TOP AUSSIE WINES

Rose Murray Brown MW   Published in The Scotsman 21 June 2014

One of the questions in the business paper of this year’s Master of Wine exam was: ‘Can Australia recover its export markets?’  Every Australian winery owner worth his salt is also trying to answer this tricky question.  Australia has suffered from rising prices and falling demand with stiff competition from South America and Spain in particular – so the Aussies are looking for new ways to engage us with their wines.

One of the most interesting initiatives for showcasing what is great about Aussie wines, is Matthew Jukes’ 100 Best Australian Wines tasting.  At this year’s launch in London on 3 June at Australia House, I was really bowled over by the quality of the wines he has chosen in his 2014 top 100.  I was also impressed by the freshness of many of the wines, as producers are clearly adapting to our desire for lighter subtler styles. 

What I particularly liked about Jukes’ selection was that it was not just about the elite and expensive.  He does include £70 and £100 bottles, but some of the wines were under £10, the sweet spot for many retailers.  He not only picked handcrafted wines lovingly made by small boutique wineries in minute quantities like Clos Clare or Circe, he also included wines from big brand names like Penfolds, Yalumba, Brown Brothers, Lindemans and Rosemount in his top 100.  Admittedly this is just one man’s verdict, but Jukes is well-known for his reliable palate.  He is also a trained wine buyer, consulting for top London restaurants and wine bars.

This year Jukes chose McWilliam’s as his Winery of the Year.  “Drop everything and hunt down these wines”, says Jukes.  “I have been so impressed by the way that they have re-invented their portfolio.  Their new Appellation Series Tumbarumba Chardonnay and Canberra Syrah at £15 a piece are proof that Australia can deliver great wine at this price”, says Jukes.

Over the decade of organizing his top 100 Aussie wines, Jukes has included 207 different wineries. The top three who have made the most appearances are Penfolds, Yalumba and De Bortoli.  This year he has also included 17 wineries never listed before. 

His top 100 list (see www.matthewjukes.com for the full list) includes a myriad of styles, regions and grapes.  Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Shiraz are well represented, with interesting additions from Arneis, Vermentino and Dolcetto.  Personally I thought the Rieslings really stood out for their quality – but Jukes says Cabernet Sauvignon shows most promise down-under right now.

“The Aussies have always made lovely Cabernet, but Shiraz has dogged the limelight.  Now some fabulous Cabernets are emerging from Margaret River, Coonawarra, McLaren Vale, Barossa, Eden and Clare Valleys – even some really fine wines around a tenner”, says Jukes.

Here are some of my own favourites and a few bargains from his top 100:  

WHITE WINE
              
Clos Clare Watervale RieslingClare Valley: CLOS CLARE RIESLING 2013 (£24 www.hallowed-ground.co.uk 07771 906717)
This was my top wine of the entire tasting: an incredible iconic dry Riesling from a tiny 5 acre vineyard run by (The Armagh) Jim Barry’s grandsons, Tom and Sam.  

New South Wales:  McWILLIAM’S APPELLATION SERIES TUMBARUMBA CHARDONNAY 2013 (£15 www.kingsland-wine.com)
Just what Australia does so well, poised citric fruits, lovely balance, just gorgeous ripe fruits: it may be the addition of 10% Tasmanian fruit in the blend to add a fresh acid note that has made the difference.  This will soon be on the shelves in the UK.

SE Australia:  BERTON METAL LABEL VERMENTINO 2013 (£8.99 www.strictlywine.co.uk; www.wineman.co.uk; www.greatwinesdirect.co.uk) 
As Jukes says, this aromatic Vermentino is a ‘clever’ wine (it includes Sauvignon, Semillon and Fiano in the blend), a bargain and the least expensive (legal) life-enhancing drug on the market.  Couldn’t put it better myself!  At 11.4% alcohol it fits the bill for an unusual summer white.

Adelaide Hills:  TEUSNER WOODSIDE SAUVIGNON BLANC 2013 (£22 Harvey Nichols, Edinburgh; www.hallowed-ground.co.uk)
So you thought the Aussies couldn’t make Sauvignon.  Put this vibrant lemony pear-skin flavoured Savvy into a line up against the Kiwis and see who wins.

Tasmania:  JOSEF CHROMY CHARDONNAY 2012 (£17.95 Fine Wine Co, Musselburgh)
I have had disappointments with this wine in the past, but this Tassie Chardonnay was just singing at this tasting: incredible layers of complexity and length of flavour.  Jukes tells me it is his favourite white in his top 100.

RED WINE

Mornington Peninsula: STONIER PINOT NOIR 2013 (£14.99 Waitrose)
Jukes lists just five Pinots this year: this was my favourite for soft succulence and value for money for a Pinot.

Canberra:  McWILLIAMS APPELLATION SERIES CANBERRA SYRAH 2013 (£15 www.kingsland-wines.com)
Part of the new Appellation duo from the highly rated 2013 vintage: forest floor and hedgerow aromas, earthy notes, rich ripe black fruits: Jukes mentions a bloody gaminess to look for too.

Langhorne Creek: HEARTLAND SPICE TRADER SHIRAZ/CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2012 (£9.95 The Wine Society www.thewinesociety.com)
Possibly the best value wine in the tasting: star winemaker Ben Glaetzer makes this brilliant, deliciously rich intense blackberry fruited treat – just yummy!

SE Australia:  BROOKFORD SHIRAZ/CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2013 (£8 Alexander Wines, Glasgow; Appellation Wines, Edinburgh; Ellies Cellar, Dollar)
A new brand and another cracking bargain – Jukes rates this as very gluggable and I can see what he means.  Tastes quite complex for under a tenner with sweet vanilla oak notes. 

S Australia:  YALUMBA Y SERIES CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2012 (£7.98 each for 2 bts or £9.39 bt Majestic Wine)
Brimful of cassis and berries, gloriously fine textured with fascinating glimpses of chocolate and tobacco – another good Aussie bargain.

S Australia: PENFOLDS KOONUNGA HILL SHIRAZ/CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2012 (£9.50 Tesco online; £9.98 Asda; £10.79 Waitrose) 
Sweet ripe black fruits, spicy smoky undertones, a smouldering beauty at under at tenner at most supermarkets: if you want to pay a little more try Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet/Shiraz 2011. Jukes rates Penfolds St Henri 2010 (£55) as his favourite red of his top 100.

Canberra District, NSW:  CLONAKILLA SHIRAZ/VIOGNIER 2012 (£75 www.windirect.co.uk)
Clonakilla make wonderful cool peppery Aussie Shiraz: if I had to pick just one red to represent Australia – this is it!  Long may Tim Kirk keep on giving us these amazing wines.  Very expensive – but worth the experience.
                                                      
S Australia:  PENFOLDS ST HENRI SHIRAZ 2010 (£55 / £65 Berry Bros & Rudd)
100% Shiraz blend from all over south Australia – aromatically spicy, seamlessly integrated old oak, beautiful wine.  This is Jukes’ only 20/20 wine so far this year.

DESSERT/FORTIFIED WINE
                
Rutherglen:  CAMPBELL’S OF RUTHERGLEN TOPAQUE NV (£14-£19 hf bt Woodwinters, Edinburgh & Bridge of Allan; Noel Young Wines, Cambridge; www.slurp.co.uk; Fine Wine Co, Musselburgh)
This is a brilliant wine for those who find Aussie Liqueur Muscats a little too heavy: this Topaque has a wonderful finesse and freshness made by the charming Campbell family

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