Top 100 wines of 2008

The Australian wine industry continues to face a formidable array of challenges and uncertainties, some man-made, some the forces of nature, some within the power of winemakers to meet, some outside their control.

Shortly put, they include the lengthening and severe drought (which may include an element of permanent climate change, but how much is anyone's guess); an exchange rate fluctuating around a strong, mineral resource-sustained dollar; and the shrill clamour by the anti-alcohol lobby to tax wine at the same rate as beer and spirits, thereby increasing a tax take already far higher than that of any other major wine producing country.

Paradoxically, it is these challenges that are forcing the major companies (the top 20 still contributing 90% of Australia's wine production) to endeavour to restructure the business by reducing their dependence on low-priced, generic varietal wines and focus more on higher quality, regional wines with better profit margins.

If this becomes a reality, it will see the end of volume growth, but an increase in value of exports to Australia's largest market, the UK. This has been a barren field of profitless prosperity for most of the last 20 years, thanks to the obsessive price fixation of the supermarkets and large chain retailers.

As Chile's and Argentina's wine production grows, the US will also become a more competitive market, albeit at somewhat higher price points than the UK, with Spain making further inroads into both the UK and the US.

The wild card in all this is China, with India in close attendance. China has a long history of consumption of alcohol, and the conversion to wine is a small step. The rate of social change in China, largely driven by the dizzy accumulation of wealth and thus discretionary disposable income, can only be appreciated by visits to the major cities, not just Beijing and Hong Kong.

Moreover, the Chinese government has given a strong signal by removing import duties on wine in Hong Kong, which has always been a major entry point (along with Singapore) into greater Asia and, especially, China. The fact that the domestic production of wine in China is growing rapidly should be seen as a positive, not a negative, in much the same way as it is in India.

On the face of it, China and India should create demand for wine at all price points, and given Australia's physical proximity and major trade ties, it should be in a prime position to capitalise on those markets. The only constraint is the lack of accessible distribution infrastructure; one positive straw in the wind is the move by Robert Kirby to open Yabby Lake Cellar Door Wine Bars for business in Beijing, with three more planned to open in the next six months (including Shanghai). Kirby, of Village Roadshow, will have thoroughly researched the challenges and opportunities before making this move.

Where does all this leave the industry and, in turn, Australian consumers? Up to this point, I have largely glossed over the fact that 1500 wineries (out of 2500) producing very good regional wines have operated in a different market using different channels to their consumers to those of the top 20 or so companies. Specifically, cellar door and (increasingly) the internet have produced a substantial percentage of their sales, the best known with more than 10 000 cases to sell also using distributors to reach restaurants, and fine wine liquor outlets. (If one simply looks at cases produced, and ignores quality parameters, over 1600 wineries produce less than 7000 cases per year.)

Ever increasingly widespread wine media scrutiny of these wineries and their wines has helped underwrite steady improvements in both quality and style: witness the reduction in heavy-handed oak and in alcohol levels. Increasing vine age (remembering half these wineries are less than 10 years old) and better clonal selections are also contributing.

The really interesting question is what will happen if the major wine companies, which have been talking about regionalisation (an ugly word, but better than premiumisation) for well over a decade, follow their words with deeds. Orlando Wyndham (Pernod-Ricard) hasn't shown much interest, but Foster's and Hardys/Constellation have.

So far, Hardys' CEO, John Grant, has made the most noise, and it has a full suite of excellent regional brands. But right at the death, as it were, it has announced that it has put the historic Leasingham winery (in the Clare Valley), the modern Stonehaven winery (built in 1998 in Padthaway) and Goundrey winery (extensively expanded and upgraded in recent years, in Mount Barker) on the market, along with some high-quality regional vineyards. Operating efficiency is doubtless the rationale, but fine wines are not made by bean counters.

Whether it will find buyers at anything other than giveaway prices remains to be seen, particularly if the outcome of the Foster's six-month review is to offload all or part of its wine interests. These doubts to one side, both groups do have high-quality regional wines in their portfolios, held in restraint only by the reluctance of their owners to spend adequate amounts on sales and marketing, by hiring adequate numbers of specialist onsite sales representatives, and appropriate levels and channels of advertising and promotional (other than discounting) support.

If all this were to happen, life would be more difficult for the quality wineries operating outside their cellar doors, and via direct sales routes. If it were to result in reduced prices without erosion of quality, it would, of course, benefit the consumer. If it were to extend to exports (it hasn't so far) it would enhance Australia's global reputation, which would be good news for everyone.

Finally, there are the mid-sized producers led by the family-owned Yalumba, Brown Brothers and Tyrrell's, plus McWilliam's at a larger scale. The former three have consistently defied predictions of their demise, sandwiched in the no-man's land between the small and the big. They have stuck to their regional knitting, and quietly gone on doing very well. Long may they continue to do so.

The 80 table wines selected for the Top 100 come from a mix of larger and smaller producers: they were selected on merit, not percentage. Several interesting trends emerged. First, there is a very obvious shift to lower alcohol chardonnays: 12.5% to 13.5% alcohol is becoming the norm instead of 13.5% to 14.5%. Second, the very hot and early 2008 vintage (especially in South Australia) did not impact on the aromatic white wines, which ripened during a cool January and February, and were picked before the heat arrived at the end of the first week of March.

Although they are yet to make their way onto the market, 2008 red wines (particularly from the Barossa and Clare Valleys and McLaren Vale) picked before the heat - as many of them were - are considered better than their '07 counterparts.

Third, the percentage of Western Australia wines (16%) is higher than in any previous year. This is partly due to the extreme popularity of sauvignon blanc and sauvignon semillon blends, and partly to the large-scale plantings in the state gaining maturity and quality. Finally, the long march of the screwcap continues, with 74% of all table wines submitted for the tastings using screwcaps.


The value of screwcaps and points

These two topics might seem to be unrelated, but there is a common link. It does not matter whether you argue that no two bottles of wine sealed with corks are precisely the same, or (on the other side) simply accept that, with increasing time in bottle, the variability in cork-sealed wines correspondingly increases until you reach the long-honoured British Wine Trade aphorism that 'there are no great old wines, only great old bottles'. Points will follow suit, high for good bottles, low for the poor ones.

The foregoing is independent of the problem of cork taint (trichloranisole, or TCA for short), which even the most ardent supporter of corks admits exists. The irony is that the Portuguese cork industry is effectively working to reduce the incidence of TCA, and if it were the only problem with cork, the industry might put up with it.

It is arguable the most sinister form of cork taint is at low levels, where its impact might only be obvious to an expert taster who is particularly sensitive to its presence, or when two bottles are available for direct comparison. The slightly flawed bottle could well be assumed to represent the true wine, and cause the consumer to conclude the wine is representative and thus not as good as its reputation suggests.

The same applies to the far greater problem of sporadic oxidation, where the cork allows oxygen penetration above base line levels. For a number of reasons, white wines (especially unoaked semillon and riesling) are particularly sensitive to oxidation, which at high (but not entirely unusual) levels can be immediately detected by colour change, very obvious in glass, but also evident in unopened coloured glass bottles.

In bygone days, judges in wine shows would automatically call for another bottle where the first, or even the second, was oxidised. These days most judges take the view that a wine should only get one chance, whether the oxidation is very obvious or only suspected.

By contrast, whatever may be the real or imagined shortcomings of screwcaps, every bottle will taste the same as every other at a given point of time, the rate of development constant.

The fact that Australian winemakers have overwhelmingly put their money on the screwcap is demonstrated by the table below, calculated on the 1237 table wines (excluding the additional 129 sparkling wines) entered this year.

Category Screwcaps Corks (including Diam and ProCork)
Whites under $20 98.2% 1.8%
Reds under $20 95.1% 4.9%
Whites over $20 94.4% 5.6%
Reds over $20 64.9% 35.1%


The high percentage of corks for over $20 reds is largely due to the lag factor, these wines having an older average age than the other three groups. It is in this bracket that changes will continue to occur over the next few years; the remainder will, for obvious reasons, not change much.

And so to the imprecise art of assigning points. Just because a wine may be under a screwcap does not mean all judges will give it the same points at any given time; all manner of subjective issues can and do cause a spread - style, rather than just quality, is an obvious example. These issues apply equally to cork-sealed wines, but the killer punch comes with slightly cork-affected bottles, which lead to significant inconsistencies in wine show awards, and in points published on the internet or in print.

Next, it is important to understand that all wines are explicitly or implicitly judged within a class (let's say apples) and the points given cannot be directly related to those for another group (oranges). Nowhere can this be seen more obviously than in the points I have given for the Australian sparkling wines and for the champagnes, which are apples and oranges. Nor would it help to have a scale of (say) 100 000 points fed into a computer, for the outcome would still depend on the subjective modelling inputs so we are stuck with the existing numeric ratings, and here the one tangible assistance I can give is the table below, which compares the five star system, the 100 point scale and the 20 point wine show scale.

Wine ratingsConversion Table
Finally, remember points are a morse code indicator of quality. They should be regarded as no more important than the descriptive words used by the judge or writer.

Key to closure abbreviation - C Cork, D Diam, PC ProCork, S Screwcap


Whites under $20

The following wines, which were selected from the 219 that were submitted, come from nine regions spread across New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia, and encompass seven varieties. Five sauvignon blancs or sauvignon semillons and five chardonnays were followed by four rieslings and three semillons, pinot grigio, marsanne and verdelho completing the register.

Long Flat Bin Ends Chardonnay 2008
90 points, $10.99, S, 13% alc
The throwaway name borders on Australian black humour, but may be close to the truth, for an Adelaide Hills chardonnay should cost far more. Moreover, it has very good fruit, focus and intensity on the long, sustained white peach palate, uncomplicated by any contact with oak.
From Adelaide Hills, SA
Drink now with pan-seared scallops
www.cheviotbridge.com.au

Tyrrell's Old Winery Verdelho 2008
90 points, $12, S, 12.5% alc
Australia is the only country that makes table wine of any consequence from verdelho, other than perhaps Portugal (in small quantities). Pale straw-green, it has neatly poised tropical fruit with lemon and straw notes, quite fleshy on the entry, then tightens up with lemony fruit on the crisp finish.
From Hunter Valley, NSW
Drink now with calamari
www.tyrrells.com.au

Yalumba Y Series Pinot Grigio 2008
90 points, $12.95, S, 12.5% alc
Like painting a picture with white paint (NZ winemaker), or losing a blind tasting against Evian (Robert Joseph, UK wine journalist) are my usual reference points for pinot grigio. However, this wine has personality and flavours of pear and citrus, with cleansing minerality on the finish.
From SA
Drink now with antipasto
www.yalumba.com

Tahbilk Marsanne 2008
91 points, $14.95, S, 12.5% alc
Tahbilk's Marsanne transforms itself like Hunter semillon, transformation now guaranteed by the screwcap. The shy bouquet has honeysuckle and apple in evidence, the innate generosity of the palate still tightly wound around a spine of minerality. Trust me, this wine will develop superbly, gaining richness without losing its varietal identity.
From Nagambie Lakes, Vic
Drink now with hard cheese
www.tahbilk.com.au

Bellarmine Chardonnay 2007
94 points, $15, S, 14% alc
Highly intelligent winemaking limited the barrel maturation to only four months in new French oak so as not to overwhelm the fruit. Still as fresh as a daisy, it has the elegance that is the mark of all Bellarmine wines, the nectarine fruit driving the palate, oak in the back seat.
From Pemberton, WA
Drink now-2012 with sand crab
www.bellarmine.com.au

Alkoomi White Label Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2008
92 points, $15.89, S, 12.5% alc
Estate-grown, the grapes are picked at varying levels of maturity to add complexity to a wine that sees no oak and is early bottled. As befits a wine with a preponderance of semillon, grassy/lemony characters drive the bouquet and palate, which has considerable generosity and length.
From Frankland River, WA
Drink now-2010 with sashimi
www.alkoomiwines.com.au

Devil's Lair Fifth Leg Chardonnay 2007
92 points, $15.99, S, 13.5% alc
This is the second vintage of this wine, which shows that unoaked chardonnay does not have to be boring, and it takes full advantage of readily available high-quality grapes. Bright, light straw-green, it is fresh, light-bodied but with quite intense melon and stone fruit aromas, and a convincing finish.
From WA
Drink now with gravlax
www.devils-lair.com

Larry Cherubino Ad Hoc Straw Man Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2008
93 points, $16.90, S, 12.5% alc
A blend of 71% sauvignon blanc and 29% semillon, 10% of which was fermented in new French oak, and made using several different yeasts. There are highly fragrant passionfruit and grass aromas on the bouquet that are mirrored on the zippy, zesty palate, and reverberate on the aftertaste.
From Margaret River, WA
Drink now with mussells
www.larrycherubino.com

Larry Cherubino Ad Hoc Hen and Chicken Chardonnay 2007
92 points, $16.90, S, 13% alc
Hand-picked, whole bunch-pressed, fermented with wild yeasts, 100% malolactic fermentation and 12 months in French oak shine through the wine, with nutty aromas framing the bright grapefruit flavours. It has good depth and weight, and touches of spice and toast from the oak come through on the finish.
From Pemberton, WA
Drink now-2012 with seafood risotto
www.larrycherubino.com

Pewsey Vale Riesling 2008
94 points, $17.95, S, 12.5% alc
One of the many lovely rieslings from this vintage, ripened in the cool January and February, and picked before the March heat. Strong green tinges foretell a powerful, complex bouquet leading into a palate bursting with regional lime juice fruit; has great vibrancy, thrust and length.
From Eden Valley, SA
Drink now-2015 with gazpacho
www.pewseyvale.com

McWilliam's Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Cellar Release Semillon 2003
95 points, $17.99, C, 11.5% alc
Demonstrates the amazing changes to a wine bottled within three months of vintage with a water white colour and little other than crisp acidity flavour. After five years, it is developing superbly, though slowly, still vibrant and lemony, with toast and honey notes starting to appear. Gold medal National Wine Show 2007.
From Hunter Valley, NSW
Drink now-2013 with almond-crusted trout fillets
www.mountpleasantwines.com.au

Yalumba Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2007
91 points, $18.95, S, 13.5% alc
Yalumba chief winemaker, Louisa Rose, has spent much time in research into and practical use of wild (or indigenous) yeasts in white winemaking. This is a vibrant wine that shows real depth and weight, minerally complexity and fine citrus fruit yielding to notes of French oak on the finish.
From Eden Valley, SA
Drink now-2011 with smoked salmon
www.yalumba.com

Riposte The Foil Sauvignon Blanc 2008
94 points, $19, S, 13% alc
Riposte is the cleverly named vinous reincarnation of veteran Adelaide Hills winemaker Tim Knappstein, who has produced two outstanding sauvignon blancs in succession. A spotlessly clean bouquet leads into a palate with a sunburst of tropical fruits, passionfruit and gooseberry, tied together by good acidity on the long finish.
From Adelaide Hills, SA
Drink now with sugar-cured tuna
Tel (08) 8389 8149

Peter Lehmann Riesling 2008
95 points, $19.50, S, 11% alc
Peter Lehmann's wild ride through life has paralleled that of riesling, and his endurance is akin to that of riesling. This absurdly lovely wine has a fragrant, lime-accented bouquet, the palate featuring excellent mouthfeel and length; the fruit runs in an unbroken line through to the finish and aftertaste.
From Eden Valley, SA
Drink now-2018 with grilled King George whiting
www.peterlehmannwines.com

Fonty's Pool Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2008
94 points, $19.80 S, 12% alc
Pemberton enjoyed very good growing season conditions right through to harvest, and Fonty's Pool's 110 ha of vineyards allowed it to choose the best for its wines. Bright, floral aromas lead into a very intense palate, with a strong citrus core thrusting through to the lingering finish, which has remarkable purity.
From Pemberton, WA
Drink now with cold seafood
www.fontyspoolwines.com.au

Heggies Riesling 2008
95 points, $19.95, S, 11.5% alc
This is one of the great Eden Valley single vineyards, sitting at an elevation of 500 metres, the soil bony and sparse. Light straw-green, its intense, voluminous citrus blossom aromas flow into a vibrant, lively palate with citrus/lime fruit offset and lengthened by minerally acidity.
From Eden Valley, SA
Drink now-2018 with summer salads
www.heggiesvineyard.com

West Cape Howe Sauvignon Blanc 2008
94 points, $19.95, S, 12% alc
The grapes come from four southern regions, and 3% each of semillon and riesling were included in the wine, which has fresh citrus and passionfruit aromas, then a very lively, long and intense palate with a mix of citrus, herb and gooseberry flavours; a clean, crisp finish.
From WA
Drink now-2010 with calamari
www.westcapehowewines.com.au

Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard Semillon 2008
94 points, $19.99, S, 11.5% alc
Named after its nineteenth century founder (a male Audrey), this hillside property was replanted over a century later in the 1970s. It has plenty to say on the bouquet with lemon, spice and grass notes, which come through on the long palate, given additional weight by the barest hint of sweetness balanced by acidity.
From Hunter Valley, NSW
Drink now-2105 with asparagus terrine
www.audreywilkinson.com.au

O'Leary Walker Polish Hill River Riesling 2008
95 points, $20, S, 12% alc
The Polish Hill River to the west of Clare Valley proper is cooler and has slaty soils, resulting in later ripening. Autosuggestion or not, it has apple, lime and slate flavours on the beautifully structured and focused palate, these flavours flowing on evenly from the bouquet, with impressive line and length.
From Clare Valley, SA
Drink now-2018 with stuffed red capsicum
www.olearywalkerwines.com

Brokenwood Semillon 2008
94 points, $20, S, 10% alc
A perennial favourite with a proud 25-year history under the direction of CEO Iain Riggs; handpicked, cool-fermented and bottled early. It has crisp, fresh, zesty aromas and flavours, gaining velocity on the back-palate and finish, with notes of lemon rind and mineral on the finish and lingering aftertaste.
From Hunter Valley, NSW
Drink now-2013 with Chinese-style baked fish
www.brokenwood.com.au



Reds under $20

It is no accident that the 2006 reds mainly come from South Australia (a great vintage there), the '07s from Western Australia and Victoria, which were kinder to red wines than South Australia this time around.

Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet 2006
90 points, $11.99, S, 13.5% alc
Made in an unbroken line since 1976 by a large maker, familiarity can easily breed contempt, but the very fact of its history, the quality of the vintage and the aggressive pricing demanded its selection; savoury/spicy nuances on the bouquet give way to blackberry fruit, fine tannins and an echo of oak on the palate.
From Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Coonawarra, SA
Drink now-2014 with designer meat pie
www.penfolds.com.au

De Bortoli Deen De Bortoli Vat 8 Shiraz 2006
90 points, $12.99, S, 14% alc
This was a surprise gold medal winner at the Sydney Wine Show 2008, and has flourished over the intervening six months. It has abundant sweet plum and blackberry fruit on both bouquet and palate, thanks to pre-fermentation maceration, and has spicy vanillin oak now integrated into the wine.
From Riverina, NSW and Vic
Drink now with lasagne
www.debortoli.com.au

De Bortoli Windy Peak Pinot Noir 2008
92 points, $13, S, 13% alc
Made at the Yarra Valley winery, using the techniques employed for top end pinots, making its price all the more remarkable. Brilliantly clear colour and fragrant cherry aromas point to the fresh and bright cherry and plum varietal fruit on the light- to medium-bodied palate. Simple but delicious.
From Vic (cool climate regions)
Drink now with tortellini
www.debortoli.com.au

Trentham Estate La Famiglia Sangiovese Rose 2008
91 points, $14, S, 13.5% alc
There are those who would say Australian sangiovese and nebbiolo are best suited to rose, but the reverse may also be true. Bright salmon-pink; while light on its feet, it has above average intensity to its spicy/cherry/plummy fruit flavours, and the finish is crisp and refreshingly dry.
From Murray Darling, NSW
Drink now with salt and pepper squid
www.trenthamestate.com.au

Trentham Estate Pinot Noir 2007
91 points, $14, S, 13.5% alc
There seems to be no style that owner/winemaker Tony Murphy is unable to master. Bright and clear, it has very pure and precise varietal fruit on both bouquet and palate; while light-bodied, it has enticing cherry and strawberry flavours, oak and tannins incidental to the main play.
From Murray Darling, NSW
Drink now-2010 with Peking duck
www.trenthamestate.com.au

Seppelt Victoria Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
93 points, $14.99, S, 14% alc
From the Grampians, this wine has developed beautifully since first tasted in November 2007, and is ridiculously underpriced. Perfectly ripened blackcurrant fruit, ripe but fine tannins, and well-balanced oak all come together to provide supple mouthfeel to a delicious wine.
From Grampians, Vic
Drink now-2014 with Greek-style lamb
www.seppeltwines.com.au

Willow Bridge Estate Shiraz 2007
93 points, $15.50, S, 13% alc
Estate-grown in Willow Bridge's Fergusson Valley vineyards, the wine spends 10 months in French oak of various ages. Bright purple, juicy red cherry and plum fruits ripple through the medium-bodied palate, enhanced by spicy French oak, and supported by fine tannins on a long finish.
From Geographe, WA
Drink now-2015 with grilled porterhouse
www.willowbridge.com.au

Possums Vineyard Willunga Shiraz 2006
95 points, $15.99, S, 14.5% alc
Dr John Possingham was a distinguished research scientist, and acknowledges the science-based management of the estate vineyards. This has a lovely, harmonious mix of perfectly ripened red and black fruits; fine, soft tannins with supporting oak run through a very long finish. Gold medal Adelaide Wine Show 2007.
From McLaren Vale, SA
Drink now-2016 with kangaroo fillet
www.possumswines.com.au

West Cape Howe Shiraz 2007
93 points, $16, S, 14% alc
The 2007 vintage was far kinder to south Western Australia than South Australia, warm but not hot, and with no rain during harvest. Bright crimson-purple, enticing aromas of spicy black fruits and toasty French oak lead into a medium-bodied palate with highly focused red and black cherry fruit; superfine tannins round off the finish.
From Denmark, WA
Drink now-2016 with beef cheek
www.westcapehowewines.com.au

Smith & Hooper Cabernet Merlot 2006
93 points, $17.95, C, 14% alc
A stand-alone brand of S Smith & Sons (Yalumba), taking its name from adjacent blocks previously owned by the Smith and Hooper families. The wine has clearly defined cabernet characters ranging through red berry to darker fruit emanating from a core of fleshy, generous fruit, framed by fine-grained tannins on the finish.
From Wrattonbully, SA
Drink now-2016 with backstrap of lamb
www.yalumba.com

Shadowfax Shiraz 2007
94 points, $18, S, 13.5% alc
The wine is made from grapes grown on three estate vineyards at Werribee, Tallarook and Heathcote, and spends 14 months in French oak. Brightly coloured; perfumed spicy red and black fruit aromas lead into an intensely flavoured palate with spicy red fruits to the fore, French oak in the background.
From Vic
Drink now-2014 with shepherd's pie
www.shadowfax.com.au

Sandalford Rose 2008
93 points, $18.95, S, 13% alc
Cabernet sauvignon was machine harvested at night, crushed and the juice was drained off after 24 hours cold-soak. Vivid crimson-purple; very appealing raspberry and cherry fruit runs through the long, well-balanced palate, which has a touch of sweetness on the finish neatly balanced by acidity.
From Margaret River, WA
Drink now with charcuterie meats
www.sandalford.com

Hoddles Creek Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
93 points, $18.99, S, 13% alc
Winemaker Franco D'Anna worked in the family liquor store before gaining a Bachelor of Commerce degree and a viticulture degree from Charles Sturt University. Vibrantly coloured, it has a layered, complex bouquet, then a silky entry to the mouth before a savoury backbone tightens the palate; refreshing acidity to close.
From Yarra Valley, Vic
Drink 2010-2016 with braised lamb shanks
www.hoddlescreekestate.com.au

Wise Shiraz 2007
95 points, $19, S, 14.5% alc
Owner Ron Wise has 40 ha of owned or leased vineyards across three regions in the south of Western Australia and a skilled winemaking team. Densely coloured, intense, spicy blackberry fruit aromas lead into a striking full-bodied palate, with deep fruit and licorice flavours supported by ripe tannins.
From Margaret River/Frankland River, WA
Drink 2012-2022 with marinated venison

Sevenhill Cellars Inigo Shiraz 2006
94 points, $19, S, 15% alc
The historic Sevenhill Cellars of the Jesuitical Manresa Society also has 100-year-old shiraz vines from which this wine was made. It is spectacularly rich and dense, with multiple layers of blackberry, licorice and dark chocolate flavours supported by ripe tannins; it will particularly appeal to those who enjoy full-bodied reds.
From Clare Valley, SA
Drink now-2021 with barbecued rump steak
www.sevenhillcellars.com.au

Oakridge Over the Shoulder Shiraz Viognier 2007
93 points, $19, S, 13.5% alc
This is the second label of Oakridge, effectively its third level behind the 864 brand and estate varietals. Vibrant crimson-purple colour accurately foretells the fresh, vibrant red fruit aromas and flavours; fine tannins on the finish give the wine the structure sometimes lacking with this blend.
From Yarra Valley, Vic
Drink now with stir-fried Chinese beef
www.oakridgeestate.com.au

Woodlands Cabernet Merlot 2007
92 points, $19, S, 13.5% alc
An estate-grown blend of 63% cabernet sauvignon, 29% merlot and 8% malbec, and a model of consistency in recent years. A bright, youthful colour leads into complex black olive and cassis aromas; savoury, deep and full of red fruits on the long, fine and focused back-palate and finish.
From Margaret River, WA
Drink now-2014 with braised lamb
www.woodlandswines.com

Balnaves of Coonawarra The Blend 2006
93 points, $19, S, 14.5% alc
The principal components are cabernet sauvignon (59%), and merlot (39%), which spent 18 months in one-third new tight-grained French oak. Vibrantly coloured, it has great concentration, and dark blackcurrant and blueberry fruit go hand in hand with lovely cedary complexity; bright, fine and focused, with a real touch of class.
From Coonawarra, SA
Drink now-2014 with beef shashlik
www.balnaves.com.au

Tyrrell's Rufus Stone Shiraz 2006
95 points, $19.50, S, 14.8% alc
Tyrrell's secured water by a major pipeline when it acquired its land in Heathcote, which has paid big dividends in the ensuing drought years. Striking purple-red, this elegant, medium-bodied wine has ravishing black cherry and spice fruit, perfectly matched by seamless tannins and oak. Gold medal, National Wine Show 2007.
From Heathcote, Vic
Drink now-2015 with osso bucco
www.tyrrells.com.au

d'Arenberg The Custodian Grenache 2006
93 points, $19.95, S, 14.5% alc
The Osborne family has vast experience in making grenache from old McLaren Vale vines, with foot-treading and basket-pressing techniques. The wine has fragrant red berry aromas, and the structure and intensity lacking in many Barossa grenaches, offering red and black berry fruits with spice and chocolate nuances.
From McLaren Vale, SA
Drink now-2013 with lamb kidneys
www.darenberg.com.au


Whites over $20

The best white wines such as riesling, semillon, sauvignon blanc and pinot gris, which do not involve the use of oak, are far cheaper to make than chardonnay of equivalent quality. Hence the pattern of price distribution in this group, the principal exception being the former wines held by their producers for five years or so prior to sale.

Capercaillie Creel Semillon 2008
95 points, $21, S, 10% alc
The grapes come from the estate's Majors Lane Vineyard at Lovedale, one of the finest subregions for semillon, and from a cool and wet vintage (which suits the variety more than hot and dry). It has clean, fragrant, herb, lanolin and grass aromas, citrus appearing alongside the other components on the long palate.
From Hunter Valley, NSW
Drink now-2018 with grilled eggplant and zucchini
www.capercailliewine.com.au

Stella Bella Sauvignon Blanc 2008
95 points, $21, S, 13% alc
The winemaking team, led by Janice McDonald, know exactly how to extract the best from high-quality sauvignon grapes. It has a fragrant and flowery bouquet, a lissom palate offering passionfruit, kiwi fruit and redcurrant flavours; has vibrancy and thrust, with a long, clean finish
From Margaret River, WA
Drink now with poached scallops
www.stellabella.com.au

Ninth Island Pinot Grigio 2008
94 points, $21.50, S, 13.5% alc
This second label of Pipers Brook Vineyard has an impressive track record, with moderately priced pinot noirs of particular appeal. Here is a good pinot gris, with a faint blush tint, then scented rose petal, spice and tropical aromas leading into a long palate, sustained by a mineral and citrus backbone.
From northern Tasmania
Drink now with seafood antipasto
www.pipersbrook.com

Ashbrook Estate Margaret River Verdelho 2008
95 points, $22, S, 14% alc
Given the similar quality of the classic varietals from Ashbrook Estate, the choice of the Verdelho may seem quixotic, but this demanded selection. An aromatic tropical/banana bouquet leads to a palate that opens as a reflection of the bouquet, before imparting great thrust to the mouthfeel with a squeeze of lemon.
From Margaret River, WA
Drink now-2013 with pasta carbonara

Wirra Wirra Hiding Champion Sauvignon Blanc 2008
95 points, $22, S, 12% alc
The late founder of Wirra Wirra, Greg Trott, was prone to disappear when decisions, major or minor, had to be made, hence the name. Early picking of the grapes has paid big dividends, with a chorus of juicy flavours running from apple to tropical, the palate vibrant, the finish fresh.
From Adelaide Hills, SA
Drink now-2009 with herb-crusted snapper
www.wirrawirra.com

Lenton Brae Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2008
95 points, $23, S, 13% alc
With 60% Semillon, 40% sauvignon blanc and 8% of the semillon barrel fermented, this is typical of the multi-award style of Lenton Brae. It has a pungent, aromatic bouquet with grassy, herbal semillon to the fore, an attack carried on by the long and precisely focused palate with gentle tropical fruits buttressed by lemony acidity.
From Margaret River, WA
Drink now-2010 with salmon terrine
www.lentonbrae.com

Voyager Estate Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2008
95 points, $24, S, 12.9% alc
Voyager Estate's vineyards are in a particularly favoured part of Margaret River; add skilled winemaking and the outcome is consistently excellent wines. This has fragrant aromas and juicy, vibrant flavours ranging across citrus, gooseberry and passionfruit; the palate is long and even, the finish enticing another mouthful.
From Margaret River, WA
Drink now-2011 with grilled scampi
www.voyagerestate.com.au

Howard Park Sauvignon Blanc 2008
95 points, $25, S, 12.5% alc
A wine that shows the synergy gained by regional blending, each parcel contributing its own signature. It is vibrant from start to finish, with a mix of herbal, citrus and mineral aromas and flavours, the excellent mouthfeel aided by the texture enhanced by a small barrel ferment component.
From Margaret River/Pemberton, WA
Drink now-2010 with lemon-marinated fish
www.howardparkwines.com.au

Larry Cherubino The Yard Whispering Hill Riesling 2008
96 points, $25, S, 12.1% alc
The best of an outstanding trio of rieslings from Cherubino, fermented with indigenous yeasts capable of dealing with an awesomely low pH of 2.97. Floral lime blossom aromas lead into a superb palate that has exceptional thrust and length; lime and passionfruit progressively gain intensity through to the finish and aftertaste.
From Mount Barker, WA
Drink now-2018 with mild Thai dishes
www.larrycherubino.com

Houghton Wisdom Chardonnay 2007
95 points, $28.50, S, 13.5% alc
Just when the Sydney Wine Show decided it had to create special trophies for constantly overlooked chardonnay, this won the 2008 Bert Bear Trophy for Best Young White Wine of Show. Glorious green-yellow colour; intense line and length, with cool-grown grapefruit and nectarine flavours; fine acidity, oak a support role.
From Pemberton, WA
Drink now-2015 with mud crab
www.houghton-wines.com.au

McHenry Hohnen Vintners Rocky Road Chardonnay 2007
96 points, $34.99, S, 14% alc
The Rocky Road vineyard is in the cooler southern part of Margaret River, and the fruit is given full expression by fermentation in old French oak barrels, part with cultured yeast, part with wild yeast. The result is delicious white peach and grapefruit flavours in classic Margaret River style, and an intense, lingering finish.
From Margaret River, WA
Drink now-2015 with Margaret River abalone
www.mchv.com.au

Grosset Springvale Watervale Riesling 2008
96 points, $36, S, 13% alc
The comparison between Grosset Polish Hill and Springvale (vineyard) Watervale is endlessly fascinating, as is the lesser price of the Springvale. This year it has a more effusive bouquet than the Polish Hill; the expressive lime juice fruit flavours also make this wine ready to go now, but without compromising its longevity.
From Clare Valley, SA
Drink now-2018 with blue swimmer crab
www.grosset.com.au

Thompson Estate Chardonnay 2007
95 points, $38, S, 14.5% alc
One of a number of very good current releases from Thompson Estate, dealing with the challenges and opportunities of a warm, early vintage. It is beautifully crafted, with pure grapefruit and nectarine on the bouquet; gently spiced with very polished oak and lovely grip, weight and depth to the powerful yet fine palate.
From Margaret River, WA
Drink now-2014 with grilled spatchcock
www.thompsonestate.com

Heggies Vineyard Reserve Chardonnay 2006
96 points, $39.95, S, 13.5% alc
This wine comes from a single special block of the four French clones imported in the 1990s that are superior to all other clones. A beautiful wine that exhibits great elegance and amazing fruit definition; pure, focused, fine and lively, with many layers that unfold right across the palate; incredibly well made, with an underlying touch of French funk.
From Eden Valley, SA
Drink now-2014 with milk-fed veal
www.heggiesvineyard.com

Peter Lehmann Wigan Riesling 2003
96 points, $40, S, 11% alc
It is, quite frankly, great to see Andrew Wigan, long-term chief winemaker at Peter Lehmann and godfather of all the great rieslings, being recognised. Gleaming green-gold, this wine is stacked to the rafters with luscious lime juice aromas and flavours, augmented by touches of honey on the mid-palate; has tremendous length.
From Eden Valley, SA
Drink now-2013 with a sunlit morning
www.peterlehmannwines.com

Shaw & Smith M3 Chardonnay 2007
96 points, $40, S, 13% alc
A worthy successor to the great 2006, coming from the same M3 vineyard and using the same winemaking techniques; beautifully crafted, with great depth and power; incredibly rich for a mere 13% alcohol, with lashings of fine French oak and stone fruits; the depth and power are offset by a complex mineral core and lively acidity.
From Adelaide Hills, SA
Drink now-2014 with teriyaki chicken
www.shawandsmith.com

Brokenwood ILR Reserve Semillon 2003
96 points, $45, S, 11% alc
This was a dry, hot vintage that produced great shiraz and challenged semillon, but you would never guess that from this wine, praise be the screwcap. Pale green, it has extreme finesse, magically combining freshness and delicacy with clear varietal expression from honey and toast through to bright citrus, mineral and grass notes.
From Hunter Valley, NSW
Drink now-2015 with freshly shucked oysters
www.brokenwood.com.au

Tyrrell's Vat 1 Semillon 2002
96 points, $45, C, 10% alc
Nine gold medals stretching from 2002 to '07 demonstrate that this wine has been outstanding through its life so far. The colour is still pale and bright, and it has the feminine delicacy of all young(ish) Hunter semillons, yet possesses layer upon layer of a seamless mix of lemon, honey and acidity, toasty notes yet to come.
From Hunter Valley, NSW
Drink now-2015 with pan-fried barramundi
www.tyrrells.com.au

Yalumba The Virgilius Viognier 2007
95 points, $49.95, S, 14.5% alc
Chief winemaker Louisa Rose believes this to be one of the best Virgilius wines yet. It has high-toned blossom aromas; the palate is mouthfilling and unctuous without being phenolic or oily; apricot and almond flavours course through the length of a long palate, given texture from fermentation in older French oak.
From Eden Valley, SA
Drink now-2012 with quiche Lorraine
www.yalumba.com

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2005
97 points, $96, S, 14.5% alc
This is the most purebred and aristocratic of all Australian chardonnays. It has awesome power, grace, depth and finesse; pure grapefruit, nectarine and peach flesh aromas are framed by complex, toasty, grilled nuts; the palate is amazingly concentrated, yet portrays a lightness that is completely beguiling and incredibly long.
From Margaret River, WA
Drink now-2020 with marron
www.leeuwinestate.com.au


Reds over $20

The 2006 vintage is the lead player, but there are wines from every other vintage from '03 to '07 inclusive. In a reprise of last year, I could have chosen at least another 50 wines of near-identical style and quality, no more so than with the shiraz and shiraz viognier groups.

O'Leary Walker Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
95 points, $22.50, S, 14.5% alc
Low yielding vines in the very different Armagh and Polish Hill River subregions are the cornerstone, restrained winemaking inputs the icing on the cake. Rich, juicy blackcurrant fruit aromas are repeated on the medium-bodied palate, perfectly supported by ripe tannins, quality French oak completing the picture.
From Clare Valley, SA
Drink 2011-2021 with patience
www.olearywalkerwines.com

Henty Estate Shiraz 2006
96 points, $24, S, 14% alc
Hand-picking, hand-plunging and open-fermentation, basket pressing and French oak (new and used) maturation are time-honoured techniques used here. Intensely coloured, this utterly delicious medium-bodied wine is packed with perfectly ripe, spicy black cherry fruit, the tannins and French oak seamlessly integrated and balanced.
From Henty, Vic
Drink now-2020 with beef spare ribs
www.henty-estate.com.au

Bream Creek Pinot Noir 2006
95 points, $28, S, 13.5% alc
Vigneron/owner Fred Peacock is a viticultural legend in his own lifetime, this wine and the great 2005 Reserve proof of his skills. Deeply coloured, it has complex game and spice overtones to dark plum fruit; great flavour profile and length to a wine cruising along serenely as it approaches its third birthday.
From Southern Tasmania
Drink now-2013 with fresh venison

De Bortoli Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
95 points, $35, S, 13% alc
Elegance and harmony are the markers of all the De Bortoli wines. It was a toss up between this, the Pinot Noir and the Syrah, all equally good and all estate-grown. Bright crimson-purple; its seductively fragrant aromas lead into a bell-clear varietal palate with supple, silky mouthfeel and a long, harmonious finish.
From Yarra Valley, Vic
Drink 2010-2020 with braised beef and rosemary
www.debortoli.com.au

The Story Westgate Vineyard Shiraz 2006
96 points, $37.95, S, 14% alc
Owner/winemaker Rory Lane is a story in himself, although the name refers to the story of the vintage (and this single vineyard wine). First tasted in January, and again in August, this beautiful wine is poetry in motion, its palate with perpetual movement as the lively, spicy flavours wash back and forth, the elegant finish and aftertaste sheer perfection.
From Grampians, Vic
Drink 2010-2021 with stir-fried Szechwan beef
www.thestory.com.au

Smith & Hooper Reserve Merlot 2006
95 points, $39.95, C, 13% alc
High-quality merlots from Australia are rarer than hen's teeth, so don't look this one in the mouth. It is a distillation of the best grapes, then a selection of the best (French) barrels. Brightly fruited and clearly defined, its mouthwatering acidity provides a counterpoint to the vibrant red fruits, then a dry, slightly savoury, finish.
From Wrattonbully, SA
Drink now-2016 with Italian-style calf's liver
www.yalumba.com

Shaw & Smith Shiraz 2006
97 points, $40, S, 14% alc
For some arcane reason, this missed the tasting net for the Australian Wine Companion 2009, but it has made up for lost time starring in several line-ups since. Brilliant crimson, it has voluminous plum, black cherry and spice aromas, replayed on the very intense and focused palate, which has glorious length and line.
From Adelaide Hills, SA
Drink now-2015 with veal chops
www.shawandsmith.com

Spinifex Indigene 2006
95 points, $44, C, 14.8% alc
A blend of 69% shiraz and 31% mataro. It has vivid colour and floods the mouth with flavour the moment it enters, yet the flavours are not extravagant, and certainly not at all jammy; instead there is tobacco, spice and a touch of bitter chocolate to accompany the red and blackberry fruits and velvety tannins; terrific poise.
From Eden & Barossa Valleys, SA
Drink now-2017 with jugged hare
www.spinifexwines.com.au

John Duval Entity Shiraz 2006
96 points, $47, S, 14.5% alc
This is the second label shiraz made by former Penfolds Grange winemaker John Duval, at half the price of the Eligo. Saturated crimson-purple; it has achieved the density to guarantee a 30-year life without the least hint of overripe fruit or alcohol heat; perfect balance and integration of fruit, oak and tannins; the work of a master.
From Barossa Valley, SA
Drink 2011-2031 with braised ox tail
www.johnduvalwines.com

Paringa Estate 'Estate' Pinot Noir 2007
96 points, $60, S, 14.5% alc
Will owner/winemaker Lindsay McCall every make anything less than great pinot noir? Most unlikely. As ever, good depth and hue to an altogether serious pinot; magisterial depth to both the dark plum flavour and structure and the commensurate length.
From Mornington Peninsula, Vic
Drink now-2015 with duck breast
www.paringaestate.com.au

Voyager Estate Cabernet Merlot 2004
96 points, $60, S, 14.2% alc
A blend of 81% cabernet sauvignon, 14% merlot and 5% petit verdot, it spends 24 months in French oak, half new. Deeply coloured, it has a powerful bouquet and even more powerful palate; layers of blackcurrant and cassis are seamlessly interwoven with spicy oak, the tannins strong but perfectly balanced.
From Margaret River, WA
Drink now-2024 with butterflied leg of lamb
www.voyagerestate.com.au

Majella The Malleea 2005
96 points, $66, C, 15% alc
One of the foremost cabernet shiraz blends in Australia, the cabernet component 55% and shiraz 45%. Bright colour and hue; this is a truly delectable wine with thrust and vitality to the range of red and black fruits on both bouquet and palate; the two varieties and the oak are seamlessly welded together.
From Coonawarra, SA
Drink 2010-2020 with rare roast beef
www.majellawines.com.au

Bass Phillip Estate Pinot Noir 2007
96 points, $70, D, 12.8% alc
The estate vines are biodynamically grown and the wine is not filtered, all politically correct. The colour is slightly diffuse, but the hue is good. It is an extremely complex wine from start to finish with excellent mouthfeel and great length to the mix of wild strawberries, spice and plum (and hints of stem and smoke); lingering aftertaste.
From Gippsland, Vic
Drink now-2017 with Peking duck

Brand's Laira Coonawarra The Patron 2004
96 points, $74.99, S, 15% alc
The National Wine Show Cabernet Sauvignon Trophy is the most telling of all such awards, its five other trophies not surprising. It has great colour, the bouquet featuring a dusting of quality French oak, along with the exceptionally bright, flavoursome and juicy cassis and blackcurrant fruit on the very long palate; a wine of finesse and elegance.
From Coonawarra, SA
Drink now-2020 with parmagiana
www.mcwilliams.com.au

Wynns Coonawarra Estate John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
96 points, $75.99, S, 14 % alc
A wine that has flowered since first tasted a year ago; deeply coloured, the bouquet is starting to unfurl cassis and dark berry aromas, the palate offering wonderfully precise and clear ripe (but not overripe) varietal fruit. French oak adds spicy notes to the back-palate, the finish feasting on fine-grained tannins. Sue Hodder, take a bow.
From Coonawarra, SA
Drink 2010-2025 with lamb shoulder with rosemary and garlic
www.wynns.com.au

Balnaves of Coonawarra The Tally Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
96 points, $95, PC, 15% alc
From the best portions of two estate vineyards, and given 20 months maturation in new French oak. Beautifully delineated cassis fruit is framed by gently toasty oak and some floral notes; the palate is rich, deep, fine and very long; the brightness of fruit at the core is the essence of this wine, as is its harmony and balance.
From Coonawarra, SA
Drink 2011-2021 with slow-cooked lamb shanks
www.balnaves.com.au

Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2007
97 points, $95, S, 14% alc
The severe frosts that caused such widespread damage in the spring of 2006 hit Clonakilla hard, savagely reducing the eventual crop, the only compensation the extraordinary quality of this wine. It is hard to imagine how much more flavour could be generated at this alcohol; a perfumed bouquet and an Arabian night of dark berry flavours; the tannins show masterly winemaking at work.
From Canberra District, NSW
Drink now-2022 with Wagyu beef cheek
www.clonakilla.com.au

Woodlands Colin Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
96 points, $95, S, 13.5% alc
Has 95% cabernet sauvignon, 4% malbec and 1% cabernet franc (which spends 23 months in new French oak). A classic example of cabernet with leafy notes sitting gracefully on top of cassis and a little black olive complexity; rich yet fine on the palate, with fine-grained tannins; oak now starting to integrate.
From Margaret River, WA
Drink 2010-2020 with beef Provencale
www.woodlandswines.com

Brokenwood Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz 2006
96 points, $125, S, 13.5% alc
Fermented in two tonne open pots and matured in 80% new oak. Strong purple-crimson; has every bit of the intensity and structure expected of this wine, with a mix of red cherry, blackberry, French oak and a lilting finish thanks to spot-on acidity. Immaculate line, length and balance. A great Graveyard.
From Hunter Valley, NSW
Drink 2011-2026 with oven-roasted goat
www.brokenwood.com.au

Penfolds Grange 2003
95 points, $550, C, 14.5% alc
To be frank, I agonised over the inclusion of this wine, which is not in the same class as the 2002 or the forthcoming '04, '05 and '06 (a brilliant trio). But it is Australia's iconic red wine, and will improve out of sight over the next 20 years. Deep and bright colour; density and structure; the fruit is rich, but not spongy or dead. Ultra careful selection.
From Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, McLaren Vale, Magill, SA
Drink 2015-2030 (leave it in the cellar)
www.penfolds.com.au


Australian sparkling

I make no apology for failing to select sparkling wines priced under $20. They are perfectly pleasant drinks that will inevitably be purchased on store position and discount pricing, with little cause for contemplation. Those selected are in a different league.

Seppelt Original Sparkling Shiraz 2005
92 points, $20.99
Sparkling red wines were all the rage until the mid-1950s, one noted consumer describing them as 'pinky plonk, or paradise for two'. Seppelt breathed life back into the category in the late 1970s, and has stayed in front of the field. This entry-point version has complex, spicy black fruit flavours on the palate, which is neither oaky nor, praise be, sweet.
www.seppeltwines.com.au

Brown Brothers Pinot Noir Chardonnay Pinot Meunier NV
93 points, $23.50
The high-altitude Whitlands vineyard of Brown Brothers provides it with a continuous source of quality grapes, hence the consistency of this wine, and the trophy and gold medal success of this particular bottling. Straw-green, it has considerable complexity on the bouquet and palate, with nutty brioche nuances; it finishes with energy and hence considerable length.
www.brownbrothers.com.au

Petaluma Croser 2005
94 points, $35
First it was Salinger to topple from its throne, now it's Croser, like Salinger, well down the price totem pole it once headed. A blend of 60% pinot noir and 40% chardonnay from the Piccadilly Valley subregion of the Adelaide Hills, it is - as always - supremely elegant and understated, but has a little more mid-palate fruit than some prior vintages, and has particularly good length.
www.petaluma.com.au

Yarrabank Cuvee 2004
95 points, $38
Sourced from the Upper Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula, it contains 53% chardonnay and 47% pinot noir. The wine does not undergo malolactic fermentation and spends four years on yeast lees. With fine, persistent mousse it is a seamless blend of elegance, flavour and balance, with no one character dominant on the long, fine palate; the latest in a long series of outstanding sparklings.
www.yering.com

Domaine Chandon Vintage Brut 2005
95 points, $39
The blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meuniere is composed of 30 different multi-region components, and spent 24 months on lees. It is, without question, one of the best vintage bruts from Domaine Chandon for many years. Touches of biscuit and brioche are woven through delicious fruit flavours, the lingering, clean finish with perfect dosage.
www.chandon.com.au

Arras Pinot Noir Chardonnay 2002
95 points, $60
The genius of sparkling winemaker Ed Carr lies behind all the wines in this category made by Hardys. He is forthright in his view that the best base wines come from Tasmanian chardonnay and pinot noir, and Arras is 100% Tasmanian. Prolonged time on lees has given the wine a toasty/nutty streak, providing textural and flavour complexity to the bright core of white peach and citrus fruit, the finish as long and lingering as one could possibly wish for.
www.bayoffireswines.com.au

Primo Estate Joseph Sparkling Red NV
95 points, $65
'Here it is, the modern history of Australian wine in one bottle.' Disgorged in August 2007, it contains every vintage from the 1980s on, with some from the early '60s and '70s. The colour shows obvious development, and has very complex leather, spice, tar and licorice aromas, the mouthfilling flavours quite unique, oak inevitably part of the picture, but by no means excessively so.
www.primoestate.com.au

Hanging Rock Late Disgorged Macedon Cuvee Eight NV
95 points, $115
A blend of chardonnay and pinot noir from 1997, the remaining half from vintages back to and including '87, the components bottled in February '98, spending 10 years on lees before disgorgement in July '08. Unsurprisingly, extremely complex, with strong nutty brioche character ex lees; a very low dosage ensures elegance along with powerful flavour. Not the least acidic, and aldehydes just where they should be.
www.hangingrock.com.au


Champagne

I always squirm with the time-honoured but arbitrary division of the sparkling wine allocation of 12 champagnes, eight Australian sparklings. It increases the pressure on the champagne selection process, relieved only by the promise of a piece in the Weekend Travel and Indulgence section of The Australian closer to Christmas. That said, the 12 wines represent a cross section of the best non-vintage, vintage and rose styles. A word on price: $375 would not get you close to a First Growth Bordeaux from 2000, nor $260 for a Grand Cru Burgundy from any good maker from any vintage, let alone 1999.

Lanson Black Label Brut NV
92 points, $55
The least expensive of the Grand Marque champagnes, and one of the most consistent in style. It is one of relatively few makers to eschew the use of malolactic fermentation, which gives its wines an almost edgy crispness. This NV has vibrant and fresh stone fruit, citrus and spice flavours, the acidity obvious, but aiding structure, flavour and length. A wine that can safely be given extended cellaring (in appropriate conditions).
Imported by Champagne Lanson
Tel (07) 5527 2768

Pol Roger Reserve NV
93 points, $84.95
An equal blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meuniere that is a perennial favourite of numerous champagne drinkers in this country, and I count myself as one of those. Light, bright straw-green in colour, it has good mousse, and a clean and vibrant bouquet; the flavours run in a green apple, pear and citrus spectrum, with a long, lingering finish, and perfect dosage. It is best drunk sooner rather than later, and makes the perfect aperitif.
Imported by Samuel Smith & Son Pty
Tel (08) 8112 4200

Mumm Grand Brut Millésime 1999
94 points, $95
The trials and tribulations of Mumm between 1982 and 1994 are told in dramatic detail by Tom Stevenson in his World Encyclopedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wines. 1995 marked the turning point, with a return to what Stevenson calls 'the fresh, fluffy style of great finesse for which it was justly famous'. And, indeed, this is a delicate, albeit beautifully poised, vintage champagne, with a mix of nectarine, grapefruit and notes of brioche giving very appealing mouthfeel and line. As the only vintage champagne in the line-up selling for less than $100, its value for money is self-evident.
Contact Liquid Ideas
Tel (02) 9667 4211

Taittinger Prelude Grand Crus
95 points, $129.95
I am not convinced that this is a good name for a wine that is near the very top of the non-vintage champagnes, as it is made from a 50/50 blend of chardonnay and pinot noir coming solely from Grand Cru vineyards (which represent only 8.6% of the champagne AOC). Thus, within the Taittinger champagne group, it is not a prelude to anything, standing in its own right. Bright green-straw, it has excellent depth, structure and length, with nectarine, citrus and toast/brioche nuances; a classically long and dry finish.
Imported by McWilliam's Wines Pty
Tel (02) 9707 1266

Bruno Paillard Brut Premiere Rose NV
95 points, $130
Bruno Paillard was born in Champagne, but was, and is, an (exceptionally good) wine marketer, not a winemaker. His was the first business to be admitted to full 'House' (Negociant Manipulant) status in modern times. Salmon-pink, attesting to its 85% pinot noir/15% chardonnay composition, it has smoky/spicy/nettle nuances to the bouquet, opening with classic tight and savoury, no-compromise flavours, but opening up with lovely mouthfeel and texture on the finish.
Imported by Haviland Wine Merchants
Tel (02) 9929 3722

Veuve Clicquot Vintage Brut 2002
96 points, $132
Veuve Clicquot manages to combine very large production with very high quality wine, with a well-recognised and much admired vintage brut style, based on one-third chardonnay and two-thirds pinot noir. Take in the excellent 2002 vintage, and you have a glorious wine with utterly seductive texture from masses of sweet white fruits, cream and a hint of toast, supported by chalky acidity and a racy core; the finish is extremely long and focused. Arguably the best value wine in the selection.
Imported by Moet-Hennessy
Tel 02 8344 9900

Ayala Cuvee Rose Nature NV
95 points, $150
Ayala was dismissed by Tom Stevenson (pre-Bollinger) with faint praise, but has some exceptionally attractive wines, although Bollinger's influence at the winemaking coalface is yet to come. Thus, this wine has a 2002 vintage base, and was disgorged in September 2006. It is 53% chardonnay, 39% pinot noir and 8% pinot noir, red wine providing the salmon-pink colour. It has flowery apple blossom aromas, with a minerally/spicy/savoury background to the sweet fruit on the mid-palate, which balances the absolutely bone-dry, zero dosage, finish.
Imported by Fine Wine Partners
Tel 1300 668 712

Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill 1998
97 points, $219.95
This is one of the most celebrated deluxe cuvees, linked as it is to Churchill, and given a sense of mystery by the refusal of Pol Roger to disclose the percentage of pinot noir and chardonnay in the wine. This beautiful vintage edged out the Pol Roger 1999 Blanc de Blancs in a photo finish. Its quality is instantaneously obvious, full of power and grace with citrus blossom aromas, then deliciously fine, silky citrus and nectarine fruit which caresses the palate into paroxysms of joy, then a graceful finish inciting the next mouthful.
Imported by Samuel Smith & Son Pty
Tel (08) 8112 4200

Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque 1999
96 points, $260
The enamelled glass bottle is the most distinctive of all the deluxe champagnes, doing secondary duty as countless lamp stands around the world. The wine (50% chardonnay, 45% pinot noir, 5% pinot meunier) is much more than a pretty face, here surmounting the challenging vintage with a textural play between supple white peach fruit, chalky minerality, and a delicately creamy mouthfeel. It is noted for the way it develops in bottle over a decade or more.
Contact Liquid Ideas
Tel (02) 9667 4211

Dom Perignon Vintage 2000
97 points, $290
I am a no-holds-barred Dom addict, but I have to admit to being somewhat disappointed with the '99 vintage, which seemed altogether too delicate, verging on outright simplicity. I have no such reservations about the 2000 vintage, which has the Dom hallmark fluid line and feline grace encouraging the rapid consumption of glass after glass. Along the way you will find notes of nectarine, cherry, brioche and cream, which build into a gloriously long and even finish. It will continue to develop in bottle for decades to come.
Imported by Moet-Hennessy
Tel (02) 8344 9900

Louis Roederer Cristal Brut 2002
96 points, $375
Remorseless worldwide demand for this wine sees the declaration of more vintages than any other at this level (justified by the size of Roederer's vineyards allowing special care), and its release while it is still almost painfully youthful. However, if you don't snatch any bottle offered, it will be gone forever. Thus it has an extremely intense attack of citrus blossom and citrus rind, swelling into generous fruit on the mid-palate, given texture and structure by the racy, vibrant acidity on the finish. For the record, it is 55% pinot noir and 45% chardonnay.
Imported by Red + White
Tel (03) 8413 8310

Dom Perignon Oenoteque Vintage 1993
98 points, $570
The Oenoteque Collection was an accidental by-product of the awesome amount of Dom Perignon made each year a vintage is declared. It is now fully structured for the future, the release of back vintages from various decades when winemaker Richard Geoffroy considers a given wine is on a plenitude (literally, fullness of perfection). This is a quite startling bottle, multi-layered and multi-faceted, its exotic fruits balanced against a savoury grip, the finish building with amazing energy. This is for serious sipping and contemplation; no rapid consumption here.
Imported by Moet-Hennessy
Tel (02) 8344 9900

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