Category Archives: Australian Wine Icons

Sep 09 2015

Clonakilla Syrah 2013: “As good a Murrumbateman Shiraz as we have ever made”

Posted on September 09, 2015 | By

If you’ve ever wondered what NSW wine regions like the Canberra District and Burgundy have in common, you don’t have to look much further than vintage variation. Both regions are subjected to notoriously fickle weather. The wild swings in weather conditions keep vineyard managers on their toes and wine connoisseurs and critics endlessly guessing about the prospects of a particular vintage. In both regions, for example, unexpected severe frosts during the ripening period can almost wipe out crops!

But as the Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown notes, “fickle weather makes interesting wine.” If you’re looking to drink wine that expresses both its time and place, then you’re naturally inclined to seek out the best vintages for the region and perhaps throw in a dud vintage or two for interesting comparisons!

2013_syrah_01At the Canberra District’s Clonakilla, 2013 turned out to be the greatest vintage to date for its Clonakilla Syrah. According to winemaker Tim Kirk, “This is as good a Murrumbateman Shiraz as we have ever made.” Warm days followed by cool nights allowed the grapes to “develop great colour, dramatic aromas and profound texture and flavours.”

A small production single vineyard wine from Clonakilla’s North-East facing T&L vineyard, winemaking was kept as simple as possible to allow the unique qualities of an exceptional vintage to shine through. Whole berries were fermented warm by their own native yeasts. The wine also spent a month macerating on its own skins and 15 months maturing in fine-grained French oak.

I had the opportunity to try this outstanding wine at Clonakilla’s Cellar Door last week. It proved to be one of the highlight wines of a very rewarding two day tour of the best Canberra District wineries.

Here’s Perrotti-Brown’s 95+ review:

Medium to deep garnet-purple in color, the 2013 Murrumbateman Syrah flaunts a Read the rest

Aug 08 2015

Long Live Penfolds Bin 389: Notes from a Vertical Tasting

Posted on August 08, 2015 | By

Penfolds Bin 389 is sometimes referred to as ‘Baby Grange’ or ‘Poor Man’s Grange’. Like the iconic Penfolds Grange, Bin 389 shares the same legendary creator, Max Schubert, who first produced the wine in 1960, nine years after unveiling his experimental 1951 Grange.

In fact, a significant portion of the wine that goes into the Bin 389 is aged in the same American oak hogsheads used for the previous vintage of Grange. Twenty to 30 percent of the wine sees new oak treatment.

The fruit for both wines is sourced from different vineyards and regions – the goal always to secure the best fruit available. Fruit that doesn’t quite make the cut for Grange will often find its way into the Bin 389.

Some critics have argued that the ‘Baby Grange’ moniker is not an accurate descriptor of Bin 389 because the blend is quite different to the shiraz-dominant Grange. Bin 389 has a much higher percentage of cabernet sauvignon, a feature that according to wine critic Julia Harding MW gives the wine “those cedary-fresh Cabernet characteristics” that are absent from the fuller bodied Grange. (Penfolds’ Bin 389 vs Grange by Julia Harding MW, 26 June 2009).

One hallmark quality that Bin 389 definitely shares with Grange is its ability to age. My husband’s wine group recently enjoyed a vertical tasting of Bin 389, covering a good selection of vintages dating back to 1986. Below are their tasting notes. A very impressive lineup indeed:

Penfolds Bin 389 2012

Concentrated, dark, young and full bodied. Already pleasant to drink. Great prospects.

Penfolds Bin 389 2010

Still dumb but plush fruit and good acid balance bode very well for the future. Exceptional.

Penfolds Bin 389 2008

Starting to drink well, slightly varnishy nose but good depth of flavour and long Read the rest

May 05 2015

Henschke Cyril Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon: One of Australia’s most elegant and complex cabernet sauvignons

Posted on May 05, 2015 | By

In recent years a series of great vintages in Bordeaux and burgeoning Chinese demand for First Growths have put the spotlight back on cabernet sauvignon – sparking renewed reverence for its potential to produce the world’s most complex, elegant and age-worthy wines.

The return to popularity of cabernet sauvignon has also encouraged Australia’s top winemakers to narrow their product range and focus attention on perfecting their cabernet sauvignon and cabernet blends. Virginia Willcock, chief winemaker at Vasse Felix in the Margaret River, for example, told wine critic Huon Hooke, that “It’s a new era of cabernet…We are refining the style. We’re making it more subtle – less tutti-frutti and more restrained, more elegant. We’ve come back from the ‘bigger is better’ era.”  (All hail the cabs by Huon Hooke, Good Living, Sydney Morning Herald, 14 August 2012)

For me, one of the highlights of last weekend’s tasting of Henschke’s current range of red wines at Vintage Cellars Ultimo was the Cyril Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon 2010. Don’t let its approachability fool you! The ripe fruit and soft, fine tannins initially mask a real depth of complex aromas and flavours which elegantly unfold in the glass.

The Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman described the 2010 vintage as “soft and complex, with ripe berry and chocolate flavours, showing hints of apricot and coffee as the finish lingers gracefully. This has fine tannins and presence.” (Tasting Note, Wine Spectator, 15 June 2014)

cyril henschkeThe Henschke family has been making the Cyril Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon for almost 40 years. Fifth generation owner and winemaker Stephen Henschke released the first vintage in 1978. Its name is a tribute to his late father Cyril, who created the world-renowned single-vineyard Hill of Grace Shiraz in the late 1950s.

The Cyril Henschke is also a single vineyard … Read the rest

Jun 06 2014

2010 Penfolds RWT Barossa Shiraz: Another winning wine from the stellar 2010 vintage!

Posted on June 06, 2014 | By

Gourmet Traveler Wine recently assembled an expert wine tasting panel to judge 58 shiraz wines from the Barossa and McLaren Vale. The entrants were across vintages so the overall winner cannot be declared best of vintage. But the fact that Penfolds RWT Barossa Shiraz 2010 received the highest score of 96 points is a testament to the success Penfolds has so far achieved with the release of its icon and luxury 2010 shiraz wines. As you may recall, the Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2010 recently received stellar reviews and is flying off the shelves! (see Top Reviews for Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2010 generate excitement by Merrill Witt, Cellarit Wine Blog)

Penfolds has successfully fostered a culture of innovation and risk-tasking

The same edition of Gourmet Traveler Wine had a very interesting chronicle of Penfolds first 170 years by wine critic Tyson Stelzer. The article highlighted Penfolds success in fostering a culture that has promoted science, innovation and risk-taking often in the face of challenging corporate politics emanating from head office. (170 Years of Penfolds by Tyson Stelzer, Gourmet Traveller Wine, June/July 2014)

Schubert pioneered trial blends and the practice has been embraced by chief winemaker Peter Gago 

RWT, of course, stands for Red Wine Trial. Trial blends were a hallmark of Max Schubert’s reign in the 1950s and 60s, and the practice that has been revived and embraced by the current chief winemaker Peter Gago, who in his 12 years in the role has spearheaded the development of several new lines, including the experimental Cellar Reserve range.

Work on the development of RWT began in 1995 and its first vintage, the 1997, was released in 2000. Grapes are sourced from mature vineyards around Kalimna, Moppa, Ebenezer, Stonewell, Marananga and Seppeltsfields. Batch vinified in headed-down stainless steel fermenters, it … Read the rest

Jun 06 2014

Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz upgraded to ‘Exceptional’ in Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine VI

Posted on June 06, 2014 | By

The Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz was recently upgraded to ‘exceptional’ in the recently released 6th edition of Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine. Its elevation puts it in rarefied company that includes its more celebrated sibling, the Henschke Hill of Grace and, of course, Australia’s most famous wine, Penfolds Grange.

Fans of Mount Edelstone were no doubt surprised that its inclusion in the top tier had taken so long! Indeed, 2012 marked the 100 year anniversary of the planting of Henshke’s historic 16 ha Mount Edelstone vineyard in the Eden Valley, and Henschke has produced 62 consecutive vintages of the wine since 1952 – making it possibly the longest consecutive produced single vineyard wine in Australia!

Like the Hill of Grace, Mount Edelstone is a terroir driven wine. As wine critic Andrew Graham remarked after a vertical tasting dating back to 1992, “the fruit is so distinctive. Even in the more challenging years- the drier and the wetter years – those fabled shiraz characters always shine through.” (100 years of Henschke Mt Edelstone – the century tasting, by Andrew Graham, Australian Wine Review, 4 November 2012)



Stephen and Prue HenschkeThe Henschke family has been making wine since Johann Christian Henschke planted a small vineyard on his Keyneton farming property in 1862. Cyril Henschke propelled the winery to international prominence with the creation of Australia’s first single vineyard wines – the Mount Elderstone in 1952 and the Hill of Grace in 1958. Today, the winery is owned and managed by fifth generation winemaker Stephen Henschke and his wife Prue, who is one of Australia’s leading viticulturists.

In 2006 Prue and Stephen jointly received the prestigious Australian Gourmet Traveller Wine’s  Winemaker of the Year award in recognition of  “their complete integration of vineyard and winery.” Prue’s innovative vineyard management practices, … Read the rest

May 05 2014

Penfolds Grange 2009: Reviews are Impressive!

Posted on May 05, 2014 | By

Today the Penfolds Grange 2009 was officially released to the public. Most of the reviews have already been written and after last year’s fanfare over the 2008, response to 2009 has been pretty muted. You may recall that the 2008 Grange garnered a 100 point review from the Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, precipitating a controversial, hefty price hike! (Penfolds Grange 2008 and the 100 point review, Cellarit Wine Blog, 2 June 2013)

Not that reviews for the 2009 aren’t generally impressive. Perrotti-Brown scored the 2009 97 points:

The 2009 Grange Shiraz is a comprised of 84% Barossa, 8% McLaren, and a little Clare Valley and a little Magill fruit with a small 2% of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend. At this youthful stage, this deep garnet-purple colored wine puts forward a vivid expression of blackberry preserve aromas amid underlying cassis, black cherry, spice box, char-grilled meat and chocolate box notes. Surprisingly medium to full-bodied (it smells much fuller!) with taut flavors that are very closed in the mouth, it has firm, chewy tannins to structure through the long and earthy finish. ( #211, February 2014)’s Julia Harding MW gave the 2009 Grange 18.5 out of 20, only half a point lower than her score for the 2008:

Inky core with blackcurrant rim. Gorgeously seductive perfume: sweetly spiced – Christmas spice – fruit with the sweetness of oak but all so well entwined. There’s a hint of tar and savoury character. On the palate, creamy, vanilla, rich and so gentle and polite – or so it seems, though there is plenty of muscle underneath. 100% new oak. ‘No other way to make Grange’, says Gago. Lots of sweet US oak flavour on the finish. Sweet baking spice too and some liquorice. Vanilla sweetness. Concentrated and Read the rest

Apr 04 2014

Australian Wine Icons: Jim Barry Wines The Armagh Shiraz

Posted on April 04, 2014 | By

JIM_BARRY_THE_ARMAGH1196436369_833The Armagh vineyard was planted in 1968 by the winery’s founder Jim Barry. Today, the almost 50 year old vineyard on a north-west facing slope about 400 metres above sea level is dry farmed. For a site that receives less than 600 mm of rain a year, the decision not to irrigate necessarily  keeps yields low (less than 4 tonnes per hectare) and creates fruit capable of  making a rich and concentrated wine with great ageing potential.

British wine critic Matthew Jukes gave the 2006 vintage a rare 20/20 score, describing it as “perfect expression of its site and .. an awe-inspiring encapsulation of the paradise that is the Clare Valley.” (Jim Barry’s Armagh Wins a Perfect Score for Australia in the UK, FirstPress, 18 May 2011).

The Wine Advocate’s Neal Martin was equally effusive in his praise for the 2006 Armagh:

It is very pure and well defined on the nose, with blackberry, black plum, a touch of liquorice and violets. Very fine delineation. The palate is beautifully balanced, sweet dark cherries, a touch of anis and marmalade, very focused on the finish where the acidity slices through that concentration like butter. Superb. (Keeping it in the (Australian) Family, Tasting Notes: Jim Barry The Armagh by Neal Martin, August 2010)

Recently the winemaking reigns at Jim Barry Wines were handed over to the founder’s grandson Tom Barry, who last year was named Young Winemaker of the Year by Australian Gourmet Traveller Wine magazine.

Like his father and grandfather before him, Tom studied oenology at the Waite Campus of Adelaide University (formerly Roseworthy College). He then spent several years working in Australia and Europe, including a stint with the famous Dr Loosen in Germany.

Tom is very keen to uphold the family-owned winery’s impressive legacy of  … Read the rest

Mar 03 2014

Australian Wine Icons: Brokenwood Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz

Posted on March 03, 2014 | By

Single vineyard wines have a special mystique. After all, top producers will release a single vineyard wine only because they believe the vineyard uniquely expresses the ‘terroir’; that is they are convinced that the site’s micro-climate, soil characteristics, exposure and orientation are capable of creating a wine unique in character.

First made in 1983, the Brokenwood Graveyard Vineyard Hunter Valley Shiraz has more than proven that the Graveyard Vineyard offers up something special. It has been described by Langton’s Andrew Caillard as the “Hunter Valley ‘s greatest red wine of the contemporary era,” and is one of only 16 wines classified as ‘Exceptional’, the top designation in the Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine V.

The vineyard land was originally earmarked for the Pokolbin cemetery back in 1882 but the plans never eventuated; hence the unusual name for the vineyard. Some of the shiraz vines are descendants of colonial vine-stock, and they generally struggle to survive in the shallow top soil on red clay over loam populated with pockets of ironstone. Consequently, yields are low and the grapes have a high skin to juice ratio, creating saturated colours and intense flavours in the wine.

James Halliday, one of the founders of Brokenwood, recently said that one of the smartest decisions he made before leaving Brokenwood was to hire Ian Riggs as the winery’s first qualified winemaker in 1983. (Brokenwood celebrates a milestone by James Halliday, The Australian, 13 July 2013)

Riggs has expanded the reach of Brokenwood beyond the Hunter Valley – a strategy that has proved useful in years when Hunter Valley’s problematic weather has made it impossible to produce a wine to the standard expected of the Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz. The poor 2010 vintage, for example, led to a decision to suspend production of Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz … Read the rest

Mar 03 2014

Top reviews for the 2010 Penfolds St Henri Shiraz generate excitement

Posted on March 03, 2014 | By

The Wine Advocate reviews of the icons of the Penfolds range are always widely anticipated.  As one of the world’s most influential wine magazines, a high scoring Wine Advocate review can move markets. Indeed, last year Penfolds raised the price of the 2008 Penfolds Grange on the back of its 100 point review by the Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown! (see my post Penfolds Grange 2008 and the 100 point review)

This year the spotlight has moved to the excellent reviews for the Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2010. The Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perotti-Brown gave the vintage its highest score to date, 97+:

Very deep purple-black in color and showing an attractive nose of warm blackcurrants, blueberries and licorice with a complex undercurrent of mocha, cedar, menthol and grilled meat, the full-bodied 2010 St Henri Shiraz is relatively rich in the mouth, offering tons of fruit structured by firm, fine tannins and refreshing acid. It finishes with great persistence. Drink it 2015 to 2030+ ( #211 Feb 2014)

Julia Harding MW, wine reviewer for, was also very enthusiastic, scoring the wine 18 out of 20:

‘Demands silence’, says Gago (at last, I thought). Delicate and fine aroma, blueberry, mulberry and sweet spice but peppery red fruited too. Juicy core enfolded by dry firm tannins, savoury and juicy. Very distinctive. No new oak. ‘A continnuum of flavour’ says Gago, who thinks it will rival the 1990 and the 1971. Effortless concentration. There’s a savoury and chocolate finish. And smoky spice. Powerful but refined. All fruit-derived tannins. Fabulous fruit. (, 28 February 2014)

The St Henri is often described as a counterpoint to Grange, an alternative expression of shiraz that can age just as well. Its origins date back to 1911, when it was the star offering of … Read the rest

Sep 09 2013

The Great Australian Red Tasting – An Opportunity to Try the Remarkable Penfolds Bin 60A 2004

Posted on September 09, 2013 | By

The opportunity to try the Penfolds’ legendary Bin 60A doesn’t come around very often. Only two vintages of this exceptional cabernet shiraz blend have ever been made. The inaugural 1962 vintage, made by Grange creator Max Schubert, is widely regarded as Australia’s greatest ever wine and the follow-up 2004 vintage scored an impressive 99+ points when it was reviewed by the Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown in 2010.

Tyson and MatthewThe beautifully balanced, luscious yet exquisitely elegant Bin 60A 2004 certainly set the benchmark high at this week’s The Great Australian Red tasting, hosted by the competition’s founders, Matthew Jukes and Tyson Stelzer, at the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney.

But fortunately it was just one of many stand-out wines in a very impressive line-up of the uniquely Australian blend of cabernet and shiraz.

Another highlight of the tasting was a comparison of five different vintages of Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2010. Personally, my favourite was the 2004 vintage, possibly because it was the oldest vintage and, I suspect, just starting to hit its stride. It’s a wonderful example of the wisdom of blending cabernet with shiraz. Here the cabernet (53%) complements the full bodied richness of  shiraz by providing structural backbone, freshness and acidity. Interestingly, Penfolds’ tasting notes for the 2004 vintage refer to the wine as “a true ‘Baby Grange’ release, as per the original style blue-print.”

The Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz Malbec 2004 was another impressive example from the 2004 vintage. This cabernet dominant blend is a big wine designed for long-term cellaring. The enveloping aromas of warm, dark rich fruits with hints of charcuterie, chocolate and truffles anticipate the richly fruited savoury accented flavours of this beautifully structured, opulent yet elegant wine.

The Great Australian Red competition … Read the rest