Wine Blog & Reviews

Oct 10 2019

Fiano: Australia’s best alternative white wine?

Posted on October 10, 2019 | By

Wine critic Huon Hooke recently named the Chalmers Fiano 2017 as his Wine of the Week in The Real Review. He describes the wine as having a bouquet that “opens with smoky matchstick overtones and nutty, toasted-cashew aromas, while lemony fruit and honeyed overtones emerge in time.”

Hooke’s description of the wine’s nut-like aromas is not surprising given that Italy’s best vineyards are located in hazelnut plantations in Fiano’s home turf of Avellino in the Campania region east of Naples.

Fiano has quite a storied history in Italy. It was likely the main variety in a wine the Ancient Romans called Apianum, based on the Latin word for bees, Apiana. In the vineyards around Avellino, the sugary pulp of the Fiano grape attract swarms of bees – a big plus for the environment given growing alarm around the world about declining bee numbers.

Interestingly, Australian winemaker interest in Fiano coincided with a revival in Italy of the cultivation of the grape. The variety only gained official recognition in Italy as “Fiano di Avellino DOC” in 2003. McLaren Vale’s Coriole released Australia’s first Fiano in 2005 and the variety is now the largest growing whites category in McLaren Vale.

Fortunately, Fiano responds well to different climatic conditions and doesn’t lose its acidity under hot climatic conditions. The coolish climate of Chalmer’s Heathcote vineyard gives the wine an excellent depth of flavour and the naturally high level of acidity serves as a counterbalance to the bees-waxy texture of the variety, ensuring that the wine retains its freshness and crispness while still having excellent palate length.

Coriole continues to make an award-winning Fiano. Its 2017 vintage won Best White Wine at the McLaren Vale Wine Show 2017. Other top producers include Bendigo’s Sutton Grange and Clare Valley’s Grosset. Grosset’s Apiano Fiano is a … Read the rest

Apr 04 2019

Best Buys: Hughes & Hughes Chardonnay 2018

Posted on April 04, 2019 | By

Wine critic Huon Hooke has just put up a post on Great Value Chardonnays. He was excited to report that a very moderately priced Tasmanian chardonnay from the Derwent Valley, the Hughes & Hughes Chardonnay 2018 ($34) scored a gold ribbon.

You may recall that Hughes & Hughes is the most recent recipient of the James Halliday Wine Companion’s Best New Winery of Year award. Upon bestowing the gong, Halliday remarked: “Without wishing in any way to denigrate past recipients of the Best New Winery award, this year’s recipient has achieved a level of success we haven’t seen before, and are unlikely to see again.”

Such impressive accolades for a new winery would be surprising if it were not for the expertise and experience of the talent behind the venture. Jonathan Hughes had a seven-year stint as assistant winemaker at Moorilla, the David Walsh owned winery on the grounds of MONA, before establishing the Mewstone Vineyard in 2011 with his older brother Matthew, a former banker. It’s situated on the banks of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel in the tiny hamlet of Flowerpot.

Recently expanded to a total of 3.5 hectares, the Mewstone vineyards are mostly comprised of Pinot Noir, but also include some small plantings of  Chardonnay, Syrah, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.

The Hughes & Hughes label was started as a second range to allow Jonathan to be “more daring in his winemaking endeavours,” which are informed by styles and techniques picked up from an international career that involved working for top winemakers in Central Otago in New Zealand, Barolo in Italy and Okanagan Valley in Canada.

Grapes for the Hughes & Hughes label are purchased from growers in all parts of Tasmania. The fruit for the Hughes & Hughes Chardonnay 2018 comes from a single vineyard in the … Read the rest

Aug 08 2018

Heathcote Shiraz – What makes it so special!

Posted on August 08, 2018 | By

At the moment, wine lovers are spoilt for choice when it comes to finding unique and high-quality offerings from the vineyards of Victoria. Even though it’s the mainland’s smallest state in terms of land mass, Victoria’s climatic diversity, in particular, makes it possible for the state to excel in a myriad of varieties.

But it’s just not the climate that gives Victoria its edge. The state is also home to some of the oldest soils in the world. This is particularly true for the Heathcote appellation in Central Victoria, which is famous for its complex volcanic Cambrian soils that are over 500 million years old. Collectively known as “Cambrian Greenstones”, the strata of fine red calcareous sodic clay soils, dark brown gravels and ironstone create a mineral rich environment for the vine roots as well offering great moisture retention benefits that ensure that the dry-grown shiraz grapes mature more slowly in the hot summer weather. Coupled with cooling winds that bring down the nighttime temperatures, this unique combination of soil and climate helps the grapes to retain a perfect level of acidity. Litte wonder then that Heathcote consistently produces complex, superbly balanced shiraz wines that are both rich and elegant.

Many of the best wineries in Heathcote are boutique family run operations where the skills and experience of the owner/winemaker are now being passed onto the second generation. Some of the top wines from the area include:

Wild Duck Creek Duck Muck Shiraz –  Duck Muck gained cult status when the 1997 was awarded 99 out of 100 by US wine guru Robert Parker – prompting single bottles at the time to fetch up to $1400 at Australian auctions. Fortunately, you can now find vintages at more realistic price levels (At the moment, the Cellarit Wine Market has the 2013 … Read the rest

Jul 07 2018

Tasmanian Shiraz: Reaching for New Heights

Posted on July 07, 2018 | By
The Wine Advocate’s managing editor Joe Czerwinski, who has now taken over coverage for Australian wines from Lisa Perrotti-Brown, was absolutely glowing in his praise of the Glaetzer-Dixon 2014 La Judith Shiraz, describing it as “a tour de force of Tasmanian Shiraz, albeit one produced in micro quantities of 232 bottles. If Mon Père is Saint-Joseph, this is Hermitage.”
You may recall that Glaetzer-Dixon Family Winemakers took the wine world by storm in 2011 when their MON PèRE Shiraz 2010 became the first wine from Tasmania to win the prestigious Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show. The win was particularly surprising because at the time Tasmania was far better known for its pinot noirs. Generally most people thought that the region was too cool for growing shiraz.
Winemaker Nick Glaetzer was intent to turn this type of thinking on its head. He set out to demonstrate how Tasmania’s ‘old’ shiraz vines, most of which were first planted in the 1970s in tiny quantities in the Coal River and Upper Derwent valleys, had the potential to create elegant, savoury, spicy and complex cool climate wines. Deliberately aiming for a style that was evocative of the Northern Rhône Valley wines, particularly from the Hermitage, Saint Joseph and Côte-Rôtie appellations, Glaetzer will no doubt be pleased with Czerwinski’s Hermitage comparison.
Other Tasmanian winemakers are also trying their hand at shiraz. Wine critic Huon Hooke was effusive in his praise for another award-winning wine, the Milton Shiraz 2014, going so far as to ask whether “Shiraz could be the next big thing for Tasmania?” The high score and outstanding review of the Glaetzer Dixon 2014 La Judith Shiraz from one of the world’s most prestigious wine publications certainly lends weight to Hooke’s musings.
At $220 a bottle, the … Read the rest
Aug 08 2017

The wonderful whites of Sicily’s Mount Etna

Posted on August 08, 2017 | By

Just back from London where even the supermarkets have a decent range of good quality, well-priced wines from around the world!

One of my favourite discoveries was the delicious Mount Etna Bianco, a blend of two indigenous grapes – Carricante (70%) and Catarratto (30%). Graci, one of Mt Etna’s top producers, makes a superb example. The 2014 Graci Etna Bianco, which I tried over lunch with friends, was a revelation. Bright and fresh with mineral and citrus notes, it had just enough phenolics to impart a rich, slightly creamy mouthfeel.

The Wine Advocate’s Monica Larner believes that overall the 2014 vintage sealed the deal for Sicily earning its “ranking as one of the top three most prestigious wine regions of Italy, following Piedmont and Tuscany.” (Italy, Sicily, Class of 2014 by Monica Larner, Wine Advocate 31 December 2015).

In fact, Angelo Gaja, described by the Wine Spectator Magazine’s Robert Camuto as “the Piedmont winemaking legend who for more than 50 years has helped lead Italy’s quality wine movement,” recently teamed up with Alberto Graci to buy 51 acres on the active volcano’s southwest face in Biancavilla. He follows in the footsteps of other great Italian winemakers like Giacomo Tachis, the creator of  Sassicaia, Tignanello and San Leonardo, who have helped Sicilian winemakers position Sicily as a star on the world wine map. (Piedmont Wine Star Angelo Gaja Invests in Sicily’s Mount Etna by Robert Camuto, Wine Spectator, 29 April 2017)

The bottle we enjoyed over lunch comes from the Graci’s Passopisciaro-based winery on Mount Etna’s North face. Here the family cares for 18 hectares of cool northern-facing closely planted vineyards at an elevation of  600 to 1000 metres above sea level.  The Carricante grape thrives in high elevation vineyards, where the loose, well drained volcanic soils … Read the rest

Jun 06 2017

L.A.S. Vino – Forging a new path in Margaret River innovation

Posted on June 06, 2017 | By

You may recall that Vanya Cullen, the winemaker of Margaret River’s Cullen Wines, took her winery to a new level of international recognition and excellence by embracing innovations like biodynamic viticulture and winemaking. Little wonder perhaps, that her nephew, Nic Peterkin, has shown a similar drive and talent for innovation.

As the grandson of Cullen Wines founders Kevin and Di Cullen and the son of Mike Peterkin, the founder of another celebrated Margaret River winery Pierro, Peterkin was keen to forge his own path, albeit on familiar territory. A few years ago, he started his own label, L.A.S. Vino, partly because he wanted to show that the Margaret River was also capable of making top quality wines from less familiar varieties.

L.A.S. stands for “Luck Art Science”, and the rave reviews for his CBDB Chenin Blanc Dynamic BlendAlbino PNO and The Pirate Blend NV certainly suggest that Peterkin’s instincts, combined with perhaps a bit of luck, were right. Last year, Gourmet Traveller WINE named Peterkin as the Young Winemaker of the Year, noting that the most recent vintages of his wines had “performed exceptionally well at the most recent Gourmet Traveller WINE panel tasting.”

Like me, you’re probably wondering about the Albino PNO? Peterkin describes the wine as “strawberries and cream in a bottle.” It’s a blend of 8 barrels of pinot noir and two barrels of chardonnay, with one barrel of the pinot noir being given a little extra time on skins to add a little colour and complexity to the mix. The Pirate Blend, a blend of the Portuguese varieties touriga nacional, tinta cão and sousão, comes from low yielding, 40 year-old vines in the north of Margaret River, originally planted to make vintage port. According to wine critic Huon Hooke, “the bouquet … Read the rest

May 05 2017

Australia’s famed Margaret River wine region turns 50 years old!

Posted on May 05, 2017 | By

Not putting a foot wrong when it comes to recent vintages, Margaret River—at the heart of Western Australia—has become one of the most consistently solid regions for producing quality wines in Australia.

                                                        Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Western Australia, The Wine Advocate, 29 October 2016

Western Australia’s Margaret River region is considered one of  Australia’s, if not the world’s, premier wine regions. Coincidentally its birth coincided with the Beatles release of their most celebrated album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – both fitting testaments to the ground-breaking 1960s era!

In its short 50 year history, Margaret River has proven time and again that it can produce some of the best wines in Australia. Wine critic Huon Hooke recently singled out the Vasse Felix Heytesbury Margaret River Chardonnay as “one of the greatest in the country,” and both the Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay and the Xanadu Stevens Road Margaret River Chardonnay are perennial favourites on lists of Australia’s top wines.  Indeed, only recently has Margaret River been pipped at the post by the Yarra Valley as the country’s top performer for chardonnay, and to quote James Halliday, the healthy competition has made chardonnay “the most exciting place to be.”

You would also be hard-pressed to go past Margaret River for cabernets and cabernet blends. Six of the 10 wines in James Halliday’s Top 100 wines for 2016 hailed from the Margaret River. While two of these wines, the Cullen Wines Diana Madeline 2014 and the Xanadu Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 are wine icons, the list includes some less familiar and relatively inexpensive Margaret River wines: Higher Plane Cabernet Merlot 2014, McHenry Hohnen Vintners Rocky Road Margaret River Cabernet Merlot 2014, Warner Glen Estate Frog Belly Cabernet Sauvignon 2014,  and the Snake + Herring Cannonball Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Petit Verdot Read the rest

Apr 04 2017

The seriously delicious Hentley Farm Clos Otto Shiraz

Posted on April 04, 2017 | By

In the early years of this century, Americans couldn’t seem to get enough of Australia’s top wines, especially the full-bodied and sometimes ridiculously rich shiraz from the Barossa and beyond.

But a spiralling Aussie dollar, changing tastes and some serious competition from both the New and Old Worlds led to an almost sudden collapse in fortune for the Australian wine export market.

As The Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown highlights in a recent report, today the South Australian wineries which have continued to make a mark by actively selling internationally “largely fall into one of three categories: 1) those coming from well-established 30+ year-old wineries that, like their ancient vines, have the quality foundations to weather the vagaries of difficult times (think Henschke, Yalumba, Jim Barry, Elderton, etc.); 2) the 10- to 30-year-old wineries that survived the storm by being not just a cut above the rest, but several cuts above the rest (e.g. Torbreck, John Duval, Glaetzer, and Hentley Farm); and 3) a precious few newcomers that have managed to get overseas representation, because they are seriously impressive (e.g. Powell & Son and Sons of Eden).” (South Australia Part 1 – Slow Burn by Lisa Perrotti-Brown, The Wine Advocate 30 June 2016)

Certainly, no-one can deny the pedigree and staying power of The Hentley Farm Clos Otto Shiraz. Made with vines planted by previous owner Otto Kasper using a cutting from an ageing and “secret” shiraz clone, and tended to “with almost antique machinery and a well-practiced hand”, the Clos Otto vineyard (purchased by Hentley Farm in 2004) consistently yields super low quantities with ultra rich flavours. Yet its ability to combine richness and intensity with complexity and elegance has earned it a very loyal following and a serious price tag.

Here’s Perrotti-Brown’s 96+ review of the 2013 … Read the rest

Apr 04 2017

South Africa: Old vine stock discoveries make the Cape Wine Lands one of most exciting places on the planet to make wine

Posted on April 04, 2017 | By

Viticulturist Rosa Kruger has played a leading role in revitalising South Africa’s wine industry. According to the Wine Advocate’s Neal Martin:

She is to South Africa what Mme Loubat was to Pomerol. Just as the former grande dame of Petrus presciently understood the value of her wine when others dismissed it, so Rosa has awakened South Africa to the value of its vineyard heritage and proselytised a higher level of viticulture amongst its farmers, if not by their owners, then by contracted winemakers. As I have written previously, one cannot understate her importance in revolutionising the South African wine scene, changing winemakers’ mindsets as much as their actual wines. (South Africa: Cape Fearless by Neal Martin, Robert Parker Wine Advocate 30 November 2015)

Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Kruger and others who have discovered and cultivated previously neglected old vine stock, South Africa is now one of the most exciting places on the planet to make wine!

The country’s new regard for old vines reminds me of the mid 1980s in South Australia when legendary Rockford winemaker Robert O’Callaghan paid his growers more than twice the going rate for their old vine fruit, which almost looked like an act of defiance as around the same time the South Australian Government was offering growers financial incentives to pull out old vines!

His efforts and those of other foresighted winemakers gave birth to some of Australia’s most renowned old vine wines, including the Rockford Basket Press Shiraz,  Torbreck RunRigHenschke Hill of Grace, Wendouree Shiraz, Chris Ringland Shiraz, Clarendon Hill AstralisD’Arengberg The Dead Arm and Yalumba The Octavius Barossa Old Vine Shiraz.

In South Africa, Kruger lives in the small town of Riebeek-Kasteel in Swartland, a warm inland region of the Cape wine … Read the rest

Feb 02 2017

Newcomer Lisdillon Pinot Noir 2015 – Wins Top Gold at Tasmanian Wine Show

Posted on February 02, 2017 | By

No fewer than 57 wines entered the 2015 pinot class of the recently judged Tasmanian Wine Show, a testament to the growing reputation and popularity of pinot noir in the island state.

Some familiar names dominated the trophy and gold medal cache. The 2015 Bay of Fires Pinot Noir won the Chairman’s Selection Hazards Ale Trophy and the 2015 Goaty Hill Family Reserve Pinot Noir won the People’s Choice James Halliday Trophy. Gold medals were awarded to the 2015 Home Hill Kelly’s Reserve Pinot Noir, the 2015 Bay of Fires Pinot Noir, the 2015 Goaty Hill Family Reserve Pinot Noir and the 2015 Goaty Hill Pinot Noir.

Interestingly, a wine that I wasn’t familiar with, the Lisdillon Pinot Noir 2015, was awarded a Top Gold – in other words, the standout amongst the gold medal winners!

This modestly priced wine (you can find it for less than $35 a bottle) has been garnering great reviews. The Wine Front’s Mike Bennie scored the 2015 vintage 93 points:

Flavoursome, sappy textured, sticks-to-your-gums pinot noir of purity and quiet power. It’s a delicious wine to settle into, full of black cherry, plummy sweetness, fine, chewy tannins. Has quite a bit of ripeness and concentration yet maintains a freshness and comely drinking. Length is a feature, as is wonderful perfume. Quality stuff here, and plenty for the pinot fancier to get excited about. (The Wine Front, February 2017)

The Lisdillon Vineyard is named after Lisdillon Beach on the Tasmania’s east coast. The picturesque property is close to the town of Swansea and the Freycinet National Park. Owned by the Cotton family since 1971, sheep farmer Crispin Cotton decided to plant vines just seven years ago. Unfortunately, Crispin died in 2014, but his family is continuing to manage the … Read the rest