February 2014 Advance Buying Guide
by Joe Czerwinski
Flash back to 30 years ago and imagine yourself browsing through your local retailers’ wine racks. Think there is a section labeled Australia?
Just five years later, in about 1989, when I spent some time working in a Manhattan wine shop, Australian wines were muscling their way onto the shelves. Back then, the $7 Chardonnays and $9 Shirazes offered terrific value, easily outdistancing California’s ‘fighting varietals.’
There wasn’t much interest in the wines at higher price points. Penfolds’ 1986 Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon was terrific, but few of the store’s customers were willing to spend $25 to try it.
Inevitably, word got out about the great quality of Australia’s best wines. More and more of them found their way to America, and by the early 2000s, dropping names like Noon, Glaetzer and Riggs was a sure sign that you were in the know.
Yet a few years later, as quickly as you could say, ‘Global Financial Crisis,’ interest in these wines crashed. Many of them disappeared from the American market following 2008. Others lingered on store shelves, overpriced memories of a passing fling.
Today, American interest in Australia’s middle-class and high-end wines is coming back. Even though exchange rate changes mean the wines are no longer the screaming bargains they once were, they can still represent good value. The best combine Australia’s beneficent climate, old, ungrafted vines and winemaking skill into modern masterpieces.
This issue’s Buying Guide includes a good number of wines that fit that description, as well as a number of Best Buys for $15 or less. At the macro level, focus on South Australian red wines from the 2010 and 2012 vintages, which look to be the best years for the region in some time.
Although Australia takes center stage this month, we also take a look at other New World regions, including wines from Argentina, California and Oregon. From Europe, we review the latest crop of affordable Bordeaux and Bordeaux Blanc, as well as new releases from Spain, Italy and Germany. And, as always, be sure to check out our online database at buyingguide.winemag.com for thousands more ratings and reviews from around the world. Cheers! – Joe Czerwinski
95pts CELLAR SELECTION – Kilikanoon 2009 R Reserve Shiraz (Barossa Valley)
The fruit for this offering comes from the Green’s and Crowhurst vineyards. This wine brings a a sense of cellarworthiness, from the inky color and dense, impenetrable bouquet to the richly tannic palate and long, plushly textured finish. Right now, it delivers hints of toast and mint, blueberry and plum fruit and savory notes of roasted meat and mocha. – J.C.
95pts CELLAR SELECTION – John Duval Wines 2010 Eligo Shiraz (Barossa)
This is likely the most ageworthy Shiraz winemaker John Duval has crafted since leaving Penfolds. The oak is subtle, the fruit still tight. It’s full bodied but bursting with potential, shown in hints of black cherries and plums, mocha and mint. The finish is long, mouthwatering and softly dusty in texture, making it luscious yet firm. – J.C.
94pts – John Duval Wines 2009 Eligo Shiraz (Barossa)
Eligo is winemaker John Duval’s luxury Shiraz, drawn from selected Barossa parcels. The 2009 is a dark, tarry Shiraz, heavy on the savory elements of black olives and dark chocolate and buttressed by ample cassis-tinged fruit. It’s full bodied and firm, with a long, finely textured finish. – J.C.
94pts – Leeuwin Estate 2010 Art Series Chardonnay (Margaret River)
Having earned its reputation as one of Australia’s finest Chardonnays, the challenge is then to maintain that level of quality. The 2010 Art Series certainly does that. Enticing aromas of woodsmoke, peach and pink grapefruit give way to intense flavors of citrus and stone fruit on the palate. It’s full bodied, yet with great focus and length, ending crisply despite the wine’s inherent richness. – J.C.
92pts – Kilikanoon 2009 Green’s Vineyard Shiraz (Barossa Valley)
This wine displays ample concentration in its inky color and potent aromas of dark berry fruit. There’s a hint of raisining as well. In the mouth, it’s mouthfilling but lacks a bit of texture; the flavors include dark plums, vanilla and hints of dried fruits, like figs and dates. With a finish that calls to mind chocolate fudge (minus the sugar), opt for drinking this wine over the relatively near term, now to 2020. – J.C.
91pts EDITORS’ CHOICE – Kilikanoon 2010 Kavel’s Flock Shiraz (Barossa Valley)
A new bottling from Kilikanoon, this may prove hard to find in the U.S., but perhaps greater quantities may be forthcoming in the future. It’s a full-bodied version of Barossa Shiraz that shows more brawn than plushness, but that’s backed by assertive blackberry, roasted meat, espresso and black olive flavors. – J.C.
91pts EDITORS’ CHOICE – d’Arenberg 2010 d’Arry’s Original Shiraz-Grenache (McLaren Vale)
A terrific value, this 50-50 blend displays gentle oaking and a hint of warm asphalt, just enough to highlight the wine’s plum and black cherry fruit. It’s full bodied and features a long finish, outlined by wonderfully fine, dusty tannins. – J.C.
90pts CELLAR SELECTION – Brokenwood 2007 ILR Reserve Semillon (Hunter Valley)
The ILR Reserve continues to be one of the top Hunter Semillons available in the U.S. The 2007 remains youthful, showing a pretty array of citrus aromas and flavors, medium body and a crisp texture. In another few years, this medium-bodied wine should start to develop nuances of honey and toast. – J.C.
90pts – Kilikanoon 2010 Killerman’s Run Shiraz-Grenache (South Australia)
This blend is a solid introduction to the Kilikanoon range. Subtle toast and vanilla shadings accent dark chocolate and plum notes, and the wine is full bodied and sturdy without being tough. finally ending in a soft flurry of dusty tannins. – J.C.
90pts CELLAR SELECTION – d’Arenberg 2010 The Beautiful View Grenache (McLaren Vale)
At under 14% abv, this Grenache is the antithesis of many of its peers. It’s red-fruited and only medium in body, with some dusty tannins evident on the finish. Worth holding for a few years to see if the fruit opens up a bit and better absorbs the presently toasty veneer of oak. Old Bridge Cellars. Cellar Selection. – J.C.
89pts – d’Arenberg 2010 The Blewitt Springs Grenache (McLaren Vale)
This medium-bodied wine isn’t particularly ripe or fleshy for Grenache, but does show plenty of earthy fruit, hints of tobacco and mocha and some beet-like notes. The silky, slightly dusty tannins on the finish are especially attractive. – J.C.
88pts EDITORS’ CHOICE – Stickybeak 2012 Unfiltered Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast)
This is a good price for a coastal Pinot Noir that’s so rich and balanced. It’s silky in the mouth, with luscious strawberry, cranberry and cola flavors, and deepened with notes of toasty oak. – S.H.