Peter Gambetta – the best winemaker you’ve never heard of?

 

‘For over 168 years, Yalumba’s journey has been all about vision, fortitude, survival and innovation: about looking onwards and upwards. That journey has also been characterised to a large degree by humility and modesty about our many achievements.’ Robert Hill-Smith

Peter Gambetta joined Yalumba in 2002, leaving his job as group red wine maker at Orlando Wyndham. When I met him in 2015, it was clear that the culture of his new employer fitted him like a well-tailored suit. It was a small promo lunch at Bistro Monceur in Sydney, small enough to talk quietly. I was sitting next to Peter, and I seemed to be asking most of the questions.

We got on really well, so I was surprised when he turned down my offer of an interview, saying he’d retired and the only thing he had to do with wine now was sharing a few glasses with his mates at the pub in Angaston. He added that I could surely find more interesting winemakers to interview. Keeping his head down is typical of Peter, it turns out – just try to find some insights on the internet.

Yalumba is still a family company, or Hill-Smith Family Vineyards as it prefers to be known, with Robert Hill-Smith at the helm, and it’s highly distributed in its winemaking and decision making. Half a dozen senior winemakers, under the guidance of Louisa Rose, share the responsibility for making various groups of wine. And they make some truly surprising wines as we’ll see.

In Peter’s case, it was the wines from the Limestone coast (including Coonawarra), the Heggies Vinyard in Eden Valley, and Ringbolt wines from Margaret River. The range of wines Peter made is staggering, as are the geographies and vineyards he sourced the fruit from, and Louisa Rose assures me that he paid enormous attention to the smallest detail. More in Yalumba – Light on the Hill.


Winemaking begins in the vineyard

That’s the philosophy at Yalumba: you must understand the vineyard and its characteristics – soil composition, microclimate, aspect and more – before you start making wine. You also have to experiments with new clones – cuttings form a mother vine with specific characteristics – to see if they might suit the vineyard better.

Peter Gambetta knew Coonawarra well enough from his days at Orlando, and the Limestone Coast as a whole as well. Yalumba’s Menzies vineyard had been established on Coonawarra’s terra rossa soil in 1987, and had produced one red:  The Menzies Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyard didn’t belong to Yalumba until Robert Hill-Smith bought it in 1993.

Robert Menzies has had a special place in the hearts of the Hill-Smiths ever since 1965, when he declared over a lunch in Adelaide that the 1961 Yalumba Galway Claret was the finest Australian red he had ever tasted.

Peter worked on improving the breed. The 2012 and 2013 I tried a couple of years ago are wonderful reds, more refined and polished than most of today’s Coonawarra blockbusters, yet showing plenty of flavour. In 2006 Peter introduced ‘The Cigar’, a Cabernet Sauvignon also made from grapes off the Menzies vineyard. This tends to be a more robust style, and one for the cellar.

A 2012 we opened a few weeks ago was a serious red but nowhere near ready. The 2014 is a little richer and riper.
The famous terra rossa strip that runs through Coonawarra north-south has the shape of a cigar when see on a map. In the 1990s, the smaller winemakers fought hard to maintain the map of the vignoble somewhere near the precious strip of earth, but they were rolled by the big wine companies and their armies of lawyers.

Pioneering Spirit

It’s hard to imagine a greater contrast than that between the Menzies and the Heggies vineyards. Wyndham Hill-Smith bought the property from local grazier Colin Heggie in the early seventies, and a rough sketch of Colin graces the label with his faithful chestnut Jack. The story goes that Jack knew his way home from the local pub, once Colin was in the saddle, and the publican’s slap on the hindquarter was all he needed to get on his way.

The Heggies vineyard is among the highest in Eden Valley – don’t ask me why this high range is called a valley – and lies just over the ridge from Pewsey Vale. Darrell Kruger has been looking after these vineyards for nearly 40 years, and he describes the Heggies vineyard as ‘a challenging and unpredictable site, with each micro-site or block managed individually’. In addition, row spacing, pruning regimes and trellising vary depending on aspects and soil types within the vineyard.

Privilege

Peter is known for his holistic approach to winemaking, and for his attention to every detail. He worked closely with Darrell to understand this complex canvas, and to make sure that the most suitable clones were planted here. He said he felt ‘privileged to have been entrusted with the stewardship of the Heggies Vineyard – one of the most prestigious single vineyards in Eden Valley and possibly Australia.’

He also told an interviewer, ‘Working with this region has delighted and challenged me for years. Having the opportunity to draw on my past experience and increase my understanding and ability to take the best of this region and nurture it until the final resultant wine, never loses its appeal to me.’

The style of Riesling Peter produced under the Heggies label is different from that made at Pewsey Vale by Louisa Rose: fruitier, softer, rounder, more charming, almost pretty some years. I have a strong preference for the Pewsey Vale style, which has more crisp fruit and crunchy acid to carry it, and tends to live longer. We opened a 2009 and a 2010 PV in the last few weeks, and they are still pretty crisp and fresh with years in front of them. They are wines of astonishing quality.

Residual sugar is the only real difference that shows up in the numbers printed on the labels. That only proves that there are many other factors which play a role in the flavour profile and structure of a wine, from vines and vineyard to wine making and storage.

The 2018 Rieslings are much closer in character – both delicate and floral – perhaps because the Heggies is made by Teresa Heuzenroeder. I used to like the Heggies Chardonnays, which seemed modeled on White Burgundy: savoury characters and French oak dominating in the early years. They were similar to the early Mountadam chardies, serious wines built to develop slowly over 5 – 10 years.

The Estate Chardonnay is now a much fresher, modern style with grapefruit notes. This is not my kind of chardy, as you know. Teresa also makes the Hill-Smith Family Vineyards chardies, one from Eden Valley and another from the Adelaide Hills. I haven’t tasted either of them lately.

Smith & Hooper

Back on the Limestone coast, just north of Coonawarra, Peter also made the wines under the plain Smith and Hooper label: Merlot, Cabernet Merlot and Pinot Grigio. Merlot really gets him excited. At the bistro Monceur lunch he talked about the importance of clonal selection, and Peter got very excited about the future of this much-maligned variety which needs a lot of attention or Fingerspitzengefühl as the Germans call it. It means feeling in the fingertips, but also refers to intuition and instinct.

As a style, Merlot in Australia has been all over the place: from green and weedy to stewed plum compote and raspberry jam, and anywhere in between. The variety has been planted in many different places, but it seems to do best in Margaret River and the Limestone Coast.

The latter is mostly a big company playground, where they harvest vast quantities of decent quality grapes for labels like Jamieson’s Run and Wolf Blass. The soil is full of limestone, often in the form of huge boulders, and the climate is a degree warmer than Coonawarra.

In the warm 2015 vintage, the Merlot seemed to thrive and made a vibrant red that transcended its humble label  (not the Reserve), and came in the top group at a GTW Merlot tasting. These are seriously underrated wines we can buy at bargain prices.

Ringbolt

Many shipwrecks lie on the bottom of the sea off Margaret River’s coastline, and the Ringbolt is one of them. What it has to do with Wilyabrup, the heart of this wine region, I’m not sure. The story goes that Peter came across some high quality fruit produced by a grower there, and decided to make a Cabernet, back in 2006.

A few years later, he bought fruit from another grower in the area and created the Ringbolt 21 Barriques label. I seem to recall that the Hill-Smiths acquired these vineyards or became part-owners in them more recently, but the internet won’t reveal the story and nor does Yalumba.

These reds have been unsung bargains, but once more the style has changed since Heather Fraser has been making the wines. The 21 Barriques 2014 listed below was made by Peter Gambetta.

How Sweet it is

Yalumba isn’t renowned for making great stickies, but once more the old firm surprises us with stickies as good as any made down under, and fortified wines that are absolute delights. Peter not only covered a lot of ground making wine for Yalumba, he also covered a lot of styles; he didn’t make the fortified wines but he made the two stickies – see below.

The Hill-Smith Family’s many and varied endeavours include recent acquisitions in Tasmania and New Zealand. No wonder Robert Hill-Smith was awarded the Family Business Award of Excellence at the 2018 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.

List of Labels Peter Gambetta made wine for, with notes

Heggies Vineyard Estate Riesling 2018 – $19 at Dan M’s. After the highly aromatic 2017 vintage, the 2018 is back to lean and tight fruit sitting on a long line of fine acid. Limes and talc, some floral notes and a sprinkle of minerals round out the story. As usual, it’s a little fuller than the Pewsey Vale cousin from the same Hill Smith Family stable, but there’s more acid than usual which suggests a long life. Lovely wine.

Yalumba Eden Valley Chardonnay 2018 – $26 at the winery (it hasn’t hit the shops yet, and should be closer to $20 when it does. Chardonnay at Yalumba has been a confusing patch: in the last couple of years, an Eden Valley Chardonnay joined the old Heggies, then there was a Heggies >>500m under a different label, and now we have this chardy as part of the new Samuel’s range. There is yet another Eden Valley Chardonnay under the Hill-Smith Estate label – see below.
This is a crisp and fresh modern style of chardy with notes of grapefruit and lemon curd pushing gthe subtle stone fruit into the background. The oak is barely detectable – not my kind of chardy.

Heggies Vineyard Estate Chardonnay 2016 – $25 at Jim’s, or $30 at Nicks. I’ve added the link for Nikcks because the review is of the usual standard. This vintage still recalls the old style but is a touch crisper and more elegant. The price has gone up to add more degrees of separation from the other chardies.

Hill-Smith Estate Eden Valley Chardonnay 2018 – $18 at Nicks. I haven’t tried the 2018, but I’ve loved previous vintages for striking a perfect balance between modern and traditional styles. Nicks’ review suggests that that the 2018 is made in that style.

Smith & Hooper Pinot Grigio 2018 – $228 at thewinepantry.com.au in an unbroken dozen, or $17.50 at BoozeBud (no vintage given, but most likely 2018). I contacted these guys, and they gave me a crap story about selling vast volumes of wine which made it impossible to keep track of vintages. They claim they roll wines over fast so always carry the latest vintages.
Anyhow, the 2015 was the last of these I tasted, and it was a real Grigio, crisp and crunchy, dry and savoury.

Smith & Hooper Wrattonbully Merlot 2015 – $17 at Our Cellar. This wine scored 96 points in a recent Gourmet Traveller Wine Merlot tasting, which put it among much more expensive wines. I didn’t like it as much as GTW did, perhaps put off by its youthful aggression. I’m sure it’ll settle down soon though.

Smith & Hooper Wrattonbully Cabernet Merlot  2014 –  $17 at Our Cellar. If you’re looking for a soft, gentle red that slips down the hatch without making a fuss, you’ve found it. A bargain at the price.

Smith & Hooper Reserve Merlot  2017 – $21 at Booze Bud (vintage not stated, but 2017 is the current vintage on the S&M website)The 2014 is $27 at My Wine Guy. These wines are hard to find and never promoted; the Reserve Merlot is almost impossible to track down at retail. I suspect the S&H wines are mostly sold to the on-premise market (restaurants and pubs).

Yalumba The Cigar Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – $25 at Kemenys. The younger brother of the Menzies. Dark berries, gum leaves, dried herbs, tobacco, mint and vanilla oak. Serious red, bigger than usual this vintage.
The cigar is what they call the stretch of terra rossa soil that lies at the heart of Coonawarra, and these days it’s a good way of standing apart from all the other vineyards that have been pushed into the official Cooawarra vignoble.

Ring Bolt Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 – $20 at Nicks. Another change in style, following a change of winemaker to Heather Fraser. They used to be fairly stern wines in their youth, but this one leaps out of the glass with ripe dark berries wrapped in pencil shavings oak, dried herbs, a whiff of olive and a hint of dust. Soft as velvet, and good drinking already.

Ring Bolt 21 Barriques Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 – $28 at Nicks. Peter told me that the name reflected the exact number of barrels he used to mature the wine, from memory one third of them are new. Nicks’ review is spot on as usual, but my score was a couple of points lower.

Yalumba FSW8B Botrytis Viognier 2017 375ml – $20 at BoozeBud. This is the only Botrytis Viognier I’m aware of, and it’s a stunning wine of enormous intensity. Has all the usual notes of honey, marmalade and apricots in abundance. Best sticky in a long time.

Heggies Botrytis Riesling 375 2017 – $23 at Our Cellar. 2017 in SA was a late vintage that concentrated the aromatics and helped the botrytis flourish evenly.  This has been one of my favourite stickies for years; it’s a close second to the wine above. The judges like it too: I think it was the 2015 that picked up the trophy for best sweet white at the Canberra International Riesling Challenge.

TOPERS CHARDONNAY 2016 PROMO – Last Days

 

Please note that this promo ends on Saturday 31st at midnight. The Topers Chardonnay 2016 from Cowra is an absolute steal at the promo price of $16 a bottle, so don’t miss out. It’s as good as the 2013 was – subscribers bought a case of that wine, then bought 2 or 3 more. Some bought 6 cases. I bought 3, thinking the wine couldn’t get any better. I was wrong.

The 2016 Topers Chardonnay has plenty of energy, power and drive, and a vibrant flavour profile of stone fruits and melons; French oak plays a perfect supporting role and the finish is long and clean. The wine is barrel fermented for added complexity, and matured on lees with occasional stirring. The wine will get even better over the next couple of years, but it’s a delight to drink already.

This chardy is made by Madrez Wine Services, a contract winemaking facility in Orange run by Lucy Maddox and Chris Derrez. In the last decade, they’ve amassed an astonishing mountain of trophies and medals for their boutique clients. The husband and wife team was a finalist in the 2018 Winemaker of the Year contest run by Gourmet Traveller Wine.

Grab the Topers Chardonnay 2016 for $195 a dozen ($16 a bottle) at the winery.

  • The link takes you straight to the order page, where you’ll see the usual price of $28.
  • Enter the quantity you want (12 or 24 etc.), select your shipping option and hit BUY NOW.
  • You’ll now be on a page where you can enter the discount code: BWU$20/12+ and hit UPDATE
  • That will reduce the cost to $195 per dozen instantly
  • Choose your shipping option, and the cost of freight will be added
  • Go to CHECKOUT

The promo includes a subscription to our Best Buys Weekly mailer, which we send out every Friday. That’s 50 mailers listing the best wines you can buy in Australia for $7 – $20 , with links to wine merchants offering the best price. Send an email to kim@bestwinesunder20.com.au, and I’ll send you a sample mailer.

Please email me with any questions – kim@bestwinesunder20.com.au

Best Regards

Kim Brebach

Wine Sleuth

Levitation Zone

 

That’s what they call it on Wall Street when stocks rise to dizzy heights. Wine has been going that way for years now. The expensive labels have become luxury goods, status symbols you can impress friends and colleagues with. As you would with a Rolex watch.

People don’t buy a Rolex because it tells the time better than a Citizen, and people don’t buy Grange or Hill of Grace for their drinking pleasure. These wines are hardly ever drunk. No, they lie in temperature-controlled display cabinets, ready to be admired; they’re investments to be bought and sold like works of art or shares.

Image credit: Milton Worldley

The levitation zone tends to pull lesser wines up the dollar scale: the once affordable Hensckke Mount Edelstone now costs over $200, and Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz has climbed over the $100 mark. This wine used to be known as ‘the poor man’s Grange’ in the old days.

At Best Wines Under $20, we clearly have a different focus: great wines we can afford and enjoy. Yet once in a while, I like to ask a simple question: what wines would I buy if I’d saved up $800 for the latest, greatest Penfolds Grange, and changed my mind?

I started to put together a dozen top wines to spend the $800 on, but ended up with 16 wines for the same money. You’ll see that there are some outstanding wines in our collection that rival the wines in the Penfolds 2019 collection, and offer far better value. Brilliant wines like Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay, Tyrrells Vat 1 Semillon, Ata Rangi Pinot Noir and Chateau Rieussec Sauternes

So if you’re looking for a special bottle to open on a special occasion, you don’t have to spend $800. You can buy outstanding wines for a fraction of that.

If you were thinking of buying and laying down a few bottles of the latest Grange, you should read this post: Penfolds Grange – rich wine, poor investment. Yes, TWE has pushed the price so high you’ll never get your money back. Did you know that almost every vintage of Grange going back to 1966 sells at auction for between $300 and $500?

THE DOWN-TO-EARTH LIST

McNicol Riesling 2010 – $45 at the winery. Made by Andrew Mitchell in the Clare Valley, this wine is in the same lofty level as the Rosacker Grand Cru below. You rarely see intensity of flavour like this, especially at this age, and the wine will last another 10 years easily.

Jean-Luc Mader Riesling Rosacker Grand Cru, Alsace – $55 at Winesquare. Rosacker is to Alsace as Montrachet is to Burgundy. Made from a tiny Grand Cru vineyard next to the famous Clos St Hune Riesling from Trimbach. Another wine of great intensity from a low yield vintage. The rich ripe citrus fruit is balanced by a long line of fine acid and minerals on the finish.

Stella Bella Suckfizzle Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2015 – $35 at Kemenys. Fermented in French oak (60% new), and aged in the barrels for 14 months, with regular bâtonnage applied to provide serious texture. Great Work!

Cape Mentelle Wallcliffe Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2015 – $40 at Kemenys. The Stella Bella is a hard act to follow, but the Wallcliffe is up to. Great to see two Sauvignon Blanc Semillons of this complexity, which can take on the world’s best from France.

Tyrrells Vat 1 Semillon 2013 – $63 at Kemenys. The most decorated Hunter Semillon, from a great Semillon vintage. Terrific concentration of flavour, built for a long life. A classic.

La Chablisienne 1er Cru Cote de Lechet 2016 – $30 at 1st Choice. The website says 2-13, but you’ll find the 2016 on the shelves. This Chablis from a highly regarded coop is made from 25 year old vines, and offers cool but ripe fruit against a background of wet stones, flint and minerals. Serious bargain.

Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay 2016 – $100 at MyCellar. This has long been our top Chardonnay IMHO, and the 2016 promises to be one of the best of this line. It’s still a pup, so please show some restraint.

Wynns Museum Release Coonawarra Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 – $40.00 at Winestar. I grabbed a few of these for $30 six months ago. Classic Black label: profound dark fruit, velvet glove with backbone, sleek but firm. 98 from Huon Hooke – reviews at the link.

Woodlands Clementine Cabernets 2016 – $40 at Nicks. One of my favourite wineries. The 2015 was Ray Jordan’s top pick a year ago, and the 2016 is a great follow-up from one of the top vintages in Margaret River’s history. Bargain

Domaine du Grand Montmirail Gigondas Cuvee Vieilles Vignes 2016 – $47 at Nicks. Gigondas is a small appellation near Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The wines are as good but less-well known and thus better value.

Shaw + Smith Shiraz 2016 – $45 at MyCellars, where the freight is free for subscribers (promo code BWU20). That means you can order 2 or 3 of these gorgeous wines at sharp prices with freight paid.

This is one of my favourite reds regardless of price. I can’t improve on Jane Faulkner’s review: ‘Vibrant purple-black; seduces with swathes of dark cherries dipped in kirsch, florals, ferrous and woodsy spices, with toasty oak sewn to the shape of the fuller-bodied palate. Everything is in its place, creating an immaculate whole – the fine-grained tannins, the length, the freshness and detail. It’s polished and totally convincing – 97 Points.’

Kellermeister Black Sash Shiraz 2016 – $60 at MyCellars. Won the 2019 Syrah du Monde and competition, and 98 points from our main man downunder. Made from 100yo old vines grown in Ebenezer (Barossa), matured in 65% new French hogsheads. JH says it will live forever.

Dawson & James Pinot Noir 2015 – $65 at MyCellars. Made by a couple of seasoned winemakers from their vineyard near dingabledinga in southern Tassie. 98 points from James Haliday and Ned Goodwin.

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2016 $80 at MyCellars. Has been pointing the way for NZ Pinots for years, and still sits at the top of the tree. Reviews at the link.

Chateau Rieussec Sauternes 2013 (375ml) – $65 at Nicks. One of the top handful of Sauternes nibbling at the heels of Yquem.

Bodega Jose De La Cuesta Pedro Ximenez Sherry – $30 at Nicks. These sherries are misunderstood, I suspect, and therefore great value. The best ones rival our best Rutherglen Tokays. 99 points from Nicks – I’ve always found their scores reliable.

Sydney International Wine Competition 2019

 

The Set-Up

The SIWC is the only international wine show I know of, where judges are given food to go with the wines in the final round. This is how most of us drink wine, so it should produce more user-friendly results. You can even get the recipes for the meals served, such as this Panacotta.

Brett and Michaela Ling took over the competition from Warren and Jacqui Mason a couple of years ago, but haven’t changed the basic format. That’s good, because the public tastings that follow this competition are not the usual push-and-shove affairs, with no room to move and overflowing spit buckets. It’s much more civilized, and the attentive staff keep everything neat and tidy.

The other thing I like is the catalog of wines assembled for the tasting, which has ample room for notes next to each of the 241 winners of various awards – Top 100, Blue Gold and Gold medals, and trophies. The majority of wines come from Australia and New Zealand, with a sprinkling of wines from France, Italy, Portugal and America broadening the horizon. More Here.  

The Wines

The giant killer this year was the $7 One Road Shiraz 2017 from ALDI, which won a trophy. I’d bought a bottle of this wine a couple of months ago when the results were announced, and shook my head in disbelief: This is a robust, rustic red that offers a lot of obvious flavour for the money, and some fairly rough edges.

Andrew Graham who runs the Australian Wine Review site agrees: ‘Soft and syrupy commercial red with some cheap chippy oak. How this got a trophy is beyond me.’

This is a typical medal winner in the sense that it pushes less brash competitors aside and leaps out at the judges from a big line-up. Heathcote is good at that, so is Langhorne Creek as Wolf Blass proved. The wine is a blend of both. A gold medal at the 2018 Great Australian Shiraz Challenge showed that it wasn’t fluke, which either proves my point about judges falling for the obvious charms of the wines in front of them, or that I don’t have a clue.

I had also seen a glowing review from Huon Hooke of the Blackstone Paddock Limited Release Margaret River Chardonnay 2017, but couldn’t get hold of a sample from ALDI. My enquiries proved fruitless since ALDI staff are much the same as staff in other supermarkets: utterly clueless. After tasting the wine at the SIWC, I agree with Huon: it’s a beauty, the opposite of  the trophy-winning Shiraz in many ways: restrained, refined, elegant and classy. Good value for $15 should you stumble across it.

Winners and Grinners

A few wines stood out for me:

  • Peter Lehmann Margaret Semillon 2012 – more generous than usual
  • Hahndorf Hill White Mischief Grüner Veltliner 2018 – intense, almost like a Gewürztraminer
  • Rockburn Pinot Noir 2016 – one of the few Pinots with real Burgundian character
  • Rob Dolan White Label Shiraz 2017 – Yarra Valley, perfect balance between cool climate elegance & flavour
  • Hentley Farm Old Legend Shiraz 2017 – Seductive
  • Serafino Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 – adds grist to my mill that Cabernet makes better wines in the Vale than Shiraz
  • De Bortoli Dean Vat 5 Botrytis Semillon 2016 – my giant killer: a perfect sticky for $11! Much better balance than the super-sweet, cloying $35 Lillypilly Noble Blend 2017 that won the trophy.

There were 6 fortified wines, and they showed once again that these rare old Muscats and Tokays are among the great wines of the world. They’re around $100, which makes them enormous value.

For detailed notes, check Andrew Graham’s blow-by-blow rundown on the wines.

Finding Value in the World of Fine Wine – Part 2

 

Andrew Jefford, the wine man we quoted at the beginning, points to northern Italy for great reds that are better value than the wines of Bordeaux. Piedmonte is the place, Andrew tells us as he sings the praises of wines like a 2010 Monfortino of Giacomo Conterno Barolo and a 2011 Cascina Francia. All of this sounds promising until we realise that the man who says money is contaminating great wines is recommending reds with price tags of $500 and $300 respectively.

Cheaper than first growth Bordeaux? By a fair margin. Within reach of ordinary mortals? Hardly. We’ll come back to Italy and its great reds, which are starting to rival great Bordeaux for price and prestige. There are plenty of good Italians to be had at more reasonable prices, but let’s start a bit further north.

Alsace and Germany

‘In this discipline [dry Riesling], this estate [Dr Bürklin-Wolff] has essentially no rival in all of Germany. In fact, given their sheer vineyard potential – they’re capable of producing seven grand crus and an equal number of premier crus in any given vintage – this may well be the best and most consistent producer of great dry Riesling in the world.’ Joel B. Payne, Vinous, January 2013.

This is not the place to go into the minutiae of German wine classification, so here are a couple of resources that make it easier to understand German wine:  A very short version, and a longer one.

For a long time the Pfalz [the Rhineland Palatinate in English] was a prime source of cheap and cheerful German wine, with much of it sold for a few dollars in 1 litre bottles. Rieslings from the Rheingau and the Mosel dominated the high ground. Eventually a new generation of winemakers saw that they had something other vignerons in Germany were always struggling to get enough of: sunshine. Just across the border to the south lies Alsace, which enjoys the same climate.

These days many high-quality wines are made here, including Pinot Noirs. Sadly, we don’t see many of these wines down under. Even Dr Bürklin-Wolff’s wines aren’t easy to find. Christmann is another estate that makes great wines in the Pfalz. More resources: the short one, and the longer one.

Dr Burklin-Wolf Riesling Trocken 2015 – $25 at Langtons. It’s their basic wine, but a good example of dry Riesling from the Pfalz

Christmann Estate Riesling 2016 – $30 at Winestar. Christmann is a winery that is rapidly building a strong reputation for quality dry Rieslings

Dry white wines are much more common now than they used to be in Germany, but the top wines are still made for sweet seduction.

Dr. H. Thanisch ‘Berncasteler Doctor’ Riesling Spatlese 2017 – $60 at Worldwine. Thanish is one of the top producers on the Mosel

Dr Loosen Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Auslese 2016 – $60 at Nicks. Ernie Loosen is a character, and a great ambassador for Riesling across the world. He also makes some pretty good wines on his estate on the Mosel

Dr Loosen Beerenauslese Riesling 2013 (375ml) – $68 at United Cellars. Made from shrivelled-up berries, these wines are sweet but much more delicate than Sauternes or Noble 1 from de Bortoli

Joh. Jos Prüm ‘Graacher Himmelreich’ Riesling Auslese 2015 – $100 at United Cellars. It’s expensive but Prüm is the biggest name on the Mosel, and this is one of the top vineyards.

Alsace is perhaps an easier place to make sense of. We’ve included it here since it has more in common with Germany winewise than the rest of France. However, Grand Cru wines come from specified sites as in the rest of France.

Jean-Luc Mader Riesling 2015 – $30 at WorldWine. I bought a 6-pack of this gorgeous wine, not nearly enough. It’s classic Alsace Riesling from a warm vintage: rich enough and big enough to stand up to goose or duck, seductive, soft and round. A glorious summer’s day in a glass.

Jean-Luc Mader Gewurztraminer 2015 – $30 at Nicks. A small producer of great wines, and this variety is a specialty of the region.

Dopff Au Moulin Riesling Grand Cru Schoenenbourg 2014 (check the vintage) $38 at Dan M’s. Usually a great Riesling at a decent price

Albert Mann Gewurztraminer 2015 – $40 at Worldwine. Another small producer of quality wines

Jean Luc-Mader Rosacker Riesling Grand Cru 2014 – $50 at Winesquare. A wine from one of the finest sites in Alsace.

Jean-Luc Mader’s vineyards at Hunawihr

Italy

There are two countries that instill fear in the hearts and minds of Master Sommelier students, says Tim Gaiser, ‘countries that can cause panic in even the most confident candidate: Italy and Germany.’ Why put Italy on the same level as Germany? ‘Italy … is a pastiche of 20 small countries with over a thousand registered grapes (most of which you’ve never heard of) and home to over 900,000-plus vineyards.’

At the top end, it’s a little less crowded: Italy’s most famous wines come mostly from 2 areas: Tuscany and Piedmont, and from big names such Antinori, Incisa and Gaja. The last of these lifted the great wines of Barolo and Barbaresco to new heights, both in terms of quality and profile. In Tuscany, a few brave winemakers took a different turn: they broke the stranglehold of Italy’s DOC regulations, which demanded that the region’s red wines were made from Sangiovese.

Tuscany

Making wines from Cabernet and Merlot aged in new small oak was a radical departure that created a new class of Super Tuscans, which for years had to labeled as Vino da Tavola, the lowliest level in the DOC system. The biggest of these are Tignanello, Solara, Sassicaia, Ornellaia and Masseto. These days they sell for $500 to $1000 a bottle, and are said to be on the same level as the best Bordeaux reds. Their make-up is much the same as well. Not a rewarding hunting ground for us then.

Tuscan reds such as Chianto Classio and Brunello di Montalcino, made primarily from Sangiovese, taste of red fruits like sour cherries and are aged in old barrels, while the new brigade showcases cassis and blackberries wrapped in pencil shavings oak. Here are some examples:

Banfi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2012 – $79 at Wine House. Wine Spectator says: ‘A textbook Brunello, mingling cherry and berry fruit with bitter almond, iron, sanguine and tobacco notes. Well-structured and harmonious, this should rein in the tannins with a few years of aging. Best from 2020 through 2033.’

Talenti Brunello di Montalcino 2013 – $115 at Prince Wine Store. 2013 is more classic vintage for Brunello, with fresh fruit, elegance and good acid balance, whereas 2012 was a hot year that produced bigger, riper wines.

 

The famous Biondi-Santi Vineyard in Tuscany

Chianti Classico

Chianti reds offer better value than Brunello, as a rule. That’s because Brunello has built a huge reputation for itself, especially in the USA (where 70% of Brunello is sold), and because Chianti evokes memories of straw-covered bottles of cheap and not always cheerful plonk.

We’re still in Tuscany, just outside the 10,000 hectares of the famous Brunello denomination. Chianti Classico is defined in the DOCG regulations. It must be made of 80% of Sangiovese, the remainder can be Canaiolo and Colorino, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Principe Corsini Le Corti Chianti Classico 2015 – $35 at Nicks. The nose is immediately decadent and subtle at the same time with notes of leather, brambleberries, cedar, forest floor and tobacco. A very intense Chianti Classico that shows chewy, structured tannins, a nice supporting backbone of acidity and a long, spicy finish. From organically grown grapes. Drink now or hold. 93 points, James Suckling.

Mazzei Fonterutoli Chianti Classico 2015 – $38 at Nicks. ‘A pure streak of raspberry and peony marks this elegant red, with accents of black pepper, earth, graphite and tobacco. Firm, stretching out on the finish, showing echoes of fruit, earth and mineral. Best from 2019 through 2033.’ Wine Spectator.

Fontodi Chianti Classico 2015 – $75 at Prince Wine Store. ‘The purity of fruit here really makes an impression on you. The nose shines with freshly picked blackcurrants, dark plums, freshly cut herbs, cinnamon, raspberry cheesecake, glazed cherries, orange and lemon rind. The palate is so well-crafted with a silky ball of tannins surrounded by layers of blue and red fruit and enveloping acidity. A long finish. From organically grown grapes. Drink now or hold.’ (95) James Suckling

Piedmont

The reds of Barolo and Barbaresco in Piedmont are a different breed: they’re made from Nebbiolo grapes, and Barolo tends to be a tough, tannic wine in its youth while Barbaresco is more user-friendly. Both have unique nose that mixes roses, tar, truffles, wood smoke and and violets. They mature into reds that resemble great old Hunter reds with tarry, leathery and earthy characters coming into play. Like our Grange, great Barolos will improve in the bottle for decades.

image credit: The Wine Folly

These are great food wines to go with the hearty cuisine of the Langhe region just south of Turin, close to France in the west, and the Mediterranean to the south. Barolo and Barbaresco are classified areas within the Langhe region. Barbaresco used to be more affordable, but these days the Langhe denomination is the place for value. Andrew Jefford gives us more insight on the differences. Here are a few examples:

Roberto Sarotto Barbaresco Riserva DOCG 2013 – $45 at My Wineguy.

Produttori del Barbaresco DOCG 2014 – $70 at Winestar.

ArnaldoRivera Undicicomuni, Barolo 2013 – $75 at Langtons

Luigi Einaudi Barolo Terlo 2013 – $90 at Boccaccio. ‘Love the decadent, sweet-tobacco, stem and ripe-fruit aromas to this one. Full-bodied, layered and soft with ripe tannins and so much subtle fruit. Sexy is the only word to describe it. Drink in 2020.’ 94 Points. James Suckling

If these prices take your breath away, the next option may help.

Vajra Langhe Rosso 2016 – $30 at Winestar. Gets a great wrap and 94 points from Gary at the Winefront. ‘What a little ripper! Cherry, strawberry, almond, new leather, and spice, aniseed too. It’s fresh and juicy, bursting with cherries and spice, but a little bit savoury too, with suede tannin, bright strawberry acidity, and a slightly sticky finish of excellent length. Pleasure packed regionality, perfectly executed. Alcohol: 13.5%.’

Italy makes lots of white wines, but none lay claim to being as grand as the top reds. The best known are Soave and Orvieto, the least known are the white wines of Fruili-Venezia-Guilia. This region sits between the Alps and the Mediterranean between Venice and Slovenia. Many say that it produces Italy’s best white wines in the modern style from modern varieties. Sadly, I can’t find anyone who imports them, but I’ve found a couple of wines that contrast the old and the new.

Pieropan Soave Classico DOC ‘La Rocca’ 2016 – $64 at World Wine. A dense and layered white with sliced-apple, pineapple and honey character. Medium to full body, hot stones, bright fruit and a long and flavorful finish. So many peach and lemon undertones. A gorgeous wine. James Suckling

Roberto Sarotto Puro Chardonnay 2014 – $32 at Winesquare. Sarotto is another rebel who makes Chardonnay in Piedmont where there’s no classification for it, or role models. These are big, rich, complex old-style Chardonnay.

Roberto Sarotto Puro Chardonnay 2015 – $43 at cloudwine. Wine authority Luca Maroni gives the wine 99 points and tells us that this is the best white wine in Italy.

More Reading

The Pfalz – Fabulous destination for wine lovers and foodies 

Guide to Alsace Wine – from the Wine Folly. ‘Learn the most important facts about Alsace including its major wine grapes and blends. Check out a map of the region and some amazing photos of what it’s like to be there.’

Italy’s Barolo and Barbaresco wines are putting French Burgundy to shame

Barolo, Barbaresco, and the “Other” Nebbiolos of Italy – from the Wine Folly

Map of Italian Wine Regions – same source

Great Deals don’t come Better than These

 

The 10 wines on this list are all winners and serious bargains. The St COSME COTES DU RHONE 2016 is the pick of them for me – a phenomenal Shiraz at a ridiculous price.
These are the best deals we’ve dug up in February, and we find more like these every week for our subscribers. For $20 a year, you get 50 Best Buys Weekly mailers. What’s not to Like? Here’s the Link

WHITE WINES

Hidden Label Nagambie Lakes Marsanne 2016 – $6 at Kemenys. Buy 6 at $12 each and get another 6 more for free. My guess for the source of this wine is Mitchelton. What a bargain at this price! Marsanne is a hard sell because it’s not a trendy variety. That’s lucky for us, because it’s a lovely wine – check my review at the link. 92 points. Absolute steal.

Jim Barry Watervale Riesling 2018 – $13 at 1st Choice. Ripe limes and bath powder, fruit-forward and drinking well already, richer and softer than usual but will improve with time. Riesling is another hard sell, and this is up there with the best year after year. Gold medals in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, trophy for best Riesling in Brisbane. 93+ points.

Hidden Label Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2018 – $13 at Kemenys. I suspect Sidewood is hiding behind this label which covers one of the Hills’ best savvies. Close to perfect balance between savoury elements and tropical fruits here, and good line and length. Polished. Too easy to drink. 94 points.

Fat Bastard Chardonnay 2015 – $14 at Nicks. Rich, round Chardonnay from California, not all that fat but it works some peaches and cream into the mix along with a decnet whack of oak. All the elements have come together to make a seamless food wine at a great price. The 2016 is appearing on retailers’ shelves; I haven’t tasted it yet but it will be similar – $13 at Summer Hill Wine. 94points.

La Chablisienne Petit Chablis 2017 – $16 at 1st Choice. From a well-established co-op comes a lovely little Chardonnay. Not a lot of wet stones and salty minerals here, but more red apples and delicate peaches. Is it a warm vintage or global warming? Never mind, it’s delicate and charming and makes a nice change in style from our Chardonnays. Great drinking now and terrific value. 93 points.

RED WINES

Devils Ridge Block 8 Barossa Valley Shiraz 2017 – $10 at Kemenys. It has the easy charm of a young man from a good family. Hewitson in this case. You sniff and sip and swallow, and you shake your head: this wine runs rings around Barossa Shiraz of twice the price and more. Terrific fruit here, but it’s not a fruit bomb. It’s medium-bodied and seductive, a gorgeous Shiraz at a knock-out price. 93 points.

Saint Cosme Côtes du Rhône 2016 – $13 at 1st Choice. The best of this line I can remember, bigger and richer than usual, and more complex. It’s mostly Shiraz from Gigondas, and offers intense dark fruits and dried herbs plus a twist of Rhône dust. It opened up and softened over 3 days in the open bottle, a sure sign that it will get even better. You could pay twice and struggle to find a Rhône red this good. 95+ points.

Hidden Label Reserve Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – $15 at Kemenys. It’s Leconfield Cabernet hiding under the plain wrapper, and it’s a beauty: rich, ripe and stacked with dark berries as always, but more seductive than usual. It was hard to keep my hands off this red a couple of days after opening. Halliday says leave it alone for a few years, but I see no reason to do that. Enormous value. 95+ points.

DESSERT WINES

Buller Premium Fine Muscat 375mL – $9.50 at Dan M’s. A great little Rutherglen Muscat from a long established winery, at a bargain basement price. Winter is only a few months away. 93 points.

De Bortoli `Deen Vat 5` Botrytis Semillon 2016 – $11 at Graysonline in a 6-pack, or at vinomofo in a dozen. Super luscious sticky, teaming with marmalade, orange peel, honey and ripe apricots; would’ve been perfect with a tad more acid but an absolute knockout at this price. Enjoy sooner rather than later. 96 points.

Finding Value in the World of Fine Wine – Part 1

 

‘The biggest wine contaminant (far worse than sulphur) is money. I don’t know how to put it any other way. The contamination is growing worse all the time. The better the wine, tragically, the more money it contains. Fine wines are now brimfull of money.’ Andrew Jefford

Yes, the prices of the world’s great wines have risen to ridiculous heights, with the most expensive wines testing the leap into the hyperspace of 5 figures – for a single bottle. Price has become the ticket to an exclusive club that is not open to most of us simple wine lovers.

Just as serious is the loss of the great benchmarks that are so essential for our education and orientation.  What are our chances of ever tasting a Chateau Petrus from Pomerol, a Montrachet or Domain de la Romanée Conti Burgundy, a Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes or a JJ Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Trockenbeerenauslese? Or even a Screaming Eagle Sauvignon Blanc from California?

Image Source: Californian Wine Report

Wines like these make the near-1000 dollar price tags of Grange and Hill of Grace look perfectly reasonable, don’t they, yet even our home-grown heroes have become luxury goods to impress friends or business people with. They’re collected and cosseted, adored and admired, bought and sold but rarely opened.

Where Value is Tough to Find

$50 will buy you a decent Bordeaux Superior, which will not give you much of an idea why some people spend thousands on a bottle of Chateau Petrus. Even the wines on the next level down from the top guns fetch $400 or more: Chateau Léoville-Las Cases or Chateau L’Evangile, for example. A $100 Margaret River red from Moss Wood, Leeuwin Estate or Woodlands will be a close match in quality terms, and far better value.

The Brits know their way around the bargains in this part of the world, and here are some recommendations from Decanter’s Jane Anson.

CHATEAU LES TROIS CROIX 2015 – $56 at PWS. The mainly Merlot grapes (usually 80% in the blend, with 20% Cabernet Franc) are grown on the same type of limestone plateau that you find in St-Emilion and are rounded out with a oak ageing that usually sees around 30% new barrels. I have loved pretty much every recent vintage here, but maybe search out the 2015 for its damson fruits rippling with minerality.

Chateau Grand Village 2014, Bordeaux, Merlot and Cabernet franc  – $46 at Mosaique Owned by the Guinaudeau family of Château Lafleur, this is becoming a don’t miss wine in the AOC Bordeaux appellation.

CHATEAU MONTLANDRIE 2016 – $52 at PWS  I couldn’t finish without adding one Denis Durantou wine. The prices are, sadly, now starting to head upwards, but you can still find some in the range for £20 or under in the UK market, and if you do see them, snap them up. Durantou is without doubt one of France’s most talented winemakers, and Montlandrie has been owned by him since 2009, planted to 65% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Other Choices

The typical advice from leading wine writers and judges is to look further afield. Just down the road from the grand crus, they tell us, you’ll find many close cousins at much more friendly prices. If top red Burgundies from the Cote de Nuits are out of reach, what about a Clos des Myglands from Mercury? If Chassagene-Montrachet is beyond your budget, what about a Pouilly-Fuissé or St Veran from the Maconnais?

These are solid, honest country wines, affordable alternatives for sure at $25 to $50 a bottle, but they won’t give you the faintest idea why some wine lovers are driven to writing poetry about great Burgundies and spending small fortunes on a few bottles. You’d be better off spending your money on Pinots or Chardonnays from Tasmania or Victoria. Most of the time, you’ll get a better product.

There’s a Fly in my Wine Glass

Parker perfection – 100 points – comes at a price, but there’s more: some of these reds are caricatures that have more in common with Grange than top Bordeaux: refinement, charm and balance have given way to wines that are rich, ripe, muscle-bound and headache-inducing (15% and more). That’s the style of red Parker loved and promoted. More Here.

White Burgundies have been plagued by different challenges, and the Brits tell us that we’re better off with top-notch Aussie Chardonnay. This is what Pierre Mansour form the UK’s Wine Society told Brits a few years ago: ‘ … with the [premature oxidation] issues [white] Burgundy has had in recent years, I’d urge Decanter readers to look to Australia – these wines are brilliant.’

The ‘premox’ issue has tarnished the reputation of expensive white Burgundies for over a decade now, and neither the cause nor the extent of the damage are clear – check the gory details Here.

There’s More to France

France has a lot more to offer than Bordeaux and Burgundy. Even Bordeaux offers serious treasures once we open our eyes and minds. South of Bordeaux on the banks of the river Garonne, we find the great dessert wines of Sauternes and Barsac. They’re much better value than the grand cru reds, even without factoring in the high cost of making these wines: The grapes are picked almost one at a time, over several rounds, and a single vine makes one glass of dessert wine. With dry white or red, one vine makes a whole bottle.

Stickies seem to have gone out of fashion, which has kept prices reasonable, and these are wonderful wines with few rivals. While Chateau d’Yquem has carved out a reputation that puts it on a lofty pedestal, with a price nudging $1000 a bottle, the next best wines are very close in quality and much more affordable. Here are a few choices:

  • Chateau Coutet 2014 – $87 at Nicks
  • Doisy Daene 2015 – $99 at Nicks
  • Chateau Rieussec 2014 – $120 at Nicks
  • 2011 Chateau Guiraud Sauternes (375 ml) – $95 at MWG
  • 2015 DV by Chateau Doisy-Vedrines Sauternes (375ml) – $20 at Nicks

There’s More Again

Just north of Sauternes lies Graves, an area that makes stylish and affordable whites from Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle. Sadly, new see very few of these wines down under.  Here are a couple

Chateau du Cros – Sauvignon Blanc – 2014 – $22 at French Wine Collective. ‘You won’t pay more than €20 in France for this brilliant Fronsac, owned by Patrick Leon, ex-Mouton winemaker,’ says Decanter’s Jane Anson.

Jane also recommends Clos Floridene Grand Vin de Graves – $50 at Cellarit. This spot in Pujols-sur-Ciron used to be a fully red wine property,’ she tells us, ‘but [Professor] Dubourdieu recognised its sand-red clay-limestone terroir as an exceptional one for white (he compared it to Chassagne and Meursault), particularly as its location in the Ciron valley also means some of the coldest nights in Bordeaux – perfect for encouraging aromatics.’

The Loire

The river Loire flows across France from east to west, through what is truly picturesque wine country. There are many lovely wines made here, from the Muscadets near the Atlantic to the gentle reds of Chinon and Bourgeuil, to Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume further upstream. These wines are not considered classic wines on the same level as the top Bordeaux and Burgundies, but they’re affordable at $25 to $50, and worth trying. Once again, hardly anyone imports these wines.

Muscadet Sèvre et Maine “Briords” Vieilles Vignes, Domaine de la Pépière – $36 at Andrew Guard ‘From 70-year old vines, on granite. Pure bright fruit on the nose, which is clear, lightly creamy, with some fresh herbal and mineral nuances. The wine has terrific tension and a lovely mouth-feel. Really fine potential here.’ Says one reviewer.

Marc Bredif Classic Vouvray 2016 – $25 at Nicks. Made from Chenin Blanc on the lower Loire, these wines remind me of Hunter Semillons: when they’re young, they smell and taste of apples and lemons, when they’re old they taste of lanolin and wet straw.

Chablis

Chablis is another classic area, just north of Burgundy on the way to Champagne. The premier grand crus are expensive, if not in the same league as top white Burgundies, but the premier crus, the next level down, are much more sensibly priced.

Andrew Jefford tells us that co-ops are an unrivalled source of affordable, dependable wine from proven terroir, and cites the long-established La Chablisienne in Chablis. Vintage Cellars imports these wines

La Chablisienne 1er Cru Lechet  2013 – $40 at Vintage Cellars. The web page seems to have problems loading, and the 2013 vintage most likely needs updating. Here’s the page with the 3 wines they import

Nicks has a few Chablis wines for us, and the William Fevre Chablis 1995 makes a really good start at a decent price: $30. Premier Crus are much dearer, of course.

Maison des Hates Chablis Premier Cru Beauroy 2016 – $60 at Nicks. Check the reviews at the links.

The Rhone

The Provence is fertile ground for us, at the southern end of the valley. The further up the river you go, the further up the prices go. Chateauneuf do Pape is not a good value proposition because it’s so well-known. Gigondas and St Joseph are affordable destinations, Cornas and Crozes-Hermitage less so, and Hermitage and Cote Rotie are at the top of the price range. The prices are up there for a good one.

  • Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape 2015 – $165 at Nicks.
  • Guigal Brune & Blonde Cote Rotie 2012 – $120 at Vaucluse Cellars. Serious wine made by one of the pillars of this region.
  • Domaine Jean-Louis Chave, Hermitage, Rhône, France, 2016 – $90 at Nicks

The next group is more affordable

  • Saint-Damien Gigondas Vieilles Vignes 2015 – $40 at Nicks
  • Domaine Saint Damien Gigondas Vieilles Vignes Rouge 2015 – $40 at Nicks
  • Ferraton Père et Fils La Source Saint Joseph Syrah 2015 – $48 at Euro Wine Store
  • Cave de Tain Crozes-Hermitage 2015 – $38 at Dynamic Wines. Another do-op that comes highly recommended by Andrew Jefford

There is great value to be found among the basic appellation wines, and the boys at Nicks do a pretty good job sorting the best from the rest

  • Guigal Cotes du Rhone 2015 – $19 at Nicks. This is the benchmark of sorts, but there are better wines from single domains
  • Chateau Juvenal Les Ribes du Vallat – $25 at Nicks
  • Saint-Damien Plan de Dieu Vieilles Vignes Cotes du Rhone Villages 2015 $25 at Nicks

There’s enough to keep you amused here, so we’ll leave the second part of this post until next week when we check the best value wines of other countries such as Italy and Spain.

The Trouble with George

 

The trouble starts with labels that feature George Wyndham’s head exploding in various colourful ways. Pernod Ricard Australia has built a huge marketing campaign around this new range, which celebrates the spirit of George Wyndham who left a childhood of privilege in England to explore the world.

‘With Meg, he braved the voyage to Australia,’ the story goes. ‘George battled frost, fire, storms, bushrangers, disease and more … George didn’t just create a wine. He created a legacy. He proved that with conviction and confidence, anyone can forge a new life for themselves.’

What the story neglects to tell us is that George established Dalwood (later called Wyndham Estate) near Branxton in the Hunter Valley, and planted Shiraz there in 1830 – years before the first plantings of Shiraz in South Australia.

Instead we’re treated to videos of George the Fixer, George the Wizard, George the Illustrious, George the Unbound and George the Lover, would you believe?  This is classic marketing mumbo jumbo, removed from reality, suspended in outer space by marketing minds with no connection to the real story.

There’s not a word about the recent sale of the historic Dalwood property, years after Pernod Ricard closed down the operation. Nor is there a word about shutting down another historic winery PR acquired some time back: Morris of Rutherglen, snapped up by Casella just before it was mothballed.

These days, Wyndham Estate is just another brand in the Pernod Ricard Collection that includes Jacob’s Creek, Chivas Regal, Wild Turkey, Beefeater, Glenlivet, Kahlua, Ballantine’s, Perrier-Jouet and Mumm. The stories are pure fantasy; you can watch them here https://www.iamgeorge.com.au/george-stories.html

With a treasure trove of real stories of the men and women pioneers in Australia’s wine industry, why do we need these fairy tales spun by adolescent minds? Why do big wine companies lose the essential connections with the vines, the people and the vineyards that produce their products? We asked the same question in our story on Lindemans – Death By a Thousand Cuts.

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Best Wines Under $20 – Proof of Concept

 

The core concept of Best Wines Under $20 has always been to find wines of distinction at every day prices. In a business where high quality wines tend to sell for $100 and even $1000 a bottle, that’s not a trivial challenge. Yet it happens, and subscribers tell us when we get it right.

Sometimes such wines are new discoveries, new stars on the horizon that have not yet attracted attention; other times these are commercial wines that transcend their humble origins in a given vintage. The Topers Chardonnay 2013 was a great example of the former, Wynn’s black label Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 was a lovely example of the latter.

Known Unknowns and Known Knowns

I’m one of many who wish they’d bought more cases of the glorious Topers from a vineyard in Cowra, at the ludicrous price of $13 a bottle. I found it by accident: our webmaster asked if I’d like to see a sample from a client of hers who made wine. I said: sure. That’s easily said but it’s the hardest thing to assess a wine with no history, no show record, no reference points and no entry in Halliday’s Companion. You have to make your judgement and be prepared to back it.

The Wynns Black Label was the opposite: a racehorse from a famous blood line, and a family history spanning 6 decades. The trick here was that TWE decided to offer heavy discounts on the wine soon after its release. It would’ve been released in 2012/13, with an RRP between $35 and $40, and here it was on sale at Vintage Cellars for $19 a bottle. The reviews from the Winefront and Huon Hooke were positive but their scores were just 93 with a + added by Gary Walsh.

I thought it deserved 94 points at least, and 2 ++. James Halliday scored the wine 96 points, but we know his scores are inflated.  His review matched my impression though: ‘Deep colour; it spent 15 months in a mix of old and new French and American oak barriques, giving rise to a fragrant and expressive bouquet of black fruits, spice and cedar nuances. The palate really sings with dark berry fruit, oak and tannins the supporting orchestra. Right up there with the best Black Labels. 96 points.’

I ended up buying cases of the Wynns 2009, a typical black label to my mind. The best of these are Peter Pans, wines that retain their youthful vigour as they grow older. At nearly 10 years of age, the 2009 follows that blueprint; it will last for a long time.

Unsung Heroes

Pewsey Vale Rieslings are the white foil to Wynns black label, a long line of wines going back to the sixties. I’ve enjoyed most of these wines since I came of drinking age, but lost touch with them after turning my back on a fine wine world gone nuts in the late 1990s. In 2011, with my interest in wine rekindled, I saw the 2006 at Dan Murphy’s in the form of a cellar release selling for $20. I bought a bottle, then a case. I’ve bought most vintages since.

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Jacobs Creek Classic Riesling 2018 – Giant Killer or Giant Fake?

 

Last week, I put up a post headed $7 Wines Win Big Trophies at the Latest Shows. In a nutshell, I asked how the judges could get it so wrong: how could they give the lowliest wine made by Jacobs Creek a trophy and 96 points, while they scored the same company’s flagship Riesling, the $30 Steingarten Riesling 2017, a measly 83 points?

I thought that comparison was pretty compelling, but one subscriber came to the JC Classic Riesling’s defence in a well-researched email.

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