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The evolution of Australia's winemaking

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Authored by: Iain Riggs

Iain Riggs, of iconic Hunter Valley winery Brokenwood, is an active wine show judge across Australia. This is his take on Australian winemaking and defining wines.

By way of explanation, some are more recent examples of the new direction of Australian wine. It could be argued that the wines need to have decades of releases to really show regional or winemaker character. However, some of these recent styles were probably made throughout Australia’s wine history. In tasting the O’Shea wines of the 1940s and ‘50s, they were certainly lighter and lower alcohol, and made use of what was to hand in the vineyard. In other words, they were varietal blends, and in the case of Maurice O’Shea at Mount Pleasant, Colin Preece at Seppelt and Ron Haselgrove at Mildara, multiregional blends as well.

Iain Riggs' ultimate Aussie six-pack

1. 2016 Pikes Traditional Riesling

The multi-trophy winning 2016 The Merle may be hard done by, but the consistency and expression of Clare riesling fruit in the ‘Trad’ is always impressive. I opened six bottles of 2002 Clare riesling from different producers for the judges at the Wine Show of Western Australia in 2016, all under screw cap, and the Pikes was the pick by far – at 14 years a stellar example of aged riesling.

RRP $21 | Clare Valley | Pikes

2. 2015 Tyrrell’s Belford or Vat 47 Chardonnay

In flicking through the National Wine Show trophy booklet published by Halliday Wine Companion recently, the Belford Chardonnay was featured for its Single Vineyard Trophy. I first tasted the 1973 Vat 47 at the Adelaide Wine Show in 1975 and have been a fan ever since. Consistency and chardonnay fruit of the highest quality has put these wines ahead of any ‘cool’ newcomers. Australian chardonnay has come full circle, back to 12.5 to 13 per cent alcohol and less new oak. The Hunter Valley is once again showing its chardonnay credentials with these as well as the chardonnays of First Creek and Silkman Wines.

RRP $26/$60 | Hunter Valley | Tyrell's 

3. 2013 Coldstream Hills Reserve Pinot Noir

James Halliday left Brokenwood in 1983 to follow his dream of quality pinot noir. It took him to the Yarra Valley and the founding of Coldstream Hills. The 2013 Coldstream Hills Reserve Pinot Noir is one of many over the years we’ve judged in the Len Evans Tutorial and mistaken for Burgundy. Vineyard and production focus is essential and the only way to capture the elusive Holy Grail. Always a benchmark.

RRP $85 | Yarra Valley | Coldstream Hills

4. 2013 Ruggabellus Efferus

Of the four red wines of Abel Gibson’s Ruggabellus in the Eden/Barossa Valley, the Efferus was the one most recently enjoyed. Abel Gibson has put the spotlight on not only interesting blends, but also lighter, more elegant Eden/Barossa Valley red wines. The varying percentages of mataro, grenache, syrah and cinsault give an insight into styles of long past. The Efferus, which is 72 per cent mataro and 16 per cent grenache with the balance being syrah and cinsault, is savoury, red-fruited and medium-bodied. Some wines you drink and marvel at the complexity and nuances, and others you marvel at the joy they bring. Ruggabellus does provide both but much more of the latter.

RRP $44 | Barossa Valley | Ruggabellus

5. 2014 Cullen Diana Madeline

This gets the nod ahead of the 2012 Vanya Cabernet Sauvignon based purely on history, and represents not only a great site but also the deft hand of a quality winemaker and vigneron. Elegance and finesse are at the fore and these wines lead a very strong field of Margaret River cabernet sauvignon and cabernet blends. The flavours and structure are effortless.

RRP $125 | Margaret River | Cullen Wines

6. 2014 Yarra Yering Dry Red No.3

Sorting through the high-quality 2014 Yarra Yering red wines of talented winemaker Sarah Crowe is no easy task. The icon Carrodus reds and the juicy O’Shea-style pinot-shiraz blend are lovely wines, but the Dry Red No.3 epitomises and defines Australian winemaking. It takes an intuitive brain and palate to look at a vineyard of six Portuguese red varieties and say, “These could be better as a complex, very drinkable, young dry red rather than a port.” Crowe did just that and to me it really exemplifies that Aussie attitude of ‘let’s turn this on its head’ (like Gibson) and winemaking from the soul. It's a joy to drink and marvel at the marriage of these varieties quite foreign to us as table wine.

RRP $86 | Yarra Valley | Yarra Yering

The Defining Australian Wine series is produced with thanks to our brand partner Winery Lane, an online marketplace designed to unite wine lovers with independent Australian winemakers. Click here to watch Winery Lane’s Stephen Mobbs tackle the topic of what makes an archetypally Aussie wine.

Halliday Wine Companion reviews are 100 per cent independent and recommendations published here reflect the opinions of the original authors. Unless content is labelled 'Sponsored', you can be assured that advertisers have no influence over what is included.

Defining Australian Wine

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