Category Archives: Wine Review

Higher Plane – February 2015

Reviewed: 10th February 2015

Higher Plane was established in 1996 by Cathie and Craig Smith, with a focus on Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The vineyard is close planted (4000 vines per hectare).

In 2006, the winery and vineyards were purchased by Juniper Estate (established/owned by the Hill Family) and Mark Messenger assumed responsibility for wine making. In conjunction with Ianto Ward, who took over management of the vineyards in 2008, the wines have never looked better!


Higher Plane – Sauvignon Blanc – South By Southwest – 2014 (17). A decent wine that sits in the middle of the road, with gentle tropical fruit being the primary focus. A crowd pleasing style. (RRP $22).

Higher Plane – Sauvignon Blanc – Barrel Fermented – 2014 (17.5). This is a savoury, food friendly wine that has grassy notes with a touch of almond and stone fruit. The palate has a touch of viscosity and crisp, lemony acidity. The lees contact and barrel ferment characters add a lovely textural component and there is excellent length. Great value (RRP $25).

Higher Plane – Chardonnay – 2012 (18.5). Opens with tropical/pineapple fruit, leading on to stone fruit and melon aromas. The palate is long, fine and silky, with cashew nut and spice highlights. The texture and balance are a highlight. With high-quality fruit and oak, handled sympathetically in the winery, this is a complete wine and a lovely drink. (RRP $40).

Higher Plane – Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot – South By Southwest – 2011 (18). I like the way the high quality fruit and earthy notes combine into a complex, savoury package. There are hints of mocha, and the cedar-like oak complements the fruit, without dominating. The structure is a highlight, with chewy tannins to close. Bargain. (RRP $22).

Higher Plane – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2010 (18.5+). This is a very fine wine. The fruit is perfectly ripe, yet subtle and shy. The structure is fine and savoury, with silky oak and fine tannins cloaking the fruit at present. Excellent length and persistence.Patience is required though, as this requires several years for the structure to unwind and for the fruit to open up. Sophisticated and polished. (RRP $50).

Voyager Estate – October 2014

Reviewed: 19th October 2014

Although I have been visiting the Margaret River region for more years than I care to admit, up until now, I had not actually eaten at Voyager Estate. This proved to be the perfect excuse to have lunch with the family, as well as taste my way through much of the current range.

The facilities are some of the most impressive in the country. The stately, manicured grounds are a delight to behold, with various groups of people wondering amongst the flowers or just resting on the manicured lawns.

I was shown through to the private tasting room on arrival, where Voyager’s Sommelier Claire Tonon walked me through the range of wines currently on sale. The wines were uniformly impressive, happily occupying the middle ground stylistically. The wines are not over-ripe fruit bombs, but possess enough flesh to ensure that they do not appear astringent.

Travis Lemm has been in charge of the winemaking since 2009 and has been given the opportunity, not only to make the standard range, but also small parcels of excellent “project” wine under the VOC sub-range. The Merlot in particular was a highlight though production of any wine is limited to 100 – 120 dozen and the composition varies from year to year. This range is limited to cellar-door only.

The restaurant, under head chef Nigel Harvey lived up to its reputation. Each dish was carefully crafted and beautifully presented to showcase the fresh ingredients used. We tried a number of dishes (fish, venison, spatchcock and tofu), and all were delicious.

Of note was the fact that there were a number of back vintages available to drink by the glass. I tried the Chardonnay flight with my fish, which contained the 2011, 2007 and 2006. It was fascinating to see how the two older wines compared, given that they had very similar treatment in the winery (12 months in oak, 40% new, partial malo) The 2006 was still quite firm, with fresh acidity reflecting the cooler year, whilst the 2007 was richer and more viscous. Both worthwhile, but in different ways. The 2006 is likely to last for quite a few more years in a good cellar.

N.B. This was not a blind tasting, so my points are for illustrative purposes only


Voyager Estate – Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon – 2013 (17). Delicious, grassy nose with a floral lift. The palate is textured and quite complex, reflecting that a small portion wine used in the blend had barrel fermentation and lees contact. As the wine warms, the tropical fruit notes become more apparent. This is a good each way bet as it will work equally well with, or without food. (RRP $24).

Voyager Estate – Chardonnay – 2011 (18). A blend of 50% Gin Gin clone combined with other French clones that were planted in the mid-2000s. This has a very attractive nose that is redolent of peach/stone fruit. The palate leads with white nectarine and peach flavours and evolves into complex minerals and spice. The balance is exemplary. The high-quality fruit has been very well paired with fine, tight grained oak. Excellent length, depth and persistence round out the wine. Now to five years. (RRP $45).

Voyager Estate – Chenin Blanc – 2013 (16.8). The most approachable of the whites on the nose, with bright, floral and tropical notes to the fore. The palate is fresh, but has a surprising degree of depth. Whilst this finishes quite dry, the small amount (4gm/l) of residual sugar combined with a textural viscosity enhance the mouth-feel. Deserves to be popular this summer. (RRP $20).

Voyager Estate – Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot – Girt By Sea – 2011 (17.5) Attractive savoury notes over red fruit characters, with a souring, cherry-like backbone. The palate is succulent, but still has a degree of restraint and elegance. The souring acidity adds depth and life to the finish. The oak sits nicely in the background, allowing the fruit to speak. One of the best wines that I have seen under this label and a decent drink now. (RRP $24).

Voyager Estate – Shiraz – 2011 (18). Aromas of white pepper and spice to the fore on both the nose and palate. The fruit and tannins have been beautifully polished by the oak, making for a lovely drink now, but also allowing for improvement in the cellar. With air the structure builds, the chewy, drying finish allowing this to be paired with a variety of foods. (RRP $38).

Voyager Estate – Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot – 2009 (18.5). The colour is just starting to turn at the rim, reflecting the extra time that this has had in bottle. The nose has blackcurrant and mulberry components, but there is a lovely savoury component that adds complexity. The palate is still firm, though there is a degree of refinement that is alluring. The finish is deceptively soft, as the power is palpable, lurking beneath the refinement. Long and fine, with dusty, powdery tannins to close, this is a lovely wine that will only get better over the coming decade. (RRP $70).

Voyager Estate – Semillon – VOC – 2013 (17.7). This is the first straight Semillon released by the winery since 2006. In many ways reminiscent of good Chardonnay, with a creamy, complex nose and citrus (orange blossom) notes. The main clue to the variety comes from the lanolin-like characters. The palate has minerals and spice, with complex struck-match characters coming from the winemaker’s inputs. (Cellar Door Only – RRP $38).

Voyager Estate – Merlot – VOC – Wilyabrup – 2012 (18.5). The only wine in the range that is from non-estate vines. Lush red fruits to the fore on the nose with floral highlights. That said, there is a lovely savoury lift here. The palate is dusty and taut, but that lovely red fruit character runs right across the mid palate. The length and persistence are a real highlight with firm but refined tannins. Quite a profound wine. (Cellar Door Only – RRP $55).

Value Pinot Noir?

20th August 2014

The term Value Pinot Noir has historically been somewhat of an oxymoron. Notoriously difficult to produce and very site specific, Pinot Noir has typically been expensive.

In recent years, wines like De Bortoli’s Windy Peak Pinot Noir have redefined what can be purchased for (well under) $20.

The highlight of this tasting was the 2012 Ables Tempest. From a great year, this is the second wine of Heemskerk and really impressed the panel. That this wine will be available for less than $20 makes it a screaming bargain.


Heemskerk – Pinot Noir – Ables Tempest – 2012 (17.9). A more masculine style. There is both depth and power to the fruit, but this is in no-way overblown. The palate is long and persistent, with hints of oak adding complexity. Will take well to short-term cellaring.

Leeuwin Estate – SBS – Siblings – 2013 (17). Whilst this might be Leeuwin Estate’s entry-level wine, it is quite an impressive package. The nose is fresh, with herbaceous/grassy notes, though it is initially muted. This wine has seen partial barrel ferment (40%) which boosts the textural components, especially on the palate and there is decent length of flavours. Remarkably, this was better the next day, so saving it till next summer may pay dividends.

Angove – Rosé, – Grenache/Shiraz– Nine Vines – 2014 (16.5). The tag on the bottle claims that this is Australia’s most popular rosé, and it is easy to like this wine. The colour is a pretty/vibrant pink and the fruit is fresh and juicy. The relatively dry finish makes this very easy to drink as an everyday quaff.

Angus The Bull – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2012 (17.4). This is actually quite a serious wine. There are aromas of cedar and spice, hints of licorice and blackcurrant fruit. The palate displays cooler region fruit that is dense and taut. Good acidity, supple oak and silky tannins round out the package. Only medium weight, but works a treat. Whilst this wine will work well with a steak now, it is also capable of taking 5+ years in the cellar. From Central Victoria.

Le Cirque Wine Co – Shiraz – Whiz Bang – Barossa – 2013 (17 – 17.5). Delicious mouthful of sunny, ripe fruit, with enough structure and acidity to make this delicious drinking now. There is an attractive glycerol-like sheen to the palate. Good length and mouth-feel rounds out a very attractive package. Another cracking wine under this label. (RRP $16).

Singlefile – Shiraz – 2012 (18). Initially quite closed on the nose, though with air, develops vibrant fruit that is ripe and forward. There is also a lovely pepperiness. The precisely ripe fruit continues on the palate where it is gradually subsumed by the fruit/oak tannins. With air, this really builds depth and texture. Age worthy. (RRP $37).

Great Southern – New Release Wines – April 2014

Reviewed: 29th April 2014

The Great Southern region of Western Australia comprises a number of subregions, including Mt Barker, Denmark and Frankland River. The region is rightly famous for its rieslings, but also produces exceptional wines from a number of other varieties. Some of the state’s most prominent producers make their top cabernet based wines from the region including Houghton (Jack Mann) and Howard Park (Abercrombie).

This tasting aptly demonstrated the variety of styles that are produce within the region.


Singlefile – Chardonnay – Family Reserve – 2013 (18). Very supple nose that combines gentle, ripe fruit with subtle oak and lees/barrel ferment characters. There is lovely minerality, which aids depth and complexity. There is stone fruit and citrus characters on the palate with just a hint of tropical fruit (pineapple and melon). The balance and finesse makes this wine a standout. A delicious, beautifully worked chardonnay from the Singlefile vineyard. (RRP $50).

Ferngrove – Riesling – Cossack – 2013 (17.5 – 18+). Lovely lime curd and lemon zest fruit here. This is a powerful wine, with taut minerality cutting through the fresh lemon and lime fruit on the palate. Excellent length and persistence, with fresh, brisk acidity that adds drive. Bone dry, this is a lively riesling that will age well. (RRP $23).

Xabregas – Shiraz – 2011 (17.7). Closed and shy, though the fruit here is of high quality. Coffee, mocha, chocolate, spice and cedar evolve on the palate. Very long with white pepper over dark plum and blackberry. There is latent power here and the texture builds, though time is needed to let it evolve. Deft use of oak adds to the package.

Singlefile – Sauvignon Blanc – Fume Blanc – Stoney Crossing Vineyard – 2013 (17.5+). A very complex nose that has lovely worked characters. The grassy fruit is overlaid with minerals, flint, struck match and lemony oak. Very youthful, though very long, this would be best with another year or two in bottle. (RRP $30).

New Release White Wine

Reviewed: 10th January 2014

With the warmer weather upon us, I was pleased to be able to look at a cross-section of whites and rosés.  During this tasting, it struck me that there were two distinct brackets to which the wines could be assigned:

  1. Those that were easy-drinking and perfect for consuming on a warm summer’s day.  Imminently satisfying, yet without too much distraction.  (Wines by Peos and Jericho).
  2. More complex/savoury wines.  Perhaps better suited to pairing with food and made for sipping and exploring.  (Wines by The Lane and Shingleback).


Jericho – Fiano – 2013 (17.5).  Lovely, floral fruit with hints of sage and parsley.  The palate is very long and enticing.  Whilst there is some attractive, floral fruit on the palate, this is drier than the Sahara Dessert.  Leaves you wanting (needing) another sip.  Served cold, this will be a knockout this summer.  From the Adelaide Hills.

Shingleback– Viognier – John Foolery – 2013 (17.3).  Lemon and lanolin on the nose, with grassy notes.  Opens to show stonefruit, orange peel and clove.  The palate is full of ripe fruit in a generous, creamy style (probably aided by a degree of barrel fermentation).  Having said that, there is good acidity and apricot kernel astringency that adds substance to the finish.  Powerful, but precise, this is an excellent effort.  (RRP $18).

The Lane – Pinot Gris – Block 2 – 2013 (17).  Golden tinge to colour, typical of pinot gris.  Opens with red fruit, and a touch of bees wax.  The palate is slightly viscous and textured, with a touch of phenolic richness adding complexity.  This is quite a serious wine that appears to have had partial barrel fermentation to add depth and creaminess to the palate.  (RRP $25).

Peos –Verdelho – Four Kings – 2013 (17).  Quite a neutral nose.  The palate is taut and fresh, with gentle citrus and nutty overtones.  Long and balanced, this would make an excellent summer drink.

Scorpo – Current Release

Reviewed:  22nd September 2013

Situated in the Mornington Peninsula, Scorpo wines has quietly established a reputation for producing some of the region’s finest, though understated, wines from pinot noir, chardonnay and shiraz.  Winemaking is headed up by Sandro Mosele, whom, along with the Scorpo family, endeavours to produce wines that speak of the region, with as little intervention as possible in the winery.

This tasting allowed me to look through the current range and the wines were right on form.  That the estate wines (chardonnay, shiraz and pinot noir) were on form is no surprise, given the reputation that these wines command on the east coast.  It was the pinot gris and norien pinot noir that were the biggest surprise.

The pinot gris is delicious, with crunchy pear and creamy, barrel ferment characters, while the pinot noir is excellent current drinking.

The wines from Scorpo tend to slip under the radar, but the quality makes finding them worth the effort.

NB:  This was not a blind tasting.  My points are best used as a guide only.


Scorpo – Pinot Gris – 2012 (17.5).  The nose opens with creamy barrel-ferment notes.  The lifted fruit is reminiscent of pear skin, with a lovely, musk-like edge.  On the palate, the fruit is ripe and creamy, with an almost crunchy pear texture on the finish.  This wine is fermented in older oak and sees batonage/lees stirring and wild yeast fermentation.  Delicious.

Scorpo – Chardonnay – 2008 (17.8).  Closed and creamy on the nose, but the palate is full of life and vigour.  Bright acidity, supple oak, creamy texture and a struck match minerality on the finish.  Tight and modern, the acidity is very refreshing.

Scorpo – Pinot Noir – Norien – 2012 (17.7).  Beautiful nose here, showing bright, fresh cherry fruit and lovely spice.  Typical, approachable and succulent.  Not overly complex, but has excellent length and tannin integration.  Delicious.

Scorpo – Pinot Noir – Estate – Single Vineyard – 2011 (18).  Closed and restrained, yet supple and inviting.  Picked in early April (one month later than normal) with great care taken in the vineyard to ensure that the fruit coming off was top notch.  Initially, this appears tight and grippy, though it opens nicely with air.  Very long and refined, this is a delight to drink now, but will be even better in 5 years.  A great result.

Scorpo – Shiraz – 2008 – (18).  Some earthy, dusty notes to start, but there is a core of ripe red fruits over supple white pepper and silky tannins.  All fruit was de-stemmed and cold soaked prior to fermentation.  A superb wine that is restrained and very fine, yet the power starts to build on the very long finish.  Hard to resist.

Bannockburn – Current Release Pinot and Chardonnay

Reviewed: 3rd August 2013

Michael Glover, the winemaker at Bannockburn is a (self-proclaimed) very lucky man!  According to Michael, the quality of the fruit that comes from the Bannockburn vineyards is so exceptional, that it makes him look good.

I am the first to agree that the fruit that goes into the Bannockburn range is truly outstanding.  I am not so naive as to say, however, that the winemaker has not had a significant role in harnessing the quality fruit and transforming it in to a range of stunning wines.

One of the highlights of the tasting was to see the terroir of the vineyards expressed in each wine that we tried.  Michael is passionate about site expression and believes that this only happens when yields are very low.  I use the term terroir loosely, as for me, it is the intersection of the soil, the climate, the vines and, most importantly, the people who transform the grapes in to the finished product.

Michael’s fingerprints are all over these wines, but that is a very good thing.  There is a consistency across the entire range, where texture, complexity and depth are valued over power and where the winemaking inputs are supple and subtle.  Having said that, with the exception of sulphur, these wines are made without additions in the winery.

These are very high quality wines where the winemaking has allowed the fruit to truly express its sense of place, albeit in a very tight, age-worthy package.  Even the sauvignon blanc (a wine of great complexity) would benefit from three to five years in the cellar.

The two highlights of the tasting were both from the stellar 2010 vintage.  Both the “standard” chardonnay and the Stuart pinot noir are nothing short of spectacular.  The rest of the range is remarkably consistent and of very high quality.  In many ways my choices come down to personal preference, as these are all excellent wines.

Two caveats for the tasting:  Firstly, this was not a blind tasting and the winemaker was present.  Secondly, all the reds were sealed with natural cork.


Bannockburn – Sauvignon Blanc – 2012 (17.7).  This wine has a very complex, worked and powerful nose, with spice, struck-match and flint-like minerality.  The palate is dense and powerful, though surprisingly closed and restrained at present.  Lemony, long and fine, I would like to see this again in a year or two, as it is sure to age well for 5+ years.  100% barrel ferment in puncheons.  2/3 French, 1/3 Italian (made from acacia rather than oak).  The vines are 25 years old and have low yields (2kg/vine).  Aims to be uniquely Bannockburn!
(After 3 days on the tasting bench, this developed remarkably floral fruit aromas).

Bannockburn – Chardonnay – 2010 (18.5+).  Beautiful nose that stands out for its elegance and finesse, with hints of almond meal.  There is a delicate minerality running through both the nose and palate.  There is crisp stonefruit, with layers of creamy oak and delicate floral notes on the palate.  Very long, though this is restrained and a touch linear now.  Superb balance between the restrained fruit and quality oak.  With near seamless palate transition, this is a spectacular wine!  From 30-year-old vines, the wine spends 2 years on lees and has 100% malo-lactic fermentation.  It took 24 hours on the tasting bench for it to open up and show its best, but the result was memorable!

Bannockburn – Chardonnay – S R H – 2009 (18).  Richer and more developed, but yet retains the elegance of the standard release.  Fine and restrained, with seamless oak and very precise, focused acidity to close.  Mouth-feel and texture the key here.  Whilst I marginally preferred the focus and poise of the 2010 “standard” release, this is a remarkably fine wine.  Wait 5 years to start drinking.  ($77, only 100 cases made).

Bannockburn – Pinot Noir – 2009 (17.8).  Chewy, dense, textured, long, sappy and savoury.  This wine is not about primary fruit, it is about the textural experience.  There is, however lovely fruit underneath this, with spicy, dark cherry notes.  The silky finish brings it all together, but it needs years for the fruit to emerge from its cocoon.  Lovers of structured Burgundy will get a kick out of this wine.

The similarities to Nuit St George were remarkable, to the point that I had to open a bottle of 1er Cru Burgundy as a comparison.  The similarities were marked, though there was a touch more ripeness to the fruit of this wine.  2009 was a low yielding, tannic vintage, and the wine had 100% whole bunch fermentation.  12.5% alc. $53 rrp.

Bannockburn – Pinot Noir – Stuart – 2010 (18.5+).  In contrast to the structure of the 2009 pinot, this wine is seductive and totally gorgeous.  Initially, this is lighter in structure, while the fruit is more floral.  This is immediately approachable, yet has elegance, length and persistence.  The perfume flows from the palate back into the nose, boosting the enjoyment further.  Silky and very fine, though the structure and power really builds with time in the glass.

A delightful wine now or in five + years.  The ethereal notes that this wine offered up as it sat in the glass harked to the great wines from Chambolle Musigny.  (Named after the founder Stuart R Hooper.  $70rrp and a bargain).

Bannockburn – Pinot Noir – Serre – 2008 (18.5).  Gorgeous fruit on both the nose and palate, though this is cloaked in a shroud of restraint.  On the palate there is cherry, spice and a wonderful silky mouth-feel.  The long and savoury finish cries out for food.  Again, this is near seamless.  Amazing intensity with the proverbial peacock’s tail finish (the fruit really fans out and evolves, providing flavour and texture to the entire palate).

Using the comparisons to Burgundy again, this is more in the mould of Vosne Romanee.  The fruit for this wine comes from a separate, close-planted vineyard.  (9000 vines per hectare, average yield 500gm of fruit per vine, but can be as low as 250gm/vine).  $91rrp.


New Release Whites

Reviewed: 23rd May 2013

The panel looked at a bracket of chardonnays, as well as a selection of aromatic white wines for this tasting. In many ways, the highlight of the tasting was the arneis from Patritti. A distinctive wine of real charm.

For me, the wine of the tasting was the Singlefile Chardonnay, followed by the Swings and Roundabouts. Both very modern and showing excellent handling.

The final bracket was pinot gris/pinot grigio. You might ask what is the difference. As it turns out, there is no difference. It is the same grape, but coming from different regions. Gris from France and grigio from Italy. Traditionally, the styles have been quite different. Gris is made in a fresher, more aromatic style whereas grigio has been made in a dry/neutral style with food being a key consideration.

  • Tasted:        14 wines
  • Reviewed:    6 Wines


Singlefile – Chardonnay – 2011 (18). Subtle minerals, curry leaf and creamy oak compliments the high quality fruit. The palate is restrained, yet the fruit builds and develops. The finish is persistent, long and supple, the oak just sitting over the fruit initially, but settling back with air to add texture and structure. Tight and lean, this will be even better with 3 – 4 years under its belt. Demonstrates excellent winemaking. From Denmark.

Swings & Roundabouts – Chardonnay – Backyard Stories – 2012 (17.5). This has a lovely nose that combines white peach and creamy, mealy notes with cashew nut complexity. On the palate there is excellent fruit characters and decent complexity courtesy of the slick winemaking. There is a seam of grapefruit running right through to the finish, leaving the palate refreshed and ready for another sip. The lovely mouth-feel and real length makes this a joy now or in 3 – 4 years. A leaner, modern style.

Patritti – Arneis – 2012 (17.2). This wine was a real surprise. It starts of quite neutral, dry and savoury, but really built to show a complex array of flavours including apricot, orange peel and perfume. The finish is long and textural. This is an interesting wine possessing real charm. Ideally suited to food, the neutral nature of the wine will work a treat with some pasta or even white fleshed fish. From the Adelaide Hills.

Grant Burge – Pinot Gris – East Argyle – 2012 (17). Quite a creamy nose with some density and possibly a little barrel ferment characters. There is a degree of phenolic richness and viscosity on the palate and there is excellent length, smart acidity and a lovely citrus tang on the finish. This is an excellent drink alone or one to partner with lighter Asian food. True to the “gris” style.

Yalumba – Chardonnay – Y Series – Unwooded – 2012 (16.8). Aromatic and vibrant on both the nose and the palate. There are savoury, stone fruit characters, lemony acid and hints of honeysuckle and spice. A smart little wine that would make an excellent SSB alternative.

Yerring Station – Chardonnay – Village – 2011 (16.8). Quite Chablis like. This has a complex nose that has curry leaf, minerality, nuttiness and subtle stone fruit. The palate is tight and restrained, appearing relatively simple at first, as the lemony acidity and creamy oak suppress the fruit. This wine needs a few years for the fruit to uncoil and express itself.  Reflective of the cool vintage and an enjoyable wine.

Margaret River v Coonawarra

Reviewed: 18th May 2013

Margaret River or Coonawarra? I often ask myself that question when I am purchasing or opening cabernet based wines. Ten years ago, I would also have included Bordeaux in the equation, but the tremendous prices being charged for decent Claret makes Bordeaux an unrealistic option for me.

Fortunately the quality of Australian cabernet has continued to improve and the best local wines are equivalent in quality, if not style, to the best imports. The added benefit of shopping locally is that they are invariably sealed with a screw cap, removing the inherent risks associated with cork.

Whilst the current tasting was an opportunity to look at a selection of aged cabernet-based wines, it also gave me the chance to think about the regions.

One of the biggest differences between the two has been vintage conditions. Margaret River has been blessed with an amazing run of vintages starting with 2007 and continuing right through to 2012. (Early indications are that 2013 will also be very good). Coonawarra, on the other hand, has been on somewhat of a roller coaster ride with the highs being followed by lows. Improved viticulture has helped offset some of the lows, but I think it is a good idea to keep an eye on vintage variations.

Call me a fence sitter, but at the end of the tasting, I decided that I needed to keep space in the cellar for both region’s wines. Margaret River will always be the backbone of my cellar due to a combination of familiarity, availability, quality and consistency. In the great years however, I will always make space for Coonawarra. The wines are distinctive, age-worthy and totally delicious.

Wines tasted: 20

Wines reviewed: 10


Raveneau – Chardonnay – Chablis – 2010 (17.8). This is a complex, serious wine on the nose. There is creamy oak, textural barrel ferment characters and fine, pristine fruit. The finish is very long, with lemony acid the backbone that is fleshed out by a hint of sweetness that further enhances the balance. (The warm-up wine)

Cape Mentelle – Cabernet Sauvignon – 1991 (18.2). Dense, sweet ripe fruit leaps from the glass. Think mint, eucalypt, cassis and red berries. There are hints of earth and leather courtesy of the bottle age adding to the great length and lovely texture. There is new-world density to the fruit, but old-world complexity and structure. Lovely drinking.

Wynns – Cabernet Sauvignon – John Riddoch – 1991 (17.8). Remarkable contrast to the Cape Mentelle, as this is fresh and vibrant, yet tight and restrained. There are hints of blueberry, mint, cherry, cinnamon and supple, cedary oak. A powerful wine, yet one that is balanced and restrained. Very long and near seamless, the ever-so-fine tannins providing a sprinkling of dust across the finish.

Sandalford – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2003 (18). This wine really impresses for its sweet, ripe fruit. At ten years of age, there are plenty of dark fruit characters with a touch of mint and eucalyptus. The palate is dense, structured and tannic, needing another 5 – 10 years to really unwind. There is structured oak to close. This is a powerful wine.

Wise – Cabernet Sauvignon – The Bramley – 2003 (18). This is a much softer interpretation on Margaret River cabernet compared to the Sandalford, with red fruits the primary character. There are hints of oak in the background and the very fine tannins build at the very end of the palate. The tannins are actually quite firm suggesting that this wine will still evolve, but it is in its drinking window now.

Coriole – Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot – Mary Kathleen – 1999 (18). This wine has really intense fruit with complex savoury highlights. Think coffee, cinnamon and spice. The palate is textured and long finishing with very fine tannins and supple oak. In the mouth, this is supple, savoury, spicy, fragrant and long. Delicious now, this is an elegant wine from McLaren Vale showing excellent cabernet typicity, yet also some clear regional characters.

Wynns – Cabernet Sauvignon – John Riddoch – 1999 (17.8). Opens with mint over red fruits. This is elegant and drinking very well. There are hints of blackcurrant over cedar and spice on the palate. The finish is fine and long, with the acid cutting through the silky structure. The tannins are amazingly soft and add to the texture. This wine will be a great foil to food.

Houghton – Cabernet Sauvignon – Gladstone  – 1999 (18.5). Compared to the Wynns, this has much more obvious ripe fruit characters. Blackcurrant, cinnamon, spice, mint, eucalypt and subtle, textural oak all meld into a fantastic package on the palate. Whilst refined and elegant, there is tremendous power and length to the fruit. Superb!

Parker Estate – Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc – First Growth – 1998 (18.2). This wine approaches drinking perfection. There are fragrant red fruits, supple spice and silky tannins which combine to make this oh-so-easy to drink. The excellent length of flavours is a highlight and the fruit is very persistent. The tannins build on the finish providing the texture to accompany fine food.

Petaluma – Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc – 1998 (18.3). Reserved and shy compared to the Parker, this is a superb wine of the highest quality. The palate is dense, ripe, textured and powerful. There are hints of fresh herbs and wonderful fruit. Very structured, yet almost seamless.


Rhone Valley


The Rhone Valley is a diverse wine-growing region in the south-east of France. The Vineyards flank the Rhone River for 200 kilometres of its journey from Switzerland to Marseilles. It can be broadly divided into two regions, Northern Rhone and Southern Rhone. The separation of the two regions is more than just philosophical. There is an almost 60km stretch between the two regions, where no vineyards exist.

Northern Rhone

Grape Varieties: Shiraz, Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne

Key communes

  • Hermitage
  • Cote Rotie
  • Condrieu (Chateaux Grillett)
  • Cornas
  • Crozes Hermitage
  • St Joseph
  • St Peray

Key Points

Accounts for 5% of wine produced in the Rhone valley, but is responsible for the majority of the top wines.

All red wines are made from shiraz, though some viognier is planted in the vineyards especially in Cote Rotie.

White wines from Condrieu are made exclusively from viognier. Whites from Hermitage and surrounding regions are often a marsanne/roussanne blend.

Despite their proximity, the northern Rhone is cooler than its southern sibling.

Most wines are produced by small-scale growers and the focus is on quality.


For many years synonymous with shiraz. Hermitage is the spiritual home of the Rhone. The appellation is less than 150 hectares (though not all of this is arable), with about 40 owners sharing the vineyards.

Shiraz is the principle grape, with up to 15% marsanne and roussanne allowed in the reds. Whites are made from marsanne and roussanne.

Tain l’Hermitage is the only co-operative in the region, and they also make wine for some of the smaller growers without production facilities.

Cote Rotie

The original shiraz/viognier. For many, the wines of Cote Rotie are the pinnacle of wines from the Rhone. Made from shiraz, with up to 20% viognier. Centred around Ampuis, the appellation covers approximately 300 hectares.

There are two distinct sub-regions with differing soil types. Cote Brune and Cote Blonde are divided by the Chemin de la Cote Blonde. Broadly, the Cote Brune has darker soils as opposed to Cote Blonde’s lighter soils (and perhaps more feminine wines). The co-fermentation of viognier is more common in the Cote Blonde.

Since the 1970’s Marcel Guigal has been primarily responsible for the fame and fortune of Cote Rotie with his single vineyard wines.

Condrieu (Chateaux Grillett)

It is easy to think of Condrieu as a niche wine, but it has played a significant role. In the 1960’s the situation was grim. Viognier proved to be a difficult grape to make wine from. Late maturing, low yielding and disease prone, there was little to get excited about. It was only in the last 40 years that people started to take notice. The new world has really embraced viognier, while plantings in Condrieu exceed 130 hectares.


Another expression of straight shiraz. Cornas is starting to demonstrate its potential to produce masculine and long lived wines.

Crozes Hermitage

By far the largest appellation in the northern Rhone. Grapes grown are shiraz, marsanne and roussanne. The red may contain all three, (max 15% white) however there is a trend towards straight shiraz. The white wines are usually a blend.

St Joseph

Now extending from St Peray in the south to Condrieu in the north, the expansion of St Joseph has at times jeopardised its reputation. The older vineyards located around Tournon generally produce the best wines. St Joseph has the same grape varieties as Crozes Hermitage, thought only 10% of the white grapes are allowed in the reds. Traditionally, the wines of St Joseph have been earlier to mature than its more illustrious counterparts.

St Peray

A small appellation at the far south of northern Rhone, St Peray only makes white wines from marsanne and roussanne. These can be both sparkling and still.

Southern Rhone

Key Grape Varieties

  • Red: Grenache, cinsault, shiraz & mouvedre
  • White: Clairette, grenache blanc, marsanne & roussanne

Key communes

  • Beaumes de Venice
  • Costieres de Nimes
  • Coteaux du Tricastin
  • Cotes du Rhone
  • Cotes du Rhone – Village
  • Cotes du Ventoux
  • Cotes du Vivarais
  • Chateauneuf de Pape
  • Gigondas
  • Lirac
  • Rasteau
  • Tavel
  • Vacqueyras

Key Points

  • There are many differences here as compared to the north.
  • Co-operatives are the major producers (by volume at least)
  • Chateauneuf de Pape has several large vineyard holdings
  • Grenache is the workhorse variety
  • Blends are the norm – up to 13 varieties in CNdP and 24 in a Cotes du Rhone
  • Cote du Rhone is the generic appellation that covers white and red wine from the Rhone Valley

Beaumes de Venice

Whilst Beaumes de Venice has its own appellation for red wines. It’s slightly fortified sweet wines, however, are most recognised for in Australia.

Coteaux du Tricastin

A diverse range of wines come from the various microclimates within the appellation.

Cotes du Rhone

This is the general appellation that applies to wines from the Rhone Valley. Grenache is the main variety planted for red and clairette and grenache blanc dominate the whites. There is a move to planting the more classical varieties, (e.g. shiraz, marsanne and roussanne) to improve the quality of wines produced.

Cotes du Rhone – Village. A distinct step up in quality here. Only selected communes can use the Village suffix on their wines. Maximum yields are reduced here, and alcohol strength must be 12.5% or greater. Twenty villages are allowed to add their name to the Cotes du Rhone – Village appellation, and these should be the best wines. Indeed many of these villages are trying to emulate Gigondas, and be elevated to their own appellation.

Chateauneuf de Pape

Chateauneuf de Pape is the most highly regarded district within the southern Rhone. Red wines are based on grenache, and a small amount of white wine is also made.


Typically excellent wines made predominantly from grenache. Gigondas has the potential to challenge Chateauneuf de Pape as the best region in the southern Rhone. Gigondas was the first Cotes du Rhone – Village to be awarded its own appellation in recognition of the quality of wines produced. Production focuses on red wine, though whites are also produced.

Lirac, Rasteau & Tavel

These three have all been upgraded to appellation controlee in recent years.

  • Tavel is most recognised for its fine roses
  • Lirac is considered to be a reliable and good value source of white, red and rose
  • Rasteau produces fuller bodied reds in general


Like Gigondas, Vacqueyras has been upgraded from Cotes du Rhone – Village to Appellation Controlee. Reds, whites and roses can all be made, but red wines based on grenache predominate.