Wine Reviews

Lucinda Estate Circa 1990 South Gippsland Pinot Noir 2015

A first wine for me from this producer, and a good one.  Lucinda Estate in South Gippsland have fashioned a wonderful pinot noir here from the 2015 vintage.  It has a very evocative aroma reminding of black currant, game and bacon.  The palate has prodigious length, good counterbalancing acidity and delicious red fruit flavours.  This is an outstanding wine that can be approached now.  Rating: Outstanding. Abv: 13.5%. Price: $50+ Source: Sample.

Wine Reviews

An old book and a few Gippsland wines from Nicholson River Winery, Sarsfield Estate and Cannibal Creek

Wineries in Gippsland? I asked with incredulity. Yes indeed, came the response, although no one appeared to have more than a vague notion about their precise number and identity. As ever, Victoria has a capacity for surprise. As with the Mornington Peninsula (which will no doubt justify a chapter of its own in the next edition of this book), Gippsland has its own 100-year viticultural history.

While many today would be familiar with James Halliday’s wine rating guides, perhaps less well known is that he has authored a series of outstanding books on Australian wine over several decades. While recently, and briefly, in east Gippsland, the above passage from his 1982 book, “Wine & Wineries of Victoria” (University of Queensland Press) was in mind.

Decades later while the Mornington Peninsula is covered in vines in a manner previously unseen, little seems to have changed in Gippsland in passing through. The impression is of a winery here and there, despite having all the ingredients necessary to produce fine wine. Indeed, while Gippsland is an enormous area, it probably produces Australia’s premier pinot noir (Bass Phillip in Leongatha), a largely unknown but brilliant cabernet blend from the McAlister Vineyard in Longford (vintages 2005, 2006 and 2010 previously reviewed) and is home to one of Australia’s highly regarded winemakers, William Downie.

With limited time in the far east of the region, I dropped into the Nicholson River Winery. This winery commands a stunning view of the river which would have made a beautiful photo, had I in fact have taken it. The above photo instead must suffice. All the wines are estate grown and vinified and bottled on site. I tasted their merlot/cabernet blend, the pinot noir and rosé and was impressed. The 2013 Nicholson River Winery Merlot Cabernets was the pick of the group – a current drinking right bank Bordeaux style blend with a mid weight impression of plums and savoury tannins. The 2016 Nicholson River Winery Rosé made from pinot noir is also well made with floral notes and a dry, savoury finish. The 2013 Nicholson River Winery Montview Pinot Noir is also a pleasant pinot noir with cherry driven fruit notes.

Tastings were rounded out with a thirstily consumed Sarsfield Estate Rosé from further up the road. No vintage was obvious on the label, but this is a fresh, clean and crisp wine with lovely white peach notes. And finally, a 2016 Cannibal Creek Merlot was spotted on a restaurant list, and although from hundreds of kilometres away north of Tynong, it is nonethless also a “Gippsland wine”. It is medium bodied with pretty acid, florals and a plum impression.

Wine Reviews

Domaine de Bellene Maison Dieu Bourgogne 2014; blind tasting and label thoughts

This is a delicious Bourgogne from Domaine de Bellene.  Before I get to the wine, I took away a few of observations from it.  First, pinot noir from Burgundy frequently resembles a different grape variety to the vast majority of pinot noirs I taste in Australia.  This is not intended as a slight upon Australian pinot noir, of which there are some outstanding examples.  It’s just a personal observation, and it is particularly so when I taste these wines blind.  The closest match I see in terms of Australian pinot noir styles can be some from Geelong and Gippsland, which happens to correspond with my two favourite local pinot noir regions.

Second, if you can find a good producer, there is value to be had in Burgundy with lesser appellations.  Burgundy can be awfully expensive in Australia due to our wine taxation system and the Bourgogne appellation sits at the bottom of the pyramid; yet in the right hands such as Domaine de Bellene in this case deliciousness is possible.

The third (and I promise final!) observation is that the back label of this wine is a wealth of information and is laid out spectacularly well.  We quickly learn the average age of the vines is 66 years, vine density is 10,000 feet per hectare, the exposition of the vines is south-south-east, indigenous yeasts were used and the grapes handpicked.  In the winery, we equally rapidly learn there’s been no fining, but filtration has been used, and the wine has been aged in oak.  This is a lot of really useful information, simply conveyed, while still leaving room for a tribute to the winemaker’s father.  Outstanding and so much better than reading the often found generic tasting note that sounds like it’s been written by a copywriter.

The wine itself?  It has raspberry, earth and sour cherry aromatics.  The palate is textured with chalky and taut tannins, and provides a whole lot of interest for this modest price point and appellation.  A yes from me. Rating: Good to Very Good

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Wine Reviews

A couple of Victorian pinot noirs

There are so many interesting styles of pinot noir coming out of Victoria at the moment.  I would be curious to see the latest planting statistics.  If you have access to them, please chime in.  Here are two that caught my interest.

Dominique Portet Origine Gippsland Pinot Noir 2013

Gippsland has substantial potential as a wine region, and this wine is from grapes grown in dairy country in Leongatha South.  It is utterly delicious, finding a savoury character that few Australian pinot noirs capture.  Subtle earth and floral aromatics are met on the palate with an expression of savoury cherries.  This wine has terrific balance and gentle but persistent length.  A must buy.  Very Good

Toolangi Estate Pinot Noir 2014

The 2014 vintage of Toolangi’s Estate pinot noir is made at Coldstream Hills.  In terms of stylistic influences, the wine sees 20% new oak and 30% whole bunches in the ferment.  The fruit is from Dixon’s Creek.  Its aromatics remind of cherry, cedar, fresh bacon and wood smoke.  There’s good length on the palate in a medium bodied style, with some cedar overtones.  Good

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Source: sample

Wine Reviews

A set of older chardonnays compared and contrasted

I recently tasted a set of older chardonnays upstairs at Cumulus in Melbourne.  The same grape from three different very good producers from three different years and climates.  The result?  Actually, it was a little mixed.  Chardonnay can, but does not necessarily, age well.  The youngest wine in this bracket was 14 years old, the eldest 22 years old.

Mount Mary Chardonnay 2002
I last looked at this wine back in 2011, and liked it my only quibble being price.  Mount Mary is a leading producer in the Yarra Valley, with its vineyards near the town of Coldstream.  Their website does not reveal much about soils, but others have referred to Mount Mary’s grey-loam soils (Max Allen, Yarra Valley Wineguide, 1999) and a north facing slope above river flats.  Tasted in 2016, 2002 Mount Mary chardonnay is considerably more developed, with aromatics that are neutral and saline, with light citrus and orange peel aromas and a bread like character.  The palate is delicate and minerally, with its acid seemingly haven fallen away a little, and the citrus and bread characters continuing.  The finish is reasonably long.  Appearing to be at the tail end of its drinking window, I do not expect this wine will improve from here.  Search out well stored examples.  Good to Very Good

Domaine Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 1994
Domaine Bonneau du Martray has 9.5 hectares in Corton-Charlemagne in the Côte de Beaune.  Again, I find myself turning to Clive Coate’s  guide (The Wines of Burgundy, 2008) for a bit more detail.  There are 160.19 hectares of grand cru land on the Corton hill, and 71.88 hectares can produce Corton-Charlemagne in theory.  Chardonnay is planted on the upper slops in a marl with high clay content and a limestone base.  I’ve perhaps said a bit here, because the wine in the glass unfortunately was well past its best and so leaves less room for comment.  Toffee apple, caramel, earth and sherried aromas are predominant.  The palate offers glimpses of life, with some fresh acidity and good length, but the flavours resolutely reminded of earth and decay.  Not rated 

Bass Phillip Premium Chardonnay 2001
Bass Phillip is an exception in many ways.  Situated in south Gippsland in southern Victoria with rainfall exceeding 1,000mm per year and deep, silty loam volcanic soils, this is prime dairy rather than vineyard country.  But work it does, and I have had some fabulous wines from Bass Phillip.  In this sense, the 2001 Bass Phillip Premium chardonnay presented in a slightly disappointing manner, seemingly both past its best and also with some balance issues.  Deeply golden in colour and a little cloudy even, it has aromatics of honey, lemon, minerals, smoke and an aldehydic note.  The palate is full bodied, with smokey cedar and earth characters.  The acidity is however quite pronounced -fiendishly so – giving a hard malic impression and affecting my perception of the wine’s balance.  Acceptable

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Wine Reviews

The McAlister 2006

Fresh from my glowing review of the 2010 vintage of The McAlister reviewed here (see also the 2005 reviewed here), I managed to snaffle a bottle of the 2006 vintage of the McAlister to try.  I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: no website, no publicity (well, not that I have seen), from a region that is largely unknown in Australian wine circles and yet this producer in my opinion is plainly among the top tier producers of Australian cabernet sauvignon.

The 2006 vintage tasted here sails a smidgen under the heights of the outstanding 2010 vintage, but it is nonetheless very satisfying and well proportioned.  And dare I say it, very left bank Bordeaux in style.  Were I (hypothetically – I assure you!) thinking about planting vines in an Australian wine region to fashion first rate cool climate cabernet, this producer’s efforts would raise some interesting questions.  But back to the wine.  The 2006 McAlister has aromatics of cigar box and blackcurrants.  The palate is medium bodied with good length and emerging secondary characters of spice, earth and dark fruits.   Overall, a lovely expression of medium bodied cool climate cabernet that is suitable for drinking over the next few years.

Rating: Good to Very Good
Abv: 14.5%
Price: $50s
Vendors and website: None
Tasted: 2016

Wine Reviews

The McAlister 2010

This wine is something of an enigma.  Having tasted it twice now (the first was the 2005 vintage reviewed here) my unequivocal conclusion is that it deserves a place among Australia’s best cabernet sauvignon wines.  Yet little seems to be written about it, it is from a largely unknown wine region (east Gippsland) and bottles seem thin on the ground.  If you know more, please chime in.  It closely resembles a left bank Bordeaux in style, right down to the label, the bottle and the red capsule.

The 2010 vintage of the McAlister tasted here is a blend of 43% cabernet sauvignon, 35% cabernet franc, 20% merlot and 2% petit verdot.  It has aromatics of tobacco, earth and blackcurrant.  The palate is quite elegant, medium bodied and has long length.  Delicious drinking now, it should cellar well.

Rating: Very Good
Abv: 13.5%
Price: $50s
Vendors and website: Good luck
Tasted: 2016

Wine Reviews

Bass Phillip Pinot Rosé 2011

I read somewhere that Phillip Jones’ theory on making good rosé is that you need to treat it as a wine, rather than an afterthought.  While drinking this wine, the thought occurred to me that Bass Phillip may now in fact be making Australia’s best rosé.  There’s an orange hue in the glass, and it is quite aromatic with reminders of cherry and earth.  The palate is viscous with a depth of length and flavour unexpected in a rosé or the vintage.

Rating: Good, Abv: 12.2%, Price: $24, Source: sample, Vendors:, Website:, Tasted: 2014

Wine Articles Wine Reviews

Langtons Classification Tasting: September 2013

The Langtons auction house classification tasting has quickly become one of the “must attend” tastings on the Australian wine calendar.  The Langtons classification is a ranking of 123 of Australia’s best wines in the categories “exceptional”, “outstanding”, “excellent” and “distinguished”.  To make the grade, the wine must have at least 10 vintages, and a judgement is formed (by Langtons) as to track record and reputation measured through market presence, consistency, volume of demand and price.  There are few Australian wines of repute that are not on this list.

The tasting involves taking a glass and wending your way through the melee of Australian wineries pouring their classified wines (generously, I might add) into said glass.  To have the benchmark wines of Australia (think Penfolds Grange, Hensche Hill of Grace, Bass Phillip Pinot Noir, among others) all  freely available within metres of each other makes for an extraordinary event.

To follow are my impressions of the wines tasted.  I have not offered gradings on the basis that in a huge tasting such as this, out of a single glass, it seemed more accurate to note down impressions and glimpses, rather than a serious study of each wine.

My wine of the night:

Bass Phillip Premium Pinot Noir 2010, Gippsland
I don’t often say this, but wow.  And wow again.  Aromatics of game, smoked meats, cherry and dried herbs.  On the palate, opulent cherry, long length and game and bacon characters at the edges.  The obsessive Phillip Jones at Bass Phillip has nailed this wine.  Simply outstanding, and the wine of the night.

Three wines of great interest:

Penfolds Grange 2007, South Australia
I preferred this to the 2008 Grange.  Similar aromatics to the 2008, except with dried herbs more evident.  On the palate, the length was long and the balance and depth of plum fruit outstanding.  A complete and outstanding wine.

Yarra Yering Dry Red No. 1 2008, Yarra Valley

Very left bank Bordeaux like, with medium intensity aromatics of blackcurrant and cedar.  Very likeable.  On the palate, blackcurrant, a touch of leather and medium to long length.  Impressive.

Penfolds Grange 2008, South Australia
This is the fabled “100 point” Wine Advocate wine.  It attracted much public interest – whether it was because it received 100 points, or was simply because it was “a Grange”, is probably moot.  A medium to pronounced intensity saturated purple in colour.  Aromatics of vanilla, plum, cedar, black brooding mulberry.  The palate has medium to long length, with plums and a touch of stalk, and yet is full flavoured with the dash of cabernet sauvignon used to good effect.  A little more austere than expected.  Needs time.

And many more wines of interest:

Jim Barry Armagh Shiraz 2008, Clare Valley
Aromatics of dried tea leaves, ripe plums and a medium intensity expression.  The palate is soft and plush, with between medium and long length, and plum flavours dominant.  I found this wine quite attractive already, with the expression almost merlot like.

Henschke Hill of Grace 2005, Eden Valley
Bottled under screwcap.  Unusually for someone writing about wine in Australia, I am a screwcap agnostic.  This particular Hill of Grace has some odd aromatics that might be attributable to its screwcap closure, as its expression is quite reductive, with strong notes of herbs and asparagus.  The palate though is outstanding, with long length and lovely plum and Christmas cake flavours that run deep.

Yalumba Signature Cabernet Shiraz 2009, Barossa Valley
Aromatics with a touch of menthol, bay leaf and blackberry.  The palate sees licorice, aniseed, black olives and unresolved chalky tannins.

Bindi Block 5 Pinot Noir 2010, Macedon Ranges
Bramble, stalk and cherry aromas in an alluring expression.  Restrained cedar.  On the palate, medium length, maybe a little more, and flavours reminding of stones and cherry.  The palate seems intermingled with a mineral edge with acidity at the sides.  A good wine, maybe even impressive.

Bindi Block 5 Pinot Noir 2000, Macedon Ranges
From jeroboam.  Now, I don’t say that too often.  Its aromatics are of game, smoked bacon, receding cherry, spice, dried thyme and herbs.  Quite complex really.  The palate has supple resolved tannins, and a quite ripe expression of cherry.

Voyager Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2008, Margaret River
Quite austere aromatics of capsicum, bay leaf and blackberry.  The palate tastes youthful, with some plushness, medium to long length, bay leaf, and quite savoury.  A good wine.

Jasper Hill Emily’s Paddock Shiraz Cabernet Franc 2006, Heathcote
Aromatics of pepper and peppermint.  The palate is brooding, with notes of mulberry, plum, dried herbs, “Heathcote” peppermint and medium to long length.  Of interest.

Jasper Hill Georgia’s Paddock Shiraz 2006, Heathcote
Quite muted in expression, with plum notes.  A structured palate with perhaps bitter tannins and plums to the fore.

Cullen Diana Madeline 2011, Margaret River
Dried herb, blackberry and some unexpectedly bright fruit by way of aromatics.  On the palate, bay leaf, blackberry and fine tannins.  Good without being outstanding.

Domaine A Cabernet 2006, Tasmania
Aromatics of mushroom, earth, leather and game.  Some brett?  A Bordeaux like expression of blackcurrant and dried herbs on the palate.

Dalwhinnie Eagle Series Shiraz 2010, Pyrenees
Aromatics of plums and dried herbs.   High acid on the palate, and seemed to thin out a little.  But otherwise pleasant.

Wynns John Riddoch Cabernet 2010, Coonawarra
Licorice, iron and blackcurrant aromatics.  On the palate, medium length – maybe a bit more, with notes of blackberry and licorice.  This is an intense but closed wine at this point in time.

Kaesler Old Bastard Shiraz 2009, Barossa Valley
I’ve said this before, but what’s with South Australian wine labels?  Aromatics of bright red juby fruit.  The palate also speaks of red juby fruit and medium to long length.  The wine felt quite taut and pulled against the edges, reminding of a southern Rhone blend.

Bass Phillip Premium Pinot Noir 2008, Gippsland
Aromatics of dried herbs, cherry and thyme, presenting in a restrained fashion.  Smoke, cedar, cherry and spice.  This is a good pinot noir, but the 2010 is stunning.

Vasse Felix Heytesbury Cabernet 2010, Margaret River
Austere aromatics of bay leaf, cedar and blackcurrant.  The palate reminds of French oak, cloves, blackcurrant, and is structured and closed with medium to long length.  Early days.

Clarendon Hills Australis Shiraz 2008, Barossa Valley
Fruity aromatics of ripe plum.  The palate is all about primary fruit purity showing plums with long length and full flavour.  It’s a bit obvious in what it does but it nails the brief.

Penfolds RWT Shiraz 2010, Barossa Valley
Thyme, dried herbs by way of aromatics.  The palate has medium to long length and a dense plummy expression.  A bit broody at this point, but certainly fruit driven.


Yarra Yarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Yarra Valley
Aromatics of leather and blackcurrant.  A leathery palate, with soft pleasant blackcurrants.  Brett?

Balnaves The Tally Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Coonawarra
Ripe blackberries by way of aroma.  On the palate, medium to long length, structure and firm tannins.  Of interest, but too young to drink.

Wild Duck Creek Springflat Shiraz 2011, Heathcote
My question as to why Heathcote’s star didn’t to me appear to be shining quite as brightly as it should be was parried away with denial.  Aromatics of peppermint, plums. The palate shows eucalyptus, peppermint, plum, high acid and some structure.

Giaconda Shiraz 2010, Beechworth
Aromatics of clipped herbs and cloves.  Quite pungent green/herbal aromatics.  On the palate, this is a mean, lean and green shiraz.

Disclosure: I attended this tasting as a guest of Langtons.

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Wine Reviews

McAlister Vineyard, The McAlister 2005

I’ve always wondered whether east Gippsland might be eminently suited to producing fine Bordeaux style wines.  It has lakes, proximity to the sea and a cool, but not too cool, humid maritime influenced climate.  Getting the late ripening cabernet sauvignon grape ripe might just be possible in this sort of environment.

East Gippsland however is largely untrammelled as a viticultural region, part of the enormous Gippsland geographical indication that encompasses so many climates, soils and topographies that it is unlikely to be useful as a guide to the wine consumer.  This Bordeaux blend from the McAlister Vineyard, “The McAlister” is sufficiently good that if it is representative of the Longford region’s potential, then well, this region has a lot of potential, and deserves to be spoken of in the same sentence as some of the more famous cabernet blends from the Yarra Valley.

A blend of 59% cabernet sauvignon, 27% merlot, 13% cabernet franc and 1% petit verdot, even the bottle, which is sealed under a labelled cork, looks Bordelaise.  The wine itself, from the 2005 vintage, has aromatics of blackcurrant, cedar and plums.  The palate has flavours of blackcurrant and tobacco, medium length, with fleshy mid palate support from ripe merlot in the blend.  This wine is ready to drink now and over the next five years or so and is remarkably left bank Bordeaux like in style.  It deserves attention on the grounds of principally its balance, and its complex and interesting expression of the Bordeaux grape varieties.  Very Good

Abv: 14.9%
Price: $58
Vendors: Check
Website: n/a
Tasted: 2013
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