From a first cut of 100 of the nation's best wines, Max Allen whittled away even further to arrive at his top 10 favourites from the best in show. Drink up.
One hundred of Australia's best wines: 50 established classics,
50 emerging labels. Every bottle open for tasting. This is how I
spent a sunny Monday recently, sniffing and slurping and spitting
through some of this country's most exciting wines with leading UK
journalist and Master of Wine Tim Atkin. (Tough life, huh?)
Atkin was in Australia for the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, where he entertained and educated audiences with his articulate wit and forthright opinions. He's both a huge supporter and fierce critic of Australian wine (one of his more memorable articles was headlined "The Withered of Oz"). So, when he asked for my help in nominating the wines in a top 100 tasting - a snapshot of the best of what's happening Down Under right now - I was happy to oblige.
Tim asked if we could taste all the wines blind, without any knowledge of what was in the glass, to avoid being swayed by labels and preconception. So, I enlisted the help of Alquimie drinks magazine publisher Josh Elias and Pei Modern sommelier Ainslie Lubbock to sort the wines into interesting groups and put the bottles into paper bags, which meant I was also tasting blind (well, half-blind: I knew the wines, but not the order of tasting).
As a result, there were plenty of surprises. Not all the wines performed well; some big names didn't live up to their lofty reputations on the day. The 2011 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, appeared to be drowning in oak, and the 2012 Yabby Lake Block 2 Pinot Noir - stablemate of last year's Jimmy Watson trophy-winner - was surprisingly volatile.
But the delicious wines far outweighed the disappointments. What this tasting demonstrated, with startling clarity, is that while Australia's wine industry continues to struggle - exports are tough, the dollar's high, there's an oversupply of grapes and wine - local wine quality has never been better.
The Top 10
So many great wines, so little time. I've whittled down my favourites from the tasting.
1. 2010 Wendouree Cabernet Malbec, Clare Valley, $100
No wine on earth tastes like wine from Wendouree vineyard: extraordinarily, elegantly dense, reeking of black fruit and iodine and violets, yet utterly poised. Exclusive mailing list only.
2. 2013 Pazza by KT Riesling, Clare Valley, $29
Take the open-throated thirst-quenching juiciness of Clare riesling, funk it up a bit - wild-ferment, no filtration - and you have this beautiful, shimmering, moreish white wine.
3. 2013 La Violetta Ü Lèvre d'Orange, Great Southern, $26
One of the most gorgeous Australian orange wines you're likely to taste, this rare blend of gewürztraminer and riesling (and a splash of pinot gris) is captivatingly spicy, delicate and refined.
4. 2013 Boovability "The Wanderer" Petit Verdot, Adelaide Hills, $50
A stunning example of minimal-intervention, new-wave winemaking: this tastes like intensely juicy purple berries squashed directly onto the tongue. email@example.com
5. 2012 Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier, Canberra District, $90
Tasted alongside some very impressive full-bodied Oz shiraz classics, this stood out for its poise, prettiness, perfume and restraint.
6. 2010 Mount Mary Quintet, Yarra Valley, $130
I've long believed that central Yarra Valley around Coldstream is cabernet country, and this superbly elegant, superfine cabernet blend only strengthens that belief.
7. 2012 Bannockburn Serré Pinot Noir, Geelong, $95
Most of the eight pinots in our tasting were very good, but the Serré was the star: such intensity of sappy, earthy complexity. Wow.
8. 2012 Oakridge 864 Willowlake Chardonnay, Yarra Valley, $75
This is a contender for Australia's best chardonnay, a wine with mineral-laced substance as well as finesse, and a precise, lingering finish that goes on and on.
9. 2012 Spinifex Indigene, Barossa Valley, $65
This blend of mataro and shiraz offers a modern twist on the traditional blockbuster Barossa red style: there's a heap of meaty black fruit flavour, but finesse and balance, too.
10. 2012 Domenica Roussanne Marsanne, Beechworth, $45
Made by ex-Giaconda assistant winemaker Peter Graham, this is a wonderfully balanced white wine: flavours of grilled nuts, texture of cream, mouthfilling, satisfying.
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