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Australia's best wines
Landmark Australia tasting, 37 top bottles

Australia’s wine industry is fighting back. They want the wine world to recognize that they aren’t just about sweet, fruity ‘bottled sunshine’ brands, but also produce a raft of fine wines in different styles and from distinctly different regions.

At a remarkable tasting in London, presented by Michael Hill-Smith and Paul Henry, journalists and buyers were presented with a range of ‘Landmark Australia’ wines. This term is one of four categories of ‘brand personalities’ that have been identified in a recent white paper by Wine Australia, and these Landmark Australia wines are those that reflect Australia’s fine wine dimension. They were selected by pooling information from Langton’s Classification (a leading Aussie auction house), show results and informed advice from Australian wine commentators. The actual vintages presented at the tasting reflect the choice of the winemakers.

I’ve included here notes on the selected wines, plus also some of the other Landmark wines presented in a free pour tasting after the tutored bit. It really was a brilliant tasting: here in the UK we often overlook the fact that Australia isn’t just about fruity wines offering good value for money. I’ve also added some of the commentary material from Michael where appropriate.

Riesling: this was the key Aussie white grape variety until Chardonnay arrived in the 1980s. ‘Riesling was the grape variety that we learned to make white wines with in a somewhat harsh climate’, says Michael. It was first planted in the Eden Valley pre-1900.  The two classic regions are the Clare (more classically citrus dominated) and the Eden (more floral/rose petal) valleys. The press cut is important: very little if any press material goes in to decent Riesling.

Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2005 Clare Valley
Jeffrey Grosset has been making Riesling in the Clare since 1981, and this is a single-site wine from a vineyard planted 460 m above sea level on sandy loam over shallow clay, with underlying gravel, shale and slate. Pronounced aromatic nose which is quite limey with some mineralic notes. Crisp and quite complex. The palate has a lovely rounded characterwith complex minerally fruit. Well balanced and expressive. 93/100

Pewsey Vale ‘The Contours’ Riesling 2002 Eden Valley
From a vineyard 500 m above sea level, this is a selection from the oldest rows, planted in 1962. Fresh, aromatic nose is a bit floral with gentle citrus notes. Delicate, fresh palate has lovely expressive minerality. This is beginning to evolve beautifully. 92/100

Forest Hill Riesling 2006 Great Southern
Bright and limey on the nose with herby freshness. The palate shows freshness and minerally precision with good acidity and depth. 91/100

Jacob’s Creek Steingarten Riesling 1996 Barossa
Deep yellow colour. Rich, broad toasty limey nose showing some evolution, but still fresh. The palate has lovely depth and intensity, as well as some herby waxy notes and citrus freshness. 93/100

Jacob’s Creek Steingarten Riesling 1998 Barossa
Creamy, broad, toasty nose. The palate is fresh and crisp with nice fruitiness. Crisp broad and almost tannic in its mouthfeel: a bold, intense, limey Riesling. 92/100

Jim Barry The Florita Riesling 2007 Clare
This is really special. Very aromatic with a rich, sweet, limey nose. Superconcentrated palate is bright with focused limey fruit. Pure, rich, focused limey fruit with great balance. 94/100

Hunter Semillons are a unique Aussie style of wine. They’re picked early because of impending harvest rain, and tend to have more on the nose than on the palate. In their youth they are tight and fresh, but they are transformed with age into remarkable wines, with a toasty quality even though they are unoaked. Not many wineries are making these because not many people love them, but they retain a loyal support with a few who recognize their unique characters.

McWilliams Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon 2001 Hunter Valley
Tight, toasty nose with some citrus freshness. Complex, taut and quite waxy. The palate is quite tight with some minerality and toastiness, as well as crisp, tight acidity. A lean, linear wine. 91/100

Tyrell’s Vat 1 Semillon 1998 Hunter Valley
Deep yellow colour. Lovely rich, intense toasty nose with sweet vanilla and herb notes. The palate is bright with high acid and minerally freshness. The palate is crisp and bright with high acid and mineral freshness. Intense and powerful with a tight herby finish. Wonderful stuff. 93/100

Murray Tyrell’s Vat 47 Chardonnay is an important wine in Australia’s history. He was the first to plant Chardonnay in 1967, and the first wine was in 1971 (Vat 47 Pinot Chardonnay). The first oaked Chardonnay was the 1973 Vat 47, and this got 6/20 in the Brisbane wine show. It is described as the ‘Grandfather of Aussie Chardonnay’.

Tyrell's Vat 47 Chardonnay 1998 Hunter
A big, massive Chardonnay that's unashamedly Australian, but which at 10 years old is ageing beautifully. Deep coloured, this has a burnt toast nose. Super-concentrated palate has powerful flavours of toast, peach, pear and herbs with lots of rich spicy oak. The finish is long and intense with oak meshing well with the fruit. Thrilling stuff. 94/100

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2005 Margaret River
This is predominantly Mendoza clone Chardonnay, which has low phenolics and allows for some skin contact. The newer Bernard clones tend to give more savoury spectrum rather than just fruit. Warm, concentrated, rich and broad with lovely soft, complex, nutty creamy fruit. The palate shows ripe, soft fruit with peach, nectarine and pear as well as fresh acidity. Delicious stuff with power and elegance. 94/100

Leabrook Estate Chardonnay 2005 Adelaide Hills
Broad nose is creamy and intense with a complex herbiness. The palate is concentrated and smooth with great depth of flavour. Quite fresh with good concentration and definition. 92/100

Shaw & Smith M3 Chardonnay 2006 Adelaide Hills
Fresh, tight nose with some citrussy notes as well as toasty oak. The palate is fresh and concentrated with bright, toasty fruit. Crisp and fresh with good acidity, this is a stylish modern wine. 91/100

Pinot Noir: Michael says that, ‘The emergence of Pinot Noir internationally has been one of the most exhilarating recent developments in wine’. He cites two individuals as being important in Australia, John Middleton at Mount Mary in the late 1980s, and Garry Farr of Bannockburn (who he describes as ‘John the Baptist of Aussie Pinot Noir’, and who did every vintage from 1982–2002 at Dujac). Advances in Pinot Noir have included moving to cooler areas in Australia, taking only miserly yields, the use of pre-ferment soaks, and experimenting with whole bunches. Clonal material has been limiting: the early clones were Davis ones, especially NV6. Now the Dijon clones 112, 113, 114, 115 and 777 are being used.

De Bortoli Reserve Pinot Noir 2005 Yarra Valley
From some of the oldest Pinot plantings in the Yarra Valley (1971), naturally fermented in open 4.5 ton fermenters. Sweet aromatic cherry fruit nose with some earthiness and undergrowth notes. The palate is broad with fresh cherry and berry fruit, together with a subtle herby sappiness. Rounded texture. Quite complex and earthy. 91/100

Kooyong Ferrous Pinot Noir 2005 Mornington Peninsula
Bright and fruity, with sweet berry and cherry notes. There’s some structure here. A fresh, understated sort of wine. 90/100

Stonier Pinot Noir 2006 Mornington Peninsula
Aromatic, fresh and cherryish with lovely freshness. The palate is bright and open with a herby edge to the cherry and berry fruits. Nicely expressive. 90/100

Shelmerdine Phi Pinot Noir 2006 Yarra Valley
Fresh green spicy nose with nice fruit and a sweet herbal character. Sweet, well defined palate with good structure. Good definition and some spicy complexity. 90/100

Tamar Ridge ‘Kayena Reserve’ Pinot Noir 2005 Tasmania
Sweet, bright, berryish nose with some dark cola-like depth. The palate is quite funky with a ginger-like spiciness to the sappy green fruit. There’s a mix here of very sweet ripe fruit with some green spicy structure. 89/100

Cabernet Sauvignon: in the 1980s Cabernet had a 20–30% premium over Shiraz in both grape and wine prices, because of short supply and high demand. Things have changed, though, because Cabernet doesn’t perform all that well apart from in a few select areas.

The Cabernet/Shiraz blend was born of necessity, because there just wasn’t enough Cabernet about, and people wanted it. But it has turned out to be a classic blend that works well. ‘I think it’s a more interesting category that Cabernet/Merlot’, says Michael.

Wynns John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon 1996 Coonawarra
First vintage of this classic was in 1982. It is hard to believe this, the 1996 vintage, is already 12 years old. Fantastic nose is gravelly, intense, minerally and has a slightly tarry edge to the blackcurrant fruit. The palate is concentrated, complex and fresh with lovely purity of gravelly, minerally fruit. It’s still quite tannic with some lovely complexity. Great integration of fruit and oak: a real classic. 96/100


Mitolo Serpico Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 McLaren Vale
This is incredible stuff. Smooth, sweet blackcurrant fruit nose is fresh and expressive with a sappy edge. The palate is soft and smooth with lovely texture and a spicy, gravelly undercurrent to the fruit. 94/100


Balnaves The Tally Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Coornawarra
Sweet, dense, focused blackcurrant fruit with nice structure. Lovely definition to the sweet blackcurranty fruit. 92/100


Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 Margaret River
A thrillingly intense Cabernet that's taut and brooding at the moment, but it's a serious wine with a long life ahead of it. Dark, focused blackcurrant fruit bolstered by good tannins and nice acidity. Dense and full with lovely freshness. Tannic and dense. 95/100


Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Merlot 2005 Margaret River
Grapes grown biodynamically. Cabernet is from an 11 hectare vineyard planted in 1971; Merlot from 1.8 hectares planted in 1976. A thrilling wine that's still tight and youthful. Concentrated ripe, dense fruit with great precision and real potential for further development. Lovely fresh blackcurrant fruit nose with nice spiciness. The palate is concentrated with smooth, dense, ripe fruit and lovely warm spicy structure. 94/100


Ben Glaetzer Anaperenna Shiraz Cabernet 2006 Barossa Valley
This used to be called the Godolphin, but had to be renamed for legal reasons. It comes from the Ebenezer district of the Barossa, and is three-quarters Shiraz, one-quarter Cabernet. Really lush, pure sweet nose of intense dark fruits. Sweet, complex and spicy on the palate with lovely intensity and freshness. Bold and dense with concentrated blackcurranty fruit and nice spicy definition. Balanced despite its richness. 93/100


Wild Duck Creek Estate Duck Muck 2004 Heathcote
This Shiraz/Cabernet  blend is crazy stuff, with 16.5% alcohol and incredibly rich, porty fruit. But it's actually in balance and is thoroughly delicious. The nose shows lush, almost overripe black fruits. The palate is super-concentrated with powerful fruit. Massive and intense. A guilty pleasure. 94/100


Hardys Eileen Hardy Shiraz 1999 McLaren Vale
A distinctive, classically styled Aussie Shiraz that's ageing beautifully. Distinctive, rich, complex balsamic nose with sweet black fruits. A bit old-fashioned but lovely: aromatic and profound. The palate is fresh and complex with concentrated sweet fruit and some nice spiciness, showing great integration of ripe, sweet fruit and oak. Lovely. 94/100


Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz 2001 Barossa Valley
In 1987 Peter Lehmann decided to make a special Shiraz that demanded time in bottle. Stonewell is the result. Sweet liqueur-like nose is bold and a bit porty, showing some caramel notes. The palate is sweet and bold with a bit of evolution. Super-concentrated with warmth and richness, but this seems a little more evolved than it should be. This bottle only? 91/100


Penfolds RWT Shiraz 2004 Barossa Valley
The first release of this was the 1997. It was added to the range to complement Grange with a Shiraz that’s more fruit driven and fleshy. This has bold sweet, blackberry and blackcurrant fruit with a spicy edge on the nose. The palate has good concentration of sweet pure fruit: it’s focused, fresh and pure with lovely balance. 94/100


Mount Langi Ghiran Langi Shiraz 2004 Grampians
This is an utterly brilliant cool-climate Shiraz. It has a fresh white pepper nose and pure dark fruits. The palate is fresh and pure with lovely fresh dark fruits and a bit of meatiness, as well as more of that cool-climate pepperiness. 15% alcohol but the balance is perfect. Thrilling. 96/100


Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz 2005 Hunter Valley

Stunningly good. Sweet, focused dark fruits nose is pure and well defined. The palate is concentrated and fresh with lovely definition to the dark fruits and tight structure. Massive potential for future development. 95/100


Jim Barry Armagh 2004 Clare Valley
Sweet, pure and intense dark fruits nose. Great concentration on the palate, with a combination of new oak and intense fruit. The palate is superconcentrated with sweet black fruits and a spicy finish. Rich and youthful in a blockbuster style. 93/100


Chapel Hill Shiraz 2004 McLaren Vale
Red/black colour. Concentrated dark fruits here. It’s firm and tannic and almost impenetrable at the moment. A blockbuster style with sweet dark fruits, some oak and firm tannins. 92/100


Wirra Wirra RSW Shiraz 2003 McLaren Vale
Sweet open nose is warm, spicy and cedary. The palate is concentrated and sweet showing a bit of evolution and very ripe fruity oak. Stylish in a slightly traditional style. A bit evolved. 91/100


Kay Brothers Block 6 Shiraz 2004 McLaren Vale
Deep coloured. Lovely sweet, intense dark fruits nose well framed by warm spicy notes. The palate has nice freshness and definition to the ripe dark fruits. 93/100


Mitolo Savitar Shiraz 2006 McLaren Vale
Fresh, bright and aromatic with lovely definition. The dominant theme here is red and black fruits with a plummy spicy bitterness on the finish. Dense but balanced with a really fresh finish. 93/100


Shaw & Smith Shiraz 2006 Adelaide Hills
This is a cool climate Syrah with a peppery edge to the beautifully fresh, well defined red fruits. Fantastic stuff. 94/100

Yering Station Reserve Shiraz Viognier 2003 Yarra Valley
Very sweet lush dark fruits nose with a grapey, spicy sweetness as well as a little bit of apricot. It smells a bit confected. The palate has a slightly odd confected edge. Nice freshness and definition though. 90/100

SC Pannell Shiraz Grenache 2005 McLaren Vale
Stephen Pannell spent a decade working for Hardys and is now a consultant; this is the first wine under his own label. It’s based on a 90 year old Shiraz vineyard and 60 year old bush vine Grenache. Ripe spicy black fruits nose. The palate is sweet and soft with dark fruit backed up by some spiciness. There’s lushness and elegance here: a broad, soft-textured wine with some structure under the easy-going fruit. 93/100

Wines tasted 04/08  
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