Huon Hooke’s top wines of 2014

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There is more good wine today than ever before. We wine lovers are spoilt rotten. It’s a first-world problem, but every year it’s more difficult to single out a few wines as the best of the crop. It would be simple to draw up a list of super-expensive bottles, unaffordable to most readers. Penfolds 2010 Bin 170 Shiraz (98 points from me – tastings) at $1,800 a pop? Salon Blanc de Blancs 2002 ($850 – tastings)? Dom Perignon 2004 ($200 – tastings)? Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2005 ($350 – tastings)? All great wines, but out of reach for most of us.

The wines that most excited me this year were not those with stratospheric prices – we expect them to be great – but those offering great value for money. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re all cheap.

TOP 20 WINES

Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon, Hunter Valley 2009 $80

I have never rated a Hunter semillon as highly as this. I simply cannot recall being more impressed by a new release as this five-year-old from Tyrrell’s, the masters of the style. It is a great wine of phenomenal length and character. The light-yellow colour and bouquet are strikingly youthful for its age, the latter showing little sign of toasty development, instead, subtle notes of lemon, herbs, beeswax and candle-wax. It’s amazingly full of fruit and richness on the palate, filling up the entire mouth with flavour that lasts and lasts. All this is delivered with impeccable harmony. A gob-smacking wine. ^10+. 99 – view on huonhooke.com

Pepper Tree Coquun Shiraz, Hunter Valley 2013 $60

Pepper Tree has released two great 2013 reds from the historic Tallawanta vineyard in Pokolbin. The other is the Tallawanta Shiraz 2013 ($90), which is a massive wine that will live for 40 or 50 years. I marginally prefer the Coquun for its greater elegance. Like the Tallawanta it has great drive and penetration, with smoky coal-dust regional characters, raspberry, cherry, violet and spices; a beautiful and concentrated wine which I can already enjoy, although it will also live long. ^35+. 97 – view on huonhooke.com

Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard The Peake Cabernet Shiraz, McLaren Vale 2012 $150

Jackson Family Estates of the US bought this established vineyard about three years ago and each year since 2012, California based winemaker Chris Carpenter has flown out to work the vintage with local winemaker Charlie Seppelt, crafting these outstanding new wines. The first release consists of four reds, all magnificent. There’s a shiraz (tastings), a cabernet sauvignon (tastings) and a merlot (tastings) (all 2012 and $75), but the flagship cabernet shiraz is my pick. It has a density, depth and degree of extract rarely seen. A wine of great power, persistence and cellarworthiness. A new star is born – or should that be re-born? ^25+. 96 – view on huonhooke.com

Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz, Eden Valley 2012 $139

The 60th release from this famous vineyard is shaping as the most acclaimed Edelstone new release in years, a polished, elegant shiraz of perfect ripeness, fruit-driven and wonderfully harmonious in the mouth. The aromas are of spices, raspberry and violet with a charcoal note. Sweet berries abound on the palate, mingling with powdery fine-grained tannins and lasting a very long time. ^2-30+. 97 – view on huonhooke.com

Keller Von der Fels Riesling, Rheinhessen 2013 $54

Keller is a star winemaker in Germany’s Rheinhessen, pushing out great riesling at many levels between about $40 and $300. This is one of his cheaper wines, but what a cracking riesling it is. It offers a richness, concentration and textural charm that we simply don’t see in the southern hemisphere. Zesty and vibrant, with a winning combination of power and finesse. What a pity it has a cork. ^10+. 96 – view on huonhooke.com

Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay, Tasmania, Henty & Adelaide Hills 2012 $150

I could have included at least five Penfolds reds from the latest release in this Best of 2014 selection (2010 Bin 170 Kalimna Shiraz – tastings, 2012 RWT Barossa Shiraz – tastings, 2012 Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon – tastings, 2012 Magill Estate – tastings, 2010 Grange – tastings and 50 Year Old Rare Tawny – tastings) but the honours fall to this, possibly the best Yattarna yet made. It’s certainly on a par with the great 2006 (tastings), and is at least as good as the superb ’09 (tastings) and ’10 (tastings). The mesmerizing thing about Yattarna is its purity of flavour. It is insanely youthful, tight and refined, yet also concentrated and astonishingly long in the mouth. Flavours include nougat, almond, spices and citrus fruits. It’s a phenomenal chardonnay. ^12. 97 – view on huonhooke.com

Wines by KT Melva Riesling, Clare Valley 2014 $30

Kerri Thompson produces a suite of marvelous rieslings from the Clare Valley, grown and made with minimal intervention. The rieslings are wild fermented, which is far less common for riesling in Australia than, say, chardonnay. Her wines have depth and character, this one is not a single vineyard wine but is especially appealing because of its texture and precision. The aromas are bright lemon/lime with a tinge of dried herbs, the palate has tremendous line and length, delivered with terrific balance. ^12. 96 – view on huonhooke.com

Lawson’s Dry Hills Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough 2013 $22

No, this is not a token Kiwi! It is simply the most amazing bargain from Marlborough I’ve seen all year, and just happens to also be one of the best ‘straight’ New Zealand sauvignon blancs I’ve tasted this year. Retailer getwinesdirect.com has been selling it for $12, which defies reason (more stock is due late January). It has an intense and charming lemongrass aroma, not sweaty, vegetal or excessively passionfruity, and the flavour is focused, concentrated and intense, energized by superbly mouth-watering acidity, and the finish is clean and properly dry. It’s a far cry from your typical Marlborough savvy. ^6. 95 – view on huonhooke.com

By Farr Sangreal Pinot Noir, Geelong 2012 $75

I think this is the best Farr pinot made to date. With good depth of colour, it’s dark-cherry scented, the stemmy whole-bunch character an undercurrent rather than dominant. Fresh and alive with a fine texture and long carry, it has great power, purity and character. And loads of potential. ^20. 97 – view on huonhooke.com

Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay, Margaret River 2013 $68

Intense, complex grapefruit, lime and toasted-nut aromas of great charm and appeal. A superb wine of restrained but concentrated flavour, great finesse and persistence. ^10. 96 – view on huonhooke.com

Hardy’s Eileen Hardy Chardonnay, Tasmania & Yarra Valley 2013 $90

A multi-faceted style with traces of butter and smoky sulfides. Fresh acidity enlivens the crisp, bracing palate. Fine, tight, intense and delicate wine of great precision and length. ^9. 96 – view on huonhooke.com

Arras E.J. Carr Late Disgorged Chardonnay Pinot Noir Brut, Tasmania 2002 $140

Australia’s answer to Krug: a wine of monumental character thanks to its mellow, aged complexities derived from great fruit and 10 years on lees. 96 – view on huonhooke.com

Seppelt Drumborg Vineyard Chardonnay, Henty 2013 $43

A pale and reserved wine which exemplifies mod Oz chardonnay. Restrained bouquet of straw/hay like, grapefruit and honey. Very fine, reserved, long and distinguished. It has room to grow. ^9. 96 – view on huonhooke.com

De Bortoli Estate Grown Chardonnay, Yarra Valley 2013 $30

A compelling biscuit, nougat, nectarine and complex sulfide bouquet. Rich, intense but fine palate, and it’s only 12.7 per cent alcohol. Great value. ^7. 95 – view on huonhooke.com

Briar Ridge Stockhausen Semillon, Hunter Valley 2014 $28

Crisp, grassy aromas of lemongrass and fresh salad leaves. It’s bright and frisky on the palate, tangy and lifted. It would be hard to imagine a brighter, fresher young semillon. Great intensity. Great now but well worth cellaring. ^10. 95 – view on huonhooke.com

Yarra Yering Dry Red Wine No. 3, Yarra Valley 2012 $86

A brilliant blend of six Portuguese varieties. Spices, nuts and restrained black and blue fruit aromas of great charm and purity. Perfect ripeness and balance. ^2-18. 95 – view on huonhooke.com

By Farr Chardonnay, Geelong 2012 $68

The best chardonnay the Farr family has produced, and there have been some rippers. Lemony primary fruit plus nutty, mealy, creamy lees and oak inputs, all in perfect harmony. Deliciously mouth-watering. A great chardonnay which would beat almost anything you could pit against it. ^5. 97 – view on huonhooke.com

S.C. Pannell Syrah, Adelaide Hills 2013 $30

Tremendously intense spice and dark-fruit aromas with black cherry, blood plum and sweet spice-cupboard notes. There is licoricey fruit sweetness, surrounded by fine but firm tannins, leading to a firm and incredibly long finish. The deserving 2014 Jimmy Watson Trophy winner. ^25. 96 – view on huonhooke.com

Charles Orban Brut Blanc de Blancs, Champagne NV $46-$48

Complex and alluring bready, dried-flower and honey aromas, the palate full and fluffy-soft with mouthfilling richness and a clean dry finish. My pick of the discount Champagnes for Christmas. A Dan Murphy’s import. 94 – view on huonhooke.com

Tudor Shiraz, Central Victoria 2013 $13

This Aldi exclusive is a giant-killer, winning three trophies, two gold and two silver medals in recent wine shows. Fresh cherry and banana aromas, medium-weight, soft and fruit-driven. One of the bargains of the year. ^7. 89 – view on huonhooke.com


First published in Sydney Morning Herald, Good Food – 9 Dec 2014.

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