande Dame (not rose) until I realised it had been in last year, and this was the first time I had seen or tasted the Rose, which has 15 per cent pinot noir red wine from Bouzy included. Pale salmon, spicy, bready, biscuity characters accompany the wild strawberry backbone of a superlative wine of ultimate finesse and elegance.
Imported by Moet-Hennessy, contact Justin Walters, tel (02) 8344 9900.