Australians love to celebrate, and on 26 January many will be getting together to toast what’s good about the country on its official national day. The date marks the arrival in 1788 of the First Fleet and proclamation of British sovereignty over Australia’s eastern seaboard, an anniversary that has provoked calls to change Australia Day to one that unifies all the nation’s many cultures, both immigrant and indigenous.
There are many things worth celebrating in this huge and diverse land, whose traditional owners are the oldest continuous civilisation on Earth and deeply connected with their ancient soils from which the wines I’m applauding in this article hail. My top ten picks from Australia’s IWSC 2017 winners illustrate the exciting phase the country’s wines are currently experiencing, in an era when they have never been so interesting, varied and more sensitively made.
When it comes to value, Australia still comes up trumps with some great drops for everyday drinking. Overdelivering vintage after vintage is the Red Knot GSM; a juicy mid-weight wine with soft, ripe primary blueberry and raspberry fruit, a lick of sweet spice and pretty floral aromatics.
Where to buy: First Class Wines & Spirits, £7.93
We’ve seen Chardonnay’s pendulum in Australia swing from the once-popular big buttery blockbusters to more lean and austere examples and then back towards the middle. This is where the sweet spot is and where this intense but well proportioned single vineyard Victorian sits. Made by Chardonnay supremo Oakridge winemaker David Bicknell, there’s some attractive flesh to its white peach fruit that’s counterpoised by edgy grapefruit acidity overlaid with well judged notes of flint and nutty oak and a touch of nougat.
Where to buy: WineSquare, £18.50
And don’t forget the fortifieds, which have years of history in the country. Many also have spent a fair amount of time aging, as is the case with this this botrytis Semillon that’s been ten years in barrel. It’s oozing opulence with a luscious and super concentrated palate of prune, dried fig, mocha and baking spice. It’s rich but not cloying.
Where to buy: Hedonism Wines, £19
Another top wine from Tasmania, this beautifully focused and quite seamless Pinot unfurls slowly to reveal layer upon complex layer. Its sweet raspberry coulis fruit wrapped in silken tannins is lifted by an elegant line of acidity and joined by aromatics of spice and herb over an undercurrent of forest floor.
Where to buy: GP Brands, £20.33
In Australia’s classic Riesling country of the Clare Valley, the best examples of the variety can age for decades. It’s great to see a library wine, like this pure and vibrant seven year old, released with some age. It’s dry, with complex toasty, lime and mineral notes to the fore, overlaid with hints of nut, florals and white peach.
Where to buy: Kilikanoon, £25.43
From the cooler Eden Valley climate comes Thorn-Clarke’s flagship Cabernet, which exhibits what’s so appealing about the cooler climate Cab Sauv style. Its ripe and concentrated blackcurrant and blueberry fruit is vibrant and fresh, carried by a lovely acidity, and displaying lifted notes of violet, subtle oak spice and a hint of menthol. Beneath this sits an attractive savoury undercurrent and velvety tannins.
Where to buy: Thorn-Clark Wines, £34.68
While it made its name for its warm climate wines, Australia has additionally proven that its cooler climates can make styles to compete with the best. In chilly Tasmania, its sparkling wines are going from strength to strength, with this Late Disgorged Methode Traditionelle from 2017’s IWSC Australia Wine Producer of the Year, a stunning example. Golden in colour, its rich but refined palate reveals notes of toasted nut, honey and ginger cake, with these opulent aged flavours from its 12 years on lees perfectly counterpoised by its fresh lemony line of acid.
Where to buy: WineSquare, £78.03
Australia’s flagship red has not been standing still, with less of the one-glass-only heavily oaked porty styles and more freshness and downright drinkability to be found. Bird in Hand’s “Nest Egg”, that’s only made in outstanding vintages, gets the balance right. There’s a real ripeness and concentration to its black plum and cherry fruit that’s laced with notes of peppery spice, tapenade and leather and underpinned by supple satiny tannins. But there’s also a beguiling brightness and cool climate freshness about it along with a subtle charry edge from well managed oak.
Hunter Semillon is a uniquely Australian style and a world classic, with its thrill demonstrated by this trophy winner from McGuigan. Propelled by its powerful thrust of salty citrus, over a decade in bottle has seen these lemon, lime and mineral notes joined by rich toasty savoury flavours, hints of wax and add fleshiness to its white fruit. Having entered into its first stages of maturity, it’s drinking wonderfully now but still has some years to go if you have the self control to leave this delicious wine in your cellar. Buy ahead and a great Hunter Semillon like this will reward you with both its great value and glorious evolution.
Alternative varieties are on the rise, adding diversity and intrigue to Australia’s mix as they show their different sides in its soils. Patritti have been making a warm climate example of the Georgian variety Saperavi for some years now, and the 2015 is delicious. Displaying an incredibly deep colour – as is expected from one of the rare red-pulped black varieties – it’s a dense and full bodied wine with ripe blackcurrant fruit, notes of earth, and some cedary oak that’s supported by balanced structuring tannins and acidity.
The IWSC 2019 is now OPEN - enter now to be in with a chance to win a medal this year. For more information or expert help, email firstname.lastname@example.org.