The beverage director for Andrew McConnell’s restaurants recommends her current favourite drops. By Leanne Altmann.
2019 pinot noir, Tamar Valley, Tasmania ($29)
A wine that reliably punches above its weight, never more so than in 2019. A blend of fruit from Joe Holyman’s estate vineyards and those of a few northern Tasmanian neighbours, there’s a combination of lifted aromatics and structure that’s rarely seen in pinot noir at this price point. Translucent fruit character, small red berries and crimson pomegranate is countered by Campari-like bitter herb and cinnamon. Stellar drinking.
2019 grenache/shiraz/mataro, Barossa Valley, SA ($25)
If ever there were a comfort wine, this is it, a blend familiar to the Southern Rhône and the warmer climes of South Australia. Winemaker Alex Head incorporates fruit from cooler sites in the Eden Valley for freshness and fragrance. Although it’s full of flavour, it’s hardly a hearty wine with lashings of oak. Instead it’s juicy, supple and pleasurable, with properly ripe (but not overripe) dark fruit and sandy tannin to balance.
2019 sangiovese, McLaren Vale, SA ($25)
The Lloyd family at Coriole have 35 years of experience growing sangiovese and reliably produce one of my favourite Australian examples of the great Tuscan variety. It’s not trying to be Italian, it’s an Italian variety with Australian heart. There’s a flush of ripe fruit at the core, balanced by savoury notes of star anise, earth and tobacco leaf, all held in place by a mesh of silky tannin.
2018 nebbiolo, Beechworth, Victoria ($65)
This slow-ripening site above Beechworth is arguably Australia’s most exciting spot for the great Italian grape. Pale in colour, fragrant with morello cherry and sour plum, the scent of dried herb and liquorice and dry summer undergrowth – this is unmistakably nebbiolo. The lacy palate has lingering notes of earth, new leather and spice, with firm, fine tannin a highlight. Suave and assured.
Shaw + Smith ‘Lenswood Vineyard’
2018 chardonnay, Adelaide Hills, SA ($88)
The palates at Shaw + Smith know their way around chardonnay, producing some of Australia’s finest, particularly from this site. December’s bushfires licked close to the boundary of the elevated Lenswood Vineyard, but the vines were spared the damage experienced by much of the region. This is top-quality chardonnay with poise and precision. It features notes of lemongrass and tiny white flowers, a gentle flintiness and deftly handled oak, balance and persistence. Impeccable.
Praeter ‘Sun Steps’
2019 riesling, Geelong, Victoria ($30)
There are some standout producers crafting riesling from the limestone and basalt soils of Geelong’s Moorabool Valley subregion, and Praeter is certainly one to watch. There’s a lovely purity of fruit here, almost saline, with fresh-pressed apple juice and jasmine. The dry palate has a gently pithy texture and lime-curd creaminess to balance classic riesling crispness.
Bay of Fires ‘Tasmanian Cuvée’
NV sparkling, Tasmania ($40)
Bay of Fires source fruit from across Tasmania for this wine, the pinot noir and chardonnay skilfully crafted and honed by a team of sparkling wine specialists. The fine, fragrant nose has hints of flinty reduction. The seamless palate is long and creamy with notes of white stone fruit, kernel and nougat.
Vignerons Schmölzer & Brown ‘Prêt-à-Blanc’
2019 riesling blend, King Valley, Victoria ($28)
Tessa Brown and Jeremy Schmölzer’s trio of regional blends shine a spotlight onto some diverse high-altitude sites in Victoria’s north-east. Prêt-à-Blanc is greater than the sum of its parts, taking full advantage of the harmony that comes from co-fermenting the three grape varieties. Riesling leads the way, providing backbone and apple blossom perfume, with the slippery spice of pinot gris and sylvaner’s green herb and pith. A subtle and savoury wine for the table.
Friends of Punch ‘Saffron’
2019 pinot gris, Yarra Valley, Victoria ($28)
Pinot gris comes in all shapes and sizes and this is a particularly charming amber interpretation. Judicious skin contact and some time in old oak contribute texture and build flavour. Notes of baked pear and dried apricot give way to warm spice and savoury yeastiness. Saffron is a characterful wine that evolves in the glass – or in the bottle over several days if you have the patience. Don’t drink it too cold.
Jackson Brooke ‘Meunier’
2019 rosé, Henty, Victoria ($25)
Pink wine is often lauded for its versatility at the table, and in this case I’m inclined to agree. Made from meunier fruit sourced from the western wilds of Henty, this dry, pale-hued rosé is taut and citrus-fresh when cool from the fridge, but comes into its own as it warms in the glass. A dalliance with old oak and lees builds complexity and adds creamy texture to the finish.
Ricca Terra ‘Bronco Buster’
2019 vermentino blend, Riverland, SA ($25)
The organically grown fruit from Ashley and Holly Ratcliff’s Barmera estate has made it into some of the most sought-after wines of Australia’s new wave. A few vintages back they started to bottle their own wines, all made from varieties chosen for their suitability to this hot inland site. Combining sun-loving southern Italian varieties with a splash of Portugal’s arinto, Bronco Buster is full flavoured and textural, with a zip of natural bitter-lemon acidity.
Archie Rose ‘Poorman’s Orange’
2019 harvest gin, Sydney, NSW ($95)
Sydney’s Archie Rose distillery is at the forefront of Australia’s contemporary gin (and whisky) boom. This, the first of a series of gins created to highlight seasonal produce, is made with a complex recipe of citrus-forward botanicals including New South Wales-grown poorman’s orange, a curious fruit of unknown origin. This full-flavoured gin is heady with aromas of orange blossom honey and apricot, with green notes of finger lime and juniper on the palate. Serve with soda and a squeeze of winter citrus.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 8, 2020 as "Top picks".
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