BEST WINES FOR SURVIVING A LOCKDOWN

 

Whites

Secret Label Margaret River Chardonnay 2020 – $10 at Kemenys. I’m always on the lookout for a decent $10 Chardonnay. It’s mission impossible most of the time, but we’re in luck here. This wine is made by a Margaret River winery that’s nowhere near anywhere, and it hits all the right notes: ripe peaches and nectarines, a whiff of oak on the nose but the oak knows its place, the palate is soft, round and mouth-filling. Perfect drinking over the next 12 months.

Rapaura Springs Sauvignon Blanc 2020 – $11 at Liquorland. Strong on the aromatics, not all that tangy but crunchy enough, with a clean line of acid to keep it all neat and tidy. Very morish.

Hidden Label Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2020 – $12 at Kemenys. The wine is made by Darryl Catlin who used to make the savvies for Shaw & Smith; now he makes wine for Sidewood, also in the Adelaide Hills. Similar quality at half the price.

Hidden Label Adelaide Hills Pinot Gris 2020 – $12 at Kemenys, this is the sibling of the previous wine, just as well made and just as much of a bargain.

Hidden Label Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2020 – $13 at Kemenys. It’s either Tomich or Sidewood, both good wineries, and the wine is a winner and a serious bargain. Check Tony Love’s review at the link. 94 points.

Tar & Roses Pinot Grigio 2020 – $17 at Summer Hill Wine. Full-bodied style that delivers a lot of luscious flavour for the money. Rich and round, ginger and Turkish delight, hard to resist, serious value. 93 points.

Kumeu River Village Chardonnay 2019 – $19 at Kemenys. A soft and seductive chardy from this great winery north-west of Auckland, as seamless as Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. It’s just a gorgeous mouthful of fruit and nuts that keeps you coming back for more. Bob Campbell calls it a ‘pour me another glass texture’. I bought a dozen of it, and have only 3 bottles left. Kemenys is about the last source of the 2019. 94 points.

K1 by Geoff Hardy Gruner Veltliner 2019 – $22 at MyCellars, where the freight is free for subscribers on any quantity. This is a deceptive variety with a very light footprint. Ethereal almost. It mixes floral and savoury characters with hints of green apples and fennel. It opened up over a couple of days, revealing pears and minerals. 93 points. It’s different, and interesting.

Tahbilk Grenache Mourvedre Rose 2020 – $17 at Kemenys. Cherries and raspberries with a squeeze of pomegranate. Close to perfect pitch, sharp price. 94 points.

Cullen Dancing in the Moonlight Rose 2020 – $22 at Kemenys. Gorgeous wine, as you would expect from Vanya Cullen who is one of Australia’s best winemakers, at a modest price. The vineyard is certified organic, and the wine is a blend of all the red varieties grown at Cullen. 94 points.

Reds

Secret Label Margaret River Cabernet Merlot 2018 – $10 at Kemenys. Another giant-killer from that winery that’s nowhere near anywhere. A real smooth talker. Won the Trophy for Best Red Blend at the National Wine Show of Australia 2019. 92 points.

Colinas De Lisboa Red Blend 2018 – $12 at DM’s. A Portuguese red made from Castelao; Camarate; Tinta Minda; Touriga Nacional. It’s different, it’s gentle and elegant, couldn’t be more different from our Barossa fruit bombs. At barely 13% alcohol, it’s easy on the gums and on the head the next morning. 91 points.

Shingleback Red Knot Shiraz 2019 – $12 at DM’s. These guys make good reds in McLaren Vale; this is an impressive red for the money that serves up ripe, juicy fruit on a vibrant palate, a lick of oak and a fresh acid backbone. 92 points. Will please crowds.

Secret Label Clare Valley Shiraz 2019 – $14 at Kemenys. Seductive red at a give-away price. Check my review at the link. Bargain Buy.

Luccarelli Negroamaro – $15 at Wine Sellers Direct. Another soft, seductive rustic red variety, this time from its home in Puglis at the heel of the boot that is Italy. A lockdown is an opportunity to explore new varieties and flavours. 92 points.

Calabria Private Bin Montepulciano 2019 – $15 at the winery. This family winery has gone from strength to strength, and recently bought the McWilliams operation in Griffiths. The wines under the private bin label are full-of-flavour and Italian charm. Real bargains, grab some of their Nero d’Avola while you’re there. 92 points.

Majella the Musician Cabernet Shiraz 2018 – $17 at Kemenys. They hit the bull’s eye this vintage, with a rich, full-flavoured classic blend of Cabernet and Shiraz. Dark fruits do the talking, with oak in the backseat. Medium-bodied, smooth with fine tannins on the finish.. Perfect pitch. Will improve for years. 94 points, serious value. 5 golds and 2 tropies, plus wine of the year from Winestate with 97 points.

Naked Run The Aldo Grenache 2019 – $19 at MyCellars. A new ones for me, made by Steve Baraglia of Pyikes from ancient vines. 95 points and a rave review from Jane Faulkner at the link. Grenache and some of its blends are comfort wines, aren’t they? So soft and slurpable.

Turkey Flat Butcher’s Block Red Blend 2017 – $20 at Summer Hill Wine. This is an old favourite, a Grenache Shiraz Mataro (Mourvedre) that still delivers in spades at a bargain price. So much flavour crammed into a bottle – dark cherries and blackberries, pepper, spices and charcuterie, licorice and earth, not too big and heavy, great line and length. 95 Points. Serious bargain.

Vasse Felix Filius Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 – $20 at Winestar. Every now and then, you come across a wine that far exceeds your expectations. This is one of those, a perfect Cabernet: cool and classy, dark fruits polished with fine oak, medium weight, silky texture, real finesse, great line and length, perfect pitch. Already good drinking but the balance will see it live for years. Made from Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon, a bucket of Malbec and a drop of Petit Verdot. 96 points. BUY.

Sons of Eden Kennedy Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre – $22 at Nicks. Power and Polish. Perfect pitch. I don’t know how these guys do it at this price level. Nicks’ review is on the money. 95+ points.

Geddes Seldom Inn Grenache 2018 – $23 at MyCellars, where the freight is free for subscribers on any quantity (promo code BWU20). The fruit for this red comes from old bush vines near Blewitt Springs, not far from Yangarra. The area has the highest altitude, highest rainfall and coolest winters in McLaren Vale.
Bush vines they might be but Tim Geddes has turned out a polished performer here, smooth as silk and not one hair out of place. Under the glossy surface, we find plums and red cherries in a medium-bodied frame, good length and balance, drinking well already but will keep for a year or two. Perfect pitch. 95 points. Underpriced!

That’s my review from months ago. Meanwhile The Young Gun of Wine has published the results of a Grenache tasting, where this wine came third among a lot of fancy labels costing 3 and 4 times as much. It was Steve Webber’s (de Bortoli) top wine of the tasting. His take: ‘Spice, grace, perfume, gentle tannin, pinot-like.’

Bubbles

Seppelt The Great Entertainer Sparkling Shiraz NV – $10 at DM’s. New label, haven’t tried it but it’s hard to see how you could go wrong with this wine from the oldest maker of this style at this price.
Black Chook Sparkling Shiraz Nv – $20 at Windirect. The EOFY sale makes this rich and ripe red bubbly irresistible. Alexia Roberts at Penny’s Hill is turns out stunning McLaren Vale reds every year, but keeps a low profile. She’s pitched this crowd-pleasing bubbly just right – it’s opulent and wholly seductive but has enough discipline to get away with it. 93 points.

Dessert Wines

Buller Premium Fine Muscat 375ml – $9.50 at Dan M’s. A great example of the Rutherglen  Muscat style. It’s fairly light on its feet but hits all the right notes of raisins, toffee and honey. 93 points. Serious bargain.

Campbells Rutherglen Topaque 375mL – $18 at Dan M’s. My favourite Tokay anywhere near $20, just pips the Morris model at the post with a tad more flavour. These are just gorgeous dessert wines at give-away prices. 95 points.

SPECIAL WINES

Pirie Sparkling NV – $25 at Kemenys. One of our best sparkling wines made down under, from the apple isle. Masterful, and a bargain at this price. Check Halliday’s review at the link. 95 points.

Oakridge Local Vineyard Series Henk Chardonnay 2018 – $34 at Jimurphy. I prefer the 2018 to the 2019 at the moment since it’s richer, rounder and more full-flavoured. As good as it gets for me – be quick though, this is the last source I can find. 96 points.

Turkey Flat Grenache 2019 – $32 at Wine Experience. I haven’t tried this vintage but Gary at the Wine Front has: ‘It has a lovely perfume that’s kind of warm and comforting. It smells of brown spices, dried flowers and herbs, golden fruitcake, raspberries and poached strawberries. It’s juicy and ripe in fruit, but earthy and shot through with sweet spices and orange peel. Tannin is a little gritty and grippy, and the finish is long, saline and stony. It’s a really good wine. It will be better with a few more years under its belt.’

Wynns Black Label Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 – $33 at Winestar. I’ve opened a few older black labels in recent months, and confirmed what bargains they are. We enjoyed a stunning 2006, and a 2009 that surprised us since it’s not seen as one of the better vintages. The 2013 is the most youthful and full-flavoured, rich, dense and concentrated but not heavy. The seductive cassis fruit is backed by subtle pencil shavings oak, good line and length, and fine tannins on the finish. Classic Black Label with years in front of it. 96 points. Bargain.

The famous black label and the winemaker behind it: Sue Hodder

John Vickery is to Riesling what Max Schubert is to Shiraz

 

If Max Schubert and John Vickery had been making wine in Germany, John would be the more famous of the two by far. Why? Because John made the best Rieslings down under for decades, and Riesling is the King of wine in Germany.

John’s career makes a fascinating story since it reflects the evolution of Australia’s table wine industry with its colourful characters and mad excesses. Leo Buring hired John Vickery straight out of Roseworthy College in 1955. In those days, most wine grapes in the Barossa, Eden and Clare valleys were produced by growers who sold them to the few wineries that existed then. Winemakers like John Vickery had access to the best material, and he earned his early stripes here.

Over the years, John’s attention to detail and obsession with cleanliness in the winery became the stuff of legend, and having to ship the newly made wines to Leo Buring’s bottling plant in Redfern in 4000 litre steel railway carriages must’ve given him nightmares. Despite these obstacles, he made Rieslings in the sixties and seventies under the Leo Buring label that served as benchmarks to other winemakers for decades.

John Vickery was a genius with Riesling, but few people know that he made the reds for Lindemans’ Coonawarra operations from 1974 to 1980. He won a Jimmy Watson Trophy for the 1980 St George.

Lindemans

Leo Buring also owned a vineyard called Florita, which was planted to the Sherry grapes Palomino and Pedro Ximinez. Sherry was the most popular wine down under in the 1950s and early sixties, and Leo Buring sold his under the Florita Fino label.

Leo died in 1961 aged 85, and Lindemans CEO Ray Kidd bought the company. Ray foresaw the market turning toward table wine early on, and had created Ben Ean Moselle in the late fifties when he was winemaker at Lindemans’ Corowa winery near Rutherglen.

Ray Kidd told me that Hamilton’s Ewell Moselle was the market leader of this new, slightly sweet, low alcohol wine style that was becoming ever more popular ‘with the ladies’. It was made from Pedro Ximinez and Verdelho, believe it or not; Ben Ean was a blend of Hunter Semillon and South Australian Riesling.

The Classics

In the early seventies, the farsighted Ray Kidd had begun laying down some of Lindemans’ best wines in the cellars of the company’s Nyrang St, Auburn (Sydney) headquarters. Lindemans Nyrang Hermitage and Auburn Burgundy paid an interesting tribute to the company’s location and vast cellars.

In the eighties, Lindemans began releasing some of these wines in regular tranches. There were two levels of releases: Classic and Fine Aged Premium. The Classics were expensive but included the great Hunter Semillons made by Karl Stockhausen, alongside the Reserve Rieslings made by John Vickery – all from that golden era which produced wines like none before or since. Here’s a later piece from Chris Shanahan on this topic, with more details.

The real bargains were found among the FAPs, though: I remember buying loads of a 1967 Hunter River Burgundy, a lovely soft red that had been eclipsed by its more muscly 1966 and 1965 siblings. To me, the 1967 was a classic Hunter Shiraz: soft, sweet and earthy, medium bodied and smooth, light on its feet yet perfectly balanced. We drank it over the next ten years, and every bottle was a delight.

The program was such a success that Ray Kidd wanted to expand the cellars at Auburn but the cost accountants at Philip Morris put an end to that idea. In 1986, they decided to move the cellars to Karadoc and just leave the offices at Auburn Street.

Wineries Rebirthed

In the early nineties, with Lindemans sold to Heinz and CEO Ray Kidd retired, John Vickery was making Riesling once again: this time for Richmond Grove. This shingle used to adorn a Hunter Valley winery that fell into the corporate meat grinder and ended up in the hands of Orlando Wyndham, who moved the cellar door to Chateau Leonay in the Barossa.

This must’ve been a strange déjà vu for John Vickery who made wines for Leo Buring here decades ago. He just got on with the job as usual, and made more splendid Rieslings there until he retired in 2009. Vickery was one of the early champions of the Stelvin cap, and his classic steel capped Rieslings helped other winemakers see the light.

Wine Makers Revitalised

In 2014 John Vickery was once again making Riesling, under yet another label: his own. He was 82, the same age another Barossa Great was when he died  the year before – Peter Lehmann. As it happens, Peter’s youngest son Phil is helping John with the making of these new Rieslings. Phil is the chief winemaker at WD Wines, which is owned by the Hesketh family in Adelaide.

It was Robert Hesketh who financed Peter Lehmann decades ago after Saltram fell into the hands of Dalgetty. The new owners told Peter to cut Saltram’s growers loose, but he told Dalgetty to jump and started Masterson Wines which later became Peter Lehmann Wines. He took the name from a mad gambler in a Damon Runyon story. More on that below.

I guess Robert lured John Vickery out of retirement in 2014 by offering to give him his own label. Just as he did in the old days, John made Rieslings from The Clare and Eden Valleys – one brand, two labels, recently joined by ‘reserve’ labels. He and Phil Lehmann made some great wines together, until Phil left in 2018 to focus on his own label ‘Max & Me’, and his new winemaking contracts with Mountadam and Eden Hall.

Andrew Hardy took over as chief winemaker at WD Wines, and Keeda Zilm now makes the Vickery Rieslings, with John looking over her shoulder. John is 88 now, and still going strong. He won some 50 trophies and 400 gold medals for his employers in over 50 years of winemaking. What a life, and what a legacy.

Photo credit: John Krüger

Footnote

The Masterson label came about because Peter Lehmann was a great fan of Damon Runyon’s Guys and Dolls stories from the 1920s and 30s. They featured gangsters, gamblers and other characters of the New York underworld, and Sky Masterson was one of these: a gambler willing to bet on anything.

The final twist in this stoy is that my Dad was a mad keen fan of Damon Runyon’s stories. I loved them too, despite reading them in their German translation (I grew up in Germany). It boggles the mind how a writer can capture New York slang in a German translation but this one had succeeded. I’d love to find a copy of the book somewhere.

Additional Reading

The Rise and fall of Ben Ean Moselle, via The Conversation

Lindemans – Death By a Thousand Cuts. What’s left? Low Calorie Confections and Fairy Floss

John Vickery – Riesling Meister, People of Wine. Really comprehensive insights and images by photographer Milton Worldley

Florita — the story of a vineyard, by Chris Shanahan

Gallipoli – a Story Without Words

The Gallipoli Art Prize

On the weekend after Anzac Day 2012, there was a tiny notice in the SMH about the Gallipoli Art Prize and an exhibition of the entrants at the Gallipoli Club in Loftus St near Circular Quay. We went to see the paintings, and there’s not much I to add since they say so much. We were the only visitors there that Sunday, which made us sad because every Australian should see these.

Gallipoli-April 2012 021

More >>

Best Aussie Chardonnays 2021

 

Looking for the Sweet Spot on the Sane Side of the Price Scale

PLEASE NOTE: I’ve turned this list upside down so it now starts with our shortlist, and some context. Below our top list, you’ll find the top chardies from the Wine Front, Real Review and James Halliday.

Most of us aren’t swimming in money, which tends to limit our capacity to buy $100 bottles. The good news is that the law of diminishing returns sets in early on the price curve – around about $20. The Hoddles Creek Estate from the Yarra Valley has been the standard setter here for some time, and it can hold its head high in more exalted company.

The Scorpo Aubaine Chardonnay from the Mornington Peninsula sets a new standard for under $30 chardies (see below). It makes the Vineyard Series chardies from Oakridge look a tad expensive, at prices now heading for $35 a bottle. They’re good chardies though. Beyond $30, the difference in quality becomes hard to see. For example, going from the 2018 Henk to the 864 Funder & Diamond 2017 at twice the price is not a dramatic leap but more of a baby step. And the steps get smaller beyond that point.

The BWU$20 Shortlist

As usual. all the wines listed here are available at the time of writing. The reason Dappled Chardonnay is missing is that Shaun Crinion sold his tiny production within weeks of the 2019 release around the middle of last year.

Hill-Smith Estate Eden Valley Chardonnay 2019 – $18 at Nicks. A business class wine at an economy class price. This wine comes from Hill-Smith Family Vineyards, which is the umbrella name for the thriving family business known as Yalumba. It’s got a lot going for it apart from the modest asking price; Nick’s review is on the money as usual. 94 points.

Kumeau River Village Chardonnay 2019 – $19 at Kemenys. I admit to having a soft spot for this wine from the northern suburbs of Auckland. It’s just such pleasant drink, soft and round and gentle and seamless, with a silky texture that makes it slip down the hatch too easily. 94 points.

Hoddles Creek Estate Chardonnay 2020 – $20 at MyCellars. Finer and more restrained than the 2019, which packed a bigger punch. I’d have picked this as coming from Beechworth, it’s so neat and linear and squeaky clean. Stone fruits touched with subtle oak and faint spices, excellent balance and great line and length. Just needs time to put on some muscle. 94+ points.

Beechworth Estate Chardonnay 2018 – $25 at Nicks. 30% new French oak, 10 months on lees, light to medium bodied, white peaches and a touch of apricot kernel, almonds and oatmeal. Vibrant, clean and linear in the Beechworth manner, this wine put on weight over 3 days of tasting, and became richer and rounder. A remarkable transformation. 95 points.

Scorpo Aubaine Chardonnay 2019 – $28 at Nicks. A great chardie from the Mornington Peninsula. It has enough flesh on its bones, the fruit is white peachy, the oak nods toward cashews, there’s a soft  touch of struck match. It’s a vibrant chardy, full of life and flavour. A second bottle was a knockout. Perfect pitch. 96 points. This is the new joker in our deck; you’d be hard-pushed finding a better chardy for less than $50. I’ve ordered another 6-pack.

Isabel Marlborough Chardonnay 2019 – $28 at DM’s. The fruit is stronger than the 2018, classic stone fruits and almonds; it’s a big mouthful, and the oak is a touch less heavy here. Less obvious struck match funk too. Well integrated already, and good drinking but will improve over the next year or two. 95 points.

Hill-Smith Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2018 – $28.50 in a 6-pack at Just Wines. This wine is more complex than its Eden Valley sibling, and much harder to find. There are white peaches, nectarines, a hint of struck match, a twist of lemon and classy almond oak. The integration is seamless, with great finesse a creamy texture and minerals on the finish. Has more in the tank as well. 95+ points.

Hidden Label Special Reserve Chardonnay 2016 – $29 at Kemenys. Tyrrells Vat 47 that hides behind this bland label, and it’s made in the modern style adopted by Tyrrells in recent years: delicate, restrained, lots of finesse at the expense of full flavour. Hunter Chardonnay in a Yarra Valley costume. It’s a good wine, just not generous enough for my old-school taste. 95 points.

Oakridge Vineyard Series Henk  Chardonnay 2018 – $34 at Jim Murphy’s or Grays. The 2018 is just about all gone, but I dug up a couple of sources. It’s a little bigger than most of David Bicknell’s chardies, perfect weight in my view. Just gives it bit more body to fill out the perfect frame. Classic stone fruits, oatmeal and hazelnuts, good depth of flavour that lingers. What a terrific Chardonnay! 96 points.

Oakridge VS Henk Chardonnay 2019 – $32 at Cloudwine or $33 at MyCellars where the freight is free for subscribers (promo code BWU20). See Huon Hooke’s review above. To me it’s finer, fresher and crisper than the 2018, full of vibrant energy, a bit nervy at this stage, just needs another year or two to settle down. 95 points heading for 96 in my book.

Merricks Estate Chardonnay 2018 – $33 at Nicks. As fine as spun silk, there’s obvious class right from the first glass, delicate stone fruits and just the right touch of oak, and that hint of apricot kernel that you see in great white Burgundies. Slippery texture with a touch of cream, stunning wine from the Mornington Peninsula. 96 points.

Domaine Naturaliste Floris Chardonnay 2019 –  $30 at Wineseek. This wine has sold out rapidly, and this is the last source I can find. It was $25 at MyCellars, and I hope you grabbed some there in the last few weeks. They tell me there’s no more stock available – the 2020 vintage will be out next.

Is the 2019 worth $30? Yes, but it’s no longer the bargain it was. Huon Hooke’s review nails it better than I can: ‘Very light, bright yellow colour. A reserved bouquet of subtle smoky, nutty and toasty nuances; gentle sulfides. The palate is round and soft, rich and fleshy, with tremendous depth and density. The acidity is energising and the palate superbly penetrative and lingering. A top chardonnay.” – 96 Points & 5 Stars 

Tyrrells Belford Hunter Chardonnay 2015 – $34 at Kemenys. Another Hunter Chardonnay from the old firm, and another modern style though with a bit more flavour. Gets 95 points from both Gary W at TWF and from James H. Check the reviews and the bling at the link

Dog Point Chardonnay 2018 – $34 at Summer Hill Wine.  I haven’t tried the 2018 yet, but have been impressed by previous vintages. Bob Campbell MW at the Real Review says it’s a ‘Very stylish chardonnay with purity and power. Tangy, vibrant wine with citrus, green apple, oyster-shell, ginger and baguette crust flavours. A bright, youthful, high-energy wine that gives a nod in the direction of Burgundy. 96 points.’

Dexter Mornington Penisula Chardonnay 2019 – $35 at Nicks. This is a work of art, with all the elements fitting together like the precision parts of a classic Swiss watch. White peaches and cashews, superfine oak and minerals, seamless with a big S, intense flavour, terrific length, a fine line of grapefruit my only slight quibble. Otherwise pitch-perfect Chardonnay and a serious bargain. About as good as it gets at any price. 96 points.  

Shaw + Smith M3 Chardonnay 2019 – $43 at Winestar or $47 at MyCellars where the freight is free for subscribers on any quantity (promo code BWU20), and where you’ll find 3 reviews for this wine. All are 96 points and big raves. I don’t rate it that highly and much prefer the 2018 which has more tension, complexity and finesse to my mind. I found the 2019 riper, rounder and less interesting. 93 points. Maybe I had an off day.

The ABC of Aussie Chardonnay – Background & Context

Chardonnay is a very different style of white wine from the aromatic varieties Riesling, Sauvignon Blance, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. Serious Chardonnay is made like red wine: fermented and stored in small oak barrels, usually a mix of new and one- or two-year old. Like good reds, Chardonnays tend to improve for up to 10 years.

In the eighties, when local Chardonnay became available in greater volume, it soon became the new white everybody wanted to drink more of. The most popular style was the big sun-drenched, gutsy kind of chardy full of ripe peaches, as smooth as butter, with toasty oak riding shotgun.

The early naughties saw a backlash in the form of the ABC movement – Anything But Chardonnay. Drinkers began looking for more finesse in their chardies, and a new generation of young gun winemakers was ready to push the pendulum to the other side. The new model was Twiggy, not Jane Mansfield. Some of the wines were mean and lean, anaemic and emaciated, others offered a bad acid trip.

Gunflint and Woodsmoke

The  return to sanity was a gradual one, with the malolactic fermentation the main sticking point. The ‘malo’ is a secondary fermentation that turns mean, green malic acid into the softer lactic acid that gives chardies a rich, creamy texture. The young guns abhorred the buttery chardies of old and tended to avoid ‘the malo’ and the offending diacetyl, the compound responsible.  They also picked their fruit earlier to reduce ripeness and increase freshness.

The malo doesn’t just produce butter and cream  mind you, it also adds complexity. To make their chardies more fascinating, the young guns used wild yeasts, barrel fermentation and months on lees combined with batonnage, a French term for stirring settled yeast lees back into the wine. That only worked up to a point, so these days many winemakers allow the malo in a small proportion of their chardies.

They discovered new tricks such as sulphide notes that make us think of struck matches. These are the result of ‘reductive’ wine making techniques designed to prevent oxygenation. The UK’s queen of the grape Jancis Robinson provides more detail in ‘Struck-match wines – reductio ad absurdum?’. She has a point: in last year’s survey, a number of wines we tasted were spoilt by this artefact, and one highly rated wine was rendered undrinkable.

The result of these contortions and unnatural acts are altered states which, like radical plastic surgery, have rendered old favourites unrecognisable. Tyrrell’s Chardonnays from the Hunter, once loved for their generous proportions, now present as delicate cool climate wines, barely touching 13% alcohol. The First Creek wines of Liz Silkman follow the same style.

A few weeks ago, I saw two Chardonnays from McLaren Vale with an alcohol rating of 12.5%. They cannot be serious, I thought. Why don’t they make big sunny, generous chardies in a place that’s perfect for making big ripe and generous wines? Why are all these winemakers still in love with Twiggy?

Yes, there’s still a way to go.

Top Chardonnays at the Wine Front, Real Review and James Halliday

The 3 amigos at The Wine Front have published their Chardonnay Review for the year 2020. After my huge survey last year of many expensive but underwhelming wines on TWF’s top list, I had no desire to repeat the exercise. For one thing, many of the top-rated wines on this year’s TWF list are no longer available, and consistency is not a big feature – this year’s list.

The prices for the top Chardonnays listed by TWF range from $50 to $150. That’s getting up there, although you could argue that white Burgundies from Montrachet range in price from $1,000 to $10,000. I would argue that these bottles are luxury goods not wines.

As always, we look for a sweet spot in the price range, a place where quality and cost intersect to best effect. In Huon Hooke’s top list of 2019 Chardonnays I found a joker in the pack: the Oakridge Henk Chardonnay 2019. It came third in a strong field, at a fraction of the price of the main contenders. This is the kind of joker we love to see, and you can buy it for just $32.

Here’s Huon’s tasting note: ‘Bright, light colour, with a cashew nut aroma, attractive underlying complexities which continue through the palate. Intense and refined, precise and direct with long-lasting flavour and real finesse. A delicious wine. Pure fruit drives the wine magnificently. Great line and length. My pick of the 2019 Oakridge chardies. 97 Points.

I didn’t think my sample was worth 97 points, but it had all the positive elements Huon mentions. It’s finer, fresher and crisper than the 2018, full of vibrant energy, and just needs another year or two to settle down. 95 points heading for 96 in my book.

The Real Review’s top list of 2019 Chardonnays

98 POINTS

  • Flametree SRS Wallcliffe
  • Cullen Kevin John

97 POINTS

  • Oakridge LVS Henk
  • Mewstone d’Entrecasteaux Channel
  • Deep Woods Estate Reserve
  • Tolpuddle
  • Lake’s Folly Hill Block
  • Vasse Felix Heytesbury
  • Fraser Gallop Paladian
  • By Farr GC Cote

96 POINTS

  • Domaine Naturaliste Floris
  • Soumah Single Vineyard Hexham
  • Paralian Adelaide Hills

There’s a second joker in Huon’s pack: the Domaine Naturaliste Floris, which you can buy for $25. I got hold of a bottle, and loved every mouthful. Our Wine of The Week, without hesitation. See my review below.

The Wine Front’s 2021 list of best Chardonnays

97  POINTS

  • 2018 Giaconda Chardonnay,
  • 2018 Fraser Gallop Estate Palladian Chardonnay
  • 2018 Cobaw Ridge Chardonnay
  • 2018 Pierro Chardonnay

96+ POINTS

  • 2018 Soumah Equilibrio Chardonnay
  • 2018 Sorrenberg Chardonnay
  • 2018 Savaterre Chardonnay
  • 2018 Dappled ‘Les Verges’ Chardonnay
  • 2019 Entropy Chardonnay
  • 2019 Penfolds Reserve Bin 19A Chardonnay
  • 2016 Bell Hill Chardonnay, 2018 Cloudburst Chardonnay

These Chardonnays cover a price range from $50 to $100+. The only joker I saw here was the Collector Tiger Tiger 2017 Tumbarumba Chardonnay in the 96 points group. The 2017 is long gone, but you can buy the 2018 for $33. I grabbed some, given the good reviews from JH (97)and HH (95), but found it simple, lacking ripeness, concentration, texture and other redeeming features. Huon mentions positive notes of Parmesan, which got up my nose. I also got a whiff of unripe fruit in the mix that left a faint sour note. Underwhelming.

James Halliday’s Top Chardonnays 2021

The Wine Companion’s 2021 list has also seen major changes in the pecking order: Gone are Moss Wood, Deviation Road, Ochota Barrels, Penfolds Reserve Bin A, Evans & Tate Redbrook, Flowstone Queen of the Earth, GC by  Farr, Fraser Gallop, Robvert Oatley’s Pennant, Garagiste Terre Maritime and Toolangi Paul’s Lane. That’s 3/4 of the list. Here’s the latest:

99 POINTS

  • Penfolds bin 144 Yattarna 2017
  • Leeuwin Estate Art Series 2017

98 POINTS

  • Shaw & Smith Lenswood 2017
  • Shaw & Smith M3 2018
  • Giaconda 2017
  • Clyde Park Block C 2019
  • Singlefile The Vivienne 2017
  • Vasse Felix Heytesbury 2018
  • Tolpuddle 2018
  • Giant Steps 2019
  • Hoddles Creek Roadblock 2017
  • Mount Mary 2018

The joker in Halliday’s pack is the Shaw & Smith M3 Chardonnay 2018. That vintage is a cracker but long gone by now; the 2019 sells for a moderate $45 but  impressed me less than the 2018. It scores 96 points with CM at TWF, James Suckling (Nick Stock) and Nick’s.

 

How safe is the Astra-Zeneca Covid vaccine?

 

I’m often astonished how the media tease sensational headlines from trivia, while they ignore the elephant in the room. And so it is with Covid vaccines.

In April 2021, the European Medicines Agency’s safety committee declared that unusual blood clots with low blood platelets should be listed as very rare side effects of the Covid-19 vaccine from Astra-Zeneca.

The Committee reviewed 62 cases of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis and 24 cases of splanchnic vein thrombosis reported in the EU drug safety database by22 March 2021. In this total of 86 cases, 18 were fatal. Given the millions of doses of this vaccine administered so far, the risk of these adverse events is very small.

It’s difficult to compare the adverse events of this vaccine to other vaccines in common use, since cause and effect are generally difficult to establish with accuracy. So I checked a couple of drugs in widespread use for Adverse Events to put the blood clots in perspective, and this is what I found:

Daily Aspirin Linked To More Than 3,000 Deaths Per Year, Scientists Warn.’ This was the headline in the Huffpost in 2017. People have long been advised to take daily-low dose aspirin to prevent blood clots. The Oxford Vascular Study, which recruited over 3,000 participants, found that people aged 75 and over with a history of heart attacks or strokes were at the highest risk of death from low-dose aspirin.

A retrospective analysis of data on paracetamol‐related exposures, hospital admissions, and deaths found that between 2007 and 2016, there were 95,668 admissions with paracetamol poisoning. Some 200 deaths were registered, and over 1800 cases of Toxic Liver Disease. Paracetamol overdose is the most common cause of fulminant hepatic failure in the USA (40% of cases), and paracetamol overdose is by far and away the number one reason for lives transplants.

Aspirin and paracetamol are over-the-counter drugs, so what about prescription drugs? ‘Benzodiazepines (benzos) were involved in more drug-induced deaths in 2016 than heroin and methadone combined,’ the ABC reported, ‘but you would be hard-pressed to find any stories warning of their dangers on the front pages.

Aspirin and paracetamol are both over-the-counter drugs, so what about prescription drug? ‘Benzodiazepines were involved in more drug-induced deaths in 2016 than heroin and methadone combined,’ the ABC reported, ‘but you would be hard-pressed to find any stories warning of their dangers on the front pages.’ Deaths from opiods, heroin and methadone number around 20,000 a year in the USA. Valium and Xanax are popular benzos.

Prescription Drug Safety

The bigger picture is this:  Misuse, under-use, overuse of, and reactions to therapeutic drugs alone result in 140,000 hospital admissions a year in Australia. The report at the link estimates that as many as 150,000 health care associated infections (in hospitals mostly) occur down under each year, some of these caused by Multi-drug-Resistant Organisms like golden staff. Infections with MROs are much more difficult to treat, and tend to have poorer outcomes for patients. More HERE.

Reliable data on deaths from prescription drugs are hard to come by in Australia, but US data suggest that every year 128,000 people die from drugs correctly prescribed to them.

Putting that number into perspective, deaths from correctly prescribed drugs in the USA exceed the combined number of deaths caused by traffic accidents, opioid-heroin-cocaine overdoses, homicides and firearms. Causes of death in the USA are:

We do have some much bigger problems in medicine than a few blood clots caused by vaccines. No doubt more adverse events will come to light over time but, for vaccines that were rushed into production, the current adverse events are surprisingly small in number.

Wynns Black Label Hits Purple Patch

 

I updated the section that lists the available wines at the end of this post, in February 2021. Vintages 2018 to 2010 are all still available, albeit at higher prices than a year ago. The exception is the terrific 2013 which is $33 at Winestar right now – grab some while you can. The 2011 is long gone as there was very little made because of the wet vintage; the 2009, 2008 and 2007 are also gone; auctions are the only option for these vintages.

Wynn’s black label Cabernet has been in top form since about 2006,. We have Sue Hodder and her team to thank for that, one of the longest partnerships in Australian wine. Viticulturist Alan Jenkins has worked with Sue for about 3 decades, and winemaker Sarah Pidgeon joined them 23 years ago. Sue says the Black label Cabernet is still the most important wine they make in Coonawarra, even though her team has created a bunch of much more expensive labels.

That’s not propaganda. Huon Hooke posts lists on his website that show his scores of wines from specific varieties, areas and vintage years. His list of Top 2010 Cabernet Sauvignons from Coonawarra has the 2010 black label in second place out of 50, on 97 points, just behind Wynn’s Messenger, and in front of Alex 88, Leconfield, John Riddoch, Penfolds Bin 169 and Yalumba’s Menzies. The John Riddoch is over $100, and the Penfolds over $300. The 2012 black label did even better, scoring 98 points and grabbing the No 1 spot from 56 competitors. 

Miracles Take a Little Longer

The obvious question is: How can a wine made in huge quantities be this good? How can a wine this good cost so little? How can the quality improve without the price going up? How did this winery produce such a consistent style while its owners kept changing? And how come we can buy the last dozen vintages of the Black Label Cabernet for just a few dollars more than the current release? Or less in some cases.

David Wynn established this famous line over 60 years ago, and sold Wynns in the early seventies to focus on the Mountadam Venture with his son Adam. Over the last 50 years, Wynns has had many owners with different agendas. In the new millennium, the company ended up in the vast portfolio of Southcorp / Fosters / Treasury Wine Estates. Wynns makes a lot of different wines from its 500 hectares of vineyards in Coonawarra, from the basic white label range to icons like John Riddoch Cabernet and Michael Shiraz (introduced in 1982 and 1990).

Sue Hodder has been the guiding light for Wynns since the nineties, supported by viticulturist Allen Jenkins. From 2010, Sue introduced a black label Shiraz to keep the Cabernet company, along with a number of single vineyard wines that sell at higher prices, but the black label Cabernet remains the backbone of the enterprise. The wine with one of the most recognizable labels in the business became an institution long ago, and its quality has steadily improved. The Black Label is made from the top 20% of Cabernet off Wynns’ terra rossa vineyards. Still, the volume is large and has kept the prices low, and made it easy for Wynns to keep back vintages for regular museum releases.

Another surprise is that Wynns has always been the poor cousin to Penfolds in the TWE family. It’s as if they only had enough people and money to market one brand. Then a few years ago, they added insult to injury when they moved the winemaking from Coonawarra to Karadoc in the Riverland, and to the Barossa for the ‘Masstige’ labels. Masstige is marketing jargon for mass-produced, relatively inexpensive goods that are promoted as luxurious or prestigious.

Will the Wines be as Good?

I can’t see how they can be. A move like this will break up the highly competent team Sue and Allen put together over the years, and leave behind a winery that’s been fine-tuned to produce the highest quality wines possible. The ‘state-of-the-art’ Wolf Blass facility in the Barossa is a massive wine factory and packaging plant on a 50 ha site in Nuriootpa. The huge Wynns operation will be dwarfed by the massive Penfolds / Blass production with all its subsidiary brands.

I believe the last dozen years were the best we’ll ever see at Wynns. Sue Hodder and her team have made a string of great Cabernets, culminating with the great 2018. Huon Hooke gives it a huge wrap and 97 points. Even the super-critical 3 amigos at the Winefront are huge fans of the Black Label Cabernets. So is Chris Shanahan, who says you can buy the black label for its RRP of $45, if you try really hard. I bought a 6-pack of the 2015 for $150 a couple of years ago, the same price you pay for a single bottle of John Riddoch.

Right now Wynns is a wine lover’s heaven, with reds that other companies would charge twice as much for without batting an eyelid. The sheer volume produced has kept the prices low, and made it easy for Wynns to keep back good quantities for museum releases. Our list of black label Cabernets covers 9 vintages going back to 2006, and you can sill buy most of them today.

Bold Vision and Hard Yakka

Over the last 20 years, Sue Hodder and Allen Jenkins have overseen a program of revitalizing and replacing the old vines damaged by excessive machine pruning. Sue and Sarah Pidgeon have developed a consistent style: precise Cabernet expression, bright fruit, seamless oak integration, elegance with depth of flavour, medium-bodied (13.5 – 14%) with great line and length and fine tannins on the finish.

The best of the list below are the 2015, 2012 and 2006, with the 2012 museum release priced just a couple of dollars above the current release (2017). Unbelievable Value. Going back beyond 2006, the wines tend to get bigger. Sue says she was expected to make bigger reds than she wanted to when she started, and Allen says the nineties were a dream decade with warm, dry vintages.

Sue Hodder has won many battles over her 25 years, from returning the style to elegance and lifted fruit, to buying French oak barrels to enhance the style; 20% of the wine is aged in new barrels. Getting the best winemaking equipment available is another factor, including an optical grape sorter. The real winners are we lucky punters, of course.

The Wines

Wynns Black Label Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 – $30 at Winestar. Haven’t tried this yet, but 2018 wads a good year down south, and the wine gets good reviews (check the link). 97 points from Huon Hooke, 96 from Jenny Port, 95 from J Oliver and 93 from the Winefront.

Wynns Black Label Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 – $34 at Wine,com.au2017 was a wet year, and no single vineyard wines were made; there will be no John Riddoch either. Huon Hooke’s review says: ‘Very deep, bold red/purple colour, youthful and fresh, as is the bouquet. There are intense, fresh, vibrant ripe blackberry and blackcurrant cabernet aromas galore and oak takes a back-seat. A very smart, elegant, intense and tidily-constructed cabernet. It shouts “Coonawarra”. 94 points.’  

Wynns Black Label Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 – $30 at 1st Choice. A top Cabernet from a warm, dry vintage. Rich, almost opulent, ripe dark cherries, oak in the back seat, great line and length, fine tannins on the finish. True to style. Already good drinking, but will last many years. 95 points.

Wynns Black Label Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – $32 at First Choice. Huon Hooke rates this vintage as one of the best, along with the 2012, and scores it 98 points. It’s a touch bigger than the average at 13.8%, rich and ripe with great depth and length yet elegance and finesse too. A wonderful Cabernet at a giveaway price that will improve for years. My score is 96+ points.

Wynns Black label Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2014$38 at Vintage Cellars. I can’t find my notes on this one, but Huon Hooke likes it: ‘Very deep, youthful purple colour, with a hi-fi blackcurrant, mulberry nose with a trace of blueberry. It’s all about the fruit. The wine is intense and powerful but also supremely elegant, the tannins super-fine. All elements of the wine are in superb harmony. It just needs time. 95+ points.

Wynns Black Label Coonawarra Cabernet 2013 – $30 at Winestar. This vintage didn’t grab me when first released. 5 years later it’s a different story: it’s full-flavoured, rich and concentrated but not heavy. The classic cassis fruit is backed up with subtle pencil shavings oak, good line and length, and fine tannins on the finish. Classic Black Label with years in front of it. 96 points.

Wynns Black Label Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2012$43 at First Choice or Vintage Cellars. It’s a great release from a great year, with gorgeous dark fruit and seamless oak treatment. It’s medium-bodied but tastes richer than usual, with great depth of flavour and perfect balance. Great drinking now and for the next decade. There are 6 reviews at the link. Huon Hooke gives it 98 points97 points from me. That we can buy an 9-year-old wine of this calibre for the same price as the current vintage adds all the weight my argument needs..

I never noticed the subtle changes to the classic label over the years until I took this shot

Wynns Black Label Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 – $43 at Vintage Cellars. The 2010 didn’t grab me in its youth, despite the outstanding vintage, but it’s really opened up and now shows great depth of ripe dark cherry fruit backed by subtle French oak; the fruit is richer and more succulent than usual, and the tannins on the finish softer. Seductive drinking now and the next few years, but not a long term proposition . 95 points.

Wynns Black Label Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 –$50 at Garnet Cellar. Similar style to the 2008, opulent with great depth of ripe cassis, a seductive red that seems ready to enjoy but there’s that Peter Pan touch again: I said pretty much the same thing when I last tried this wine 7 years ago. 96 points. Garnet Cellar specializes in older vintages and has temperature controlled storage.

Wynns Black Label Coonawarra Shiraz Museum 2010 – $42 at Vintage Cellars. I’ve included this Shiraz because Sue Hodder is very proud of it. The fruit comes off 50+ year-old vines, and this is the first vintage in a fairly new line. I prefer the Cabernets but that’s just me.

If you’re not familiar with these wines, I suggest you grab a 6-pack of the black label Cabernets from 2013 to 2018, offered for $192 by Wynns – that’s $32 a bottle.

Some light Reading:

Tasting notes from Chris Shanahan

Insightful Interview with Sue Hodder

Why Wynns Coonawarra Estate is one of Australia’s best-value wineries, indepth piece by Huon Hooke

Wynns Coonawarra – short story – long shot, indepth piece by yours truly

The Gems that Prove our Concept

 

BURIED TREASURE

I’ve been without a wine cellar for over a decade, and have kept my wine in well-insulated cardboard boxes, sealed and stacked in hallway cupboards, and under beds. Risky Business, I know, but I got away with it as I reported in the post High Risk or Madness? Longtime Wine Storage in an Apartment.

The downside of this kind of box storage is that you can’t reach or even see individual bottles, or even what 6-packs are near the bottom of the stack. Whenever you want to get down there, you’re in for laborious box-shifting. We moved house a few weeks ago, and the boxes made moving the cellar a lot easier since most of the wines are packed already.

One upside of this kind of storage is finding pleasant surprises and long-forgotten gems. From the beginning, Best Wines Under $20 was about finding good quality wines that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. I found the $20 ceiling a bit restrictive early on and lifted it to $25. This year, we’ve included bargains in the $25 – $40 range as a regular feature, wines like Oakridge and Dappled Chardonnays, Wynns black label Cabernets, and many more. It’s most of all about value for money, and there’s a distinct lift in quality with some of these $30 beauties.

Beyond that, it gets murky. Is the $60 Flametree SRS chardy really that much better then the $30 beauties from Oakridge or Dappled? Is the Penfolds bin 407 Cabernet that much better than the Wynns black label? Gary Walsh at the Winefront calls the high prices of these mid-level Penfolds bin reds ‘the elephant in the room.’ I’d call them outrageous for what are typically 93 / 94 point wines. I’d love to put the Kilikanoon Meymans Shiraz Cabernet 2018 up against the Penfolds Bin 389 2018, and I bet it would win. These pennies are trading on the glory of their ancestors, while the company keeps adding more and more labels and fiddling with the packaging instead of focusing on the winemaking.

WHITES

Devil’s Ridge Eden Valley Riesling 2015 – this was $10 at Kemenys a few years ago, and I wish I’d bought a case or 2. Maturing flavour with real depth and length, balance by fine acid. 2015 was a far better year in South Australia than I expected, given the intense heat wave that hit just before vintage time and saw winemakers trying to deal with grapes from different coming in virtually in the same week. The Rieslings were full-bodied and forward in their youth, but over the years developed more refinement. That’s not something I’ve witnessed before.

Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2017 – $10 at Dan M’s. Over the last 6 months of 2020, the Dan M store closest to us cleared out whole lines of wines. Woodlands Cabernet Merlot was going for $18, Montes Reserve Cabernets and chardies form Chile for the same price, and the basic chardies for $10. These were serious bargains, several years old and in their prime. Every Dan M’s store carries its own stock, so I could recommend these deals but I could take advantage of them.

I’d bought some of this when it was first released, but the bottles I opened over the next couple of years were mildly disappointing. Then a few months ago, they hit their straps, producing those classic notes of apricot kernels and lychees; smooth texture was the finishing touch. I served it with my salmon and goats cheese-omelette on a hunch, and it was an instant match. I’ve been looking for a wine to go with eggs for decades.

Give it a try – a few DM stores still have stocks, but not at the special price. Jim Murphy’s appears to have some 2017 left, but the landing page is showing the 2018. Vintage Cellars has stock at $21, the landing page says 2017 and shows the right label but that’s no guarantee …

Leo Buring Clare Valley Riesling 2015 Museum Release – $17 at Vintage Cellars. this is a cracker, a near perfect 5 year-old Clare Riesling, made by Peter Munro somewhere in the bowels of Treasury Wine Estates. 2015 was a very hot year, yet this wine has a fine, long line of acid that supports the classic florals, limes and bath powder.
It shows no hints of kero or toast or honey yet, in fact it’s still crisp and crunchy but richer and fuller than its younger siblings. The precision and linearity of this Riesling are exceptional, and so is the value. Will live for a long time. 95+ points.

REDS

Hidden Label Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 – I bought a few of these Leconfield Cabernets for about $18 about 7 years ago, and this is the first one I opened. It’s in top form, with rich and ripe cassis fruit, pencil shavings oak and a silky smooth palate. Just gorgeous drinking; even Tracey kept coming back for more, and she restricts here red wine intake.

Teusner The Riebke Shiraz 2010. I bought a 6-pack of this for $18 each about the same time, and this is another red from that great 2010 vintage that seemed to make sure everything was in perfect balance. Red berries and pepper, a touch of leather and a lick of oak, all in perfect harmony

The Devil’s Lair Hidden Cave Cabernet Shiraz 2010 was another of my early finds back around 2013. Bought lots of it for $14 back then, and you can still find later versions for less than $20 – the 2014 at Shorty’s Liqueur for example.

It’s one of those labels other wine writers have studiously ignored for years, yet this is a red of surprising quality given the large quantities produced by this TWE-owned winery. It’s not the most complex of reds but it’s as smooth as velvet, a classic cool Margaret River Cabernet with a lift from the Shiraz adding interest. If you have any of this left, drink it soon.

Craggy Range Te Kahu Merlot Blend 2015. I love this wine, a Bordeaux right bank blend from across the Tasman. You wouldn’t get a St Emilion of this quality for less than $100. The Te Kahu sells for around $30 but the local DM store ran it out for $22 late last year. You can be lucky.

Robert Oatley Signature GSM 2014 – well under $20 when I bought it, left it alone for a couple of years and found a jarring note when I opened a bottle – somewhere between to much sulfur and corked wine except that it was under screwcap. Then a miracle occurred: I’d steered clear of it for several years and decided to check again: the jarring note had gone; the wine had matured of course but this is a rare event – faults usually get worse not better.

Ringbolt 21 Barriques Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 – Bought some of this wine (for about $28) following a lunch put on by Yalumba at Bistro Monceur, with retired winemaker Peter Gambetta in charge of proceedings. I was impressed with this stylish red seven years ago, and it’s a beauty. There’s a core of fine cassis fruit wrapped in classy French oak, great line and length with a firm, fine-grained tannin finish. Another seven years will see it at its peak.

Honorable Mention

Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 – $33 at Winestar. My pick for the best red I drank in 2020 (special events excepted), and the great news is that you can still buy this 8-year-old classic at a lower price than most shops ask for the 2018. It’s a tight field of great Coonawarra Cabernets, but the 2013 has become my favourite among the wines made from 2009 to 2018.

I can’t improve on Huon Hooke’s review: ‘Deep, young purple/red colour, very fresh looking – and smelling. Fruit-driven blackberry, raspberry and blackcurrant nuances, with negligible herbal high-notes. The wine is intense and powerful yet also very elegant – moreso than the 2012 – and the fruit does all the talking. Strong but super-fine tannins. The wine has perfect balance in all respects: oak, tannin, acid and extract as well as flavour. A great wine. Drink 2017 to 2045; 97 Points.’

Farewell to an Old Friend

Topers Chardonnay – the 2013 was a big hit several years ago, when we negotiated a special price for subscribers with Jonathan Bell who owned the brand and the vineyard at ‘Kelvin Grove’ near Canowindra.

The 2014 didn’t grab me, and none was made in 2015. The 2016 was a beauty, not as immediately seductive as the 2013 but ‘just a really nice Chardonnay’ as one of our subscribers said. Sadly, that was the last Topers chardy made.

Following the death of his beloved wife in 2017, Jonathan retired and sold the vineyard (we know not to whom). He is the same vintage as James Halliday, and went through law school at Sydney Uni with him in the late fifties.

The wine was made by MADREZ Wine Services in Orange, set up by Lucy Maddox and Chris Derrez who describe themselves as ‘ghost writers’ for some of the best-known wines in the Central Ranges – Colmar Estate, Cooks Lot, Twisted River, Burnbrae, and many more. They’re very smart winemakers – Lucy made the Best Winemaker shortlist at GTW in 2018 – check Peter Bourne’s story at the link.

I was delighted when I found a 6-pack of the 2016 Chardonnay while moving my cellar; I thought I was down to my last couple of bottles. This has been our go-to white for the last couple of years and, as usual, I wish I’d bought more than 6 dozen.

The wine has been at its peak for about 18 months. And I suspect it will stay there for another 6 or 12. So please drink a toast to Jonathan Bell, and to Lucy and Chris, next time you open a bottle of Topers. And there’s no need to tell your dinner guests that a toper is a drunkard.

THE MADNESS OF THE WINE MARKET DOWN UNDER

 

When I wandered around the local Dan Murphy’s a couple of weeks ago, I saw Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 on the shelf with a $45 price tag. No kidding. The same wine is $32 at 1st Choice, and it’s not on special. It’s 33 at Vintage Cellars (3 for $100).
Now you know that I’m a big fan of the black label Cab Sav. I have a half dozen of each vintage from 2015 to 2006 in my modest cellar, except for the 2011 and 2007. When DM was asking $45 for the 2017, I found the much better and more mature 2012 at Kemenys for $29. I shared that good news with you, and trust you took advantage.

Timing is everything

I thought about buying more 2012 but I don’t have much cellar space left, and a lot of black label Cabernet. I mulled it over for a week or more, then decided to grab a few more bottles. Sadly, it was all gone but now there was a 2013 on offer on Kemeny’s website for the same price. I checked my notes, vaguely remembering that the last bottle of this I opened was a winner.
My last review and others are very good, so I didn’t mull this around in my noodle for too long. I put the order together online, adding a few other wines to the 3 black labels, then checked the basket and found that the 2013 had disappeared into thin air. I checked Kemeny’s list of Wynns wines and drew a blank. All gone.

Wynns to the Rescue

As I swallowed my disappointment, an email arrived from Wynns with a special offer: a 6-pack of 2013 black label Cab Sav for $198. $33 dollars a bottle. I didn’t really want that many bottles so I did some more mulling around. While I was busy mulling, another email from Wynns arrived, reminding me that I hadn’t used the $25 voucher they’d sent me for my birthday 3 weeks back.
I wondered if that voucher would work on the 2013 black label special offer. Most of the time you don’t get 2 bites of the cherry, but Wynns is more generous. The bottom line was now $173 for the 6-pack, which is just under $29 a bottle, and then I discovered that the freight was free. So I stopped mulling and bought the 6-pack. 3 bottles for me, 3 for my kids.

Checking the member offers online at DM’s this morning for the BBW, I saw that one of the offers is a 6-pack of the Wynns black label Cab Sav – presumably the 2017 – for $204 or $34. Dearer than their main opposition, much dearer than the museum release from the winery – some member offer, that.
Yesterday the 2017 was still $45 on the shelf. So much for the mega wine merchant that beats every price

Greed is Good

On a shelf around the corner from the Wynns black label, closer to the back wall, I saw some Penfolds labels I hadn’t seen before:

  • Penfolds The Noble Explorer Shiraz 201
  • Penfolds The Creative Genius Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
  • Penfolds The Commander In Chief Shiraz Cabernet 2017

These wines were released a year ago for Penfolds’ 175th anniversary, but I can’t recall any fanfare about this release from that time. ‘The ‘Tribute Range’ is a set of limited edition drops dedicated to four of the most interesting, influential characters in Penfolds’ almost two-century history,’ GQ gushes. ‘Naturally, they’re all set to be vying for a place in the wine collections of just about any enthusiast.’

The wines are dedicated to the memories of Max Schubert, Ray Beckwith, founder Christopher Rawson Penfold and his wife Mary. The wine that stands apart on the left is the one dedicated to Max, with a price tag of $500. The other 3 sell for $25 to $40 depending on the source.
So the founder and his wife, and Ray Beckwith whose breakthroughs in the lab were a key element of the success of the early Granges and Bin reds, have to be satisfied with $40 wines. Quality-wise it’s in Koonunga Hill Seventy-Six territory, says The Winefront of one of these. Their scores are 91, 91 and 92+. So they charge $40 for a $20 wine. Is that all these hallowed names are worth?

Marketing is Rubbish

I’ve tasted Koonunga Hill 76 reds over the years, and they left the heights unscaled. So why insult the founders and the lab genius? This is supposed to be a tribute to those who made the biggest contributions to Penfolds’ success. And what marketing moron decided to throw 1 $500 wine and 3 $40 wines into the same special release?
There’s only one piece of good news here: they’ve thrown out the cheap Chinese Restaurant packaging of the Max’s range. Richard Farmer wrote years ago that Penfolds treated Max better when he was dead than when he lived. I’m not sure about that, not after the kitschy wrappers of the Max’s range, but their treatment of the great man at his retirement sure was despicable: they gave Max a Citizen watch when he retired after working for Penfolds all his life, not the Rolex he was hoping for.

Max retired in 1975, when Penfolds reds were forging a huge reputation for a company that still saw itself as a maker of port wine just 10 years earlier. This was the man who saved the company from certain ruin by revitalising its entire winemaking infrastructure back in the fitfties.

The Renegade?

Then they ran an ad campaign that framed him as a renegade, written by some airhead (and approved by a marketing manager) who didn’t understand the difference between a renegade and a maverick. More here: Max Schubert, Ray Beckwith and the Making of Penfolds.

Then again, Penfolds marketing has long been rubbish. ‘Treasury Wines are the Bogans of the Australian Industry,’ writes The Owl. ‘Penfolds in those [Max’s] days was a rather crass company that thought the epitome of entertaining clients was inviting them to watch St George run around playing rugby league. A glass or two of Minchinbury would be quite upmarket enough for Kogarah Oval and Max Schubert’s name was not helping to sell winecasks.’

I remember years ago someone telling me that the wine list of the St George Leagues Club dining room always had several vintages of Grange on it, at lower prices than the sharpest retailers. Now I know why. Minchinbury became a housing estate decades ago, but the name has recently been rebirthed and now adorns  some cheap wines at Dan Murphy’s, courtesy of The Pinnacle Drinks range. Pinnacle is owned by Woolworths, and it appears that it has acquired the hallowed brand.

More is Better

I haven’t thought about Penfolds for years, so I checked the website while I wrote this, and found that their collection of special wines had exploded. There must be close to 100 items in the Penfolds Collection, where there used to be a dozen – Bin 707, Bin 389, St Henri, Bin 28 etc. – and the chintz has moved upmarket.

But that’s not all

Suddenly there’s a new range of brandies, which look a bit different from the Hospital Brandy of old. Perhaps Peter Gago has been told to churn out more products Penfolds can flog to the Chinese.

He’s even gone to Champagne to launch a JV with a house over there, for another range of bottles to make a buck out of – 280 bucks to be precise. Why on earth wouldn’t he team up with some of our makers and rebirth the Minchinbury label?

‘Penfolds today launched the first of its international explorations,’ wrote CM at the Winefront, ‘ a collaboration between itself and independent French house Champagne Thienot.’ That’s quite a clanger from a guy who has written so well for so long. But Gago tops that: ‘we’re hoping aspirationally that this project continues for a long time.’

The bottom line: ‘The genius is that Penfolds and Champagne go together in winemaking, marketing and world-domination terms like chocolate and cream. Prediction is that this collab will work spectacularly, if not in Australia then most definitely in “key markets”.’

Smart Wineries

Penfolds and Wynns share the same parent – TWE – but it’s easy to see that they’re adopted children because they couldn’t be more different. Everything Wynns has done has a touch of class, from the labels to the wines. You won’t find super-ripe reds here, pumped up with alcohol and oak, and you sure won’t find crass labels or packaging. Wynns and Penfolds are like Mercedes and HSV Holdens.

Wynns added new labels to their range, tasteful labels and just a handful of them. And the wines are distinctive as well. Wynns must have a different product manager from Penfolds. That’s a good thing, and I hope it doesn’t change anytime soon.
Wynns occasionally makes offers that are pretty sharp, and even their standard website prices are in the same ballpark as those of the the big retailers. That’s pretty smart, and I wish more wineries would match the prices we find on main street.

Dappled

Selling direct to the public gives the wineries  better returns. This used to be hard work in the tasting room but is less so online. In my recent survey of our top Chardonnays, I found the Dappled Appelation 2019 one of the best chardies you can buy for less than $50. Dappled was Halliday’s Best New Winery of 2018. There’s not a lot of this made, and most wine merchants have run out. It’s modern in style but avoids the grapefruit pith and most of the struck matches. It’s crystalline, seamless, nothing overdone, perfect pitch. Here’s the Winefront’s take on it:

‘Shaun Crinion of Dappled is under a fair amount of pressure to increase his prices – from various quarters – though he remains committed to keeping them as low as he possibly can. The prices will no doubt have to increase soon but they don’t offer extraordinary value for money by accident; Crinion is determined to keep them as accessible as possible. Personally I wish there were more winemakers like him.

‘This is another stellar release. It’s a wine of sheer quality, hands down. Flint, matchstick funk, pure nectarine-grapefruit-and-white-peach fruit, a ginger-like note and a smokiness through the finish. It has tremendous length and it feels uncompromised all the way along. Yes it’s flinty/funky but within that style it’s tremendous. And with air it just gets better. 95+ Points’, Campbell Mattinson, TWF

The price is $30 at the winery where you also get 10% off your first order, i.e. $27 a bottle. The discount code is ‘welcome’. I bought a 6-pack a month or two back, and now I bought another one. Easy as, like the young ones are fond of saying. I hope you can keep your prices on the sane side, Shaun. Penfolds Bin 311 2019 sells for around $50, and is not in the same class.

Many of you have told me that you buy directly from your favourite wineries, and grab some really good deals when they’re on offer. I can’t monitor wineries – there are 5000 of them – as well as wine merchants, but I’ll ask you to share the best deals with me please.

The Chinese Inquiry into Aussie Wine

 

Guest Post from subscriber Kevin, the Tamar Man

“Subscribers of BWU20 may be aware of the decision of the relevant part of the Chinese Government to investigate wine sourced from Australia as being “dumped” into the Chinese wine market.  That is to say, that Australian wine is being offered for sale in China as prices less than the cost of production.

See, for example – https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-08-27/chinese-australian-wine-insiders-say-no-dumping-no-subsidy/12602172

This decision to hold an inquiry has sent shock waves through the export part of the Australian wine industry.  Many of the exporters have considerable Chinese investment. Indeed, some of these wine companies are Chinese wholly owned.

Eg. https://weilongwines.com.au/

The implications for the Australian domestic wine market, and in particular BWU20 subscribers are potentially highly significant. One implication is that prices for Australian wine will be reduced as wine companies with significant export orders seek to cut their losses.

Another implication is that there will be a marked increase in the volume of wine being offered for sale on the Australian market with a cork stoppage.  Chinese consumers will not buy screw capped wine, because of their view that the contents can be easily substituted with inferior wine or wines.  I speak from experience:  all wine offered for sale in China has cork stoppage.

So, at the BWU20 wine market segment there will be consumer gains.

For the broader Australian wine industry it is a severe body blow.

Home-made wine fridge No 2

 

Guest Post from subscriber Ron J.

Hi Kim

The article on creating your own wine fridge caught my attention, particularly the issue of wiring in a new thermostat, and I thought it might be worth passing on my experience with a slightly different approach.

I have made a couple of wine fridges and have used brewing controllers from home brew suppliers to save the hassle and cost of wiring in a new thermostat. These work by simply turning the power to fridge on or off at your preset temperature range. I have simply put a small hole through the door seal and poked the temperature sensor through into the fridge. You could put a dab of silicon there to completely seal the hole if you are really fussy.

For the first one I made I used a Keg King (https://www.keg-king.com.au/mkii-10-30amp-temperature-controller-heat-cool.html) which has the capacity to both heat and cool. In a wine fridge application, you would only need the heating option if you had the wine fridge in a location that got cold enough at times to drop the inside temperature of the fridge below your chosen temperature range. Heating works by putting a fermenter heat belt inside the fridge and plugging it into the heating socket on the back of the controller. I haven’t used this function. The Keg King controllers are quoted as accurate to 0.1 degrees, and can be set at very small operating range, allowing for quite constant temperature in the fridge.

(the fridge doesn’t really lie on its side, I turned it so it would fit better in this post – Kim)

For the second fridge I used a cheaper controller that only has one power socket. Cost was below $30.

When I was looking for the first fridge, I tried Gumtree but finding a decent fridge or freezer at a remotely sensible price seemed allusive. In the end I bought a brand new Haier 322L all-fridge on special for less than $400. Packed onto existing shelving, including the door, this could hold over 120 bottles. I haven’t bothered with the wine racks, as this would dramatically reduce the capacity, but it would make it much easier to extract a specific bottle!

The second fridge was the kitchen fridge-freezer which had a problem with the thermostat, in that it wouldn’t turn off and consequently was starting to freeze everything including in the fridge compartment. Given the age, it was not worth repairing. The separate thermostat system means that this was not an issue, as it turns off the power to the fridge (but may be a problem if the separate thermostat fails!!). I have even been able to utilise the freezer compartment, by taping up most of the fan air holes into the freezer and turning the fan to more into the fridge and less into the freezer compartment. The temperature in both compartments stays very similar.

I would have preferred to use a freezer, due to the better insulation, but the fridges work fine, and are generally cheaper to buy.

Regards

Ron

PS: Ron sent more pictures of the other devices, let me know if you want to see them and I’ll send them’

Kim