Steels Creek Estate 2013 Cabernet Franc

Steels Creek CFCabernet Franc is not a style that we often see vinified as a single varietal, but when it’s done well, it can be at least the equal of its better known cousin, Cabernet Sauvignon.  Most frequently, Cabernet Franc is used in the classic Bordeaux blends to provide charm, aromatics and fragrance to what is my all-time favourite red blend.

In Victoria’s Yarra Valley there aren’t a lot of winemakers braving a single varietal of the style, but on a recent field trip we happened upon the Steels Creek Estate 2013 Cabernet Franc.

It’s a remarkably vivacious style in its youth and shows a lively deep cherry colour in the glass with a lighter rufescent edge on the rim.  Whilst it’s only medium in body, there is a vibrance to the blackcurrant and cranberry fruits that emerge from the savoury shadows of your first whiff in the glass. The luscious red fruits evolve and embrace the palate in a generous bear hug before tobacco and cassis undercurrents appear at the back end.  The balance is terrific as oak characters embolden on the finish and allow the seductive Cabernet Franc to fragrantly weave its intoxicating aura, leaving your taste buds yearning for that next sip.

It’s a wine made only in small quantities (one barrique) so economies of scale aren’t able to constrain the cost, but even at $40 a bottle, I reckon it’s a “must” for the discerning cellar.

Our wine reviewer, Travis Schultz, is a practice group leader of Schultz Toomey O’Brien Lawyers, part of the Slater and Gordon group, and lover of fine food and wine

De Bortoli Sacred Hill Chardonnay 2015

De Bortoli Sacred Hill ChardonnayThe value end of the retail wine spectrum is a busy if not duopolistic space, but if you can look past the “specials” promoted by the Coles and Woolworths operations, there are some Australian made wines punching well above their weight.  Like the De Bortoli Sacred Hill Chardonnay 2015.

It’s a product of the Riverina region near Griffith in New South Wales where the warm dry climate is well suited to growing high volumes of white wines like Semillon and Chardonnay.  Such is its suitability to viticulture that the Riverina is, in fact, now the second biggest wine producing area in Australia!

Unlike many of its competitors at the quaffing price point, the Sacred Hill does not give the impression of being a mass produced product best stored in cardboard!  It shows lively fruit throughout yet possesses great poise and balance.  The nose is somewhat unyielding but reveals its French oak exposure from the outset with perhaps just a slight hint of nectarine.  Once on the palate, voluptuous pear, stone fruit and honeydew melon characters embrace gentle acids and drive their way to a long crisp finale.

It’s a remarkable wine given its $5 price tag and well suited as a quaffer or when catering for the crowds.


Our wine reviewer, Travis Schultz, is a practice group leader of Schultz Toomey O’Brien Lawyers, part of the Slater and Gordon group, and lover of fine food and wine

Bird in Hand Nest Egg Chardonnay 2012

Bird in Hand Nest Egg Chardonnay 2012I have tried some seriously good Chardonnay in my time and expensive ones at that; but few, if any, have been better than the Bird in Hand Nest Egg 2012.  And it seems that it’s not just my own palate that has been thoroughly impressed by the Nest Egg.  James Halliday gave it an outstanding 95 points in his 2014 Wine Companion and it even won Best Wine of Show at the International Cool Climate Wine Show in 2014.

As the $75 price tag suggests, it’s an indulgent style but one which hints at nectarine and toasted cashews on the nose and a zippy citric creaminess through the middle.  The obvious influence of malolactic fermentation may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but that process and some exposure to quality French oak, has added a creamy complexity that oozes sophistication and adds palate weight through to a lingering finale.  I love the way that a gentle acidity and a toasty oakiness caress and cajole your tastebuds yet deliver an overwhelming elegance to a world class wine.  It’s not cheap, but it’s bound to become an Australian icon.


Our wine reviewer, Travis Schultz, is a practice group leader of Schultz Toomey O’Brien Lawyers, part of the Slater and Gordon group, and lover of fine food and wine

Cumulus Climbing 2015 Pinot Gris

Cumulus Climbing 2The cool climate, dry autumns and elevated vineyards in Orange, New South Wales, make it an ideal environment for growing Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, but it may be the Alsatian inspired Pinot Gris grape that puts it front and centre of the viticultural map.  In the United States, Pinot Gris is now the second biggest selling style of dry white wine (after Chardonnay) and it’s slowly gaining momentum here Down Under. Its growing popularity is probably a reflection of the compromise it offers between aromatic and austere, and the inoffensive nature of its gentle acid backbone.

The Cumulus Climbing 2015 Pinot Gris is a genuine ambassador for the Orange locals as it delivers all the best of the Pinot Gris’s attributes, but at a sub $20 price tag.  And it’s all about texture, mouth feel and palate weight.

Sure, there are some delightful pear, Fuji apple and Quince flavours that remain lively right across the palate, but it’s the way the wine emboldens and expands as it builds to its defined but well constrained conclusion, that makes it such an attractive drink-now proposition. Some French Oak exposure and a bit of stirring on lees have given it a riper, fuller and more textural presence and leave a sense of opulence as you impulsively reach for the glass to take just another sip. It’s approachable on its own, but also well suited to pairing with spicy Asian dishes.

Chard Farm River Run Pinot Noir 2013

Chard Farm Pinot NoirWhilst wines stored in your cellar need constant, if not coolish temperatures, it’s an entirely different rule for winemakers applying their viticultural skills to the developing fruit in the vineyard.  Around the world, growing regions with the greatest variation in daily and seasonal temperatures tend to produce the best fruit for winemaking purposes and there’s no better example than Central Otago on New Zealand’s South Island.

In Otago, the semi-continental climate experiences seasonal extremes with hot dry summers and cold, snow packed winters. And the impact on fruit quality is obvious, especially in Pinot Noir from the region.

Chard Farm is one of the well-established wineries in Central Otago, having some 25 years or so of production under its belt and it’s now turning out some world class Pinot.  Their River Run Pinot Noir 2013 is selling at a $35 price point and exhibits all of the characteristics that have put the region on the viticultural map.

In the glass, the vibrant ruby redness telegraphs a fresh liveliness that will have your tastebuds salivating well before the first sip.  Take a whiff and the red cherried fruit aromas are a prologue for the arrival of spicy violet and sage notes across the mid palate, while fine tannins, minerality and a gentle acidity provide elegance to a lingering strawberry epilogue.

It’s a world class wine, but without the Burgundian price tag.

Pepper Tree Estate Grown Wrattonbully Merlot 2013

Pepper Tree Estate Grown Wrattonbully MerlotThe Wrattonbully wine region is sandwiched between Coonawarra and Padthaway in South Eastern South Australia and, just like its neighbouring districts, enjoys regionally distinctive terroir and abundant underground water.  The Terra Rossa soils and limestone ridges have proven to be an ideal environment for growing Cabernet and Shiraz, but also Merlot wines of unusual power and persistence.

The Pepper Tree 2013 Merlot is made from 100% Merlot fruit and is sourced from the Wrattonbully vineyards on the southern end of the Limestone Coast.  And it’s definitely not your typically soft and mellow style!  The nose is slightly dusty and reeks of plump ripe raspberries, but once on the palate a spicy cascade of mulberries and blackcurrants become a mouth-filling tidal wave of voluptuous richness. It’s perhaps a few steps beyond ‘medium bodied’, but the plush fruit, hints of cassis and plums allow it to carry through a lengthy conclusion.

There’s a lashing of savoury oak to add balance at the back but it’s powerless to constrain the overwhelming peppery spiciness that is the hallmark of the region.

The power and presence of the Pepper Tree Merlot is atypical of the style and will appeal to lovers of full bodied reds, especially at its $19 price point.

Two in the Bush Shiraz 2014

Two in the Bush ShirazThe Adelaide Hills has a diverse range of soils and climate and is renowned for producing crisp, clean Riesling, aromatic Sauvignon Blanc and austere Chardonnay.  And while the whites from the region are superb, it was a sneaky quaffing Shiraz from the Mt Lofty Ranges that recently captured the attention (and affection) of my tastebuds.

The 2014 Two in the Bush Shiraz is made by Winestate’s Winemaker of the Year, Kym Milne using fruit from Bird in Hand’s Mt Lofty Ranges vineyards.  The spicy crème brûlée aromas on the nose quickly make way for waves of chocolate, nutmeg and ripe plums on the palate.  The finish is dignified by delicate tannins and the influence of French oak, although it does, perhaps, fall away ever so slightly before the cool climate complexity has fully tantalized and titillated your tastebuds.

At only around $20 a bottle, it’s exceptional value and will figure prominently at some of our casual Christmas holiday barbeques.  The Bird in Hand winery are one of Australia’s most celebrated vineyards winning awards such as Australian Winery of the Year, World’s Greatest Shiraz and any number of individual blue gold and gold medals.  So against that background, it’s probably not surprising that even their low end Shiraz from a recent vintage is so impressive in its youth.

Bird in Hand Sparkling Pinot Noir 2015

Bird-in-Hand-SparklingAs the festive season approaches, our thoughts turn to Christmas parties, entertaining and family reunions, and if mine is anything to go by, our palates tend to recalibrate themselves away from the heavy reds of winter in favour of cold, refreshing, crisp whites and at times, a salutary (and at times, celebratory) glass of bubbles. And if a sparkling white whets your whistle, you’ll find it hard to go past the Bird in Hand Sparkling Pinot Noir 2015 which is on the shelves of most major outlets and selling at around $25 to $30 a bottle. I’m told that it’s, in fact, Bird in Hand’s biggest selling wine and having tried the 2015 vintage, I can well understand why.

A short period of skin contact has made it a light, if not salmonesque, colour that seemingly blushes in the glass; perhaps it’s embarrassed that such a high quality drop should be priced so cheaply!

On the nose, the strawberry and cream aromas become more prominent before the tightly bound Pink Lady apple and cherry notes ingratiate themselves to the front palate and then give way to flavours of kiwifruit, blood orange and honeydew all wrapped up in a slightly citric finale.

It’s not the dry, yeasty style that can make some champagne’s less approachable, but it still retains enough natural acidity to enable it to finish cleanly and with Granny Smith crispness. Graced by a persistent fine bead, the fruit flavours keep coming at you from the first sip to the finish and make it an enjoyable apéritif, or even as a partner for any entrée that has a slightly sweet edge or conclusion.

Well balanced, well priced and very welcome at my Christmas table!

St Hugo Shiraz 2012

St Hugo ShirazI’ve always associated the St Hugo name with the Coonawarra and its spicy Cabernet, so when I recently opened a bottle of “St Hugo” expecting the familiar peppery nose, I was understandably surprised to be confronted by a bouquet of dark chocolate and ripe plums! This was no ordinary Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon I thought to myself…..and I was right. Because the “St Hugo” was in fact a 2012 Shiraz from the Barossa, sold under the same St Hugo label.

The 2012 St Hugo was still under cork and sold under the “St Hugo” and Gramp & Sons badge.  Gone is the Jacob’s Creek label along with the screw cap, and any hint of Cabernet for that matter!

Ironically, despite the change in genus, the 2012 St Hugo is typical of a high end Rowland Flat or Moorooroo Shiraz…just like those at Jacob’s Creek (whose branding has now left the label)!

It’s a powerful Shiraz with rich Christmas cake and dark red fruits surrounded by an aura of opulence. On the mid-palate, there are hints of a raisinesque jubiness that is somewhat subdued by cedary clove and moderate tannins. It’s still a mouth filling and generous style that has a sweetness on the edges, but enough structure to keep it respectable.

It will be interesting to see what the transition to the Gramp & Sons brand does to its price – but at sub $40 a bottle, it’s a pretty good buy!

TarraWarra Estate 2012 Merlot

TarraWarra Estate Merlot2Often described as soft, mellow or subdued, Merlot is a style of red wine that is naturally low in tannin yet still graced by youthful red fruit characters that make it velvety smooth and easy to drink; even if you’re not a red wine lover.  In the Bordeaux region in France, Merlot is the most widely grown grape; hence its prominence in those delightful blends like the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines that combine all the best features of Merlot, Grenache and Shiraz.

In many ways it’s a shame that Merlot is under-represented in this country.  By area under vine in Australia, we have over four times as much Shiraz and two and a half times more Cabernet than Merlot.

The winemakers at TarraWarra in Victoria’s Yarra Valley have long recognised the great qualities of the Merlot grape and have crafted an outstanding TarraWarra Estate Merlot in 2012.  The cool, damp soils in the TarraWarra K Block have produced a perfect vintage in 2012 as the lush, ripe fruit has enabled a fuller bodied wine to be produced without any of the tannic astringency that we sometimes see in other styles.

Plums, blackberries, raspberries, leafy herbs and cloves: from the nose to the tonsils, it’s a seamless integration of fruit to a light but lively conclusion.

There’s a lashing of cedary oak at the back end to balance out the voluptuous qualities of the fruit but sadly, the vintage may prove a little hard to find as its value (at $35 a bottle) has made it popular with critics and collectors alike.