This needed to happen, really.
After last week’s list of the Top 4 wines of 2021 was so bluntly biased to unaffordability (would you like the $350 Cab Shiraz of the $550 Burgundy?), it’s time for some rebalancing.
So today, I’m highlighting the top 10 wines of 2021 that I can afford. I’ve expanded it to 10 to cover more varieties, and I’ve set that affordability bar at sub $40 a bottle – which for anyone wine-interested enough to be still reading is not a stretch for something high quality.
How many white wines – Riesling, Semillon, etc. – populate this highlights reel. Sure, it’s cheaper to make unoaked, early release white wines. But that also ignores the absurd value you can find in local Sem & Riesling. I like drinking these wines too, so let’s call it a win for everyone.
Prices quoted are from the cellar door or RRP provided by producers. Look far enough, and you’ll probably be able to get these value stars even cheaper.
Limefinger The Solace Polish Hill River Riesling 2021
I enjoyed all these wines last year and, intriguingly, even more than the current release Pikes. Limefinger is Neil Pike’s retirement project, unsurprisingly focussed on Clare Valley Riesling, with this Polish Hill River wine sourced from a block planted in 1994. Sadly, the 2020 releases of this wine and sister Watervale release went MIA in the post, and the first bottle of this was smashed (don’t get me started on wine couriers). So it’s a joy that this bottle made it through unscathed and unlost. It’s one moreish Riesling too. Smashable, in the best sense of the world. Green lime juice on nose and palate, the palate is compact, intense and concentrated, the acid persistent but not harsh. Long. Mouthwatering stuff. It’s so perfect in its counterbalance of fruit and acidity. Not hard either. You can’t deny the shape and the pleasure of this superb Clare white – yum.
Best drinking: now or hold for a few years and drink as an older wine for decades. 18.7/20, 95,100. 11%, $37.50. Limefinger website. Would I buy it? In a flash.
The Vinden Headcase Somerset Vineyard Semillon 2021
Last year Angus and Hannah Vinden announced that they had bought the famed Somerset Vineyard in the Hunter Valley, which is very much a win. Owned by the Howard family for six generations, it was the late Glen Howard’s wish that the Vindens purchase the property, and so it has landed in the hands of one of the most dynamic young winemakers of the Hunter Valley. It’s a good news story. Now farmed organically, this fabled plot (replanted in ’65 and a source for such icons as the Lindemans Bin wines of the 60s to the 80s) features Semillon, Chardonnay, Shiraz and Tempranillo – although it is the Shiraz and Semillon that is most renowned. For this Semillon, the fruit is handpicked, then fermented on fine lees in a combination of tank, concrete egg and neutral oak. What a wine! Green hued, there is a fullness here that is so impressive, the palate intense, with the expectant green apple citrus and this integrated acidity that feels natural correct and complementary. Wow. It just feels so right and delicious already. A benchmark Semillon that I want to drink – I may even be underscoring it.
Best drinking: now to thirty years. 18.7/20, 95/100. 10.5%, $35. Vinden website. Would I buy it? Also, in a flash.
Torzi Matthews Frost Dodger Riesling 2021
If I had to choose the best wines under $30, let $40, this would be head-and-shoulders above everything. It’s just super. I think it’s the flavour intensity – it doesn’t stop. Celery, lime, grapefruit. The acid charges on through nose and palate – yes, you can smell the acidity. Then, although the wine has physically left your mouth, it leaves an imprint.
To think, you can have such world-class purity and intensity for just $28?
Buy all you can. Heck, I may even be underselling the score, as this is just as good as a $60 Polish Hill. Do it.
Best drinking: I like drinking these young, so nowish or wait three years, then drinking for the next 25 years after that. 18.7/20, 95/100. 12.5%, $28. Torzi Matthews website. Would I buy it? In a heartbeat.
Dalrymple Pinot Noir 2020
Limpid, mushroom soup meets raspberry, with just enough meaty undergrowth to go with that direct fruit. It’s a real mid-palate wine, becoming more savoury to finish, with a dense core of red fruit that never feels too much. It’s maybe a little light in the tannin department, but that’s about it. Well-balanced, delicious, and so moreish. Winner.
Best drinking: great now and for the next few years. 18.5/20, 94/100. 13%, $38. Dalrymple website. Would I buy it? Sure would.
Even Keel Rosé 2020
In a year overflowing with middling rosé, this was such a highlight. A blend of Mornington Peninsula Tempranillo, Pinot Noir & Syrah, the fruit just-ripe, the juice wild fermented in barrel and goes through full malo, then three months in barrel before bottling. All that winemaking makes this ultimately so much more involving (and delicious). Coppery orange coloured. Lovely creamy texture to this, the extra year in bottle is just fleshing it out further. Wonderful gentle style, with this strawberry cream vibe that it’s almost like a ripe Champagne.
What a success. Sam Coverdale has done it again. Sold out at the winery, but still available in retail land, and well worth your dollars.
Best drinking: now. 18.5/20, 94/100. 13%, $32. Even Keel website. Would I buy it? Yes.
Juxtaposed Old Vine Grenache 2020
Wes Pearson’s McLaren Vale wines have long been favourites in the Graham house, and this feels like the most grown-up release yet. A long way from the upside-down Dodgy Bros labels! From the Wait Vineyard in Blewitt Springs & Smart Vineyard in Clarendon, there’s an interplay of tiny crops delivering excellent concentration. Lipstick, red fruits, chewy tannins for Grenache, a sense of purpose. This is more concentrated, more guttural, this vintage yet still has a perfume to it – no cloaking the gentle red fruit that is just excellent. A super wine and looked even better on day two.
Best drinking: now and for a good decade. 18.5/20, 94/100. 14.3%, $37. Dodgy Bros website. Would I buy it? Sure would.
Longview Macclesfield Riesling 2020
I have enjoyed all the Macclesfield range from Longview, and the packaging is excellent. This Riesling was the biggest triumph, though. A pristine Adelaide Hills white with wonderful grapefruit energy to it. Celery salt, lemon and effortless pure fruit. Pure fruit and fresh, natural acidity. Drink this now for a wonderful sparkling fresh line of delicacy. Very nice.
Best drinking: I like it now. 18.5/20, 94/100. 12%, $30. Longview website. Would I buy it? Sure would.
Rouleur Chardonnay 2020
I had this during the Christmas break, and it was such a highlight, even among more storied (and expensive) wines. I’ve told Matt East that his wines are too cheap, and this is another example. This is a deftly built, filigreed wine like all of Matt East’s Chardonnay. Importantly, it doesn’t look anaemic like some 2020 Yarra Valley wines, just graceful. White peach and fine sulphur funk. Has this acid formed delicacy without being harsh. Sour lemon citrus and delicate white flowers. How can the acidity be tight but not harsh? Another excellent release.
Best drinking: now and for at least five years. 18.5/20, 94/100. 12.6%, $33. Rouleur website. Would I buy it? Absolutely.
Tokar Estate Chardonnay 2019
This is a superb rendition of what affordable, classy Yarra Chardonnay can taste like, AND it’s very affordable.
I’m on the record already about my appreciation for the Tokar recent releases, and interestingly I’d probably drink this Chardonnay over the fancier Coldstream release. Of course, that will change with another year or two, but interesting nonetheless.
There’s a lovely golden ripe fruit profile – heading towards peach – but prim and proper (with restricted malo, I’m guessing) to finish. The interplay between fruit, integrated oak and sufficient acidity. It’s just a lovely textured, vital Chardonnay at an unbeatable price.
Tokar Estate Chardonnay 2019. Best drinking: good now and for at least 2-3 years yet. 18.5/20, 94/100. 13.5%, $30. Tokar website. Would I buy it? Yes.
Varney Wines GSM 2019
Another winemaker with a deft touch for McLaren Vale reds (especially Grenache) and a king of approachability. This Vale Grenache includes 15% whole bunches, some carbonic maceration, some foot treading, with some parcels spending a longer time on skins. A bit of everything. Ten months in older oak. 45% Grenache, 30% Shiraz, 25% Mourvedre. Dark berries are king here – to the point where you expect more Shiraz in the mix. Meaty and vaguely earthen, too, with some of the tilled black earth character that d’Arenberg gets. Lovely tannins, for that matter too. So much more molten and dark than Alan’s other reds. Long, expressive, mid-weight yet hinting at more too – this is quite some wine.
Best drinking: good now, and for a decade. 18.5/20, 94/100. 14%, $32. Varney website. Would I buy it? A bargain. Yes.
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