Returning after two years away was the Australia Trade Tasting that was its customary mix of old school classics and young guns ‘going for it’. Wine scribe turned winemaker Chris Wilson was suitably impressed and picks out 15 new Australian wines that sommeliers should check out including a remarkable 11-year-old, unfortified 16% abv Marsanne that’s spent four years on ullage.
“This wine was like nothing else in the room,” writes Wilson.
It was great to see this tasting back on after two years away. The atmosphere was electric. There’s not been this much excitement in the Royal Horticultural Halls since the bi-annual international geranium growing competition 1979.
There was a great turnout from producers and their importers and, once again, there was a comfortable balance between old school classics – both varieties and styles – and young pretenders.
The young punks with their Italo-Franco blends, skin contact whites and quevri-aged reds are most welcome at any tasting but, in recent years at this particular tasting, it’s been great to see this area of Aussie wine really explored.
For me the Rieslings from 2020 and 2021 stood out – fresh, vibrant and classy – and Shiraz was solid right across the board. New finds include Ben Haines and Kirrihill while old favourites such as Alpha Box & Dice, Ministry of Clouds and Petaluma were as strong as ever.
Finally, I make no apologies for including five wines from the Graft Wine Company portfolio here; truly an outstanding collection of Australian wines. Hats off to them.
15 brilliant Aussie wines to try…
Ben Haines ‘Flowers’ Flor Yarra Valley Marsanne 2011
This wine was like nothing else in the room. An 11-year-old, 16% abv Marsanne which isn’t fortified and spends four years on ullage. Delicious savoury, oxidised notes with a nutty and intense opening and a long clean finish with hints of soy and matcha. Ethereal. (Flint Wines)
Distant Noises, Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2019
An ‘old skool’ Australian Chardonnay, this is full and rich and wears its oak well. There’s vanilla and sawn wood on the nose and nectarine glace and grilled peach fruit on the palate. Lovely. (Swig)
Kirrihill ‘Regional Series’ Clare Valley Riesling 2021
The first thing that hits you about this wine – a new addition to the Seckford portfolio – is the delightful sweetness of fruit. Guava brings the body while ripe lime and lemon zest back it up with a spritzy acid bang. Just lovely. (Seckford)
Petaluma ‘Yellow Label Hanlin Hill’ Clare Valley Riesling 2020
It’s always a pleasure to taste this textbook Riesling and its quality and ability to thrill – even though you know what to expect – make it one of the greats. Classic Riesling nose of petrol and lime; passion fruit on the palate. Class and flair throughout. (Accolade)
Wilimee ‘Cambrian’ Macedon Ranges Chardonnay 2020
David Knott from Graft says that the Macedon Ranges is the go-to region for outstanding cool climate wines and, given Graft’s Aussie portfolio, you can’t argue with him. This Chardonnay is delicate and deft with jasmine and iced tea notes and is made in a lovely fresh style. Old barrels do the heavy lifting here, imparting just a smidge of oak but more importantly texture and developed tertiary notes. (Graft)
Alpha Box & Dice ‘Golden Mullet Fury’ McClaren Vale Semillon Riesling 2019
Some numbers on this interesting wine: 86.5% Semillon, 13.5% Riesling, of which 65% is botrytised fruit, it spends three weeks on skins.Technically orange, then, and there’s an orange peel note on the nose here, like sniffing a Campari soda. Fleshy, sappy and full with sherry-like acidity and greengage and blood orange fruit. Interesting and delicious. (Boutinot)
Koerner ‘Pigato’ Clare Valley Vermentino 2021
There’s such purity in this wine that – for me – is a tell-tell sign of a great orange wine. This sees 16 days on the skins and eight months on lees, and its various parts are fermented in different vessels (steel, clay, oak) before being pieced together. Bright summer fruits, a savoury, woody backbone and vivid acidity all working in harmony here. (Graft)
Alpha Box & Dice ‘Enigma’ McClaren Vale Barbera 2019
There’s not a lot of Barbera south of the equator but this is a joy. Juicy and bright but tight and structured like a Pinot Noir. Delicate tannins rub up nicely alongside pomegranate fruit, dusty earth and red cherry. (Graft)
Ben Haines ‘Make A Wilderness’ Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2019
Crunchy and lush with a lovely texture and a floral kick. There’s some sweetness of fruit – raspberry, morello cherry – here which adds to the charm. Cracking label too. (Flint)
La Violetta ‘Penury’ Manjimup Pinot Noir 2019
My first note on this wine simply reads ‘yes!’. It’s a beautifully judged Pinot; fruit from German-cloned vines is 90% whole bunch pressed before fermentation and 12 months maturation in oak. It has a great savoury nose of sausage meat and sage but there’s fresh fruit too, cherries and damson. It all comes together on the palate to produce a classy, slick Pinot Noir. (Graft)
Ministry of Clouds McClaren Vale Shiraz 2020
There’s such generosity in this lush and drinkable McClaren Vale Shiraz. Blue fruit runs through it and there’s a creamy, velvet-like touch as it goes down. Bold yet balanced. (Graft)
Mount Horrocks Clare Valley Nero d’Avola 2018
A grippy, high acid wine with a pyramid of red, black and blue fruit towering over it. It’s in perfect balance, and some mineral, stoney notes can be teased out on the nose. (Liberty)
Place of Changing Winds Heathcote Syrah 2019
Made from a small plot of high-density vines in Heathcote, to the north of Melbourne, this is a wonderful example of cool-climate Syrah. It’s balanced and floral with bright crunchy red fruits, red liquorice and violets. (Graft)
Teusner ‘Avatar’ Barossa Valley Grenache Syrah Mataro 2020
This GSM is matured in small old French oak for 12 months and you can tell, there’s smoke and vanilla on the nose and palate to wrap around the black cherry fruit and peppery spice. Rich and chewy, a pitch-perfect blend. (Enotria&Coe)
Unico Zelo ‘True Blue’ Clare Valley 2021
As unorthodox as Shane Warne’s flipper, this blend of Grenache, Touriga Nacional, Nero d’Avola, Syrah and Montepulciano is a delight. Bright and long with vibrant, confected red fruit and just enough acid and tannin bite to hold it all together. How’s that? (Berkmann)