This is a sound pinot noir from De Bortoli in the Yarra Valley, and the 2018 vintage. It has aromas of cherry, raspberry and strawberry. The palate is balanced with fresh acidity. More pleasant than complex, this wine will suit consumption over the next couple of years. Rating: Good. Abv: 13.5%. Price: $20. Website: debortoli.com.au
With the 2019 harvest underway, I spent the morning in the winery at Helen & Joey in the Yarra Valley. Here are a few vineyard photographs and observations.
|Photo above: East-west planted pinot noir, looking to the west.|
|Grafted merlot vines planted on north-south facing rows, and nearing harvest.|
|Phylloxera continues its march through the Yarra Valley. Replanting in a neighbouring vineyard in the distance on the left, together with seemingly declining vigour in the vineyard in the distance on the right.|
|No viticultural comment, but a nice view from the office. Mount Dandenong is the peak in the distance.|
Thousand Candles was launched in the Yarra Valley with a lot of hype, an on trend ethos of site expression, a stellar price ($100) and some gushing reviews. I think some of those reviewers might be a bit embarrassed now. 2011 was the first vintage of Thousand Candles and it’s an unorthodox blend of 92% syrah, 6% pinot noir and 2% sauvignon blanc. 2011 is a poor red vintage in the Yarra Valley, so this must be factored in. In the glass, the wine has quite an unusual aroma that reminds of mushroom (not things like mushrooms, actual mushrooms), earth, red berries, leather, damp rosemary, grass and tinned peas. The contribution of the sauvignon blanc and the whole bunch fermentation is undeniable, though ultimately, I found these characters more grating than enjoyable, as the tinned pea and the damp whole bunch aromas simply overwhelmed. The palate is better. It’s delicate, with medium length and a nice silky balance to it, but seems to lack intensity of fruit expression and is unexpectedly light and simple, a victim of the vintage. It certainly appears to have reached its drinking window. Indeed, I wouldn’t keep this wine much longer. Overall, this is a disappointing wine, that promises much and delivers more smoke than fire. Rating: Acceptable to Good. Abv: not recorded. Price: $100+. Website: www.thousandcandles.com.au.
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.
This is Toolangi’s most interesting pinot noir yet. From Dixon’s Creek, it opens to a wonderfully Burgundian aroma of rhubarb, blackcurrants and earth. The palate is viscous and has good length. A very enjoyable wine that can be approached now. Rating: Good to Very Good. Abv: 13.8%. Price: $38. Source: Sample.
Toolangi produce some very good wine year in, year out. This is another good release chardonnay from their Dixon’s Creek vineyard at the northern end of the Yarra Valley. Subtle and restrained in bearing, the 2016 vintage opens to aromas of smoke, very well judged struck match and lemon. The palate has terrific length, the body is medium-full, and fresh acidity keeps the palate bright. A good release. Rating: Good to Very Good. Abv: 13.5%. Price: $28. Source: Sample.
I recently dropped into the Yarra Valley diary in Yering (http://yvd.com.au) and there was such an interesting range of wines from a series of up-and-coming local producers, I wanted to buy them all. This is a good cabernet blend from Rob Hall. Too few seem to be trying their hand at cabernet blends in the Yarra Valley, which is I think a pity. Rob Hall’s 2016 has restrained but enveloping aromas of spice and blackcurrant. The palate is medium bodied, the acidity quite fresh and the finish just slightly bitter, but not unpleasantly so. The tannins are quite tame for cabernet and the wine presents as in balance. Rating: Good. Abv: 13.5%. Price: $27.
This is a lovely shiraz from Toolangi’s low cropped Dixons Creek vineyard in the Yarra Valley. Dixons Creek is in the northern end of the Yarra Valley driving on the B300. In the glass, there are aromas of florals and redcurrants. The palate sits between medium and full bodied, and presents a balanced expression of shiraz with well integrated cedar. (Abv: 14.2%, Region: Yarra Valley, Victoria, Rating: Good, Drink: now to 2024, Price: $23, Tasted: October, 2017, Source: Sample)
It is always a pleasure tasting newly bottled wine and here are a couple of wines from Tarrahill in the Yarra Valley that have not yet been released. While very kindly provided for MW studies, both are in fact very good wines in their own right and deserve attention. You can read more about Tarrahill here.
Tarrahill Shiraz 2015
This is much more like the 2012 than the more full flavoured 2014 vintage. It’s very youthful, as can be expected, and almost Saint Joseph like in bearing. This is intended as a compliment. In terms of the wine itself, there’s spice, pepper, good length on the palate, a medium body and well handled oak. This is an excellent example of a cooler climate syrah style that is approachable now.
Tarrahill Chardonnay 2016
All of the component parts are in harmony in this vintage of Tarrahill’s chardonnay. Its aromas are bright and suggestive of lemons, lemon curd, grape fruit and quince, while well judged oak supplements rather than supplants. The palate has good length, fresh acidity and lemon characters. In short, an excellent first impression.
Tarrahill in the Yarra Valley continue to produce very good estate wines, and have become one of my regular purchases. A few notes and photos from my visit 18 months ago are posted here. This is the first review of Tarrahill’s new releases: a shiraz from the 2014 vintage. Unexpectedly (to me at least), on 2015 numbers, shiraz is the Yarra Valley’s third largest grape variety by tonnage (12%). This is admittedly well behind pinot noir and chardonnay (together, 63%), but nonetheless suggestive of high demand for its expression of cooler climate shiraz.
2014 is reported as a good vintage in the region, with cool weather at flowering restricting yields and a warm and dry finish to the vintage permitted the ripening of shiraz and cabernet sauvignon. I think this shows in the glass, as there’s a remarkable quality and ripeness of the fruit in Tarrahill’s 2014 shiraz that would confound many a blind tasting group. In the glass, the 2014 shiraz has aromas of cedar (some new oak is used) and plums. The palate is a full flavoured expression of shiraz, with reminders of plum and blackcurrant. (Alc: 14.2%, Region: Yarra Valley, Rating: Very Good, Would I buy it based on this tasting? Yes, Drink: now to 2025+, Tasted: July, 2017)
Other vintages reviewed: