I love textured white wines. Alsace field blends? Gimme. Barrel fermented Margaret River Sauv? Yes please.
But every year, the ‘textural white’ segment disappoints.
I get that it’s a balancing act to deliver both generosity and acidity, but that doesn’t excuse the oceans of flabby/underripe Viognier and overoaked barrel-fermented styles that pass my desk.
These 13 wines, thankfully, rose up out of the mire. They all go beyond just textural plays to be delicious drinks. More please.
Alkoomi Wandoo Semillon 2014
Alkoomi, the consistent performer of the west. Reliable but better than that. Honest, hardworking Australia in wine form. This is pretty much their top white (along with the Chardonnay) and it’s a delight. Partial barrel-fermented old vine Semillon deliberately released with bottle age. There’s a great interplay between herbal, almost Sauvignon-esque Pyrazine, the palate powerfully tangy and so concentrated. It’s almost too much, too much grippy acidity and latent citrus power. But it works, like Bordeaux Blanc works, with the toast hints propelling it forward. Contrasting flavours for the win, and makes for a very versatile wine. Best drinking: Now to ten years. 18.5/20, 94/100. 11.5%, $35. Would I buy it? Worth a bottle for sure.
Juniper Estate Aquitaine Blanc 2017
Another strong release from Juniper Estate. Buy with confidence across the whole Juniper range, there’s my tip. This is a blend of 65% Sauvignon Blanc and 35% Semillon, the fruit whole-bunch-pressed to barrel and matured in 35% new oak for 10 months. Filigreed (great word that) oaked passionfruit on the nose, the palate finely textured, with a little late creaminess to combat the oak tannins. The grace and balance between freshness and texture is excellent. The oak tannins are maybe a little dominant, but doesn’t derail the palate. High quality. Best drinking: Definitely better next year and for the next 3-5 to start. 18/20, 93/100. 13%, $33. A bottle, easily.
Oakridge Vineyard Series Willowlake Sauvignon 2017
Wild fermented, oak matured Yarra Valley Sauvignon Blanc from the master Dave Bicknell. There’s still a crunch, like biting into a bean crunch, but it’s awash in more riper fruit, the flavours concentrated, the palate tight with a citrus tang and then some leesy weight filling out the tangy rear. Proudly varietal with its lemon tang, but also round at the edges. Tasty. Best drinking: Now and the next 2-3 years. 18/20, 93/100. 12.2%, $28. Would I buy it? Worth a bottle.
Oates Ends Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2018
From Cath Oates (ex Plantagenet) with fruit from brother Russ Oates’ vineyard at Wilyabrup, who also supplies premium fruit for Treasury. A real light touch here and it works. Barrel fermented, this has lightly herbal citrus character, the palate defined by acidity and freshness, but with the extra layers of a little barrel softness. Tangy and fresh, just needing a little more complexity to take it to the next level, which will likely come next year. Best drinking: Next year to four years. 17.7/20, 92/100. 12.5%, $24. Would I buy it? A bargain and easily worth a bottle.
Voyager Estate Project Sauvignon Blanc 2016
The Voyager wines are always well-thought out, and no exception here. Margaret River oak-fermented Sauv that spends 11 months in oak. Complexity aplenty. There’s a whisper of nettle but otherwise a chukier lemony style that you’d easily mistake as Sem rather than Sauv. Citrus and a little green melon. A really subtle smokiness and some grip to finish. Maybe not thrilling but satisfying in its smoky lemony edges. Best drinking: Now to 3 years. 17.7/20, 92/100. 13.5%, $28. Would I buy it? I’d share a bottle.
Warramunda Marsanne 2017
The Warramunda whites keep getting better and better. Packaging looks the part, the wax dipped diam on trend. Waxy, yeasty nose with a flor-like notes and some deliberate reduction too. He funky! Palate is maybe a little lean and perhaps too waxy, but stylish with refreshment. Clever. Best drinking: Now to 3 years. 17.7/20, 92/100. 12%, $40. Would I buy it? A glass or two.
Arlewood Estate La Bratta Bianco 2015
Barrel fermented something blend from Arlewood. You wouldn’t know from the bottle. 2400 bottles produced though. Possibly Sauv dominant given the herbs and tropical thiols? Some passionfruit too. Initially the barrel influence is too much, complete with oak tannins. But the texture and the lightly herbal citrus palate is actually quite refreshing and with a nice tang. It grew on me, and I really think the bottle age helps too. Ultimately a worthy drink. Best drinking: Now. 17.5/20, 91/100. 13%, $42.99. Would I buy it? I’d go a glass or two.
(Footnote: Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc & Chardonnay is the blend).
Bird on a Wine Marsanne 2014
I look forward to Caroline Mooney’s wines as they’re always provocative. Someone who clearly puts some thought out into style and complexity. This is a viscous and luscious Yarra Marsanne too that is more Rhone than Nagambie, but cast in a big-boned form – Voluptuous if just a bit warm and ripe. Layers of mandarin, orange peel, honeysuckle the palate powerful, packed with tangerine concentrate viscous with the alcohol kicking in on the finish to give more sweetness and impact. Too much, but interestingly layered and so concentrated. Best drinking: Immediately. 17.5/20, 91/100. 14.6%, $35. Would I buy it? A glass.
Soumah Yarra Valley Viognier 2018
From very ripe to not very ripe. This is Viognier treading lightly. Handpicked, and includes a parcel from close planted 9,000 vines/ha. Wild fermented in barrel. It’s a delicate early picked style with just some white peach fruit. Acidity has a firmness and grip to it. Gritty acidity. Undeplayed fruit. I think I want a bit more tbh. Crisp and finely textured though and I could easily imagine finishes a bottle of this. Best drinking: Now and for the next few years. 17.5/20, 91/100. 12.5%, $40. Would I buy it? A glass or two easily.
Warramunda Estate Viognier 2017
Again in the early picked style and I’m all for it. It’s a bit shy, but builds a case with mouthfeel. Succulent, understated white peach fruit, a mealy edge, subtleties at every point (and enough weight). Not wildly intense, but builds nicely before a crisp, but not tart, finish. I rather like this understated texture style as a drink, even if I want a smidgen more ripeness. Best drinking: Next two years. 17.5/20, 91/100. 12.5%, $40. Would I buy it? A glass or two as well.
Down to Earth Sauvignon Blanc 2018
The only problem with Xavier Bizot & Lucy Croser’s Sauv Blanc wines is that they need more time. I feel like I’m wasting energy opening this now when experience tells me that they need at least 2 years in bottle. Anyway, this is handpicked Sauv from the Crayères Vineyard in Wrattonbully. Aged on lees in tank and barrel for 7 months. Despite the maturing, this is still crisp, snappy, citrussy Sauv. Some sweaty thiols on the nose, suggestions of grass despite the ripeness, the palate then drives on into something snappy. Fresh enough, but I was expecting something a little more complex than this crunchy, lightly grassy style. Patience, Andrew! Best drinking: Next year or the year after at least. 17/20, 90/100+. 13.5%, $26. Would I buy it? A glass now, more later.
Oates Ends Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2017
Cath kindly sent both vintages (this and the 2018). This is more subdued, but arguably more interesting. There’s less fruit on the nose. More texture. It’s riper than the ‘17 and more ripeness through the middle. It’s lemony, it’s driven by its conviction too – the edges still raw, the oak tannins contributing a layer. It’s stuck in the no fruit zone, but there’s potential here. Best drinking: Wait for 2020 onwards. 17/20, 90/100+. 12.5%, $24. Would I buy it? A glass now.
Unico Zelo River Sand Fiano 2017
Great packaging on these Unico Zelo wines. Would look well placed on the dinner table of an inner city Melbourne fine diner. Now, this is Riverland Fiano made for interesting drinking rather than just upfront fruit. Waxy, delicate style with marzipan and white blossom nose. Lemony, light palate too with a very light crisp finish. Falls away through the tail but pleasant delicate stuff. Not profound enough for the pricepoint but plenty to like. Maybe missing some concentration? Best drinking: Nowish. 17/20, 90/100. 12.5%, $35. Would I buy it? A glass.