Christmas is my favourite time of year. The smell of gardenias. The sun. The green grass. The promise of holidays. It’s so good.
This time of year is also perfect for opening lots of wines. I just need a theme. So why not a bunch of wines that aren’t regional heroes?
Barossa Shiraz, Coonawarra Cabernet and Hunter Semillon already have the connection between region and grape locked down. But there is a lot more out there in the Australian wine world that doesn’t fit the usual established regional style.
Here then are 15 wines that aren’t the usual blends. Some aren’t that far from the norm, others oceans apart (and all good).
Topper’s Mountain Barrel Ferment Gewurztraminer 2016
New England doesn’t have a hero variety yet, but Topper’s Gewurz makes a strong claim, and is the best example of the variety in Australia (to my tastes at least). I like this barrel fermented version best, but both wines are delightful. Less overtly musky varietal than the ‘standard’ Gewurz, with more stonefruit and less musk. Tangy, phenolic palate is so compact and indeed quite backward, but with this finish that lobs up twists of lychee in amongst the masses of acidity (and no shortage of tannin). There are so many layers in this quite reserved and dense white. Every layer reveals another flavour. It’s even better than you think, and a great wine for lovers of Gewurz (like me). Best drinking: Good now, maybe even better next year. 18.5/20, 94/100+. 13.9%, $35. Would I buy it? Yes.
Topper’s Mountain Gewurztraminer 2016
The more ‘traditional’ style (whatever you want that to be. Not compared to Alsace it’s not, but in an Australian context) Topper’s Gewurz. Great florals – evocative nose punches the varietal intensity to 11. Musk, lavender, lychee – it’s a riot of flavour. For all the wild musk aromatics, the palate is well judged, the fruit doesn’t fall into fatness, and then the long, defined finish is punctuated by floral edged grip. This is such a champion white. Best drinking: Now. 18.5/20, 94/100. 13.9%, $35. Would I buy it? Yes.
Hesket Estate Straws Lane Vineyard Gewurtztraminer 2017
Sorry, did I mention I love Gewurz? Such a misunderstood variety. Now, Hesket Estate is a small property in the Macedon Ranges with a dry-grown block that dates back to the 80s. There’s so much promise for aromatic varieties in the Macedon area, it almost seems a shame that the region has embraced Chard/Pinot instead. This Gewurz is not all that varietal, trading the floral intensity for more subtlety, with understated musky flavour. That’s offset by a chalky, grippy palate that just builds and builds and builds. Subtle, chalky fruit with this beautiful light phenolic palate and great natural acidity. Yum. Best drinking: Now. 18/20, 93/100. 11%, $30. Would I buy it? Yes.
Hickinbotham The Revivalist Merlot 2016
Merlot in Australia is mostly a bit player. And a lesser bit player too. An extra in the back of the diner in Summer Bay trying not to look at the camera. Anyway, this wine from the Jackson family’s Hickinbotham Vineyard shows that good Merlot can be made even in McLaren Vale. From vines that date back to 1976, the fruit goes through a cold soak, is wild fermented and spends 15 months in 25% new oak. Surprisingly moderate, there’s a sheen of fine grained oak on nose and palate that cloaks nose and palate, but underneath the oak is a classy red – moderate, plump fruited and modern. It’s full-flavoured, smooth, chunky and really quite seductive. Perhaps more McLaren Vale than Merlot, but the moderation (beyond the oak) is really quite attractive. Everything in its right place. Best drinking: Good now, better in 2 years time. 17.7/20, 92/100+. 13.5%, $75. Would I buy it? Not sure I would, but definitely drink a bottle.
Soumah Hexham Vineyard Nebbiolo 2016
Each year the Soumah wines get finer, better, more complete – and this Nebbiolo is so very serious. Yarra Valley and Nebbiolo? It could definitely work. This is handpicked, it spends 90 days on skins and 18 months in old oak. Classical nose of cherries and a little mint, it’s really rather varietal, with long, life-coating sandpaper tannins. No oak helps drive the varietal intensity, it’s just a fraction confected and tannins do take over the relatively subtle fruit , but the style and classic lines are applaudable. Best drinking: Wait. Not too long. but it will live for up to ten. 17.7/20, 92/100. 14%, $39. Would I buy it? I’d share a bottle.
Eldridge Estate PTG 2018
To my knowledge, David Lloyd’s passetoutgrains red is the only one of its kind in Australia – though at the rate of Gamay plantings, perhaps not for long. A blend of 50/50 Pinot Noir and Gamay, spent 2 weeks on skins, then destemmed and fermented wild and matured for 6 months in oak and bottled in Oct 2018. Bright and juicy with an energy and lift, the tannins then fills out the edges. Energy, spice and fun. It’s perhaps too serious for immediate drinking – a light red, but with subtle grip too. I want to wait a few more months (at least) for it to settle, but such nice wine. Gamay good. Best drinking: Next year and for a few years after that. 17.5/20, 91/100+. 13.5%, $35. Would I buy it? Yes.
Juxtaposed Cabernet Franc 2017
From the Somerville Vineyard in McLaren Vale, this is an immediately attractive, Loire-esque Franc that I rather like. Spends 12 months in old oak. In a Chinon mode, but with McLaren Vale ripeness. It works too, the hints of hedgerow, the redcurrant fruit, the tangy edges softened by almost plum fruit. It’s ultimately an affable wine, a good drink that matches crunch with a certain McLaren Vale plumpness. Pleasurable summer drink. Best drinking: Now and over the short term (next few years). 17.5/20, 91/100. 12.5%, $29. Would I buy it? A bottle for sure.
Livewire The Blood of Hipsters 2017
I’ve always thought that nearly anything will grow in Heathcote, and Tempranillo seems a dark horse. This joven blend of Heathcote Tempranillo and Shiraz (75/25) is so attractive, so real, so effortless. You could be in Spain, sans decent jamon. A bright and vibrant style of unoaked red, it’s a jubey, dusty and maybe a little angular light to medium bodied wine with lovely fine tannins. The tannins, the joyous fruit. It’s not complicated, but subtly quite perfect in its balance and flavour. I like (and well priced). Best drinking: Over the next 2-3 years. 17.5/20, 91/100. 13.4%, $25. Would I buy it? Yes, definitely.
The Vinden Headcase Tempranillo 2017
Hunter Valley Tempranillo eh? Well Sangiovese has never worked in the ‘unna, but perhaps Temp will have a better time. This comes from the famed Somerset Vineyard. Earthen, it’s punctuated by sweet and sour raspberry, with a lovely savoury red fruit palate with grainy oak and grainy tannins. Substantial style of red with the earthen Hunteriness well handled by rich fruit, even if the oak might be a bit too dominant. There’s depth here too. Certainly appealing. Best drinking: Over the next eight years. 17.5/20, 91/100. 13.4%, $40. Would I buy it? A glass or so.