Matthew Jukes 100 Best Australian Wines 2019/20
Matthew Jukes has unveiled his 16th edition of the 100 Best Australian Wines, featuring eight wines from the Hallgarten portfolio in the Top 100 and a further 14 notable supporting wines! The annual report is an extensive guide to the best wines in Australia available to the UK market.
Larry’s Laissez Faire range hits the target with two wines this year and my headliner is the balletic Riesling, lean and willowy, but with a core of citrus steel. Post-natural is how Larry describes his wines. He just lets them get on with it, without interfering in the vineyard or winery. Healthy, sustainable and with very low sulphur additions at bottling this is a naked Riesling and it looks ravishing. This style of bone dry, rapier-sharp Riesling is so attractive and consumers are slowly coming to terms with the astonishing purity of fruit that these wines have in spades. 2018 LFR is a great wine from a superb vintage and 2017 Laissez Faire Syrah Great Southern shows that Larry can do this with red grapes, too. Having said this, it would appear that this wine is made from bitter black cherries as opposed to Syrah because the fruit is so focussed and bright. A brief period of only six months in old French oak give this wine gloss but apart from that this is a hilariously delicious wine with a beautiful, singular flavour which is already singing in the glass. 2017 Cherubino Margaret River is a luxurious creation which does a very clever impression of a wine twice the price. Made from hand-picked, whole-bunch-pressed fruit, which sees 60% new French oak and little malolactic fermentation, this is a tense, regal Chardonnay with lemon balm notes over a brioche and greengage core. It will not be a long-lived wine but do not worry, because you will drink through your purchases in two or three years anyway and this is when this lusty wine will be at its peak. 2017 Cherubino Ad Hoc Middle of Everywhere Shiraz Frankland River / Great Southern is a wine which I have never really understood in previous vintages, but in 2017 it is utterly delicious. With little oak intervention it is the brightness of fruit which I find so enthralling. Bloody, floral, mineral notes joust with black cherry, plum and blackberry flavours and at all times there is levity and bounce in the delivery and it maintains this crucial momentum on the palate until the very last drop has been exhausted from the bottle. Action-packed and also supremely tasty, this is the epitome of Mr Cherubino’s winemaking style and while the label might suggest that his talent night be ad hoc, nothing could be further from the truth.
This is one of the most heavenly and transcendent flavours in this entire Report and it is split in twain right down the middle of the experience. At first, the nose is impossibly beautiful with tender innocence and delicate freshness. The texture is fine, linear, silky and cooling, with lime and green melon touches. But, when you are least expecting it, and this moment cannot be anticipated because it happens at a different juncture every time you go back to the glass, clos Clare jack-knifes into a raspy, nails-down-a-blackboard finish with throat-slitting acidity and a heart-stopping, arctic burst of freshness which shocks and surprises with equal measure. This is an incredible, if ever so slightly unnerving experience and, of course, I would love you to jump out of your seat, too!
I was intrigued when I received this sample in the post and while I knew that the two other Rieslings in this note were already dead certs for inclusion and that the Assyrtiko was a heroic creation it was 2018 McKay’s which grabbed the spotlight because it is a brave and highly successful departure from the Clare Valley Riesling norm. The Barrys identify particular parcels of fruit which look like they can gather even more complexity if they are left on the vine for a few more days than they might normally be allowed to. This riper style of fruit brings more weight and intensity and if this was not enough, a small portion undergoes a cool fermentation in French oak to gather even more complexity. Looking more Alsatian in silhouette than Clare, this could easily be a natty trick or marketing wheeze which falls short of its intended target, but instead it is a triumph. Alsatian-shaped and Clare-flavoured and this is exactly what I was hoping for. It is priced fairly and I hope that you taste it because this brings an entirely new shape and size of Riesling to the Valley. We all love 2018 The Lodge Hill Riesling and it is sensational in 2018. A favourite on the High Street and a 100 Best regular, this is not only one of the most accurate and inspirational Rieslings in Australia is it one of the finest of its breed in the world. 2018 Assyrtiko is a wine I have been extremely lucky to follow since before it was first released when Peter Barry whispered in my ear that he was going to change our thoughts on this grape forever. He was right, his wine is astoundingly good, but he didn’t reckon on one of his six sites going up in flames earlier this year when a bush fire hit Clare. Production will inevitably suffer making this 2018 release very valuable indeed, but I am assured that they should be back to full strength within five years. It’s always strange how setbacks often happen when you are riding a wave and I can assure you that this 2018 vintage is the best to date but, as always, there will be finer wines to look forward to in the future, I have no doubt. Finally, 2016 The Florita Riesling is one of my favourite white wines in the world. I am lucky to be invited to great German Riesling tastings and my wife, Amelia, and I drink more than our fair share at home, but The Florita has a permanent residence in our cellar and this 2016 is epic. Masterful, firm and commanding on the palate, this is not a floral, floaty, fairy-dust Riesling but a super-hero wine with a marvel-lous density of fruit and extraordinary depth. Do not miss out.
Back with a bang, Berton’s Vermentino is an accomplished creation with pithy, raspy, melon-scrapings and a tangy, crunchy finish. There is nothing easy about this combative wine and that is exactly what you are after when you invite Vermentino to dinner. Attitude, edge and a skinsy finish make this the perfect antidote to neutral, chemistry-set, mass-produced muck and yet I am sure that it could become as famous as the next wine if people would give it a whirl! 2018 Metal Label The Black Shiraz is another crazy-good wine for a tenner and you can find it on every High Street in town. Perhaps this is because it wears its low slung belt-buckle label which punters adore but I couldn’t give a rat’s about that – I am a fan of the no holds barred flavour and muscularity which you never find on wines of this price because they are often polished into banal neutrality. The final wine in this intrepid trio is the beautiful, relaxed 2017 Botrytis Semillon Reserve which has none of the attitude of the other two wines. This is white tie ready with exquisite deportment and a flavour that would make classed growth Barsac blush. Hey ho – keep making these awesome value wines Bob, because we will keep drinking them.
This pair of Ocean Eight 2016s are nothing short of sublime. The 2016 vintage played into winemaker Mike Aylward’s hands and his discreet, restrained style of winemaking worked hand in glove with the weather. A warm vintage, cool sea breezes, early-ripening grapes and crisp acidity are all traits which Mike favours and his Chardonnay, with its rigid acid backbone is set about with bewitching, silky fruit – this is a landmark wine for Ocean Eight. 2016 Pinot Noir is a little bolder in the mid-palate than in years gone by, but the floral vanguard, calmness and equilibrium is ever-present. Forward-drinking, but with enough depth and bite to age gracefully, this is an evolution for Ocean Eight which marks a new chapter of confidence and skill at this cult winery.
Paringa is flying high right now and my headline wine balances amazing sour cherry and plum notes with incredible silkiness and length. It is just about drinking now and will soften further over the period of this Report and it has an advantage over the other Pinots in this 100 Best in that it is the oldest, too! There is something very indulgent and spoiling when you open a bottle of Paringa Pinot. You know it will be great and you know that your friends will be amazed, too. Every wine made at this property is a winner and this year I have picked out four contenders from four different grape varieties to underline the McCall family’s consummate skill. Next up is 2016 Estate Shiraz which will arrive in the autumn. This is a wine style which often confuses people, but as more and more wine lovers taste this otherworldly-shaped wine they all fall for its charms. With pepper spice, a decent amount off new oak (28% new French for 18 months), and a dark, inky colour one might consider that this all, so far, makes sense. But then add to it a fruit texture that is only ever associated with Pinot Noir and a flavour which tastes like an Hermitage made from Vosne-Romanée fruit and you can imagine the confusion. Let me tell you that this is an experience that you do not want to miss though, because this is a wine like no other and it has never failed to gain immense scores in my notes. 2017 Peninsula Chardonnay is the every-day drinking Chardonnay at Paringa and it is a stormer. Light, bright, energetic and spiked with mint leaves and lime juice this is a thoroughly classy wine with a grip and lift on the finish which excites the palate no end. 2018 Estate Pinot Gris is a rare PG in the 100 Best this year and it is world class, with grated ginger, lemon balm, green melon and white pepper notes in abundance. Forget lumpy, cardboardy old-style Euro-wines and give this chic wine a whirl. You will never look back.
I hear that there are still a few cases of the incredible 2015 Bernoota on the shelves so if you see them grab them because this is a wickedly delicious wine, but this year the big news is the launch of the 2016 vintage which I went nuts for last year in my own The Great Australian Red competition (the wines are all served blind!) and earlier this year it picked up the trophy for the best blended red at the Langhorne Creek Wine Show! This is a very smart wine which takes the best part of Shiraz and blends it with the best elements of Cabernet and Lake Breeze is one of the finest exponents of this craft in the world. The 2016 is a 60/40 split and is spends 20 months in French and American barriques before release. I am not sure I can think of a finer way to spend £20 on a big juicy red wine, but then I would say that, wouldn’t I, given I love this blend and this property so much.
Back in late 2015 I was honoured to attend a 30-year vertical tasting of The Armagh and so the 2014 vintage was the second youngest wine on show at this once in a lifetime tasting. Here is my tasting note. ‘With black olive and macerated blackberry fruit on the nose, this is an explosive, spicy, punchy wine with a lovely attack and impressive, dry tannins. Pure, accurate and poised this is not bottled yet but I am impressed. I look forward to tasting this wine in due course because it looks like another star.’ It is not only bottled, it is here and I can add that the fruit is extremely perfumed and the length on the palate is astounding. This was always going to be a lovely wine, but the intervening three years have allowed it to fully blossom into a work of art. 2016 The Lodge Hill Shiraz is, as I have been saying for many, many years, one of Australia’s finest vinous exports. This single vineyard, lush, densely packed Shiraz is not only made byone of the greatest wineries in Australia (and a past 100 Best Winery of the Year, too) but it is available on the High Street and this makes it a must buy for anyone remotely interested in drinking serious quality, every-day wine. 2016 The Barry Brothers Shiraz/ Cabernet is another great value wine and this time it is a Silver medal winner from my The Great Australian Red competition which I held last year in Adelaide. The Brothers are Sam and Tom, great-grandsons of Jim Barry himself and their idea behind this wine is to try to take the TGAR recipe of combining Shiraz and Cabernet to the masses, at a very high level of winemaking but at a much more affordable price. They have squarely achieved this aim!