Category Archives: New Release – Wine Reviews

New Release Whites: April 2024

New Release Whites: April 2024

Barry Weinman: 7th April 2024

There were a couple of left-of-centre wines that stood out in this tasting.
One was an excellent value ($23 from Dans) Vouvray from Famile Bougrier, a delicious, textured summer drink.

Galafrey also contributed a surprise with their delicious, if not mainstream Muller Thurgau. Surely this is the only example made in Western Australia? Definitely worth a try.

Reviewed

Famille Bougrier – Confidences – Vouvray – Chenin Blanc – 2022. This is quite rich, viscous and textured, that has some resemblance to viognier/white Rhone. Gentle stone fruit, supple mouthfeel, excellent length and persistence. This is really very good drinking and outrageous value to boot. 12.5% alc – 92pts – $23.

Galafrey – Reserve – Riesling – 2023. Gentle savoury notes are a feature initially, however the highlight is the palate, which is pristine and pure, with wonderful mouthfeel and texture. The acid drive makes this feel very dry, but I suspect that there is a touch of residual sugar that does wonders in fleshing out the mid palate and making this a superb drink now. But the aforementioned acidity will also confer extended aging abilities. 12.0% alc – 94+pts – TBC.

Galafrey – Dry Grown Vineyard – Muller Thurgau – 2023. This starts off steely, restrained and taut, but with air, the citrus fruit builds with attractive orange blossom highlights. I do not have any experience with this variety, but my feeling is that this will do very well with 5 years in the bottle. A great wine to challenge your wine-loving friends. And an excellent drink to boot. 93pts.

Cherubino – Gingin – Willows Vineyard – Chardonnay – 2022. OMG. This is an absolute treat. Here, the superb fruit has been deftly handled in the winery to present a compelling, seamless (if somewhat youthful) wine with real impact. Stone fruit, peach, viscosity, texture and supple oak are all in harmony, thanks to the superb winemaking. Fine. Modern expression of Margaret River Chardonnay. 13% alc – 96pts.

Cracking Cabernets: Bargain Alert

Cracking Cabernets: Bargain Alert

24th March 2024

There is an almost never-ending stream of great cabernets coming out of Western Australia, but they often come with a premium price tag.

However, there is value to be had at several price points as the panel discovered in a large tasting of primarily top-end cabernets this week.
Ok, so none of the wines are outright cheap, but if quality is what you are after, then these wines offer superb value at several price points.

Leading the charge is the cracking 2020 cabernet from Victory Point. The Berson family supply fruit to some of the region’s finest wineries, with small volumes made under the Victory Point label. At $55 from the winery, this is one of the great bargains.

A real surprise was the 2018 Cabernet from Galafrey. A good year in the Great Southern combined with mature vineyards and a quality winemaker has resulted in an affordable, age-worthy red of some note.

The final wine is Juniper’s Cornerstone Cabernet from Wilyabrup. From the much-lauded 2018 vintage, this deserves to be popular.

Reviewed

Galafrey – Dry Grown Vineyard – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2018. This is still just a baby. There are attractive blueberry fruit notes, but straight out of the bottle, this is a bit grippy. Having said that there is no denying the impressive intensity and length of the fruit. With air, and despite its relative immaturity, the palate is remarkably seamless in the way the fruit transitions from front to back. But this needs time. A decade would be a great start. A bargain for the cellar. 14.0% – 94pts – $35.

Victory Point – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2020. Wonderful nose, wonderful palate, wonderful wine. This has intense blackcurrant fruit supported by very sympathetic, quality oak handling. The red berry fruit on the nose sets the scene, but it is in the mouth where this gets really exciting. The palate is totally seamless and the mouthfeel and balance exquisite, with great concentration of fruit and length/persistence. A magical wine that despite its immediacy (it is delicious right now), is capable of medium-term ageing. 15 months in French oak barriques (38% new),13.5% alc, 96pts – $55. (packed in a lightweight bottle).

Juniper Estate – Cornerstone – Wilyabrup – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2018. Precise, ripe and so, so approachable, yet there is a serious nature to this wine lurking beneath the placid exterior, with the tannins kicking in on the finish, closing down the fruit somewhat. But with air, the fruit quality really shines, complemented by supple winemaking inputs. 94% Cabernet (Houghton clone), with a splash of malbec and cabernet franc, 17 months in French oak barriques (45% new). 14% alc – 95pts – $80.

Leeuwin Estate – Art Series – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2020. Oh wow. The quality and class of this wine just leaps out of the glass, with superb fruit that has both red and blackberry characters. Supple, texturing oak adds to the innate depth and power, but the wine remains lithe and elegant the entire length of the palate. One of the superstars of the 2020 vintage and a huge bargain at $100. 13.5%, 97pts – $102.

Other highlights

Cape Mentelle – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2020. The blueberry fruit is an absolute highlight. Pretty, fresh, vibrant and polished. The tannins and oak serve merely to highlight the fruit quality, adding mouthfeel and texture without impeding the flow of the fruit in the slightest. A lovely wine. 13.8%, 95pts. Confusingly, Cape Mentelle makes two similarly labelled wines. This was the expensive one under cork.

Chardonnay – When only the best will do!

Chardonnay – When only the best will do!

Barry Weinman: 21st March 2024

Here is a preview of some new release superstars of Western Australian chardonnay. These are wines that every collector should have on their wish list.

What sets these wines apart from their predecessors is the immediacy that they offer. Both the Leeuwin and the Cullen are more delicious in their youth than in previous recent vintages.

The Cullen Kevin John in particular , appears to be a significant shift in style to this taster.

Reviewed

Leeuwin Estate – Art Series – Chardonnay – 2021. Just magnificent, and very, very Leeuwin. Ripe, yet restrained, rich yet subtle, intense, yet possessing an ethereal delicateness. Great length, amazing power and sublime mouthfeel, the persistence is a feature. But for me, what defines this wine is the immediacy. Whilst this will drink well for a decade, it is just sublime now. Why wait? 13.5% alc, 97pts – $160.

Cullen Kevin John – Chardonnay – 2023. This is irresistible. I found myself swallowing this without even giving thought to the finer details, such is the immediate beauty on show here. On second taste, this has ripe, bright peachy fruit, that has surprising viscosity and a wonderful mouthfeel. The acid and oak are completely invisible, but play an important role in maintaining the flow on the palate. This is clearly different in style to recent Kevin John chardonnays, but no less compelling. Drink now and be happy. 13.5% alc – 95-96pts – $TBC.

Howard Park – Allingham – Chardonnay – 2022. A taut, restrained wine that has wonderful line and length, but needs 2 – 4 years for the fruit to unwind and fully assert its power and quality. The taut acidity is a feature, as is the seamless oak and winemaking additions. The length is a highlight. 12.5% alc – 95pts – $100.

Vasse Felix Chardonnay – 2022 Vintage

Vasse Felix Chardonnay – 2022 Vintage

Barry Weinman

17th March 2024

I recently wrote about the superb Tom Cullity Cabernet/Malbecs from Vasse Felix and the great passion the viticultural and winemaking teams have for cabernet sauvignon and malbec. If anything, their passion for chardonnay is even greater, reaching an almost reverential nature.

Speak to Paul Holmes a Court about chardonnay and you will find his excitement most infectious. Whether it is the Heytesbury, Premier or humble Filius he gets a sparkle in his eye and his enthusiasm becomes almost palpable.

With the talented Virginia Wilcock constantly finessing the style in the winery searching for ever finer expressions of Margaret River Chardonnay, the results are outstanding.

But it is important not to understate the impact that Bart Molony and the team have in the vineyard. The estate has over 100 hectares of chardonnay vineyards spread across the region, which has allowed the selection, over time, of the best sites and clones from which to produce the various styles, including providing fruit for Vasse Felix’s ambitious sparkling wine program.

The opportunity that the diverse vineyard sites provides is perfectly displayed in the DHJ1 Chardonnay. The fruit for this wine comes from a single plot from the coolest part of the Wallcliffe region which, in 2022, produced such high quality fruit, albeit in a different style to what makes up the rest of the range, that it was decided to produce a stand alone wine.

Clearly different in style to the Premier and Heytesbury, but no less worthwhile.

If you get the opportunity, try the DHJ1 alongside one of these wines to see the differences for yourself. It is a fascinating experience.

And the 2022 Heytesbury is a star!

Reviewed

Vasse Felix – Chardonnay – 2022.

Pristine fruit is what this wine is all about. Fine and elegant, with excellent mouthfeel. The winemaking is quite superb, the texturing oak and barrel work adding depth and impact without detracting from the stone fruit notes. The finish has excellent length and persistence. What impressed me most about this wine was how it continued to develop depth and power over 2-3 days after opening. An excellent wine in its own right and good value to boot. 84% Gingin clone/16% Bernard clones 95, 96 and 76. 8 months in oak (44% new), 13% alc, 94pts – $45.

Vasse FelixDHJ1 – Chardonnay – 2022.

A very fine and elegant wine. The fruit is more in the grapefruit/melon spectrum than stone fruit, . The mouthfeel is silky and supple and the palate transition is totally seamless. What sets this apart is that the final wine is much more than the sum of its parts. The entire package is restrained and fine, yet the end result is a wonderful wine that is full of life and energy. Good now, but will be even better in 5 years. Gingin clone, 8 months in 1-3 y/o oak, 12.5% alc, 95pts – $75.

Vasse FelixHeytesbury – Chardonnay – 2022.

Taut and fine, this is a model of restraint initially. But don’t be fooled by first impressions, this is a wine of great intensity, depth and flavour. Intense, peach-like stone fruit characters dominate the nose, whilst the palate adds citrus notes to the mix. The oak and winemaking inputs are, somewhat magically, invisible and impactful at the same time, conferring a sense of power and gravitas to the wine without impeding the flow of the fruit. The acid drive is a highlight, whilst the length and persistence are impeccable. A graceful, elegant wine that will be at its peak for a decade to come. Gingin Clone, 8 months in oak (56% new), 13%alc, 96pts – $120.

Tom Cullity Vertical Tasting

Tom Cullity Vertical Tasting

Barry Weinman: 2nd March 2024.

Virginia Wilcock: Chief Winemaker at Vasse Felix

To celebrate the launch of the 2020 Tom Cullity, Paul Holmes à Court (proprietor) and Virginia Willcock (chief winemaker) hosted a tasting of six vintages to give us the opportunity to see how the wines had developed in bottle, and how the style has evolved over time.

When Vasse Felix retired the Heytesbury Cabernet and replaced it with the Tom Cullity, I thought that this was a stroke of marketing genius. The Heytesbury was a superb wine in its own right, so replacing it with another high quality wine at a 40% price increase sounds like music to any accountant’s ears.

But this simplistic view fails to capture the true picture of what the team at Vasse Felix were trying to achieve. The name change heralded a shift in focus. Whilst the fruit for the Heytesbury was the best fruit each year, sourced from across both the estate and grower vineyards, the Tom Cullity is produced from a small section of the Wilyabrup vineyard adjacent to the winery and cellar door.

This includes some of the oldest vines in the region (50+ years old), all of which are on their own rootstock and are unirrigated. The end result is that there has been a significant drop in volume of production as compared to the Heytesbury. Annual production is limited to between 500 & 1000 cases. So, it turns out that the bean counters are not as happy as they might have been, but the consumers are the winners.

Bart Molony

But the story does not end there. Bart Molony, the Chief Viticulturalist is actively working to further improve the fruit quality and ensure that the characteristics of the fruit produced matches the aspirations of Virginia Wilcock and the winemaking team.

One key change is the move to using the Houghton clone of cabernet exclusively in the Tom Cullity. This includes grafting/replanting some parts of the vineyard that were planted to Clone SA125. This clone is the backbone of cabernet on the east coast of Australia, where it produces deeply coloured wines. VARIETIES + CLONES | Yalumba Nursery.

The Houghton clones come from a historic five-acre block in the Swan Valley which was planted in 1930. Selections of the Houghton clones of Cabernet Sauvignon. A key feature of the Houghton clone is that it produces less herbaceous characteristics than SA125. Houghton-Clone.pdf (margaretriver.wine).

The soil (terroir, if you will) also plays an important role, especially in warmer vintages such as 2024, with the vines looking in ridiculously good health, despite being unirrigated. The oldest vines are on their own rootstock and were planted in the very early days of the winery. Their roots penetrate into the clay layer below the topsoil, ensuring that they can access the moisture they need to thrive in a hot, dry summer.

When it comes to the wines themselves, the first observation was how the climatic variation associated with the different vintages was immediately apparent in each wine. From the elegant and pretty 2019 to the sublime 2018, they are all beautiful, but each is a unique expression of the vintage conditions.

However, what was more revealing for me was the similarities between the wines. The exquisite tannin and oak management were evident in each and every wine. Always harmonious and never intrusive, and perfectly judged to match the fruit characters of the various vintages.

There is also a purity of fruit that is just sublime. Precise, focused and ripe, yet elegant and supple.

Other tasters were equally impressed, with descriptions including “effortless”, “sublime” and possessing a “fluidity”.

Regardless of how one describes them, the end result is nothing short of spectacular, with the vintage variations dictating when the wines should be consumed, rather than their absolute quality.

The Wines

Vasse Felix Tom Cullity – Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec – 2015. Straight out of the bottle, there are dusty, almost tobacco leaf notes. This quickly evolved into more primary fruit characters. On the palate, the pristine fruit is the star. There is incredible depth and intensity, even though this would only be considered medium bodied. The length and persistence are amazing, as is the mouthfeel and texture. The latter supported by incredibly fine tannins that coat the tongue, but do not impede the fruit in the slightest. 96pts. 14% alc.

Vasse Felix Tom Cullity– Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec – 2016. Here, the beautifully perfumed fruit is apparent from the start. Blueberry, gentle spice, even a touch of minerality. The finish is slightly firmer than the 2015, though the tannins are no less fine. This is a wine that is firmly in its youth and deserves decades to show its best. I love it. 14.2% alc – 96pts.

Vasse Felix Tom Cullity – Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec – 2017. This has everything in place but is somewhat shy and muted right now. Again, the depth and power are breathtaking, but the inky fruit is still wrapped in a cloak of winemaking goodness. Tannins are a highlight. Superb wine for the vintage. 14.5% alc – 95pts

Vasse Felix Tom Cullity– Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec – 2018. One sniff of this wine is enough to show that it is truly outstanding. The pristine fruit is unbelievably pure. The blueberry fruit takes on a slightly darker tone in this vintage and is the star of the show. The tannins and oak are, at first glance, invisible, such is the grace and beauty of the fruit. It is only on the very close that they start to make a presence, more texturally than in any overt way. A statuesque wine and one of the great Margaret River cabernets (and surely one of the world’s great cabernets). 14.5% alc – 97pts

Paul Holmes à Court

Vasse Felix Tom Cullity– Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec – 2019. As with the 2018, the perfumed fruit is the most striking feature here. But in 2019, this takes on a supple, almost slippery mouthfeel that makes it irresistible now. So fine and elegant, yet full of life and personality. Amazing that a wine this young can drink so well. The acid structure ensures that this will live for a decade or more, but I would prefer to enjoy this in its youthful prime. The cooler year precluded the inclusion of Petit Verdot. 14.5% alc – 95-96pts.

Vasse Felix Tom Cullity – Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec – 2020. This is the most impactful of the lineup, with the tannins and oak making an appearance much earlier in the palate transition than the previous vintages. But with a little bit of air, the spectacular fruit starts to build and just keeps on going, coating the whole length of the palate. Intense and powerful, yet this remains silky and supple. A superstar, but one that I would like to see in the third decade of its life. 14.5% alc – 97pts.

New Release Margaret River Cabernet – February 2024

New Release Margaret River Cabernet – February 2024

Barry Weinman: 22nd February 2024

Whilst it appears that every year is a good year in Margaret River, there are clear vintage variations that impact on the style of the wines. And some years are just that little bit better. 2018 was lauded as one of the best vintages of recent times, and the 2020 appears to be at least as good.

And now 2022 is staking a claim.

The wines below are due for release in the coming months, and are definitely worth seeking out.

The 2020 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Cabernet reaffirms Leeuwin’s place in the upper echelon of Cabernets. And the fact that this is available (pre release) from the winery for $105 makes it a bargain.

Nocturne’s 2022 Sheoak Vineyard is yet to be released, but assuming a price under $70, then this too is a great bargain. Whilst Nocturne is not a producer that is widely known, the wines are made by Julian Langworthy (from Deep Woods), a winemaker at the top of his game right now.

Speaking of value, the Grace Farm Cabernet Malbec 2018 is a great buy at $40. A trophy and gold medal winning wine from the sought-after 2018 vintage. This is a wine that is ready to go right now.

Reviewed.

Nocturne – Sheoak Vineyard — Cabernet Sauvignon – 2022. Brilliant cabernet that, like Baby Bear’s porridge in Goldilocks, is just right. Medium bodied, seamless, fine and elegant. The winemaking (oak) is very much in the background, with the fruit front and centre. It is only on the close that the structural components start to build, adding texture and depth, whilst being in no way aggressive The graceful palate transition is a highlight. A wonderful wine (in a very heavy bottle). Made using estate grown fruit. 14.5%alc, 95-96pts – $TBC.

Leeuwin Estate – Art Series – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2020. Whilst at 13.5%, this has the same alcohol level as the 2022 Cullen Diana Madeline, this is a riper, more accessible style that allows the fruit to shine. That said, the structure and power continues to build in the mouth for some time after it is swallowed, making for a textural, impactful wine that remains supple all the way to the very long close, with the fruit lingering the whole time. Impressively subtle power here. Great drinking now or in 30 years (the 1991 is drinking brilliantly now). Another stellar wine that cements Leeuwin Estate in the highest echelon of Margaret River cabernet producers. 13.5% alc, 95-96pts – $102.

Cullen – Diana Madeline – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2022. Yep, this is good. In fact, it is very good indeed, but here the fine tannins and oak suppress the fruit initially. These are never aggressive, but they do require a bit of patience to let them settle down and relax. By doing so, you will be handsomely rewarded. Another cracking wine from one of the greats. 13.5% alc, 95pts – $TBC.

Grace Farm – Cabernet/Malbec – 2018. Impressive! Act one is the fruit which has immediate impact, flooding the nose and palate with fleshy berry fruit. Act two is the acid that keeps the fruit balanced and in check. The supporting cast includes the oak (44% new) and tannins, which build the mouthfeel and texture, without taking anything away from the fruit. A single vineyard blend of cabernet sauvignon (80%), malbec (8%), petit verdot (7%) and cabernet franc (5%). 14.0%, 95pts – $40.

Wines to Watch – February 2024

Wines to Watch – February 2024

Barry Weinman: 18th February 2024

I have not seen anything on the Mandoon Estate 2023 Wild Bunch Chenin, but it is a cracking wine and one that is sure to be crazy value given that it is a Swan Valley white wine.

The 2022 Leopold is not exactly current release for riesling, but there is still stock available online. A fine Tasmanian riesling that will deliver much joy young or old.

Whilst the 2019 is the current release, there are still stocks of the 2018 Yalumba The Signature floating around. An opulent wine with great appeal.

Reviewed.

Mandoon Estate – Wild Bunch – Chenin Blanc – 2023. I love this wine. It has all the crunchy freshness of chenin blanc, but with greater textural components than most. The way the flavours and textures evolved as it warmed up in the glass showed just how versatile these wines can be. (Straight from the fridge it was crisp and refreshing and, as it warmed a little in the glass, the textural components and richness built). 94pts – $TBC.

Leo Buring – Leopold – Riesling – 2022. Pristine and very fine, this appears delicate on first impression. But underneath the lemon essence notes, the thrilling acidity brings the palate to life. Perfectly balanced, with length, precision, poise and elegance. A great drink now, but also age worthy. From Tasmania. 12% alc. 93-94pts – $37.

Yalumba – The Signature – Cabernet/Shiraz – 2018. A beautifully constructed wine that has significant depth and density. This is in a style that is different from southwest Western Australia, as there is greater viscosity and a degree of earthy, chocolatey complexity. Yet at its core there is purity to the fruit that is quite captivating. Drink any time over the next 20 years. 14.5% alc. 94-95pts – $70.

Champagne: Off the Beaten Track

Champagne: Off the Beaten Track

Barry Weinman: 27th December 2023

At this year’s Taste Champagne, I took the opportunity to try as many grower/cooperative/lesser-known Champagnes as I could, given the amount of attention that this section of the market has been getting of late. So, with a somewhat heavy heart, I ignored the likes of Charles Heidsieck, Veuve Clicquot, Moet and Roederer, and headed to the grower tables. (The heavy heart came from ignoring Charles Heidsieck, which is one of my favourite wines).

And what I found was a real mixed bag. There were a number of idiosyncratic wines, some of which worked better than others. however the best were excellent wines and worthy of your attention.

In no particular order, here are some of the wines that stood out.

Philipponnat

The NV Rosé was a highlight for me. Lively and fresh, with hints of strawberry fruit adding to the appeal. A mid-weight wine with excellent length and texture, aided by gentle astringency that boosted the mouthfeel. Food friendly.

Royal Reserve – None Dose – NV. This had a lightness in the palate that was most appealing. Lively and fresh, with lemon zest highlights. I am not usually a fan of zero dosage wines, but this is an excellent drink, with the ripe fruit characters balancing the dry finish.

Barons De Rothschild

The Rothschild family’s entrance into champagne has happened at great speed. The first vintage was only 2010, yet they have already acquired 72 hectares of vineyards.

My overall impression was that these are, first and foremost, serious wines, with more power than many on show.

The Concordia Brut NV is a complex wine with gentle stone fruit and lemony fruit leading to a creamy mouthfeel and very long, fine finish. An elegant wine. 4yrs on lees, 6g/l dosage, 40% reserve wines, 60% pinot/40% chardonnay

The Blanc De Blancs NV was more powerful, dense and textured, and a meal in itself.
The Rose NV traded some of the power for increased complexity and subtle intensity. A charming wine. 4yrs on lees, 6g/l, 85% Chardonnay.

Domaine De Marzilly

Another newcomer to Champagne, founded in 2012. The key differentiators here are the reliance on pinot meunier and universal barrel aging. The Lot 7 NV is a different interpretation of Champagne, with depth, richness and a chewiness that is more common in still wines. Excellent length of flavours. 80% pinot meunier and only 3g/l dosage.

The L.P.M. NV takes things even further, being made from 100% pinot meunier. Good drinking, but I prefer the Lot 7.

Bruno Paillard

The 1er Cuvée MV (has up to 50% reserve wines) spent 3yrs on lees and, with only 5g/l dosage, is being referred to as an extra brut. Plenty of citrus characters here and an excellent aperitif.

The highlight in the range for me was the Rosé MV. This has hints of red fruits and subtle power, but what stood out here was that it was a good drink. Not the biggest, richest, or most showy, but a very enjoyable wine.

Jean Vesselle

There was only one wine on tasting (Extra Brut) and it was a highlight. Intense, rich, rounded and long. This was a great drink and one I recommend trying.

Le Brun De Neville

This was another winery that I had not encountered before, and I am glad that I did. Of the five wines on tasting, the following were my picks.

Cote Blanche NV. I loved the nose here. Fresh stone fruit and wonderful baked bread aromas supported by minerality and gentle development. The palate has depth, texture and power, and possesses excellent balance. Base wine from 2018, 100% chardonnay, 8g/l dosage.

La Croisée Des Chemins MV is a single vineyard wine that is fresher and livelier, with citrus notes. This is a more elegant style that, whilst lacking the power of the Cote Blanche, is a better wine overall and worth seeking out. 75% Chardonnay, 2016 base wine, 4 g/l dosage.

Autolyse Noirs and Blancs NV. This has spent an incredible 11 years on lees and, whilst lively and fresh, is a rich and powerful wine with a core of minerality. Very fine indeed!

Forest-Marié

A highlight of the tasting was the wines of Forest Marié. The Brut Tradition stood out for its balance of freshness with richness and texture. Good length, gentle grip, creamy mouthfeel and fine acid drive combine in a great drinking package. 9.6g/l dosage, a high proportion of reserve wines used.

Brut De Blancs NV has more of the brioche/bread dough characters due, in part to the 6 years on lees this spent in the cellar. A complete wine that is fine and elegant, with excellent length and minerality.

Cuvée Saint Crespin NV is remarkably fresh for a wine that spent seven years on lees. It is the rich, powerful fruit on the palate that is the key feature here, supported by hints of musk, spice and gentle autolytic notes. Disgorged in 2021. 100% pinot noir, 4.8g/l dosage.

As it turns out, I also had time to visits a few of the Grande Marques and was floored by the quality of the wines from Roederer and Charles Heidsieck.

Roederer

The Roederer Collection 243 NV is intense, powerful and rich, with great length of flavours. The acidity is a little taut right now, so I would suggest giving this a year in the cellar to unwind a little bit. But is a lovely wine all the same.

The Vintage Brut 2015 has plenty of rich, powerful fruit, but it is the near seamless palate and wonderful mouthfeel that sets this apart. A superb wine.

I was also impressed by the Brut Nature Philippe Stark Blanc 2015. Despite being zero dosage, this chardonnay dominant field blend is a great drink, and is defined by its chalky minerality. Only the 4th vintage of this wine that was produced from the fruit of three blocks of vines.

Charles Heidsieck

Charles Heidsieck is one of my all-time favourite Champagne houses and the current releases are just brilliant. The Brut Reserve NV has the trademark power and intensity of the brand, combined with superb mouthfeel. Disgorged in 2022.

The Blanc de Blanc NV turns things up a notch, with a healthy dose of minerality adding to the intense fruit.

The overall wine of the tasting for me was the outstanding Millésime Brut 2012. A stunning Champagne.

Budget Champagne Uncovered: December 2023

Budget Champagne Uncovered: December 2023

Barry Weinman: 27th December 2023

Those who know me well know that I have a particularly fond spot for sparkling wines and Champagnes in particular. And over the festive season, my consumption (or at least the amount I open) increases further.

The only problem is that this is not a cheap hobby. A good bottle of Australian sparkling wine can easily set you back $50+ and well recognised champagne typically sells for north of $70. I have also noticed that prices of Champagne have been increasing of late.

So I set myself the challenge of finding a great value Champagne that I would be happy to drink for under $50 and headed out to the big box retailers to see what I could find.

Much to my (and the panel’s) surprise, there were several wines that were actually a good drink. We were also surprised to see a number of these cheaper wines sporting the Premier Cru ranking, suggesting that some effort was made on the part of the producers (often cooperatives) to focus on quality.

The wine that stood out for me in terms of quality and value was the Veuve Monsigny Premier Cru Brut from Aldi. Whilst this is all about zesty freshness and vitality, there is enough autolytic characters to make for an excellent everyday Champagne. And at $40 (for a limited time) this is the bee’s knees.

First Choice and Vintage Cellars have the enjoyable Baron De Villeboerg Brut NV for $37, which seems more than fair for a quaffable Champagne that is fresh, levely and refreshing. Not a lot of complexity, but an enjoyable drink at the price.

My local VC had two batches of this. An older one with a cream label and the current batch with the Red label. As compared to the fresh bottle, the older one had more depth and impact, with autolytic characters building. My preference (and the review) is the fresh shipment.

The Veuve Rozier Brut NV was the least expensive wine reviewed at $33 from Dan Murphy. This was defined by attractive fresh fruit characters, with peach and gentle citrus notes. With decent length and gentle autolytics, this was considered a good all-rounder, as it was fresh enough to have on its own, but with enough weight to carry some lighter foods.

The good news is that none of the other wines reviewed were outright bad, it was just that the ones reviewed were better. This could be a reflection of the age of stock sitting in stores, with some wines appearing obviously more developed than others.

November 2023 New Releases

November 2023 New Releases

6th December 2023

The temptation to try the latest releases from the fabled Wendouree winery proved irresistible, so into the tasting they went. These wines never fail to surprise me in just how medium bodied and elegant they are. Relatively low alcohol levels are a feature and reflect the finer style.

One of the key features of all the wines was the beautiful colour in the glass. Vibrant, vivid purple/red.

Yields in 2021 were tiny, reflecting the seemingly never-ending run of drought years that have beset the region. My entire allocation was three bottles, so I am grateful to Terry for sharing some of his allocation to make this tasting possible.

Aside from the Wendourees, there were several other wines that stood out. None more so than the superb Roennfeldt Road Cabernet from Greenock Creek. So different in style from what we see in the West, but no less worthy of praise. The icing on the cake for this wine was the fact that it is an irresistible (if very expensive) drink right now.

I also very much enjoyed the rieslings from Hutton Vale Farm. It is great to see wineries successfully producing off-dry rieslings. Bravo.

Reviewed

Wendouree – Cabernet/Malbec – 2021. The colour here is a highlight. Fine, elegant and refined, this is almost gentle in the way the fruit presents. But make no mistake, there is great depth behind the subtle, medium-bodied façade. The acid and the ultrafine tannins keep the fruit in check, with the tannins building on the very close. 94pts – $70.

Wendouree – Shiraz/Mataro – 2021. I love the colour. Whilst closed and taut, this has amazing intensity to the medium bodied fruit. Elegant and poised, the fruit is completely unadorned with winemaking artifact. This is a wine that requires patience and is for sipping and thinking, rather than drinking at this stage. Very fine tannins keep the finish subdued. Needs time and air to show its best. 13% alc, 93pts – $70.

Wendouree – Shiraz – 2021. Unlike the blends, this is so, so delicious at this early stage, but is also serious and age-worthy. The way the fruit intensity builds on the palate is something to behold. That a wine with this intensity barely makes it above medium bodied, is something to marvel at. Supple, with perhaps a hint of pencil shavings. This has the finest of tannins that, whilst prodigious, remain in balance. And the colour! 13.8% alc, 95pts – $80.

Wendouree – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2021. There is so much goodness in this wine. The cabernet fruit is ripe, and there is a degree of approachability/accessibility that is quite charming. But there is a more serious side to the inky fruit. A lovely drink, in a more serious style that demands aging. The length and persistence of flavours are admirable. 13.3% alc, 93pts, $80.00. (My points seem a little stingy, as this wine is sure to blossom with time in the bottle).

Hutton Vale Farm – Riesling – 2023. A very intense style that is bursting with fresh, zesty fruit, supported by thrilling acidity. This is a great drink and will be superb with gently poached salmon, as the acidity and freshness will provide the perfect foil to the richness of the fish. Just off dry, with a bright mid palate, this is not overly complex right now, but this will flesh out with age. In the meantime, enjoy it for its youthful exuberance. 12.5% alc, 93pts, $35.

Hutton Vale Farm – Off Dry – Riesling – 2023. A delicious, albeit unusual style in the Australian context, as there is obvious sweetness to the palate. This is supported by fine acidity and the combination results in a delicious wine that would be ideal served chilled on a warm day. And the lower alcohol means that a glass of this mid-afternoon is not going to set you on your ear. Give me a straw 😊. 10.5% alc, 92pts, $35.00.

Greenock Creek – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2021. Pretty, fragrant and alluring, this is an exercise in restraint. Supple, silky texture combines with juicy/plump fruit makes for an awesome drink. A characterful wine with excellent palate weight. 14.5% alc, 94pts.

Greenock Creek – RoennFeldt Road – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2018. This is a big boy that is absolutely jam packed with flavours. Berries flood the palate, supported by bright acidity, supple tannins and impactful oak that adds some chocolaty, savoury notes. This is no shrinking violet, it is a full bodied, full throttle wine that floods the senses. And all the while, it manages to remain balanced and fresh. Remarkable. A style that is very different to MR, but an amazing wine. 14.5%. 96pts, $300.