Posted on December 6th, 2009
Last week (24th November) the affable John Wilson, wine writer with the Irish Times, hosted his Favourite Australians, 70 wines from Australia which in his own words, “would be happy to share with his friends”.
Rather than rehash what was already a fine selection, here’s my best of John’s best.
Jacob’s Creek Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir (Non vintage) €15.25
John says: this has to be the best value fizz on the market; feel free to crack open a bottle whenever the mood takes you.
I say: Pack up all your preconceptions about Jacob’s Creek and anything that doesn’t bear the name Champagne. This one doesn’t need the extra special occasion that warrants bubbles. Crisp, clean and a real bargain.
Green Point Sparkling (Non-vintage) Yarra Valley, Victoria €25.95
John says: australia’s greatest prodcuer of fizz, and one that gives its parent company (Moet & chandon) a real run for its money. it might seem pricey, but it is great value wine.
I say: a definite leap in price from the Jacob’s Creek, and a definite leap in quality too. My second time tasting this and I defy anyone not to like this. Even better, do a taste test with any Champagne at twice the price and prepare for a shock.
I sidestepped the Semillon and headed straight for the Riesling, picking out 3 in particular
Pewsey Vale The Contours Riesling 2003, Eden Valley €20
John says: From a single plot of old vines high up in the green eden Valley, a perfectly mature Riesling with waxy honeyed fruit and a crisp dry finish.
I say: oily texture, honey and crisp. If you like white wines with character and complexity then I’d say one thing. Go and buy it now. Really loved it.
Killikanoon Morts Block Riesling 2007, Clare Valley, €20
John says: this wine explodes with zesty crisp citrus fruits, with a lovely long mineral edge. Perfect with a plateful of spicy crab salad.
I say: Zippy, zesty, chalky minerality. Good contrast to the Pewsey Vale above and a great example of what Clare Valley can do with the noble Riesling.
Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2007, Clare Valley €33
John says: One of the true greats of Australian winemaking, crisp lean and angular with a real mineral bite. Not everyone loves it; I cannot get enough.
I say: Yes, it is fabulous, definite “mineral bite”, shade on the expensive side though.
Then a quick stop off at the Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris. The stand-outs, below.
The Lane Pinot Grigio 2006, Adelaide Hills €24
John says: Plump bouncy melon fruits from a winery that is really going places.
I say: can’t add much to what John says. I love plump bouncy melons. I met Marty Edwards back in September, a great guy behind the great wines of The Lane in the Adelaide Hills.
Henschke Pinot Gris 2006, Adelaide Hills €30
John says: One of the classiest PGs I have tasted this year; rich melon and grapefruits in a wonderfully stylish wine.
I say: Pink grapefruits. The more wines I taste from Henschke, the more I believe these guys are the equivalent of the top chateaux in Bordeaux or Burgundy – everything they do, they do so expertly.
Big is back, in style and price but at this level Oz is competing with the best Burgundy can offer.
Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay 2007, Margaret River €50
John says: One of the best wines I have tasted all year, a wine that can take on the very best Burgundy can produce. Put simply, chardonnay does not get much better.
I say: Subtle, toast with melted butter, stone fruits. Chardonnay doesn’t get much better. Unfortunately, it doesn’t cost much more either.
Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay 2003, Margaret River €54
John says: the flagship of the Margaret River, a rich toasty chardonnay edged with citrus fruits.
I say: needs no introduction, flying the flag for toasty oaked Chardonnay and absolutely fabulous. Why is it the best wines are often the most expensive? Hmmm.
Reds: Pinot Noir
Next, the girly reds and my favorite, Pinot Noir.
All 5 were tasting well here but here is my top two.
Marks & Spencer Tasmanian Pinot Noir 2007 €12.49
John says: Tasmania makes great Pinot Noir and Andrew Pirie is the acknowledged master; a purity of dark cherry fruits that slips down all too easily, and great value too.
I say: more velvety and darker than the Devil’s Corner. Tried this over a year ago and wasn’t too impressed. Glad I gave it a second chance. It’s very decent.
Tesco Yarra Valley 2007 €18
John says: Made for Tesco by Steve Webber of De Bortoli, a marvellous mix of ripe fruit and earthiness.
I say: Yet another reason to real the small print. Steve Webber is a legend in the winemaking world, plying his trade with De Bortoli and has plied his trade in Burgundy. My “best in show” for Pinot Noir.
Now onto the Grenache-based blends and the one that stood head and shoulders above the rest was an uncommon mix of Grenache, Mouvedre and Touriga.
St. Hallett Gamekeeper’s Reserve 2006, Barossa Valley, €9.99
John says: the gamekeeper obviously knows his stuff! Delicious rounded dark fruits with a real kick. Keep with the theme, and try it with game or duck.
I say: Rich, velvety followed by a lovely spicy finish. Best in show, overall. I met Martin Moran (MW) at this table and he seemed to agree.
Then, onto to the Cabernets & Bordeaux blends
Wirra Wirra Church Block, 2007. McLaren Vale €20
John says: Rounded, succulent and stuffed with ripe fruits; unputdownable.
I say: Nice subtle mince pie spices which hang around in the background with big juicy fruits to the fore.
Clairault Estate Cabernet Merlot 2003, Margaret River €31
John says: another Margaret River producer with an Irish connection, Clairault have been receiving deserved plaudits for their wonderfully rounded but pure Bordeuax blend.
I say: My best in show for Cabernets. Simply gorgeous silky, velvet texture.
Then, swiftly on to one of the widest ranges I’ve seen of Australia’s signature red, Shiraz. So, what stood out? Pretty much most of them, but here are my most memorable:
Shaw & Smith Shiraz 2004, Adelaide Hills, €28
John says: established by cousins Martin shaw and Michael Hill smith, shaw and smith are at the fore of building the ‘hot’ reputation for this cool region of australia. Lightly spiced damsons and smooth tannins in a wine that is made for wild duck or venison.
I say: Because of the cooler climate of the Adelaide Hills, you don’t get the big Barossa flavours from just up the road. Instead, it’s smooth, silky and subtle spices.
Bests Bin O Shiraz 2004, Great Western, Victoria €30
John says: a more restrained wine from a cooler region, but still filled with lovely clean pure silky-smooth dark fruits.
I say: Another cool climate, another smooth silky restrained Shiraz. Not a sniff of the big blockbuster fruit forward styles, this is more Syrah than Shiraz.
Thorn Clarke Terra Barossa Shiraz 2007, Barossa, South Australia €17.50
John says: Lovely smooth clean fruits that get better and better as the bottle empties. a very stylish all-rounder to put alongside red meats and cheese.
I say: Boom, boom, boom. A Shiraz which delivers shockingly great value with fantastic balance of flavours and texture, particularly when compared with the more expensive guys above. My value Shiraz winner of the night.
Tim Adams Shiraz 2005, Clare Valley, South Australia, €14.70
John says: a majestic wine that matches an awesome level of power with an unbelievable intensity of ripe minty fruit.
I say: I’ve had this a couple of times recently. Available in Tesco, Tim Adams delivers “fine wine” at rockbottom prices and this Shiraz is no different. I also recommend his “The Fergus”, a red blend and the Tim Adams Riesling, which I tasted recently here.
Torbreck Woodcutter’s Shiraz 2005, Barossa Valley, South Australia €18.50
John says: Opulent, rich and powerful, classic Barossa in every mouthful. Perhaps even modeled on it’s wine maker dave Powell.
I say: Another lightweight price packing a heavyweight punch, and down to €15.39 in O’Brien’s Winter wine sale. Could almost pip the Thorn Clarke to the post for best quality-to-price prize.
Rockford Basket Press Shiraz, Barossa Valley, South Australia, €45
John says: Robert O’Callaghan is one of the legends of the Barossa Valley. His Basket Pressed shiraz follows in that vein and should be tasted by everyone at least once in their life; soft spicy dark fruits with a real earthy touch, and plenty of oomph too.
I say: The basket press is a like a hammer, a piece of technology that hasn’t changed in about 1,000 years. This wine blew me away and I echo John’s thoughts, “should be tasted by everyone at least once in their life“.
Glaetzer Bishop Shiraz 2006, Barossa Valley, South Australia €24
John says: One of the big boys, but not without subtledty either; rich powerful plums with a light christmas cake spiciness, and a finish that goes on forever. One to savour with a few good friends.
I say: I tried this first from Curious Wines on their recommendation and I wasn’t disappointed. Not this time either. Big Barossa, not for the faint hearted, but delivers in spades.
Henschke Mount Edelstone, Eden Valley, South Australia, €75
John says: kid brother of Hill of Grace, one australia’s true icon wines, this has nothing to be ashamed of; a beautiful explosion of perfectly ripe dark fruits, with a hint of raisins, and a minty, spicy edge. Velvet in an iron fist.
I say: This flirts with you with amazingly perfumed aromas, seduces you everything in perfect balance. Then, makes off with your wallet (when you see the price). To quote a James song from the nineties, “if I hadn’t seen such riches I could live with being poor”.
Finally, something to go with dessert. Instead of a sweet wine, it’s a fortified wine, Port-style.
Grant Burge 10 Year Old Tawny €25
John says: Forget about Port this christmas, and treat yourself to a bottle of this beauty, a lovely weave of caramel and toasty nuts.
I say: Sticky toffee pudding in a glass. Would be fab with the Christmas pud or even sticky toffee pudding. This is a great Port in everything but name.