They say that life’s too short to drink bad wine and, in my case, it’s most certainly too short to taste bad wine and write about it! With the exception of lesser vintages in vertical reports, I rate highly every wine which makes its way onto my website, so it’s no easy task to select my top wines of the year. Here’s my top five for Australia.
Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay 2009 (Margaret River)
Cullen Wines celebrated their 40th anniversary this year with verticals of their flagship wines. I had the good fortune to join in the celebrations - one of my most memorable events of the year, aided and abetted by Cullen Dining who make the most of the winery’s veg patch, cover crop and bee hives (divine honey). It’s ridiculously hard to pull out a favourite but I have to admit that the wine most firmly etched on my memory is this one. The 2009 Kevin John Chardonnay shows spicy cinnamon oak hints on the nose with perfumed, slinky pear on a lithe palate with zesty, lemon citrus acidity. It finishes long and limpid and, though possessed of a cool restraint, it has tremendous underlying fruit intensity – a muscularity – well supported by oak, used for structure not seasoning. An utterly compelling Chardonnay with a long life ahead – at least 10 years based on the vertical I reported here. £54.95 at Wine Direct and AG Wines.
John Duval Plexus MRV 2010 (Barossa Valley)
I spent a few days in the Barossa in July and came away impressed with the vibrancy of the reds. The region has seen some extreme winemaking which played to the ‘bigger is better’ crowd, but all the producers I met are chasing elegance. Ex-Penfolds Chief Winemaker John Duval is a case in point and his light hand at the tiller is particularly apparent in this wine, his maiden white, which just danced over the palate! Subtly spicy with a dash of cinnamon to its well-defined bright and tangy pear and stone fruits, it’s a blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier. Fresh, well integrated acidity makes for a limpid, lingering, mineral finish. Impressive. 13% (Click here to see notes on his equally lovely reds). £19 at Hailsham Wines, £18.95 at AG Wines.
Torbreck The Pict 2007 (Barossa Valley)
Ironically, Dave Powell and I met in London, shortly after I returned from the Barossa. Powell is larger than life and his wines sumptuous, but beautifully balanced. You know the drill, old vines, great terroir. This 100% Mataro comes from a single plot of vines in Northern Greenock – the Materne ‘Quarry Block’ Vineyard, which was planted 1927. Amongst very stiff competition (see here for my notes of an extensive Torbreck tasting), it was my pick of the bunch. Savoury yet fresh, its seamless, layered, long and lingering delivery tantalised the taste buds with saddle soap, leather, liquorice, minerals and reverberating dried spice. Another wine for the long haul, yet so expressive already. Gloriously intense! Referring to its freshness, Powell told me he really rates Mataro for the fact he never has to acidify. £110 (2006) at Berry Bros & Rudd.
Clonakilla Shiraz 2010 (Hilltops)
Tim Kirk’s wines never fail to impress me and, in this cooler year, the “budget” Hilltops Shiraz is an absolute Christmas cracker or, to borrow a phrase from Captain Kirk, it’s a fabulous celebration of spice. Lovely life, lift and texture to its cinnamon-edged succulent black cherry and berry fruit with liquorice. A cool clay tang lends texture and bottom to the long finish. Terrific. Gutted to miss out when this was on Waitrose’s 25% off deal earlier this year….Click here for my notes on all his latest releases. £17.50 at Wine Direct
Seppeltsfield Paramount Collection XO Tawny (Barossa)
Seppeltsfield itself is as jawdropping as the wines, from the palm tree lined avenue, neo-classical mausoleum, 19th century gravity-fed winery down to the truly awesome cellar. A descent which is in truth an ascent to the heavens because, without question, these are among the finest fortified wines I’ve tasted. The reverse spit was most liberally employed during my visit (reported here). It was a real toss up between the iconic 1911 Seppeltsfield 100 Year Old Para and this wine, the blend components of which average 40 years in age, though some is as much as a century old. This eye-catching deep reddish hued wine is possessed of a sigh-inducing nose and palate. Concentrated, smooth, rich and nutty, think marzipan, it’s lush, sexy and seamlessly infused with perfumed dried apple and heady sweet cinnamon and star anise notes. Beautifully integrated spirit contributes to an incredibly long, palate-cleaving yet balanced palate. Fabulous. Not available in the UK – you’ll just have to visit!
Tomorrow I’ll post my top five for the Loire, then Portugal on the 30th and South Africa on New Year’s Eve.