Modestly priced at $16, this is a sound chardonnay from McLaren Vale and the Adelaide Hills. In the glass, it has restrained aromas of peach and nectarine. The palate is medium-full bodied and in a crisp, fresh style. Rating: Acceptable to Good. Abv: 13%. Price: $16. Website: darenberg.com.au. Source: Sample.
This is a serious chardonnay from Curly Flat in the Macedon Ranges. Yellow gold in colour, its aromas of cedar, butter and perfumed citrus resolutely speak of chardonnay. The palate is full bodied and balanced by quite fresh and minerally acidity. Ready to drink now, this is a very good chardonnay that can be approached over the next five years. Rating: Very Good. Abv: 13.6%. Price: $46. Website: www.curlyflat.com. Source: Sample.
This is the second Main Ridge Estate wine tried in recent months, both good. You can read the other review at this link. Main Ridge Estate was one of the earlier Mornington Peninsula estates established in the 1970s, and as far as I can tell, was sold in late 2015 to the Sexton family. The 2013 chardonnay tasted here, presumably crafted under the old regime, has an aroma that reminds of almond meal, refined French oak and orange rind. The palate is refined, with mid range acidity and great length on the finish. For (modest) details on the vintage conditions, you can look at the Mornington Peninsula Vignerons Association notes here. Rating: Very Good. Abv: 13.5%. Price: $65. Website: https://mre.com.au.
Saint-Aubin is probably not the best known of the Burgundian appellations. It is in the Côte de Beaune and neighbours Puligny Montrachet and Chassagne Montrachet. I was very pleased with this particular wine from Pierre-Yves Colin Morey and the 2010 vintage. It has refined and racy acidity and overtones of lemon and cashew. In its drinking prime, the only issue is navigating the great looking, but ultimately annoying wax sealed capsule. Rating: Very Good. Abv: 13.5%. Price: $90. Website: na.
This is a very good sparkling wine from Schramsberg in California. The appellation is North Coast. Should the name prove unilluminating outside of California, the vineyards are in fact in the Napa and Sonoma counties. The sparkling wine itself is a blanc de blancs chardonnay made using the traditional method. In the glass, there are Champagne like aromas of bread and brioche. The palate retains a fresh acidity which I did not expect, with lemon and brioche overtones. This is a serious sparkling that is fairly priced. Rating: Very Good. Abv: 12.8%. Price: $65. Website: www.schramsberg.com.
The new Langtons classification (classification VII) of Australian wine was released last week. It is stated to measure the performance of wines in an open market, with the condition of entry being 10 vintages and a track record in the secondary market. The list has been prepared for many years now, and is prepared by Langtons, a company that forms part of an Australian supermarket conglomerate. You can read it here.
It’s actually a pretty interesting list, even though it is easy to cynical about lists and since it’s wine, everyone has a view. The facts are it captures many, perhaps almost all, of Australia’s great wines and helps provide an easy reference point to quality Australian wine for expert and new comer alike. I think it therefore is of use.
In this post, I wanted to sift through the list to see what has changed, as that is potentially of interest in spotting trends. So, I am going to look at the promotions, demotions and departures. The latter two have seemingly, and perhaps unsurprisingly at least from producers, attracted little comment that I have seen. Here’s what I found.
Promotions at the top level (exceptional)
At the top level, there is only one move, a new entrant. The new wine is Best’s Thomson Family Great Western Shiraz. I have tasted this wine on few occasions, but it is a very good wine. There are many outstanding wines at this level. I do think though that Grange and Hill of Grace remain above most of them.
Promotions at second level (outstanding)
At the next level, twelve wines were promoted:
1 Best’s Bin 0 Great Western Shiraz
2 By Farr Sangreal Pinot Noir, Geelong
3 Charles Melton Nine Popes Shiraz Grenache Mourvedre, Barossa Valley
4 Fox Creek Reserve Shiraz, McLaren Vale
5 Henschke Euphonium Shiraz Cabernet Merlot, Barossa Valley
6 Howard Park Abercrombie Cabernet, Great Southern
7 Langmeil 1843 Shiraz, Barossa Valley
8 Leeuwin Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River
9 Seppeltsfield Para Liqueur Port, Barossa Valley
10 Yalumba Signature Cabernet Shiraz, Barossa
11 Yarra Yering Dry Red No. 1 Cabernet, Yarra Valley
12 Yeringberg Cabernet, Yarra Valley
These promotions are from quite a mix of regions and styles, with five wines from the Barossa and three wines from around Melbourne, namely the Yarra Valley and Geelong. But it is a strong list. I haven’t encountered a couple – Howard Park’s wine and the Seppeltsfield fortified specifically. Leeuwin’s cabernet sauvignon has improved over the years.
Promotions at the third level (excellent)
At the next level, twelve wines also have been promoted:
1 Cullen Wines Kevin John Chardonnay, Margaret River
2 Deep Woods Estate Reserve Cabernet, Margaret River
3 Hentley Farm Clos Otto Shiraz, Barossa Valley
4 Hoddles Creek Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley
5 Kooyong Haven Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula
6 Oakridge 864 Chardonnay, Yarra Valley
7 Oliver’s Taranga Reserve Shiraz, McLaren Vale
8 Vass Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay, Margaret River
9 Wine by Farr Tout Pres Pinot Noir, Geelong
10 Xanadu Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River
11 Yabby Lake Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula
12 Yarra Yering Dry Red No. 2 Shiraz, Yarra Valley
I have tasted most, but not all, of these wines. Of the twelve, interestingly ten are from the Margaret River and the wine regions around Melbourne. A couple of wines here will be on a higher trajectory, with Oakridge’s 864 chardonnay the most obvious example.
Now, my spreadsheet was tested by trying to track the various movements, so if there is an error here or anywhere else in this post let me know. These are the wines that have been moved down a level:
1 Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River
2 Chambers Muscat, Rutherglen
3 Chambers Topaque, Rutherglen
4 Crawford River Riesling, Western Victoria
5 Dalwhinnie Eagle Shiraz, Pyrenees
6 De Bortoli Noble One, New South Wales
7 Glaetzer Amon Ra Shiraz, Barossa Valley
8 Grosset Springvale Riesling, Clare Valley
9 Majella Malleea Cabernet, Coonawarra
10 McWilliams Lovedale Semillon, Hunter Valley
11 Noon Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, McLaren Vale
12 Paringa Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula
13 Seppelt St Peters Shiraz, Western Victoria
14 Wynns Michael Shiraz, Coonawarra
15 Yalumba Octavius Shiraz, Barossa
This group is a bit of a mixed bag, but they all remain in the classification, so really, it is not that the wines have all suddenly undergone some misfortune. I will return to this shortly, as first I want to mention the wines left out of this classification. They are:
1 Bannockburn Serre Pinot Noir, Geelong
2 Greenock Creek RR Cabernet Sauvignon, Barossa Valley
3 Wolf Blass Platinum Shiraz, South Australia
4 Coldstream Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley
5 Katnook Prodigy Shiraz, Coonawarra
6 Lake’s Folly Chardonnay, Hunter Valley
7 Lindemans Shiraz Cabernet, Coonawarra
8 Paringa Shiraz, Mornington Peninsula
9 Petaluma Hanlin Hill Riesling, Clare Valley
10 Primo Estate Joseph, South Australia
11 Rolf Binder Shiraz, Barossa Valley
12 Sally’s Paddock Cabernet, Pyrenees
13 Savaterre Chardonnay, Beechworth
14 Wantirna Amelia Cabernet blend, Yarra Valley
15 Wild Duck Creek Estate Springflat Shiraz, Heathcote
This is a very interesting list. It would appear to reflect changing styles (rich and bold styles to more elegant), some declining fortunes and perhaps declining interest in a couple of cases.
You can slice and dice these a number of ways to work out trends, but it is interesting to look at which grape varieties and regions had the most net promotions and demotions. Here’s what I found, using a very simple method of promotions minus demotions for grape varieties and regions:
Pinot Noir, net +2
Cabernet sauvignon & cabernet first blends, net +1
Chardonnay, net +1
Shiraz & shiraz first blends, net -2
Riesling, net -3
Margaret River, net +4
Yarra Valley, net +3
Barossa Valley, net +2
Coonawarra, net -4
This is just one means of looking at this information, and wine is notoriously diverse. However, in terms of grape varieties, this may very tentatively suggest that pinot noir, chardonnay and cabernet blends are grape varieties on the up, and riesling and perhaps shiraz is not. There is a lot of movement in shiraz both up and down and a lot of shiraz on the list, so I am slow to draw strong conclusions on shiraz, but it is net down.
The funny thing is that this more or less accords with what I anticipated might be seen, except for the cabernet blends. The pinot noir charge is led by the established wine regions around Melbourne – the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Geelong. Tasmania has not yet seen its day, although I think it is coming.
In terms of movements in regions, the Margaret River, the Yarra Valley and the Barossa lead the pack for net promotions. Coonawarra has seen the most demotions. Again, these are not particular surprises. If tentative observations may be made, and there seems no reason not to make them, perhaps it is that the Yarra Valley appears to be rising with more serious producers than ever and the Margaret River has become Australia’s benchmark region for cabernet sauvignon. And Coonawarra, well, I think it could be so much more than it is. Perhaps that is a post for another day.
Curly Flat’s 2017 vintage of the Lacuna chardonnay from the Macedon Ranges opens to aromas of yellow grapefruit, pear and an attractive stoney note. The palate has a medium-full body, with fresh acidity and yellow grapefruit and saline overtones. As it opens up in the glass, the wine takes on a savoury character and has good length on the finish. This is a lovely chardonnay that is ready to drink now. Rating: Good. Abv: 12.5%. Price: $22. Source: Sample.
Ten Minutes by Tractor provide a wonderful level of detail about their wines and I think rightly are a reference source for the Mornington Peninsula region. Winemaking and viticulture aside, the key “macro” influences in this region are whether the vineyard is located “up the hill” or “down the hill” and the weather conditions of the vintage. As a general comment, “down the hill” grapes tend to be picked first, sometimes 3-4 weeks earlier. That said, the altitude in the region peaks at a somewhat modest 305m at Arthur’s Seat.
In terms of vintage, the 2016 vintage in the region can be summarised as warm, dry and early. Ten Minutes by Tractor point to flowering 10 days earlier than average, a harvest date 23 days earlier than average, low growing season rainfall and 21 days shorter hang time than the average. The “down the hill” wines were picked before the end of February, and the up the hill wines in the first week of March. This is reflected in the approachability of these wines.
In this post, I have reviewed Ten Minutes by Tractor’s three single vineyard chardonnays and the “estate” wine. The single vineyard wines are from the Judd Vineyard (up the hill, 206m, average slope of 6c, west facing), the McCutcheon vineyard (up the hill, 200m, average slope of 5c, east facing) and the Walls vineyard (up the hill, 142m, average slope of 4c, NE facing). The estate wine is mostly a blend of the three. The wines are all 14%abv. All of the wines are very good.
McCutcheon Chardonnay 2016, $68
This presented as the ripest and fullest bodied of the single vineyard releases, with aromas of quince and yellow grapefruit. The palate is full bodied, quite voluptuous and viscous in bearing. A generous and plump wine that provides enjoyable current drinking. Rating: Very Good. Abv: 14%. Price: $68. Source: Sample
Wallis Chardonnay 2016, $68
A yellow gold in colour, this wine has restrained aromas of nuts, lees and nectarines, with a sinewy, nutty cashew note predominant. The palate is not quite full bodied and the acidity resoundingly very fine and firm. Light on its feet and delicate in impression, this is the most elegant wine of the single vineyard releases and should benefit from short term cellaring. Rating: Very Good. Abv: 14%. Price: $68. Source: Sample
Judd Chardonnay 2016, $68
More immediately approachable than the Wallis, this wine has aromas of struck match, light lees and sea salt. In the glass, the acidity is fresh and less linear, perhaps a function of the partial malolactic fermentation (80%). The length is the longest of the group and the overall impression minerally and enjoyable. Rating: Very Good. Abv: 14%. Price: $68. Source: Sample
Estate Chardonnay 2016, $44
This is $44 well spent. Between lemon and white gold in colour, the wine has aromas of grapefruit, yoghurt and lees. The palate is full bodied, but the acidity fine boned, which provides a good counterfoil to its viscous core. Approachable now, it finishes with good length. Rating: Very Good. Abv: 14%. Price: $68. Source: Sample
This reserve chardonnay from Robert Stein in Mudgee is white gold in colour and opens to aromas of fine cedar wood, pineapple and paw paw. The palate is full bodied, with great length and good acidity. The 50% new French oak is eaten by the fruit, and the partial malolactic fermentation has contributed to the retention of acidity. Ready to drink now, this is a good example of the region’s style. Rating: Good. Abv: 13.5%. Price: $40. Source: Sample.
This wine has a bit of everything in it. Oaked chardonnay, oaked sauvignon blanc, gewürztraminer and petit manseng. I can imagine the blending sessions were a lot of fun, or challenging or both. From New England in northern New South Wales, the Topper’s Mountain capsule has Italian style paper wrapping which makes the initial pour a little impractical as the sticker seeks, with some determination, to attach itself to the glass. The wine itself, though, is a good one. The gewurtz makes the dominant impression on the nose, with its distinctive siren song of lychees. The palate is relatively round and approachable and also gewurtz influenced, but there is a steely backbone too from the higher acid varieties in the blend, namely the sauvignon blanc and petit manseng. A well put together blend that is approachable now. Rating: Good. Abv: 13.5%. Price: $30. Source: Sample.