James Halliday's Top 100 Wines of 2011 - Whites under $20

Whites Under $20

298 wines submitted
52 shortlisted
20 selected

From a strictly numerical viewpoint, this was the easiest task of teasing out the 20 selections. But the cross-hatch of high quality rieslings, semillons and chardonnays; the immensely popular sauvignon blancs and sauvignon semillon blends; the no less poplular pinot gris/grios; and a marsanne and a savagnin shouldering their way in, left many wines with equal claims for inclusion. Here, more often than anywhere else, the upside of the wet but cool 2011 vintage in Eastern Australia, came as a welcome surprise.

Riesling: Riesling fared as well in eastern Australia as the west in 2011, and the regional tug of war for supremacy won’t be won or lost any time soon. It is every bit as much about style as quality. This year (in this price category) it was the turn of the West.

Larry Cherubino Ad Hoc Wallflower Great Southern Riesling 2011
95 points, $18, Screwcap, 11.5% alc
Cherubino effortlessly shows his winemaking talents across all points of the price sprectrum and all varieties. Quartz-green colour; the flowery, fragrant bouquet doesn't prepare you for the sunburst of ripe citrus fruits on the palate, held together by a fine, high-tensile wire of acidity. Excellent now, even better in the years to come.

From Great Southern, WA
Drink to 2021 with green-lipped mussels

Wise Frankland River Riesling 2011
95 points, $18, Screwcap, 13% alc
While all the four subregions of Great Southern produce outstanding rieslings, Frankland River and Porongurup have the best track records. Pale straw-green; a very distinctive and totally delicious riesling, with lime and orange blossom aromas, and a harmonious palate adding touches of pear and apple to the citrus foundation; light-bodied, yet intense.

From Frankland River, WA
Drink to 2021 with seafood salad

Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Clare Valley Dry Riesling 2011

95 points, $19.95, Screwcap, 12.5% alc
Jim Barry purchased Lodge Hill in 1977, as he was sure its 480 m altitude would produce high quality, minerally riesling. Bright, pale green, the wine has a complex bouquet of spice, citrus and apple, the perfectly balanced palate even more complex, with its flavour span anchored by citrus but extending into cool climate chardonnay notes of white peach and grapefruit.

From Clare Valley, SA
Drink to 2025 with vegetarian terrine

Bellarmine Pemberton Riesling Dry 2011
94 points, $19.99, Screwcap, 11% alc
Following the enforced discontinuance of ‘Auslese’ for the sweetest of its three rieslings, the Bellarmine hierarchy (in rising levels of sweetness) is Riesling Dry, Half Dry and Select. The floral bouquet has multi-blossom aromas with a hint of spice, the palate with lime juice flavours verging on tropical, the finish with perfect acid balance and freshness.

From Pemberton, WA
Drink to 2020 with grilled barramundi

Semillon: The Hunter Valley seldom has an easy, rain-free vintage, and 2011 was no exception. But comparatively speaking, this was a good vintage, particularly for semillon. After all, the region and the variety are joined at the hip.

McGuigan Bin Series No. 9000 Hunter Valley Semillon 2011

93 points, $12.99, Screwcap, 11.5% alc
This is no flash in the pan; despite the low price and low profile, this is a wine of distinction. Pale quartz; the bouquet is more expressive in its youth than many other semillons of the vintage, with lime/citrus blossom aromas; the palate is a vibrant replay of the bouquet, and history shows how well this chronically underrated wine develops over 5+ years in bottle.

From Hunter Valley, NSW
Drink to 2020 with sushi

Scarborough Wine Co Green Label Semillon 2011
94 points, $19, Screwcap, 11% alc
Hunter Valley veteran Ian Scarborough established his winery in 1985, and has now been joined by son Jerome at the helm. Straw-green; hints of grass, citrus and lanolin on the bouquet are very expressive and varietal, the palate framed by strong mineral notes, amplified by acidity. Excellent balance and sure to flourish mightily with time in bottle.

From Hunter Valley, NSW
Drink to 2025 with salad nicoise

Brokenwood Hunter Valley Semillon 2011
94 points, $20, Screwcap, 11% alc
If practice ever made perfect, surely it is with this wine, made to be enjoyed young, but still able to repay medium-term cellaring. Pale quartz; the bouquet is clean and pure, with cut grass and apple/citrus aromas, the palate fresh and lively, building impact on the back-palate and finish, yet doing so with delicate, rather than phenolic, flavours.

From Hunter Valley, NSW
Drink to 2016 with antipasto

Sauvignon Blanc and blends: Australian sauvignon blanc will continue to weather the Marlborough tsunami, partly because its flavour and structure is quite different, and partly because of its companion-in-arms, semillon. It is a synergistic blend to which New Zealand has no answer.

De Bortoli Sacred Hill Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2011

90 points, $7.50, Screwcap, 11% alc
The isolation of a naturally occuring yeast that intensifies the aroma and flavour of sauvignon blanc is widely used here and abroad, but has been of particular value for warm regions. Pale straw-green; the bouquet is expressive, with some lemon blossom, the palate with more intensity than others in this price bracket, with citrus and gooseberry fruit, and a clean finish.

From Riverina, NSW
Drink to 2012 with salt and pepper squid

Mike Press Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2011
93 points, $12, Screwcap, 11.5% alc
The label is as uncluttered, fresh and precise as the wine, both delivering their message with subtle power (oxymoronic, I know). This wine has depth and concentration coming from the grapes, not from technical wizardry in the winery. The flavours are tightly woven together, initially citrus and mineral, with a farewell of tropical on the finish. Drink over the next 12 months and then move onto the 2012.

From Adelaide Hills, SA
Drink to 2012 with King George whiting

Cumulus Rolling Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2011
94 points, $18, Screwcap, 12.5% alc
Orange and its foothill neighbor has consistently produced attactive sauvignon blanc over the past five+ years, and the blend of semillon has done nothing to compromise that reputation. Pale straw-green; the bouquet offers kiwi fruit and citrus, but it is on the palate that the wine really shines; it is intensely juicy and tangy, the finish and aftertaste bright and cleansing, encouraging the next glass.

From Orange, NSW
Drink to 2014 with crab cakes

Rosily Vineyard Margaret River Sauvignon Blanc 2011
94 points, $18, Screwcap, 13% alc
Winemaker Mark Lemmes presides over an onsite winery and a mature 12 ha vineyard to produce a consistently good range of well-priced wines. Pale quartz; a cleverly made wine, with a touch of oak perfectly integrated into the seamless palate spanning notes of herb and grass at one end, juicy citrus/tropical at the other; overall excellent line, length and balance.

From Margaret River, WA
Drink to 2013 with lemon-marinated fish

Wise Margaret River Pemberton Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2011
95 points, $18, Screwcap, 13% alc
While the winery and 5 ha home vineyard are in Margaret River, the winemaking team has not hesitated to add wines from Pemberton, Manjimup and Frankland River. A very attractive and elegant example of the blend, with snow pea, passionfruit and citrus on the bouquet, amplified on the long and beautifully balanced palate; the finish, too, is crisp and clean.

From Margaret River, WA
Drink to 2014 with fresh asparagus

Millbrook Margaret River Sauvignon Blanc 2011
96 points, $19.95, Screwcap, 12% alc
This Perth Hills winery is owned by Peter Fogarty, along with Deep Woods in Margaret River, Smithbrook in Pemberton and Lake’s Folly in the Hunter Valley. Pale straw-green; the bouquet offers lifted passionfruit and tropical aromas, but is overshadowed by the notably intense palate, adding ripe citrus and grass/herb flavours; very good balance and length. Remarkable value for money.

From Margaret River, WA
Drink to 2013 with seafood fettuccini

Chardonnay: The seachange in attitude to Australian chardonnay style extends across all price points; either totally or largely dispensing with oak in the under $20 wines.

Mike Press Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2011
92 points, $12, Screwcap, 12% alc
It’s an almost foregone conclusion that Mike Press’ wines will walz into the Under $20 section of the Top 100. An unwooded chardonnay 'planted, nurtured and harvested right outside our kitchen window', a nice touch; the bouquet is fragrant, with citrus blossom, apple and melon, the tingling, fresh and zesty palate built on grapefruit and lively acidity running through to the fresh finish.

From Adelaide Hills, SA
Drink to 2014 with avocado and prawn salad

Bellarmine Pemberton Chardonnay 2010
96 points, $20, Screwcap, 14% alc
Bellarmine is owned by German citizens and residents Dr Willi and Gudrum Schumaker, established in a climate they saw as climatically and policitally stable. Glowing straw-green; as ever with Bellarmine, a beautifully focused and balanced wine, with great length to its perfectly ripened nectarine and citrus palate, subtle oak totally integrated.

From Pemberton, WA
Drink to 2020 with gravlax

Petaluma Bridgewater Mill Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2010
94 points, $20, Screwcap, 14% alc
The Bridgewater Mill label spent some years in the marketing wilderness, but has been brought back to life with new labels and some pretty good wine behind the pretty face. Straw-green; the fragrant bouquet introduces an immaculately structured and balanced wine, with nectarine, white peach and citrus/grapefruit seamlessly welded with subtle French oak and minerally acidity, the finish long and fresh.

From Adelaide Hills, SA
Drink to 2018 with smoked eel

Other whites: A deliberately mixed broth chosen from a large field of competitors, especially in the gris/grigio category. It provides yet more evidence that 2011 produced many appealing white wines.

Tahbilk Marsanne 2011

93 points, $16.45, Screwcap, % alc
Comes as part of a long and distinguished series of wines, the screwcap guaranteeing the development of honeyed, toasty flavours and aromas over the coming decade. Pale green-straw; at the start of a long life, already expressive and juicy, with a mix of lime and honeysuckle on the impressively long palate; has the acidity for long ageing.

From Nagambie Lakes, Vic
Drink to 2021 with quiche Lorraine

Serafino Bellissimo Pinot Grigio 2011
94 points, $18, Screwcap, 12% alc
Pale quartz; vibrant and fresh, one of several pinot gris from 2011 that revelled in the cool, damp conditions to provide wines of interest and intensity, with citrus/citrus blossom/citrus pith all contributing. It would be unkind to suggest that something came of nothing here, but McLaren Vale is not a natural home for grigio of this character and quality.

From McLaren Vale, SA
Drink to 2013 with take-away chicken

Riposte The Stiletto Adelaide Hills Pinot Gris 2011
95 points, $19, Screwcap, 12% alc
Pale quartz-green; the bouquet is far more expressive than most, with pear, orange zest and lime pith, and the zesty palate fulfils all the promise of the bouquet and then some. A rare beast is a pinot gris with the degree of varietal expression coming from the vineyard, not the winery, where Tim Knappstein’s role has been that of quality control officer.

From Adelaide Hills, SA
Drink to 2013 with tempura

Landhaus Estate The Diva Savagnin 2010
94 points, $19.95, Screwcap, 12.7% alc
The case for savagnin (initially thought to be albarino) grows ever stronger, for it is a wine with real character and substance, its relationship with gewurztraminer no surprise. The texture is rich, and the citrus/lychee flavours long and persistent. Given that all the plantings are recent, even more character should come once the vines are more than 10 years old.

From Barossa Valley, SA
Drink to 2013 with Chinese-style prawns

The most unlucky misses:

Semillon Rating Price
Heritage Barossa Semillon 2010 93 $15
Huntington Estate Mudgee Semillon 2011 93 $17
Chalkers Crossing Hilltops Semillon 2010 94 $18
Leogate Estate Creek Bed Reserve Hunter Valley Semillon 2011 94 $19
Chardonnay Rating Price
Wise Margaret River Chardonnay 2011 93 $18
Hoddles Creek Estate Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2010 95 $19
Nugan Estate Frasca's Lane Vineyard King Valley Chardonnay 2009 94 $20
Quealy Balnarring Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 94 $20
Other Whites Rating Price
Angove Family Winemakers Butterfly Ridge Riesling Gewurztraminer 2011 90 $7.25
Printhie Orange Pinot Gris 2010 93 $18
Rymill Coonawarra June Traminer (375 ml) 2008 95 $18
All Saints Estate Marsanne 2009 94 $20
Lillian Pemberton Marsanne Roussanne 2009 94 $20
Oakridge Over the Shoulder Pinot Grigio 2011 93 $20

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