A pot pourri of top shelf Aussie wine

Several weeks back I wrote a review of outstanding under $10 a bottle wines. This week, I’ve run my eye along the top shelf, pulled the cork on several hundred bottles, and offer an opinion on those that stood out on the tasting bench.

Tyrrells Vat 47 Chardonnay 1995 topped my list of chardonnays and shows that the combination of the chardonnay grape with oak can be spectacular. But Tyrell is not without competition and other chardonnays to get a guernsey were Mountadam 1995, a sensational wine from Adam Wynn in the Adelaide Hills; Shaw and Smith Reserve 1994, also from the Adelaide Hills; and a relative newcomer, Rosemount Estate Orange Vineyard 1994.

The Rosemount wine offers a big flavour difference because of its comparative austerity, a product, I presume, of the high altitude and cold growing conditions at Orange. It demonstrates that the western slopes of New South Wales’ Great Divide is capable of producing top-notch wines.

This is a big step above anything I’ve seen from the warmer Great Divide Vineyards at Young and Cowra and may even challenge Tumbarumba and Tooma, other promising sites at the Snowy Mountains end of the divide.

The Eden and Clare Valleys, both on the Mount Lofty Ranges, South Australia, made a clean sweep in the Riesling taste off. Leo Buring DW T18 Eden Valley Riesling 1994 looked good and should be easy to find. But it was outclassed, in my opinion, by Henschke Julius Eden Valley Riesling 1995 — a wine displaying the wonderful ‘lime’ aroma seen in the area’s best.

Not even the Henschke wine, though, rose to the heights of Brian Croser’s Petaluma Riesling 1995. It comes from Petaluma’s Hanlin Hill Vineyard in the Clare Valley and year after year rates near the top. And the 1995 is a stunner. It looks good value on special at $15 or $16 a bottle, considering its proven cellaring potential and given $25 plus price tags on chardonnays of comparable quality.

Len Evans keeps telling us that our whites are not as exciting as our reds and he’s right. In the line up of whites there were the few highlights mentioned above in a sound but uninteresting field. But among the reds there were highlights galore.

Saltrams Barossa Reserve Cabernet 1994 delivers all the power and weight the Barossa Valley can muster. It’s extraordinary to think that the wheels fell off this famous old brand under the ownership of Seagrams, the big Canadian Spirit company.

It took a Rothbury take over and wine maker Nigel Dolan to restore quality very quickly and in spectacular fashion.

Talking of return to form, Redmans Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 1994 betters anything I’ve tasted from this northern Coonawarra vineyard for years. There’s world-class drinking here with its elegant, rich fruit and austere, lingering finish.

From southern Coonawarra Ian Hollick’s Ravenswood Cabernet Sauvignon 1992 puckers the mouth with big oak tannins and pleases it with rich, supple ripe fruit flavours. This is an idiosyncratic style made from the best plots of Ian’s vineyard.

Not far from Hollick in Coonawarra, Rosemount makes distinctively fruity, powerful reds of which the 1993 vintage is a great example.

My favourite of all reds in the tasting was Vasse Felix Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 1994. Here we have absolute blue chip quality. A pioneer of the Margaret River area, Vasse Felix has always been reliable and often exciting as in this superb 1994.

It’s an opaque, glass-staining crimson, pulsing with vibrant aromas, layered with rich fruit flavour and plush with velvety, thick, lush textures. It’s seductive and drinkable now but really should be cellared for a decade.

I thought Vasse Felix’s neighbour, Leeuwin Estate, offered exciting quality with its 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon, too. But Vasse Felix stole the show.

If you thought Padthaway’s strength was in whites, then try Hardys Padthaway Cabernet Sauvignon 1993, a big, richly flavoured wine with claret-like astringency. Increasingly, some of our best reds are emerging from this region, just north of Coonawarra.

Hats off, too, to Don Lewis at Mitchelton on Victoria’s Goulburn River. I’ve always preferred Don’s whites to his reds. But that’s what blind tasting are for: to cut away our prejudices. And when the bottles were unwrapped Mitchelton Victoria Cabernet Sauvignon 1993 was amongst the top few — a powerful, intense wine with supple sweet fruit cut with fine, drying oak tannins.