Langton’s classification of Australian wine — the market’s scorecard

Every five years, Langton’s, a wine auction specialist belonging to Woolworths, updates its classification of Australian wines. Unlike all the other wine-rating systems, based on the judgement of individual palates, Langton’s derives its classification from the volume and value of wine it sells at auction. The rankings are therefore based on perceptions of value and quality by thousands of individuals over time.

The classification focuses on Australia’s greatest collectible wines, predominantly reds. It’s an elite group, totalling just 123 wines (15 whites, 108 reds) in this year’s update – up from 101 in 2005.

The classification breaks wines into four categories, “exceptional” (the most sought after and prized Australian wines on the market), “outstanding” (benchmark quality wines with a very strong market following), “excellent” (high performing wines of exquisite quality with moderate to strong market following) and “distinguished” (secondary market staples or emerging classics).

The 2010 classification lists 17 “exceptional” wines, 32 “outstanding” wines, 36 “excellent” wines and 38 “distinguished wines, from all wine producing states except Queensland.

Despite an immensely changed landscape since publication of the first Langton’s classification in 1990, there remains a strong bias to warm climate shiraz.

The super elite “exceptional” category, for example, demonstrates the enduring popularity and quality of these styles. It includes eight warm-climate shirazes, five from the Barossa – Penfolds Grange, Brokenwood Graveyard Vineyard Hunter Valley Shiraz, Chris Ringland Barossa Valley Shiraz, Clarendon Hills Astralis McLaren Vale Syrah (= shiraz), Henschke Hill of Grace Eden Valley Shiraz, Rockford Basket Press Barossa Valley Shiraz, Torbreck RunRig Barossa Valley Shiraz and Wendouree Clare Valley Shiraz.

However, the list now reflects something of Australia’s great winemaking diversity – a story best illustrated in the evolution of the category and the range of regions and style in it, starting with Grange as the sole star in 1990.

EVOLUTION OF THE “EXCEPTIONAL” CATEGORY
(known as “Outstanding A” until 1996)

Original classification 1990
1. Penfolds Grange – multi-region South Australian blend, based on a “mother” wine from Penfolds Kalimna Vineyard, northwestern Barossa Valley. Predominantly shiraz, but generally contains a small amount of cabernet sauvignon.

1996 classification
2. Henschke Hill of Grace (single vineyard shiraz, Eden Valley – a region within the Barossa zone)
3. Mount Mary Quintet Cabernets (single vineyard, Yarra Valley – a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot in varying proportions, according to vintage)
2000 classification
4. Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay (single vineyard, Margaret River)
5. Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon (single vineyard, Margaret River)
6. Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon (multi-region South Australian blend, generally containing significant components from Coonawarra and the Kalimna Vineyard, Barossa Valley)
7. Wendouree Shiraz (single vineyard, Clare Valley)

2005 classification
8. Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noir (single vineyard, Gippsland)
9. Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Merlot (single vineyard, Margaret River)
10. Giaconda Estate Vineyard Chardonnay (single vineyard, Beechworth)
11. Rockford Basket Press Shiraz (Barossa Valley)

2010 classification
12. Brokenwood Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz (single vineyard, Lower Hunter Valley)
13. Chris Ringland Shiraz (single vineyard, Barossa Valley)
14. Clarendon Hills Astralis Syrah (McLaren Vale)
15. Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier (Murrumbateman, Canberra District)
16. Grosset Polish Hill Riesling (Polish Hill sub-region, Clare Valley)
17. Torbreck RunRig Shiraz (Barossa Valley)

This year’s classification added four more warm-climate shirazes and filled two gaps in the top ranks. Canberra’s Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier cemented its position as Australia’s leading refined, elegant cool-climate shiraz. And Grosset Polish Hill Riesling confirms its status as Australia’s premier riesling.

The top ranks now include one riesling, two chardonnays, one pinot noir, nine shirazes and four cabernets. Conspicuously missing from the ranks are cabernet sauvignons from Coonawarra and pinot noirs and chardonnays from the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Macedon and Tasmania.

However, these are all knocking on the door. Coonawarra, for example has a leg in as it supplies much of the fruit for Penfolds Bin 707.  But the locals must look jealously at rival Margaret River’s two successful cabernets, Cullens Diana Madeline and Moss Wood, and wonder what they’re doing wrong.

However, they’ll be comforted by the elevation of Balnaves The Tally to the “outstanding” category and Wynns Coonawarra Estate John Riddoch” to “excellent”.

Perhaps they’ll be spurred to action by English writer Andrew Jefford.  In July’s Decanter magazine he wrote, “Coonawarra is a Ferrari among wine regions: its potential is astonishing. But it’s a Ferrari constantly pootled along at suburban speed limits for the sake of misguided efficiency. I long for some spirited garagiste to get hold of 10 hectares or so and send them screaming round every corner on the circuit, just to see what could be achieved”.

In the same way that many wines rose through the ranks and others arrived for the first time, others fell from favour. This doesn’t imply a fall in quality, just a shift in demand. The losers this year were:

GIACONDA Pinot Noir, Beechworth Vic
BANNOCKBURN Vineyards Chardonnay, Geelong Vic
BANNOCKBURN VINEYARDS Pinot Noir, Geelong Vic
BASS PHILLIP ESTATE Pinot Noir, South Gippsland, Vic
LEASINGHAM Classic Clare Shiraz, Clare Valley SA
MITCHELTON Print Label Shiraz, Nagambie Lakes Vic
ORLANDO Lawsons Shiraz, Padthaway SA
PETALUMA Chardonnay, Adelaide Hills SA
PLANTAGENET Mount Barker Shiraz, Great Southern WA
SEPPELT Great Western Sparkling Shiraz, Great Western Vic
YARRA YERING Dry Red No 2 Shiraz, Yarra Valley Vic

Despite the bias towards traditional warm-climate red styles, the list should help dispel the myth of a uniformly hot Australia making only one wine style. There’s a diversity and depth here to compete on a world scale. It contains the best of our multi-region blends, but the majority are single region or single vineyard specialties representing the major classic grape varieties across an astonishing spectrum of terroirs – from near Hobart at around 43 degrees south to the Hunter Valley, 11 degrees closer to the equator. Few countries can match that diversity.

And it’s not populated solely with unaffordable icons. Sure, scarce wines take on scarce prices, possibly adding to their allure for some. But up and coming stars may take years to be recognised in the secondary market. Look, for example, among the “excellent” ranks and find that affordable gem, Wynns Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon. Or among the “distinguished” list you’ll see Majella Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon and Pewsey Vale The Contours Eden Valley Riesling – stunning wines offered at realistic prices when they’re released.

Even more encouraging for drinkers and cellarers, are the many beautiful wines not yet showing on secondary market radar. Think of Curly Flat Macedon pinot noir and chardonnay; of Canberra’s swelling ranks of beautiful, silky shirazes; of Tasmania’s Bream Creek pinot noir or Stefano Lubiana chardonnay, or the new ranks of alternative varieties, notably tempranillo, notably Mount Majura’s.

I’ve listed this year’s full classification below. For profiles of the wines or to check the latest auction prices, visit www.langtons.com.au

LANGTON’S CLASSIFICATION 2010

Exceptional
PENFOLDS Bin 95 Grange Shiraz, SA
BASS PHILLIP Reserve Pinot Noir, South Gippsland VIC
BROKENWOOD WINES Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz, Hunter Valley NSW
CHRIS RINGLAND Shiraz, Barossa SA
CLARENDON HILLS Astralis Syrah, McLaren Vale SA
CLONAKILLA Shiraz-Viognier, Canberra District NSW
CULLEN Diana Madeline Cabernet-Merlot, Margaret River WA
GIACONDA Chardonnay, Beechworth VIC
GROSSET Polish Hill Riesling, Clare Valley SA
HENSCHKE Hill of Grace Shiraz, Eden Valley SA
LEEUWIN ESTATE Art Series Chardonnay, Margaret River WA
MOSS WOOD Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River WA
MOUNT MARY Quintet Cabernet Blend, Yarra Valley VIC
PENFOLDS Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon, SA
ROCKFORD Basket Press Shiraz, Barossa Valley SA
TORBRECK RunRig Shiraz, Barossa Valley SA
WENDOUREE Shiraz, Clare Valley SA

Outstanding
BALNAVES OF COONAWARRA The Tally Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra SA
BAROSSA VALLEY ESTATE E & E Black Pepper Shiraz, Barossa Valley SA
BASS PHILLIP Premium Pinot Noir, South Gippsland VIC
BEST’S Thomson Family Great Western Shiraz, Grampians VIC
BINDI Block 5 Pinot Noir, Macedon Ranges VIC
d’ARENBERG The Dead Arm Shiraz, McLaren Vale SA
DALWHINNIE The Eagle Shiraz, Pyrenees VIC
DE BORTOLI Noble One Botrytis Semillon, Riverina NSW
GRANT BURGE Meshach Shiraz, Barossa Valley
GREENOCK CREEK Roennfeldt Road Cabernet Sauvignon, Barossa Valley SA
GREENOCK CREEK Roennfeldt Road Shiraz, Barossa Valley SA
GROSSET Springvale Riesling, Clare Valley SA
HARDY’S Eileen Hardy Shiraz, SA
HENSCHKE Mount Edelstone Shiraz, Eden Valley SA
JASPER HILL Emily’s Paddock Shiraz-Cabernet Franc, Heathcote VIC
JASPER HILL Georgia’s Paddock Shiraz, Heathcote VIC
JIM BARRY The Armagh Shiraz, Clare Valley SA
KAESLER WINES Old Bastard Shiraz, Barossa Valley SA
KATNOOK ESTATE Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra SA
KAY BROTHERS AMERY VINEYARDS Block 6 Old Vine Shiraz, McLaren Vale SA
MAJELLA The Malleea Cabernet-Shiraz, Coonawarra SA
MCWILLIAM’S Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon, Hunter Valley NSW
MOUNT MARY Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley VIC
NOON Winery Reserve Shiraz, Langhorne Creek SA
PENFOLDS Bin 389 Cabernet-Shiraz, SA
PENFOLDS St. Henri Shiraz, SA
PIERRO Chardonnay, Margaret River WA
TAHBILK 1860 Vines Shiraz, Nagambie Lakes VIC
TYRRELL’S Vat 1 Semillon, Hunter Valley NSW
WENDOUREE Cabernet Sauvignon, Clare Valley SA
WYNNS COONAWARRA ESTATE John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra SA
YALUMBA The Octavius Old Vine Shiraz, Barossa SA

Excellent
BANNOCKBURN Serré Pinot Noir, Geelong VIC
BEST’S Bin No.O Great Western Shiraz, Grampians VIC
BINDI Original Vineyard Pinot Noir, Macedon Ranges VIC
CAPE MENTELLE Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River WA
CORIOLE Lloyd Reserve Shiraz, McLaren Vale SA
CRAIGLEE Shiraz, Sunbury VIC
DALWHINNIE Moonambel Shiraz, Pyrenees VIC
DOMAINE A Cabernet Sauvignon, Coal River Valley Tas
ELDERTON Command Shiraz, Barossa Valley SA
FOX CREEK Reserve Shiraz, McLaren Vale SA
GIACONDA Warner Vineyard Shiraz, Beechworth VIC
HENSCHKE Cyril Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon, Eden Valley SA
HOUGHTON Jack Mann Frankland River Cabernet Blend, Great Southern WA
HOWARD PARK Abercrombie Cabernet, Margaret River-Great Southern WA
KATNOOK ESTATE Prodigy Shiraz, Coonawarra SA
LAKE’S FOLLY White Label Cabernet Blend, Hunter Valley NSW
LEO BURING Leonay Riesling, Eden/Clare Valley SA
MAIN RIDGE ESTATE Half Acre Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula VIC
MOUNT MARY Chardonnay, Yarra Valley VIC
NOON WINERY Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Langhorne Creek SA
PARINGA ESTATE The Paringa Single Vineyard Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula VIC
PARKER COONAWARRA ESTATE Terra Rossa First Growth Cabernet-Merlot, Coonawarra SA
PENFOLDS Magill Estate Shiraz, Adelaide SA
PENFOLDS RWT Shiraz Barossa SA
PETALUMA Coonawarra Cabernet-Merlot, Coonawarra SA
PETER LEHMANN Stonewell Shiraz, Barossa Valley SA
SEPPELT St Peters Great Western Vineyards Shiraz, Grampians VIC
ST HALLETT Old Block Shiraz, Barossa SA
TORBRECK Descendant Shiraz Viognier, Barossa Valley SA
VASSE FELIX Heytesbury Cabernet Blend, Margaret River-Great Southern WA
WENDOUREE Cabernet-Malbec, Clare Valley SA
WENDOUREE Shiraz-Malbec, Clare Valley SA
WENDOUREE Shiraz-Mataro, Clare Valley SA
WYNNS COONAWARRA ESTATE Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra SA
YARRA YERING Dry Red Wine No.1 Cabernet, Yarra Valley VIC
YERINGBERG Cabernet Blend, Yarra Valley VIC

Distinguished
BOWEN ESTATE Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra SA
CASTAGNA Genesis Syrah, Beechworth VIC
CHARLES MELTON Nine Popes Shiraz-Grenache-Mourvedre, Barossa Valley SA
COLDSTREAM HILLS Reserve Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley VIC
CRAWFORD RIVER WINES Riesling, Henty VIC
d’ARENBERG WINES The Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon, McLaren Vale SA
FREYCINET VINEYARDS Pinot Noir, Eastern Tas
JACOB’S CREEK ORLANDO St. Hugo Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra SA
KATNOOK ESTATE Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra SA
KILIKANOON Oracle Shiraz, Clare Valley SA
LEEUWIN ESTATE Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River WA
LINDEMANS Limestone Ridge Vineyard Shiraz-Cabernet, Coonawarra SA
MAJELLA Cabernet, Coonawarra SA
MCWILLIAM’S Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea Shiraz, Hunter Valley NSW
MOUNT LANGI GHIRAN Langi Shiraz, Grampians VIC
PARINGA ESTATE The Paringa Single Vineyard Shiraz, Mornington Peninsula VIC
PENFOLDS Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz, SA
PENFOLDS Bin 128 Shiraz, Coonawarra SA
PENFOLDS Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon SA
PETALUMA Hanlin Hill Riesling, Clare Valley SA
PEWSEY VALE The Contours Riesling, Eden Valley SA
REDBANK SALLY’S PADDOCK Cabernet Shiraz Cabernet Franc Merlot, Pyrenees VIC
ROLF BINDER Veritas Hanisch Shiraz, Barossa Valley SA
SAVATERRE Chardonnay, Beechworth VIC
TIM ADAMS The Aberfeldy Shiraz, Clare Valley SA
TURKEY FLAT Shiraz, Barossa Valley SA
TYRRELL’S Vat 47 Chardonnay, Hunter Valley NSW
VASSE FELIX Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River WA
VOYAGER ESTATE Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, WA
WANTIRNA ESTATE Amelia Cabernet Merlot, Yarra Valley VIC
WILD DUCK CREEK ESTATE Springflat Shiraz, Heathcote VIC
WIRRA WIRRA RSW Shiraz, McLaren Vale SA
WOLF BLASS Black Label, SA
WOLF BLASS WINES Platinum Shiraz, SA
WOODLANDS Family Series Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River WA
WYNNS COONAWARRA ESTATE Michael Shiraz, Coonawarra SA
YALUMBA The Signature Cabernet Shiraz, Barossa SA
YARRA YARRA VINEYARD The Yarra Yarra Cabernet Sauvignon, Yarra Valley VIC

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010

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