My best value wines of 2006

As Christmas 2006 approaches Australia’s wine industry finds itself undergoing a major mood shift. Thanks to drought and savage spring frosts, the domestic wine lake that appeared to be permanent just a few months back seems to be evaporating.

By conservative reckoning – assuming continued growth in domestic and export markets — grape supply will align with demand in a little over one year. Others say that we’re already in short supply and ought to be planting more vines now.

What does this mean for wine drinkers? Well, given the deals already in place between suppliers and a fiercely aggressive retail world, we can be assured of keen prices in the run up to Christmas. But the looming shortages suggest an end to the downward spiral.

This year’s favourites therefore take into account competitive effects on prices while focusing on the superior flavours delivered by regional specialties. This is one of Australia’s great but as yet unexploited qualities. Happy Christmas.

UNDER $15

Moscato d’Asti (Castello di Poggio) 2005 $13.99
Dan Murphy’s import is a lovely example of this unique, low-alcohol white made from moscato grapes grown in the vicinity of Asti, Piedmont. Beautifully, fresh, light and crisp with delicious, sweet grapey flavours, it weighs in at just 5.5 per cent alcohol by volume. Sweet wines might be unfashionable for some in Australia, but Moscato d’Asti is catching on, as it ought. It’s a good case for regional specialisation, too, as few Australian attempts at this style capture the light, tingly fresh essential to balance the juicy, sweet grapiness. Reduces to $12.99 in case lots.

Meeting Place Canberra Shiraz 2003, 2004 $15
That things have not been quite right for Hardy’s Kamberra Winery shows in the backlog of stock in the market place. As smaller local wineries move into their 2005 shirazes, Kamberra offers both the 2003 and 2004 vintages of Meeting Place, with the absolutely stunning, trophy-winning 2005 not due for release until late next year. At $15 cellar door these are all exciting wines. We should all visit the Watson tasting room and stock up. And, while we’re there, take the opportunity to try the flagship Kamberra Shiraz and the sensational value Meeting Place Viognier.

Richmond Grove Watervale Riesling 2005 $14 to $18
Given its provenance, exceptional ageing ability, superb show record and the sheer drinking pleasure it provides, Richmond Grove Watervale Riesling surely ranks amongst Australia’s greatest value wine buys. The 2005, already with four gold medals to its name, delivers the classic, zesty, lime-like flavour, freshness and fine structure of riesling grown at Watervale, in the southern Clare Valley. Orlando Group White Winemaker, Rebekah Richardson, tells me it’s a blend of the best Watervale material of each vintage, as assessed by the Orlando team. That team, incidentally, includes veteran John Vickery, a key figure in the development of modern Australian riesling.

UNDER $25

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 $20 to $30
Two years ago I was fortunate to taste the entire sequence of Wynns Coonawarra cabernet’s from Ian Hickinbotham’s inaugural 1954 vintage (still drinking well) through to barrel samples of the 2003 and 2004 vintages. Clearly the wine has an extraordinary pedigree. Pleasingly the 2004 survived the journey from barrel to bottle and at the exhibitors’ tasting at the recent National Show delivered Coonawarra’s classic elegance with strength. Sue Hodder was there with her winemaking team and it was clear their chuffed by the finessing of this wine in recent years. It’s regularly on special below $25 and offered occasionally at $20. A bargain.

Di Georgio Coonawarra Emporio 2002 $23
After acquiring Rosemount a few years back, the late Southcorp (Southcorpse?) sold Rouge Homme winery and 13.5 hectares of lovely old vines to the Di Giorgio family. These vines are in the heart of old Coonawarra, next door to Wynns. Combine these unique vines with the viticultural experience of the Di Giorgio’s and winemaking expertise of Coonawarra veteran Peter Douglas and you get a stunning result at modest prices. The Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 and Shiraz 2002 are excellent examples of their styles. But Emporio – an elegant, refined blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc – really hits the excitement button. www.digiorgio.com.au

Pizzini King Valley Pinot Grigio 2006 $19
& Sangiovese 2005 $26

At Wine Australia, Darling Harbour, in July, Fred Pizzini’s wines captured my attention for pure varietal expression and good value. It’s difficult to coax the best from pinot gris and sangiovese, but Fred ranks amongst the best in Australia with these two varieties. There’s a shimmering purity to the just-released 2006 pinot grigio, made in the tight, dry Italian style. Not that many Italian versions come near it in quality. And the same might be said of the pure, bright and fruity but dry and savoury sangiovese – a delightful red that simply wipes the floor with many commercial Chiantis. See www.pizzini.com.au

$35 AND BEYOND

Lark Hill Canberra District Chardonnay 2005 $30
This is the best Canberra District chardonnay I’ve tasted. It’s sensational and, not surprisingly, comes from the vineyard with the best long-term chardonnay track record. It’s the culmination of two decades’ work by the Carpenter family with a few recent changes, in particular, seeming to have rounded off an already class act. The quality impact of biodynamic production is hard to quantify as the fruit was always good. But the use of wild-yeast ferments in just the right oak barrels, blocking palate-fattening malolactic fermentation and a screw cap seal mean a luxuriously textured, pristine varietal wine with the freshness and taut structure to evolve for many years.

Yalumba The Octavius 2002 $89.95
Yalumba’s inky, oaky Barossa shiraz began life in 1988 – a burly overstatement, says winemaker Brian Walsh that the old firm had renounced the wispy, wishy-washy reds of the 1980s. In recent vintages, however, ‘Oaktavius’, has become less inky, oaky and burly – thanks in part to a toning down of the oak regime – and increasingly seamless, without sacrificing its powerful Barossa fruit flavour. Recent tastings of the 1993, 2000 and 2002 vintages illustrated this progression from power and oak to power with elegance – the latter being partly attributable to unique vintage conditions. Octavius has progressed from exclamation mark to serious regional benchmark.

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 1996 $180-$240
This is a glorious Champagne and made a fitting toast at the passing of the equally glorious Len Evans in July. The all-chardonnay Taittinger Comtes de Champagne – sourced from top-ranking vineyards in the Champagne district’s Côtes-de-Blancs sub region – has Champagne’s elusive combination of intensity and delicacy. Without pinot noir in the blend the colour is a deceptively pale lemon, belying its ten years’ age. But that prolonged bottle ageing prior to release added a subtle patina of aromas, flavours and textures that simply enhances the wine’s extraordinary vivacity and freshness. This is about as good as aperitif style Champagne gets.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2007

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