The Wynns Paradox

 

A Decade of Black Label Cabernet Bargains

Sue Hodder and her team make a vast amount of wine form the 500 hectare Coonawarra vineyard. The paradox is the consistent high quality of the Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon, a famous line established over 60 years ago. The huge volume of this wine has kept the prices low, and made it easy for Wynns to keep back vintages for museum releases.

Over the last decade, Sue Hodder has introduced a number of fine single vineyard wines that sell at higher prices, and a black label Shiraz to keep the Cabernet company. The black label Cabernet has become an institution: it is one of the most recognizable labels, and one of the most cellared Aussie reds. The quality of these wines is astonishing, given the volumes involved, and it has improved in the last dozen years, despite starting from a pretty high baseline.

Yet Wynns has always been the poor cousin to Penfolds in the Treasury Wine Estates family. It’s as if they only had enough people and money to market one brand. And a few years ago, they added insult to injury when they moved the winemaking from Coonawarra to Karadoc in the Riverland, and to the Barossa for the more prestigious labels. Will the wines be the same? Who knows?

Right now Wynns is a wine lover’s heaven, with reds that other companies – including Penfolds – would easily charge twice as much for. Our list of black label Cabernets covers 10 vintages going back to 2006 – what other label offers that kind of luxury without chasing around the wine auctions? Even these older wines go for low prices, in some cases barely higher than the current vintage.

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

The best of the list below are the 2015, 2012 and 2006, with the 2012 museum release priced just a couple of dollars above the current release (2017). Unbelievable Value.  Going back beyond 2006, the wines tend to get bigger. Sue says she was expected to make bigger reds than she wanted to when she started, and Allen says the nineties were a dream decade with warm, dry vintages. The best wines are 1990, 1991, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2002 and 2004.

Sue Hodder has won many battles over her 25 years, from returning the style to elegance and lifted fruit, to buying French oak barrels to enhance the style. And to getting the best winemaking equipment available including an optical grape sorter. The real winners are we lucky punters, of course.

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

Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – $38 at Vintage Cellars . Huon Hooke rates this vintage as one of the best, along with the 2012, and scores it 98 points. It’s a touch bigger than the average at 13.8%, rich and ripe with great depth and length yet elegance and finesse too. My score is 96+ points.

Wynns Black label Cabernet Sauvignon 2014$36 at Vintage Cellars. I can’t find my notes on this one, but Huon Hooke likes it: ‘Very deep, youthful purple colour, with a hi-fi blackcurrant, mulberry nose with a trace of blueberry. It’s all about the fruit. The wine is intense and powerful but also supremely elegant, the tannins super-fine. All elements of the wine are in superb harmony. It just needs time. 95+ points.

Wynns Black Label Coonawarra Cabernet 2013 – $40 at Vintage Cellars. This vintage didn’t grab me when first released. 5 years later it’s a different story: it’s full-flavoured, rich and quite dense but not heavy. The classic cassis fruit is backed up with pencil shavings oak, good line and length, and fine tannins on the finish. Has years in front of it. 95+ points.

Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012$33 at Winestar. It’s a great release from a great year, with gorgeous dark fruit and seamless oak treatment. It’s medium-bodied but tastes richer than usual, with great depth of flavour and perfect balance. Great drinking now and for the next decade. There are 6 reviews at the link. 97 points from me, Huon Hooke gives it 98 points.

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

Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 – $35 at 1st Choice. The 2010 didn’t grab me in its youth, despite the outstanding vintage, but it’s really opened up and shows great depth of dark cherry fruit backed by subtle French oak, it’s rich and complex but elegant as usual. Good drinking now but years to go. 96 points.

Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 – $47 at Dan M’s. I bought cases of this wine when it was on discount for $19 some years ago. Those days are gone, and $47 is a fair price for this wine if not a bargain price. This vintage was a Peter Pan, still young and fresh at 8 years, but has mellowed and put on weight of late. Yes, hard to believe. Ready to enjoy over the next 5 years. 95 points.

Wynns Black Label Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 – $50 at Jim’s Cellars. Rich, ripe fruit dripping with cassis. An opulent red that reflects the warm vintage, and draws a fine line between richness and restraint. 95 points. Great drinking now but will last a few more years. There’s a question mark over the quality of Jim’s storarge – they run 2 suburban bottle shops.

Wynns Black Label Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 –$45 at Garnet Cellar. Similar style to the 2008, opulent with great depth of ripe cassis, a seductive red that seems ready to enjoy but there’s that Peter Pan touch again: I said pretty much the same thing 7 years ago. 96 points. Garnet Cellar specializes in older vintages and has temperature controlled storage.

Wynns Black Label Coonawarra Shiraz Museum 2010 – $40 at Vintage Cellars. I’ve included this Shiraz because Sue Hodder is very proud of it. The fruit comes off 50+ year-old vines, and this is the first vintage in a fairly new line. I prefer the Cabernets but that’s just me.

Some light Reading:

Tasting notes from Chris Shanahan

Insightful interview with Sue Hodder

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

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

McWilliams Wines in Receivership

 

The obvious question: what took so long?

A friend in the business said it was a train wreck a looooong time coming.

I agree, and here’s why: How many insurmountable opportunities can a company squander and survive?

QUALITY

In the years between Maurice O’Shea and Jim Chatto, they made mostly ordinary wines from some of the best vineyards in the Hunter.

GROWTH STRATEGY

None that is evident. Random acquisitions meant they ended up with a grab-bag of vineyards and labels

BRANDING

No sign of it, just a vast array of diverse labels, totally different styles, no family resemblance, no umbrella to provide cohesion, just a huge mess. Random harvest. And they keep adding more labels https://mcwilliams.com.au/inspired-by-the-iconic-stories-of-the-mcwilliams-family/

MARKETING

A disaster, but how do you market such an unholy mess of products?

MANAGEMENT

Took 2 years to finalise the Evans & Tate acquisition. 10 years later they sold most of it to Fogarty – does anyone at McW remember why they bought it in the first place? Half the labels have been sold at deep discounts for the last decade, probably losing a pile of money.That’s why

That’s why I’m surprised it’s taken this long for McW to run into trouble. They never defined a clear value proposition, or articulated what they stood for, what they did better than others. Trying to be everything to everybody is no business strategy.

Episode Two – The Dearth of MALBEC

 

A guest post by Vin Keller

(Episode One – ADVENTURES IN A GLASS of MALBEC)

So there became a problem of my own making – I was enjoying Malbec and Malbec blends. They could be sought from outlets without much trouble. There seemed to be plenty of other varietals and blends available, and different winemaking districts began to be represented. But that was the 1960s.

Leap forward into the 1970s. Something had changed. Starting with a jolt in the very late 1960s, a revolution began in the Oz world of wine. Initially, there was real pressure to produce more and more red grapes (especially), and the growers and processors were really caught out wondering just how a massive and sudden revolutionary demand for, particularly, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz wines, or blends of these two, could be sourced. This revolution came right of the blue, and this astonishing demand kept right on accelerating for at least three decades, it appears.

The revolution’s down-side – simply, several white varieties began to vanish, and certain red varieties that had been very useful to date as varietals or blenders, were also on the nose (bad pun). Some of these included Mataro, Mondeuse, Blue Imperial (Cinsaut), Grenache, Alicante Bourchet, as well as a number of fringe red grapes. Sadly for me, Malbec was one of those, and wines for my interest began to be seen much less often on the shelves.

This truly dramatic narrowing of focus on what was being produced was caused by a minimum of two influences – first, several of the traditional wine producers were simply taken over by the cashed-up commercial invaders, some of which not previously involved in wine production – it was a take-over boom.

Second, there was a parallel socialised drinking revolution whereby those recently converted to the art of enjoying wine were suddenly either (or both) experts in oenology, or were heavily drugged by the new phenomenon of wine writing in journals and the dailies. At the top of this latter pile was the great Leonard Paul Evans, an escapee from Britain and New Zealand, who arrived just in time to make sense of the whole event for us through his knowledge, daring, ability, and down-to-Earth delivery. He was the Leader of the times, and many such as myself owe him a real debt.

Len was arguably the one most responsible for arresting, for example, our newly acquired habit of racing down to the corner grog shop and ordering several dozen of this or that, just because Bill’s uncle’s best mate’s sister-in-law had heard somewhere that a certain wine was a steal, or that you’d be a mug if you didn’t buy a few cases.  Gradually, Len’s clever and informative articles of caring and accurate advice and experiences began to have us think about what we were actually doing. So, instead of being headless chooks, we took that unrewarding rush to be first, to be more like choosing a painting. To his great credit, Len never instructed us on taste, but gave us the idea that we should develop our palates progressively by trying more and better wines. The up-side of the revolution – nationally, we had begun to think about wine. Beer and Sherry were consigned to the back seat.

Of course, Len Evans did support Cabernet and Shiraz based wines, as well as a quite biased Hunter region fan, but he was quick to point out that our very competent Australian wineries produced many stylish and beautifully-made products from those two grapes alone, not that he was unfair about other varieties – perhaps just less effusive. But he also produced several books which thoroughly covered the industry at that time, and many updates on the progress. He wrote about winemakers, wineries and their Australian history, and of course, detailed notes on each wineries products. These were the Bibles of their time; many fine wine writers have emerged from Len’s sunlight since.

But what of Malbec?  By the mid-1990s, a proportion of the “lesser” varietals such as those listed above were grubbed out in the rush to meet the swing to “important” varietals, while the remaining proportion from bearing vines was used for anonymous blending purposes –  laws allowed producers to state only the major components on the label.

I will write about Malbec and its continuing journey to the present time in Oz in Episode Three.

Cheers – Vin Keller.

The Wine Folly’s Guide to Malbec

BEST SPARKLING WINES UNDER $20

 

Our Top List – Hand-Picked

Wolf Blass Red Label Chardonnay Pinot Noir Premium Cuvee NV – $6 at Dan M’s. A clever blend that is surprisingly drinkable; crisp, lively, soft and well balanced. This was bubbles champ Tyson Stelzer’s Sparkling Wine of the Year under $20 in recent years. Check his review at the link. I don’t think it’s quite that good, but at this price you can splash it around with gay abandon. 89 points.

Azahara Chardonnay Pinot Noir Sparkling – $10 at Nicks This is a wine that breaks stereotypes. There’s not only nothing cheap and nasty about it but it’s actually smooth, creamy and enjoyable. I recommended this wine to friends looking for a $10 bubbly for a big party, and they were over the moon. Five years later they shared one of the leftover bottles with me, and it was even better. 90 points.

Redbank Emily Chardonnay Pinot Noir Brut Cuvee NV – $11 at Kemenys. This is a label from the Hill Smith Family Vineyards stable, the fruit from the King Valley in the Victorian Alps. A cool bubbly from a cool climate, the crisp crunch balanced by some faint toasty notes. 91 points

De Bortoli Rococo Premium Cuvée – $12 at Winestar. This is a good cool climate bubbly (Yarra Valley) with an outrageous label, and I have no idea why it’s so cheap. Grab some while it lasts – check the raves at the link.

Jacob’s Creek Prosecco Spritz – $14 at Dan M’s (today). Prosecco infused with blood orange, botanicals and a twist of bitters. These additions sure lift the flavour and add interest, while the package makes a statement of its own. It’s a very smart blend that would please large crowds. 92 points.

Cave de Lugne Cremant Blanc de Blancs NV – $15 at 1st Choice. That co-op strikes again. Cremant styles have fewer bubbles. 100% Chardonnay Hints of lemon and flowers on the nose, crisp, creamy and round, biscuity characters add interest. 92 points.

Santa Margherita Prosecco Di Valdobbiadene – $16 at Dan M’s (member special – today) A great  Prosecco for the money, and I have no idea why they’re cutting the price. It’s perfectly balanced and not too sweet at 9 grams of sugar. Great mousse, fresh & zippy, perfect spritz for summer lunches. 93 points.

Deutz Marlborough Cuvee Nv – $18 at Kemenys. This has been one my favourite under $20 bubblies for years, but it’s become really hard to find. Here’s Huon Hooke’s take on it: ‘It’s creamy-textured and silky-soft in the mouth, with a clean finish. Drinkability is very good. Great intensity, richness and extra length. It’s deceptively easygoing and soft. Excellent wine and very, very drinkable. And it doesn’t taste like Marlborough. 95 points.’

Brown Brothers Pinot Noir Chardonnay Pinot Meunier – $20 at Nicks. It’s made from King Valley grapes these days, but the style hasn’t changed much. It’s always been an understated bubbly, a harmonious blend with no rough edges, the kind of wine that doesn’t make a splash but by the second glass it makes you think: hey, this is a pretty decent bubbly. 93 points.

Aubert Et Fils Brut Champagne – $22 at Dan M’s. Champagne for $20? Yes, but don’t get too excited. It’s OK for the money, and useful for impressing guests (who are not champagne aficionados). There’s nothing wrong with the wine, but it’s fruit-driven and simple, and the bubbles aren’t super fine. That said, it’s a decent glass of bubbly. 91 points.

A by Arras Premium Cuvée NV – $22 at Dan M’s. Even the entry level bubbly from the House of Arras is close to the champagne style. It’s obviously spent some time on yeast lees. The fruit is in the apple and citrus spectrum, but it’s not green. 94 points.

Pirie Sparkling NV – $27 at MyCellars where the freight is free for subscribers on any quantity (promo code BWU20). This has long been a favourite of ours, in such a classy package.Check the raves at the link.

Georg Jensen Hallmark Cuvee NV – $27.50 at First Choice. Gorgeous, elegant bottle with a GJ designed reusable metal stopper that sits on a crown seal – great gift idea. The wine is made by Heemskerk in Tassie, and is cool-climate elegant, fresh and crisp with a twist of grapefruit, but it’s not about the wine here. 93 points.

Quartz Reef Methode Traditionnelle NV – $30 at Kemenys. ‘Insanely good drinking,’ says Mike Bennie whose score is 95 points; his review is at the link.

Pink Bubbles

Taltarni Brut Taché – $14 at Dan M’s (member special – today). Taltarni established this label almost 25 years ago, and has built up a loyal following. It’s a serious bubbly this, dry and savoury with just the right touch of blush and red berry fruit.

Chandon Brut Rosé – $21 at Dan M’s. Salmon pink color. Biscuits and lemons on the nose. Palaate is gently fruity with a dry, mellow finish. Classy drinking. 93 points

Ninth Island Sparkling Rosé NV – $22 at Gasworks Cellar Door. Pale, beautiful salmon-pink hue; the aromas fresh and attractive with strawberry and red-fruit scents. The palate is rich and fruity, with balanced sweetness and a trace of grip. Icing sugar; almond icing. Lovely wine with poise and grace. 93 points.

Sparkling Reds

The Black Chook Sparkling Shiraz – $16 at Nicks. Mc:aren Vale Shiraz at its best. Sumptuous, seductive, irresistible. Christmas pudding in a bottle. 93 points.

Seppelt Original Sparkling Shiraz NV – $19 at Dan M’s. Top Gold at the Sydney Wine Show last year
(95 Points) – Royal Sydney Wine Show 2018, and Tyson Stelzer’s Sparkling Wine of the Year Under $30. Plums, cherries, Christmas spices and pepper in a vibrant, creamy envelope. 94 Points. No serious competition at this price.

Best Champagnes for the Festive Season

 

The Best Buys, Hand-picked

This list is getting away from our usual price range and, for most of us, these are special occasion wines. For Christmas or birthdays, to share or to give to special people, rewards for special favours and so on.

The entry price into this club is about $40 – that’s the kind of money you have to spend to get a champagne which shows the character of this area in France, and some of the style these wines are admired for.  Differences in style reflect the site the grapes come from, and the house styles of the major champagne producers.

There are grand old houses, small estates, and grower co-ops. In Australia, we mostly see the wines from the big houses: Veuve Cliquot, Pol Roger, Laurent Perrier, Moet, Lanson, Mumm and so on.  Most of us don’t buy these wines very often, so we tend to gravitate toward the safe, well-known brands.

Non Vintage champagnes are blends of different vineyards and vintages; champagne blending is an art form in a sphere of its own. Vintage champagnes are from a single year, still blended from many different parcels. Only about 5% of champagne production is vintage champagne, and only 3 – 4 vintages a decade are good enough.

Vintage champagne is not always better than NV, since the vintage year can turn out less grand than expected, while the Non Vintage offers the blenders more options to smooth the wrinkles and maintain the house style. Vintage champagne tends to be 8 to 12 years old, since these wines spend 6 – 8 years on lees. The result is more complexity.

Prices for champagnes vary enormously in Australia, but as usual we’ve dug up the best wines at the best prices.  As a rule, vintage wines, blanc de blancs (made from Chardonnay) and Rosés sell at a premium. The next level up above $200 is the home of fancy labels such as Dom Perignon and Krug, and special bottling like Roederer Crystal, Cuvee Winston Churchill and so on.

I don’t drink champagne every week, so I’ve consulted the wine reviewers who focus on these wine styles to get the latest insights.

Non Vintage

Louis Auger Champagne Brut – $30 at Dan M’s. Sharp price for a champagne, and Huon Hooke’s take is pretty positive: ‘Light yellow hue. A discreet, fresh style with aromas of iced pastries and a delicate but quite rich flavour. It has a generous dosage (sugar), but is balanced, soft and fluffy textured. Very good wine. 92 points.

Piper Heidsieck NV  – $40 at Kemenys. Tyson Stelzer says this is too good to hand over to friends or family as a Chrissie gift. Under the guidance of Regis Camus, this house has really lifted its game, and its champagnes are excellent value as a result. Even their humble NV stands out.

Veuve Fourny Grande Reserve Brut Vertus Premier Cru NV – $55 at Kemenys. A lesser known, smaller house that is highly regarded by both C Mattinson and Huon Hooke. Check their reviews at the link. Sharp price.

Laurent-Perrier La Cuvee Champagne NV – $60 at Dan M’s. This is one of the largest houses, still family-owned and run by two sisters (women seem to feature large in champagne). Huon Hooke scores the wine 94 points, and says: ‘This replaces the old Brut LP. It had 4 years on lees instead of 3, has more chardonnay – 55% – and lower dosage. No taille, only cuvée, hence the name. A superb wine, outstanding for such a large maker and for the ‘workhorse’ wine of such a big house. Very creamy. Hints of peach and toast. A lovely soft, rich, full-flavoured but also refined wine.’

Alfred Gratien Brut NV – $68 at Jim’s Cellars. Alfred Gratien is a small producer, making about 300,000 bottles a year. Huon Hooke describes a ‘complex bouquet revealing some barrel-fermentation as well as age development. Very attractive and very nutty. The palate is intense and dry, an incisive, penetrating flavour powered by good acidity (non-malo). It’s rich, powerful and dramatic, really fills the mouth and lasts long on the aftertaste. Seldom does one see such concentration in an NV Champagne! Superb wine, dry but not austere – the finish is tremendous. This is an example of how oak can be used in a positive way. 97 points.

Blancs de Blanc, Vintage and Rosé

Lanson Gold Label Vintage Brut 2005 – $70 at Dan M’s (today). Huon Hooke’s review says: ‘Quite youthful colour. Lovely toasty bouquet, bready, bakery aromas abounding. Rich, complex and lip-smacking dry finish. Excellent wine, very long, the acidity cleansing the finish superbly. This is bright, fresh and youthful and has a way to go. 95 points

Piper Heidsieck Rosé Sauvage NV  – $63 at First Choice. I thought we’d better have one of these on the list, even though I’m not a great fan of Rosé in this style. You often pay a lot extra for the added blush and the fancy box. That’s not the case here: Pinot Noir does most of the talking in this full-bodied, full-flavoured pink champagne. It’s almost a sparkling red Burgundy with raspberries and forest notes,  a great food wine that will stand up to salmon in soy marinade and even Peking duck. 94 points.

Piper Heidsieck Vintage 2008 – $70 at Kemenys. I managed to get a few bottles of this at Dan M’s for $63, would you believe? A good friend who really knows his champagnes tells me that 2008 is the vintage of this century so far. Under the guidance of cellarmaster Régis Camus, who has won the International Wine Challenge Sparkling Winemaker of the Year award 8 times, this house has found new form and vitality. This is a rich, generous champagne, toasty and full-bodied with great line and length, that will last and improve for years. 96 points.

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Cuvee Cuis 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs Champagne – $70 at Nicks. Tyson Stelzer calls this wine ‘one of the most pristine champagnes for its price. Impeccable phenolic maturity … it sings with crystalline purity of lemon blossom, lemon juice and grapefruit, and an almond nut maturity providing a sense of dimension. Gentle chalk minerality and beautifully integrated dosage linger with outstanding persistence. 93 points.’

AR Lenoble Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008 – $80 at Kemenys. 100% Chardonnay from a single vineyard near the Grand Cru village of Chouilly. Tyson Stelzer calls this ‘an elegant and complex champagne with yellow apples, honey melon, toast and brioche. A rich mouthfeel, tiny persistent mousse with a smooth and long finish. This is a champagne that will work well with lobsters and crab. 95 points.’ It sells for $120 and more at other merchants.

Veuve Clicquot Vintage Champagne 2008 –$99 at Nicks. ‘The clear bargain of all the champagnes tasted this year,’ says James Halliday, ‘reflecting the great vintage and the vinification revolution by chief winemaker Dominique Demarville. Brioche, nutty oak and peach blossom all whisper in the spring breeze of the bouquet before the stone and citrus fruits of the vibrant palate rise to a crescendo on the finish. 96 points.

ADVENTURES IN A GLASS of MALBEC

 

Part One

by Vin Keller

In 1961, it was pilfered beer and Crème de Menthe from a friend’s dad’s supply, and sipped under his house during A.W.O.L. lunchtimes from school. The footpath on the way back to school always seemed to sway wildly from side to side. History and Algebra just floated past.

By 1964, it was a can of Screwdriver, and a bottle of Orlando Barossa Pearl as my debut into the world of

wine: soon after, there followed Buring’s Sparkling Rhinegold, McWilliam’s Porphry Sauternes, Pink Starwine, and the inevitable Kaiser Stuhl Cold Duck. A blushing laugh now, that’s the way things were then. Those introductory liquids were a common start for practically every Aussie apprentice boozer toward better things. Much better things – and, in my case, lots of them. And I was learning to sip; not swig.

My first Malbec arrived from Stage Left; picture the rear of a fruit shop, and I’m sitting on an upended banana box. The shop owner was a friendly Italian man, and he was willing to part with some of his very good wines only on condition that I tasted some of his Houghton’s 1963 Swan Valley Malbec. Malbec??

(“What’s that?”, I wondered – in complete ignorance).

I learned about the revered Jack Mann, polished winemaker at Houghton’s for many decades. And his beautiful successive vintage Malbecs were thereafter always in my growing cellar. And there was also his lighter, but so attractive Houghton Strelley, a blend of Cabernet, Shiraz and Malbec. I used to drink that with an Italian salad from Leo’s Spaghetti Bar while sprawled on the sand, watching the gentle ripples lap St. Kilda Beach. Just a beautiful experience.

Visits back to my Italian mentor became as often as my carefully-saved wages could allow. And the memories linger in strength to this day. More Houghton’s Malbec (of course!) and other jewels from his collection – try Seppelt Great Western Bin 45A and C Champagne of 1954, Seppelt great Western Riesling of 1959, and that astonishing 1958 Seppelt Great Western Cabernet-Sauvignon; but the fantastic 1962 Seppelt Great Western Cabernet-Shiraz – all made by that peerless winemaker, Colin Preece. I also discovered that this last wine had about 10% Malbec added, and I still think that it, with Penfold’s Bin 420 Cabernet-Shiraz of 1966 are the two best balanced Australian wines I have ever tasted.

I was on the way!

Wynns Staff Wine Sale

Wynns is running Staff Wine Sale, thanks to subscriber David W. for sharing that with us. Black label Cabernet 2016 or Black Label Shiraz 2013 are $20 each, and Lindies Coonawarra reds are $37.50.

Here’s the drill:

  • Send your orders to saegenschnitter@tweglobal.com
  • The sale finishes on Wednesday December 4 2019
  • The orders will be processed on that day
  • Delivery will take 5-10 working days

Wynns Staff Sale Order Form December 2019.pdfKathy

The Wines of the Wilson Vineyard

 

The Clare Valley

It lies an hour’s gentle drive to the north of the Barossa Valley, a dark green oasis in the middle of endless golden wheat and canola fields. Great wines have been made here for many years, yet no one really knows what makes wines from the Clare Valley so attractive. The climate is similar to Rutherglen, and hotter than Nuriootpa, so the aromatic, delicate Rieslings of this area tend to come as a surprise. The reds are bigger and bolder, with wonderful fruit expression.

There are 5 sub regions of Clare: Clare, Watervale, Sevenhill, Auburn and Polish Hill River. Most of the vineyards lie between 400 and 500 meters above sea level, which helps to temper the inland heat  and ensures cool night. Most of the vineyards are not irrigated or have minimal irrigation.

Soils vary from classic terra rossa over limestone to grey loams over sandstone, to broken slate and quartz. Mintaro and Burra to the east of Clare once had copper mines; one slate min is still opoerating. The Clare Valley is one of the prettiest wine areas in Australia. Here’s a map that shows all the wineries.

‘Storm over Clare’ by Rebecca Reid

Polish Hill River

This is the newest sub-region of the Clare Valley, one that rose to prominence when Max Schubert planted 120 ha of vineyards there to Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc, Merlot and Malbec. Polish Hill River is a little cooler than the rest of the Clare, and Max was looking for an area of South Australia where he could make elegant Bordeaux blends. The Clare Estate label was produced from the mid 1980s to the mid-1990s; after Max’s death in 1994, Penfolds lost interest in the venture.

The confusing name makes more sense with a little historic context: The original settlement was called Hill River (after John Hill), and a second settlement to the south was established by Polish Catholics who called it Polish Hill River. The established wineries here include Pikes, Pauletts and Wilson; Jeffrey Grosset and O’Leary Walker also grow grapes here. The old Penfolds Vineyards were acquired in 2010 by Jaeschkes Hill River Clare Estate, a winery I’m not familiar with.

The Wilson Vineyard

The Wilson Vineyard deserves to be better known. I’ve come across the Rieslings here and there, but recently had a chance to taste most of the current range.

Dr John Wilson was one of first to plant vines on his 10-acre plot in the Polish Hill River sub-region in 1973. He was also an early champion for screwcaps. His son Daniel took over in 2009, after cutting his teeth working for bigger wineries in the Barossa.

The boutique Wilson winery produces between 3000 and 5000 cases a year from its 12 hectares of vineyards. The focus is on Riesling these days, but Daniel also makes small quantities of reds from Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Primitivo and Tempranillo,.

Daniel is quite clear about the best way to make his wines

‘These are the techniques we use at our winery,’ Daniel tells me. ‘We practice low tech, small batch winemaking – we do almost everything by hand.’ Daniel is clearly proud of his commitment to hand-made wines.

When I ask him about yields, he chuckles and says: ‘We get between 1 and 3 tons per acre. The soil is pretty poor, mostly grey loam over clay and sandstone, with broken slate and quartz in some sections. It’s not exactly fertile but good for Riesling. We’re at 450 meters here, and it can get pretty windy. We also get the highest rainfall in the area, which makes up for some of that.’

The Watervale Riesling Daniel makes comes from a grower’s vineyard about 10 km away. The fruit is typically riper and the wine more forward than the Polish Hill River Rieslings.

Daniel shoveling the must – copyright John Krüger

When I ask about problems, Daniel talks about dead arm disease. It’s caused by wood rot in the trunk and shoots or ‘arms’ of a vine. As the disease progresses, the affected part of the vine sheds its foliage, leaving behind nothing but bare, rotten wood – a dead arm. The trunk of the vine must be removed from the ground up, and the vine ‘reworked’ as Daniel calls it. Sounds like hard work.

When we talk about the special aspects of his vineyard, Daniel says the rows of vines slope toward the south, which reduces the sunlight hours. When I ask about the almost creamy mouth feel of the 2018 DJW Riesling, he suggests that might be the result of phenolic compounds that are a byproduct of chilled whole bunch pressing.

I’ve always felt that Clare Valley reds were underestimated, and the Wilson Vineyard reds lend strong support to my contention. They’re hand-made in very small quantities. Reviews below.

Label Acquisition

I was puzzled by the 2018 label that showed a strange lady in an Andy Warhol-style setting.  Then I discovered that since 2012, Daniel has worked with the Helpmann Academy to acquire an artwork by a South Australian emerging artist for the label of his Polish Hill River Riesling. Every year, the selected artist receives full credit on the wine label, and their work is displayed at the cellar door. The artist receives $1,100 and a case of Polish Hill River Riesling, for the work and the rights for future reproduction. More Here.

Tasting Notes

 DJW Wilson Riesling, Polish Hill River 2018 – $20 at Winesquare. Hand picked, hand plunged, whole bunch pressed, unfiltered, minimal Handling. Daniel Wilson tells us that the DJW vineyard is 450 meters high, and the vines struggles in clay soil and frequent winds. I love the wine, which has more body and texture than you tend to find in the Rieslings from here. A hint of blanched almonds? Not sure. Daniel thinks it might be phenolics from whole bunch pressing he employs. Purists might object to phenolics in Riesling but to me it makes it more food friendly. 96 points.

Wilson Watervale Riesling 2019 – $19 at the winery. A fuller, riper, richer style as you would expect. Ripe limes and pears, some talc, soft and round and forward. It will last for years but it’s good drinking already. 93 points.

DJW Wilson Riesling, Polish Hill River 2019 – not in the shops as yet, and not on the winery’s website. Finer than the 2018, more austere and a bit reserved. One for the long haul. 93+ points.

 Wilson Polish Hill River Riesling 2018 – $22 at Summer Hill Wine. This is the top of the line Riesling Daniel produces, and it’s a wine of graceful composure, the finest line of acid, great length, classic Polish Hill finesse and perfect pitch. In short, it’s an exemplary Polish Hill River Riesling. 96+ points.

Wilson Vineyard Stonecraft Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – $22 at Winesquare. A serious red, this, cool Cabernet, dark berries, lots of restraint at this stage, medium- to full-bodied, clearly built for the long haul. 93++points.

The Wilson Vineyard Pepperstone Shiraz 2016 – $22 at Winesquare. The younger of these two, but more welcoming with rich and vibrant fruit, pepper and spices, sumptuous mouth feel and hints of chocolate and vanilla. Big and bold but warm, already a joy to drink but will improve for years. 94+ points.

The Wilson Vineyard Handplunged Shiraz 2016 – $39 at Winesquare. This wine really shows the stellar quality of red wine the Clare Valley can produce. The nose promises seductive sweet fruit from ripe dark berries, and the palate delivers in spades: depth of sweet fruit and spices with hints of chocolate, and vanilla from the American oak, seamless integration wrapped in velvet. There’s enough backbone to ensure graceful aging, but I doubt you can keep your hands off it. If only more Aussie Shiraz were like this. 97+ points.

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