Whoa! Where did the year go?!
I was hoping to have this written before year end but alas life got in the way (as did a particularly rocky recovery from Meredith). So here we are, seemingly forever into January and looking back at the year that was. Being one who’s particularly fond of the ol’ ‘end of year list’ I thought I’d take the opportunity to look at some of the wine highlights from the year that was. This will be nowhere near as coherent as a ‘best pinot, best riesling, best…’ piece, but more a reflection on some things that really floated my boat throughout the year.
So, without further a-do… Let’s lay into it.
Wine of the Year – 2011 Pietro Caciorgna ‘Thalia’ Etna Rosso Nerello Mascalese ($45ish)
Firstly, Don’t be scared by the name! Truth be told I just had to google it to find out it’s full title. I’ve only ever known it as ‘Thalia’, which is all you need to know too. It’s from the Sicilian ‘Etna’ region (growing near mount Etna), it’s a ‘Rosso’ (red) and the grape is a native one, Nerello Mascalese. But none of that matters once it’s in the glass. A friend described it as ‘like a pinot but earthier’ and that’s a pretty good precis of where it sits. The first thing that absolutely knocks you over is the florals, achingly pretty but never precious, and for every smell of roses there’s a whiff of something more visceral like iron, black volcanic soil and licorice. It nails the whole sweet and savoury thing. Has plenty of tannin but enough fruit to never feel drying, and also that bit of unquantifiable magic that makes great wines so hard to describe. Wine of the year because everything that’s great about it smacks you in the face as soon as you pour a glass. Gloriously enjoyable
Winery of the Year – Jamsheed
Any one of the Jamsheed wines from 2012 could have been my wine of the year. Gary Mills (winemaker) has made some great stuff in the past but this year all the planets aligned and the wines were truly as great as they had always threatened to be. The Garden Gully Riesling (about $30) was a benchmark for the off-dry Western Vic style, the Rousanne (about $30) a waxy-textured glory that may as well have been from the Northern Rhone, and the single vineyard shirazes (from the Yarra Valley, Great Western and Beechworth) an exercise in regional definition and structure. My pick was the Beechworth (about $42) but it could just as well have been any of them. Whole bunch shiraz is hard to make and can easily taste stalky (like a fancy of the winemaker rather than something built for the customer) – these wines are grippy, textural and most of all balanced. Modern Australian winemaking at its finest.
Discovery of the Year – 2011 Bachelet-Monnot Bourgogne Blanc (Chardonnay, $45ish, if you can find it)
One of the great things about the world of wine is that even in the regions I have some familiarity with, I know about 0.000001% of what is happening. A frighteningly great wine when you consider that it’s the ‘entry level’ for the producer; loaded with lime juice acidity, a refreshing brineyness and a whole heap of other chalky, steely stuff going on that is part flavour part texture. Alas, now sold out but I’ll be putting my hand up to get some of the 2012, and every subsequent year thereafter. A spectacular place to start for those interested in white Burgundy
Fancy wine of the year – 2011 Gerard Raphet Lavaux Saint Jacques 1er Cru ($150ish, if you can find it)
Really, huge swathes of the 2011 Burgundy Vintage (from good producers) was way better than anyone was expecting. This wine really nailed it for me – luscious red/black fruits jump out, a decent lick of dark spice and tannin brings it all together, with the whole thing being greater than the sum of its parts and undeniably easy to drink. It’s easy to fall into the trap of intellectualising great wine – this one generates nothing but joy.
This wine is sold out but I have other great 2011s from this (and other) producers available should anyone wish to take the plunge. This year, great wine has never been so easy to understand.
Wine that everyone should try whether they think they’ll like it or not – Premium Chardonnay
Once again, I was absolutely staggered by the quality of Chardonnay coming out of (mostly) Australia over the last year. Somehow, the standard keeps improving exponentially. Unfortunately, bad Chardonnay is still around (and very bad) but these wines bear almost no relation to it and should be included in anyone’s roster as often as your resources will allow! My favourite example was the 2011 Neudorf Moutere (from NZ, about $70), but the 2011 Ocean Eight ‘Verve’ (about $40) came pretty damn close and would have many an experienced taster swearing it was from France in a blind tasting. Other notable efforts were the 2012 Brokenwood ‘Indigo’ (about $45), 2011 Eden Road ‘Maragle’ (about $46), 2011 Bannockburn (about $55) and 2010 Forrest Hill ‘Block 8’ (about $42); but for pure value it’s hard to go past the 2010 Mount Macleod (about $22, very little remaining) from Gippsland.
A winery that simply needs a category – Ochota Barrels
Yes, I go on about these wines. Yes, they continue to amaze me and this year’s releases have proved that last year’s were more than just luck. Yes, they are only available in tiny quantities but I try and have a few hanging around when I can (although more and more people are getting into them). There’s a whole blog coming in the future about ‘wines of personality’ and this producer is the top example going round at the moment. Why are they so good? They’re idiosyncratic, edgy, but never lose sight of being enjoyable to drink. The grenaches ahave a pinot-esque tension and grace, the 2013 Weird Berries in the Woods Gewürztraminer (about $40) was probably equal for wine of the year but basically impossible to find (good luck if you bought some), the 2013 I am the Owl Syrah (about $40) has a backbone seemingly made of slate and graphite, and the 2013 Surfer Rosa Rose (about $30) has a structure more like a riesling than a grenache rose. Never boring, always confounding.
Punter’s Choice (aka the ‘Give me More’ award) – Alpha Box & Dice ‘Tarot’ Grenache ($18ish)
A hotly contested award this one. Last year it would have been a dead heat between Steve Pannell’s Adelaide Hills Syrah (about $26) and the lip-smacking Hunky Dory ‘The Tangle’ white blend (about $16). This year the wine that received the most compliments from LTLT customers in 2013 was this incredible value Grenache from McLaren Vale enfant terrible ‘Alpha Box & Dice’. Inherently slurpable and rich without being heavy, it’s a fantastic go-to wine for most occasions and sits nicely along a heap of different foods. A great introduction to the rest of their range and a nice tool to keep the wine expenditure down and allow for a few nicer bottles. Your loungeroom is lacking if you don’t have some of this at hand. Honourable mentions go to the unfathomably good 2012 Punt Rd Shiraz (about $25) and BW Wines ‘Skin and Bones’ Chardonnay/Savignin blend.
Well, that’s a wrap. A few brief highlights from a year of wine. I’m already looking forward to stocking the LTLT portfolio in 2014 and discovering a whole heap more wines to bring to you!