Wine

The beverage director for Andrew McConnell’s restaurants selects her favourite wines, and non-alcoholic beer, for this summer. By Leanne Altmann.

The best wines of summer 2020

Credit: Earl Carter

Silent Way ‘Serpens’, 2015 semillon and friends, Macedon Ranges, Victoria ($25)

Silent Way is the personal project of Curly Flat winemaker Matt Harrop. A few years in, his semillon blend Serpens has hit a great drinking window. The absence of youth brings complex, savoury notes of daisy and chamomile, preserved lemon, beeswax and hay. Slippery texture and real concentration are held in check by fine, brisk acidity. This is a wine crying out for a whole grilled fish with lemon and butter sauce.

Kay Brothers Amery ‘Block 6’, 2016 shiraz, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($125)

A traditional region, a historic producer, extremely old vines. You’d be forgiven for expecting Block 6 to be an oak-forward blockbuster, but instead you’ll discover something far more distinguished: deep and intense, with complexity of briar fruit, undergrowth and woodland, black olive and ink, warm spice and silky tannin. Concentrated without being overbearing, it’s a confident wine of ease and elegance, and surely must be one of Australia’s benchmarks for shiraz.

Jülg, 2018 riesling trocken, Pfalz, Germany ($35)

Third-generation winemaker Johannes Jülg’s vineyards straddle the border of France and Germany. There’s a three-minute walk between the two village sites, one in Alsace, the other in Pfalz, and although you won’t find mention of it on the label, this is a blend of the two vineyards. Full of impact and intensity, it’s dryish with racy, tangerine-like acidity and a texture of talc and peach skin.

Yokel by Dormilona, 2019 rosé, Swan Valley, Western Australia ($25)

Winemaker Josephine Perry, of Dormilona fame, is giving the oft-maligned Swan Valley a little time in the sun. Sales of this neat set of sweetly labelled wines support the region’s near-extinct western swamp tortoise. Happily, it’s good drinking too. Notes of red-apple skin, strawberry and sun-kissed orange blossom speak of grenache; short maceration on skins contributes rosy hue and powdery texture.

Frerejean Frères ‘Cuvée des Hussards’, 2012 Champagne, France ($199)

The year 2012 was a challenging one that produced some magnificent champagne. This, the top wine of the three brothers Frerejean, is no exception. There are notes of lemon blossom, vanilla and custard apple, gently creamy. A little seasoning of pinot noir provides body, but this is a wine driven by Côte des Blancs chardonnay – that line of lithe, chalky acidity and salinity through the palate. This is dry, detailed and memorable champagne.

Sobah ‘Pepperberry IPA’ non-alcoholic beer, Burleigh Heads, Qld ($5)

Clinton and Lozen Schultz’s badha gali – bitter drinks – are some of the most satisfying alcohol-free drinks out there. Many low- and no-alcohol drinks dwindle to disappointing thinness, but the Pepperberry IPA has notable body and texture. Native pepperberry spice overlays a malty palate and a kick of hoppy IPA bitterness suited to both a hot day and a laden table. Whether you’re vainly trying to offset the overindulgence of the festive season or simply want something delicious to drink, it’s never been more attractive to stay Sobah.

Más Que Vinos ‘La Meseta’, 2018 tempranillo, La Mancha, Spain ($25)

This is cencibel, sometimes called tempranillo, from an organically farmed and sparsely planted vineyard in La Mancha, the arid heart of Spain. The Más Que Vinos winemakers refer to their place as “cold desert” – immensely dry, with searing summer heat and 100 nights of frost. Fermented in cool concrete to preserve freshness, La Meseta is somehow both savoury and fruity. There’s musk and incense, dried herbs and bitter black liquorice, brooding yet supple blackberry fruit. A steal.

Fontanabianca Langhe, 2018 arneis, Piedmont, Italy ($33)

Challenging to grow, and all but extinct just a few decades back, arneis has a subtle, stylish charm. Grown by the Pola family in the Neive hills, better known for Barbaresco’s nebbiolo, this grape has a little nutty yeastiness, a squeeze of fresh lemon, a curl of fennel frond. Delicate orchard fruit and creamy texture, and a hint of green-almond bitterness: this example of arneis is hard to resist.

Empire of Dirt, 2019 sauvignon blanc, Yarra Valley, Victoria ($28)

Rivar Mayer, son of Upper Yarra Valley doyen Timo, sourced a little sauvignon fruit in 2019 from a neighbouring vineyard that he tends. His approach – whole-cluster pressing, a little skin contact, some time in neutral oak – allows him to take the wine away from the highly aromatic passionfruit-and-guava model and towards something more savoury. It’s bright and lively, a pleasurable salted grapefruit, mineral water, sorrel leaf, citrus pith kind of wine, for contemplating outdoors.

Dal Zotto ‘Col Fondo’, 2018 glera, King Valley, Victoria ($30)

Australia’s pioneers of prosecco are taking inspiration from the pre-industrial wines of the Veneto. Instead of the usual pressurised tank fermentation used for the majority of prosecco, Col Fondo is fermented in the bottle. The technique creates a softer, finer fizz, with a gentle haze of yeast for chalky texture. Varietal apple, pear and lemon are complemented by notes of sea spray and almond, in a lacy, elegant frame.

Mayford, 2018 tempranillo, Alpine Valleys, Victoria ($42)

It’s hardly news to state that Mayford produces one of Australia’s finest examples of tempranillo, but certainly delightful to discover the truth in that statement year on year. It could be the flavour concentration that is so convincing: long, pure and persistent. Or maybe it’s the tannins, so silky and supple. Or perhaps the complexity, all cola and blueberry, turned humus and warm spice, swirling and changing in the glass. In the end, what I noted when tasting was a rather succinct “Very, very good. I like it a LOT.” And then I bought some.

Yetti and the Kokonut ‘Beach’, 2019 savagnin, Adelaide Hills, South Australia ($35)

Perhaps it’s auto-suggestion, but there is something about this wine that speaks of summers at the beach. The grapes were harvested early, so there’s thirst-quenching acidity and modest alcohol, a restrained feeling to the lively fruit. Just-ripe white nectarine, cloudy apple juice, fresh-cut melon and briny coastal succulents. And yes, a feeling of warm sun and white sand.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 21, 2019 as "The best of summer".

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Leanne Altmann
is the beverage director for Andrew McConnell’s restaurants, and The Saturday Paper’s wine editor.

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