Wines from Down Under

Wines from Down Under

By Tom Prior


A question I often encounter, is whether there is value to be had in Australian wines here in SA?

In a word yes. I often host international themed tastings for peer, private or corporate tasting groups. One of the most popular & engaging themes sees Cape wines pitted against their international counterparts.

Here are a few wines from Down Under which have stood out, and which demonstrate the diversity of styles to discovered across the vast southern wine regions.

Yalumba Samuel’s Collection Barossa Grenache 2018

Yalumba is the oldest family-owned winery in Australia, over 170 years of age and with sixth generations of stewardship under the Hill-Smith family. They are synonymous with the Barossa region, and – like the Cape – grenache is increasingly staking a claim as a varietal to develop.

In recent years Yalumba have pursued more finesse & freshness in their grenache bottlings, and the result is a winner in showcasing varietal purity and sense of place. The sites supplying the Samuel’s Collection tick the box for old vine, planted between 1898 and 1972 (averaging 1944) along the Barossa floor. It’s a fascinating wine, and – unusually for grenache - marries aromas of pinot noir like undergrowth to bright red macerated fruit. 

“Cherry red in colour, this is a lighter-styled Grenache, but it’s not lacking in flavour. It has sweetly aromatic red cherry fruit with some fine peppery spiciness and notes of dried herbs and black tea, with a touch of bergamot. So fruity and expressive, with a fine, grainy structure. The most important feature here is the texture: at the same time silky and enticing, but also with some spicy underpinning. It’s such a lovely wine, showing elegance and poise. Just a tiny hint of mint on the fresh, tapering finish.” 94 pts, Jamie Goode, Wine Anorak

Vasse Felix Filius Chardonnay 2016 

The founding winery of Margaret River, itself a Cape and at the same latitude as Cape Town. Vasse Felix were the first to plant Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in the region, and these varietals are very much the focus today. Margaret River contributes 4% of Australia’s wine production, and – proudly – around 20% of the fine/premium wine category. 

I do enjoy the style of this wine and it surprises many under the preconception Australian chardonnays are overdone. A mature expression, although the colour is youthful and translucent lemon yellow. 

The alcohol is a moderate 12.5% and the acidity is bracing. Laces of yellow citrus, dried herbs, and a seasoning of integrated oak derived spice which carry onto the palate. No nuttiness of time here, and real freshness on the end. The wine was vinified in 100% French oak, 19% of which is new. This is a fine mature Australian chardonnay from a winery of real provenance. 

“A very fresh and clean white with sliced apple, lemon and peach. Medium to full body, bright acidity. Cream and hints of vanilla. Vivid finish.” (#78 of 100 Best Wines Under $30 - 2018)" 91 pts, James Sucking (January 2019)

Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 /13

Another wine from Vasse Felix, well stored and coming into outstanding value relative. It’s worth noting that the current 2018 release of this wine is 49 Australian dollars or R525 at the Vasse Felix cellar door. The 2012 and 2013 bottlings are available and well worth seeking out today.

These are exotic and impeccably well made. 

2012 vintage: 2019 – 2026. 

“Textbook Cabernet Sauvignon aromas of blackcurrant, cherry pit, cured tobacco and succulent herbs, with suave vanillin oak and floral nuances adding complexity. Sappy and penetrating on the palate, offering bitter cherry and dark berry flavors sharpened by a spicy nuance and smoky minerality. At once powerful and lithe, finishing with solid thrust, smooth tannins and strong, dark berry-dominated persistence.” 91 Points (Mar 2016)

2013 vintage: 2021 – 2027

Opaque ruby. Fresh cherry and dark berry aromas are complemented by suggestions of licorice, pipe tobacco and vanilla. Sweet and broad on the palate, offering sappy, concentrated black currant and cherry-vanilla flavors that pick up a smoky nuance with aeration. Closes spicy, smoky and very long, featuring a lingering licorice note and dusty tannins that come in late.” 92 Points (Mar 2017)


Jamsheed Garden Gully Syrah 2013 

Established in 2003 by Gary Mills, Jamsheed is Melbourne’s first urban winery, with wide acclaim for their single vineyard syrah bottlings across the wine regions of Victoria. They employ low intervention in their winemaking, and the wines have a real transparency and energy to them. Unusually for Australia, they bottle under cork, and choose the varietal name ‘syrah’ on their wines in place of ‘shiraz’. All clues that Jamsheed wish to separate themselves from the Aussie norm.

“This is the new face of Australian wine: wines that are made from interesting vineyards, with a sensitive hand, yielding elegance, complexity, finesse and a sense of place.” 

Jamie Goode, Wine Anorak

The Garden Gully syrah is sourced from an ancient bush vine site planted in 1892. It has been worked and rehabilitated by Gary since 2006, giving low yields of tiny, concentrated fruit. It all makes for an intense and generous drinking expression, yet there is a freshness and the sense your drinking something truly authentic.

“Olive and black cherry flavours with very fine tannic bite. Soft, meaty and mineral. Extraordinary clarity.” Drink 2018 – 2028, 18/20, JancisRobinson

“Vivid purple. A complex bouquet evokes cassis, licorice pastille, violet, iron and dark chocolate, with a zesty overlay of peppery spices. Densely packed, supple and sweet, displaying excellent depth but also a distinctly lively character to its flavors of cassis, blackberry, spicecake and smoky oak. Finishes with building, sweet tannins and excellent length and vivacity.” 92 pts, Vinous

“The 2013 Great Western Garden Gully Syrah boasts a very deep purple-black color and exudes crème de cassis, blackberry tart on licorice scents with touches of violets, eucalyptus, Chinese five spice and dark chocolate. Full-bodied, concentrated and voluptuous, the generous fruit has a solid backbone of firm grainy tannins and just enough freshness to lift the long, spicy finish.” 93+ pts, Wine Advocate

Murdoch Hill Pinot Meunier 2018 

If ever there was an Australian wine region synonymous with the young-gun, innovation and low intervention wine scene, it would be the cool-climate of Adelaide Hills. It’s a long, diverse and narrow band of vineyards at elevation, with vineyards reaching as high as 650 metres above sea level.

Murdoch Hill is owned by the Downer family, with youngest member Michael in charge of viticulture and winemaking since 2012. The acclaim has flooded in, with the adventurous, small-batch Artisan Series at centre stage. Quite simply, they produce one of the world’s great cool-climate and difficult to source chardonnays in ‘The Rocket’. The 2020 release has long sold-out from the winery, and the waiting list on the 2021 release in May 2022 is ever growing. Here in the Cape, we have a handful of the 2018 remaining. 

These are all terrific. I have picked out the Pinot Meunier, a charmer of a red wine geared up for the arrival of summer. Laced with sappy red fruit, a little peach and florals, it’s a beguiling, pure and individualistic wine that is drinking well today and bound to raise discussion points. 

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