Saturday, August 13, 2011


Before this website gets caught up in the midst of reviewing a whole host of new season's wines, I thought I'd post the first of what will hopefully become an annual Australian Wine Journal Top Dozen.

To make the list, wines must've been reviewed in the 'full' Australian Wine Journal treatment -that means no samplings, tastings, restaurant/socially consumed wines or wines drunk without a tasting note - and all must've been reviewed within the past 12 months (or close to in one case) on the website.

Additionally, the Australian Wine Journal Top Dozen isn't just a simple compilation of the 12 best, or highest scoring wines I've reviewed in the past year. Of course, to be included in the dozen, wines must've been brilliant in my eyes, but they must've ticked that box at the end of the line as well - inspirational. I was looking for wines that genuinely stirred up inspiration within me at the time of drinking. Wines that made me think to myself; 'f#ck I'm glad I'm an Australian wine drinker!' The sort of wines I wanna passionately stand up for and fight alongside in a bar brawl with. The sort of wines that drag out the type of beverage related inspiration only a wine drinker could understand. Whether it be something original, eye opening, ahead of its time or even something fantastically cheap and unique, the key here is that the wines needed to be a little more than just plain outstanding.

As I look over the list, it appears I've inadvertently selected at least one wine from each of Australia's 5 major wine producing states. It just goes to show, that in the face of some pretty trying recent vintages, it doesn't matter where you look around this outstanding wine producing country - there's exceptional wine to be had everywhere!


I'm sure there might be a few traditionalists out there sneering at the thought of a bottle-fermented Australian prosecco, but if wines like Dal Zotto's 2008 L'Immigrante are the results of such labours - then bring them on I say! It's an elegantly complex, spotlessly clean, nutty and savoury sparkling wine, beautifully sculpted into place by a wonderfully linear, dry, tight backbone. If Australia's on the verge of a prosecco boom, then this is the ready made wine serious drinkers should look to.

The first time I tasted Karra Yerta's 2010 Riesling I felt it was like the Eden Valley equivalent of Grosset's Polish Hill - in other words - the dry riesling I've been waiting my entire wine drinking life for! Marie and James Linke's 2010 perfectly marries the stunning purity of regional characters Eden Valley enthusiasts seek, with sumptuous depths of flavour and texture, as well as unrelenting, penetrative structure and length. Alongside any number of spectacular wines emanating from Australia's small winery class at the moment, Karra Yerta's Riesling proves how size of production isn't really that important when it comes to making world class wines.

Okay, so we all know how brilliant Grosset's Polish Hill is, so why the inspiration? It's Jeffrey's relentless pursuit of perfection. Perhaps no other Australian winemaker comes as close to achieving perfection year in, year out, as Grosset does with his Polish Hill. But Grosset is never one to rest on his laurels. He tires away endlessly in the vineyard every year, constantly looking to improve what is already a near flawless Australian wine. The results are there to be seen in the 2010 which is classic Polish Hill - it's all about power, depth and a blisteringly dry finish of spectacular length.

As a lover of Australian chardonnay it saddens me somewhat to see so many makers moving towards an ultimately leaner, perhaps overly refined style in recent years. Australian chardonnay isn't riesling, or semillon (or Chablis for that matter) - it's chardonnay - and ideally, it should be complex, textured, rich and stylish. The best examples in this country exhibit these qualities, alongside refinement and balance, and Beechworth's Savaterre hit the nail on the head with their 2008 release. With bright, genuinely ripened chardonnay fruit complemented seamlessly by superb texture and none-too-shy, complex winemaker inputs, it's precisely the sort of wine I wanna being drinking from chardonnay when I reach for more than a fifty from my wallet.

DOMAINE A PINOT NOIR 2006 (Coal River Valley)
When I first stuck my nose into Domaine A's 2006 Pinot Noir, its combination of herbal scents and dark, meaty fruit aromas actually had me thinking of cabernet sauvignon, but once it entered my mouth, there was no doubt as to what variety I was dealing with. If feel and textural complexity are the keys to exceptional pinot noir, then Domaine A smashed it out of the ballpark with their 2006. It's supple, fragile and delicate, yet its adorably complex, darker pinot noir flavours are backed up by one of the most spectacular, expansive pinot noir structures I've ever encountered from the Island State. If you still believe Tasmania isn't capable of world class pinot noir, then check this beauty out.

Brian Croser raised a few eyebrows with his inaugural 2007 Foggy Hill, sourced from a region barely associated with top shelf Australian wine, let alone pinot noir. Then, with his follow up from 2008, Croser showed the capabilities of his special site with a wonderful release. But it's the 2009 which has really declared the winemaking legend's intentions of taking on Australia's very best exponents of the closely followed genre. With the exception of some of Ashton Hills' very best wines, I've never had a South Australian pinot noir so cleanly fruited, savoury, under spoken, beautifully made or astoundingly complex in its youth. Is it the future of South Australian pinot noir? I think so.

CULLEN MANGAN 2009 (Margaret River)
In addition to the use of a new mistral blower on the sorting table and a return to basket press, Vanya Cullen's commitment to bio-dynamic wine production has seen increased levels of subtlety, elegance and feminine charm in her premier reds, which already sat at the more subtle, elegant and feminine side of high end Australian wine anyway. The 2009 Mangan bares these qualities and displays it in a very similar fashion to its much more lauded 2008 Diana Madeline stablemate, but it does it at around half the price and without the use of the Margaret River's primary red grape; cabernet sauvignon (the Mangan is a 63/27/10 blend of malbec, petit verdot and merlot). The attractively complex characters Cullen achieves at modest alcohol levels, is, quite simply, amazing in this country. In terms of both style and varietal composition, I'd love to see more Australian reds like this.

As Australians scramble to make new wines from new varieties, there remains a number of grapes which have been sitting in our vineyards for some time, which have perhaps been overlooked. Woodlands' Reserve de la Cave Malbec is a benchmark for what can be achieved. It's simultaneously authentically varietal and deliciously Australian, with an undeniably perfumed and plush accent of deep, silky black and purple fruits driven with great direction by an extremely precise structure. Sat next to its cabernet franc sibling it's distinctly different in style, but picking a better wine between the two proved impossible for me. I'm usually a cabernet franc man too.

Woodlands' 2010 Reserve de la Cabernet Franc displays a more piercing, pristine varietal expression than the malbec, which doesn't necessarily make it any better a drinking wine on release. The combination of cabernet franc, with its green-edged, herbal perfume, and the Margaret River's Wilyabrup sub-region, which is so well known for perfumed, dark fruited, toasty/smoky, dusty cabernet, seems such a perfect fit, and it's played out to perfection in the 2010 Reserve de la Cave. There's a wonderfully elegant density to the wine as well, which of course, is drawn down the palate to great effect by the typically fine-grained and assertive structure Woodlands has become synonymous for.

There may be any number of technically better reds around Australia at the moment than Dr Brian Freeman's 2004 Secco, but in terms of ingenuity and value for money, this most unique of Australian reds stands out on a limb. It's aromatically lifted, richly textured, deeply flavoured, savoury and rather over the top for a wine of its price, but a few years bottle age have seen all of its elements sink together like a cat on a bean bag. Delicious only starts to explain it. Kudos to Freeman for planting rondinella and corvina in NSW's Hilltops region. Kudos to Freeman for blending them together. Kudos to him for being creative enough to partially dry the grapes in a prune dehydrator. Kudos to him for pulling the whole crazy experiment off, and perhaps most importantly, kudos to him for having the patience and generosity to issue a bottle aged release, without any increase in price. $30!?

With an early March heatwave spanning 15 straight days of 35+ degree heat, 2008 was hardly a classic year for Clare cabernet, but Wendouree's fine effort with their deep, beautifully ripened, supple and savoury 2008 Cabernet Malbec (achieved at under 14% alc) shows us just how important well managed old vineyards are in the most trying of circumstances. It's probably not the most sensational Wendouree of all time, but the 2008 Cabernet Malbec remains testament to what an irreplaceable resource that spectacular vineyard is.

Like the Wendouree, Joseph's 2008 Moda was hardly born out of a wonderful year for McLaren Vale cabernet, but this time, I feel Joe Grilli's freakish winemaking abilities have helped carve out a magnificent wine every bit as much as the choice of his vineyard site and its management. In fact, McLaren Vale's suffered through a few less than perfect cabernet vintages lately, but Grilli's time proven ability to make deliciously rich, hedonistically smooth, ripe and dusty cabernet merlots using the Italian Amarone method of drying grapes on racks after harvest, has once again produced a stunning take on McLaren Vale cabernet. As with Wendouree's 2008 Cabernet Malbec, I don't actually feel the 2008 Moda is one of Jospeh's very best vintages, but it still serves as a benchmark as to what can be achieved in unbelievably hot, dry seasons.


  1. Chris, this would make a really interesting mixed case of wines (even if there is no shiraz)! :)

  2. Some very nice wines there Chris. I will be keeping an eye out for those two Woodlands wines

  3. Thanks lads.

    I certainly noticed there was no shiraz on the list. I don't think any individual Australian shiraz I've had in the past 12 months really showered me with such inspiration as the 12 wines on the list. If anything, a couple of 2007 Hunter shirazes really kicked my brain into gear - that vintage certainly reiterated the Hunter's ability to produce shiraz as well as anywhere in Australia!

    Chris P

  4. When's the tasting?

  5. Terrific read Chris, you are offering a fabulous set of views this year, I thankyou muchly. Especially for introducing me to Freemans. So, so good.

    This post has coaxed me into calling up a Woodlands 07 Margaret. I know it's way too early, but your enthusiasm has got me way too curious!

    I look forward to sharing my dozen with you later in the year.

  6. Anon,

    I'd be lying if I said I haven't fantasised about such an event! Not sure where I'd get another 2 bottles of those Woodlands though....

  7. Via,

    Thanks very much - you make-a me blush ;).

    I loved, LOVED the 07 Woodlands Margaret, perhaps even more than the two mentioned here, but I think I covered it back in 2009 so it didn't make the list :(. Brilliant wine though. Just thinking about it makes me happy (because I know I have some tucked away somewhere ;)

    Love to see your top dozen later on as well. Just let me know when and where, and I'll be there... :)

    Chris P

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