At long last we’ve been able to arrange another promo with Topers Wines of Cowra. The Topers Chardonnay 2013 promo we ran 3 years ago was the most successful we’ve ever run by far. Subscribers bought a case, 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 2014 wasn’t quite in the same class, and no wine was made in 2015.

Topers Cowra Chardonnay 2016. Grab it for $195 a dozen or $16 a bottle at the winery. The wine retails for $30 a bottle. The link takes you straight to the order page. Enter the quantity you want and hit BUY NOW. That will take you to a page where you can enter the discount code: BWU$20/12+. That will reduce the cost to $195 per dozen instantly. Freight is additional; check the shipping options and costs near the bottom of the same page.

The promo includes a subscription to the 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, and I’ll send you a sample mailer.

The 2016 Topers Cowra 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. I’m sure the 2016 will get improve over the next couple of years, but it’s a delight to drink already.

The wine 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 typically boutique clients. The husband and wife team was a finalist in the 2018 Winemaker of the Year contest run by Gourmet Traveller Wine.

Please send me an email if you have any questions –

Best Regards

Kim Brebach

Wine Sleuth

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


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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 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

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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$7 Wines Win Big Trophies at the Latest Shows


The International Riesling Challenge 2018

It’s an annual event staged in Canberra, with local and overseas judges doing the tasting and the scoring. The maths always provide some overall clues. 567 Rieslings were judged in various categories, and 2 out of 3 won a medal.

  • 70 gold medals
  • 104 silver medals
  • 205 bronze

That’s a pretty high ratio, and not uncommon these days. Winemaking standards have improved out of sight, they tell us. To be fair, the majority of medals were bronze so the marking was reasonably tough.

Photo © Chris Holly

The Crème de La Crème

Let’s just look at one category: Elite Gold Medal winners, wines scoring 96 points or more.

Here we find a surprise entry in a Jacobs Creek Classic Riesling 2018, which we can buy for $7 at Liquorland. So how did a wine mass-produced to a price win an elite gold medal? This is the lowliest wine made by Jacobs Creek. The company’s flagship Riesling is the $30 Steingarten 2017, which scored a measly 83 points, just about off the bottom of the scale.

There are lots more weird scores: the 2017 Ottelia Mount Gambier Riesling that James Halliday gove 98 points to scored just 83 points. Jim Barry’s top-of-the-tree Florita Riesling 2017 scored just 84.

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Super Secret 94-Point Chardonnay Deal – Under $10 a bottle


Fellow Wine Lovers,

Every now and then, one of the wine merchants we recommend comes up with an irresistible deal. This time, the team at Winedirect offers us a rich, creamy Chardonnay subscribers rave about, for close to $8 a bottle – $100 in an unbroken dozen, and that includes freight. This is almost one third of the normal price, so we can’t reveal the wine’s identity.

I gave the wine 94 points in my review, and here’s a sample of feedback from our subscribers:

Lovely buttery chardonnay, nice gentle oak in the background, sweet but not syrupy. Delicious and a terrific bargain. Lynda O

Nectarine and fig flavours with a slightly creamy texture. A much, much classier wine than you have any right to expect for less than $10 a bottle delivered. Anton D

A lovely surprise. It has all you want from a Chardy … some oak but light on its feet with lovely stone fruit complimented by a limey minerality. Soft with a generous mouth feel. True blue bargain. Nick H

 … creamy palate with pleasing natural stone fruit characters and balancing acidity. Medium rich with good mouthfeel and some stirred lees character giving extra complexity and a lingering finish. This is a good commercial White Burgundy style. 93 points … David D

Thanks for the recommendation for a top well-made wine with lovely fruit & texture. Bargain. Jim S

An outstanding Limestone Coast Chardonnay – luscious. Incredible value. John B

To order the wine, go here or catch Darryl on 0417 843 547 or at for more info or help.

Not familiar with Winedirect? Dr Bob sums up the experience of many subscribers this way: ‘I’ve bought wines from Darryl from WineDirect over many years and regard him more as a friend than a salesman – he has treated me well and is honest in his appraisals and recommendation’.’

I should add that all I get from Winedirect is regular samples of their wines, and co-operation on occasional promos.

Best Regards
Kim Brebach
Wine Sleuth