The premise with this collection is very very simple – I’ve been hitting the sample pile hard over the past week or two, and these 30 wines were not only the most quintessentially smashable Australian wines of the lot, but all weighed in for less than $30 a bottle.
Importantly, these are 30 wines that I would want to finish a glass of, and possible many more than that. It’s probably a reflection of my own preferences, but that’s kind of the point – this is what I’d drink.
As a result, there is a dominance of Riesling, rosé and a smattering of light reds in this list, which is what I’d drink when it’s really warm. We drink plenty of other fuller flavoured wines too (particularly Chardonnay), but this list is just biased towards freshness – wines that may tend towards vitality and purity rather than weight and complexity, but perhaps more enjoyable as a result.
Drinking – not dissecting – wines and all at very fair prices.
Castle Rock Estate Riesling 2018
Another outstanding release from Castle Rock. The secret here is no secret, it’s just purity of fruit. A pristine nose of lemongrass, green melon and a lime/grapefruit palate, the acid gives refreshment but not harshness, the shape just unquestionably fresh and lively and Riesling-ariffic (yes that’s a word). Model WA Riesling. Best drinking: I like these young, or wait for five years. Drink until September and then hold for five. 18.5/20, 94/100. 11.5%, $25. Would I buy it? Bottles of it.
Castle Rock Estate Skywalk Riesling 2018
Supposedly riper and softer than the standard Estate Riesling, but arguably even more drinkable as a result (if that’s possible). Tight grapefruit tang, then a crisp and pithy palate that feels unforced and still packed with grapefruit intensity. Impressive proportions for the price, and only just a little more rounded than the precise Estate Riesling. To think, this is a $20 wine? Outstanding. Best drinking: This year, for mine. 12%, $20. 18/20, 93/100. Would I buy it? Would I ever.
Harewood Estate Mount Barker Riesling 2018
Harewood’s run of great Riesling continues. These 18s are a little broader than the taut and terrific ’17s, but no less drinkable. This Mount Barker edition is a more grandiose wine compared to the linear and crystalline Porongurup but I’m still not sure which the winner is. A sense of classicness with a tangy, grapefruit driven palate. There’s maybe more lime and even nectarine, as if a little South Aussie fruit has snuck into the blend, but still so long and pure. Another nice WA Riesling. Best drinking: I would love to drink it now. 18/20, 93/100. 12.5%, $27. Would I buy it? Sure would.
Harewood Estate Porongurup Riesling 2018
By contrast, there is a whiff of black pepper in this Porongurup edition that sets it apart. In fact, it’s perhaps too tangy, but so pure. There’s an extra layer itching to get out here – a murmuring of dense fruit just waiting to jump out from behind that acidity. If anything, it needs a few more months in bottle. Gee there is quality to be had regardless, and I actually enjoy the tautness too. Best drinking: Open it now, but don’t be unhappy about waiting until late this year, early next, or come back in five. 18/20, 93/100+. 12.5%, $27. Would I buy it? A bottle for sure.
Rock of Wisdom Grenache 2017
Another day, another reminder that Grenache is back. Pete and Sofi seem like very nice people, making attractive wines at very fair prices. This Grenache from 40yo vines on the Barossa Valley floor, is just lovely. Luscious. Raspberry, red licorice, tree sap. It’s warm and ripe, with this beautiful red fruit enveloping ripeness. It’s not hot, just a pure mouthful of red fruit with spiced edges, and not without some fine tannins too. Pure Grenache fruit, and oh so drinkable. Best drinking: Good now and will for eight years on. 18/20, 93/100. 14.5%, $28. Would I buy it? A bargain. Yes.
Tim Smith Mataro Grenache Shiraz 2016
While Tim is probably better known for Shiraz, I often like his Mataro best and this blend just hits the spot perfectly. Bright purple red fruit, there’s a great meaty energy here – you can just taste the Barossan sunshine. Mataro gives that delicious, licoricey, slightly savoury reductive blackness too. Then Grenache comes in with its red fruit prettiness. Brooding, but still juicy too. Great work. Best drinking: Already in a good place, and will be for a decade, no probs. Mataro is its own natural preservative. 18/20, 93/100. 14.5%, $28. Would I buy it? Yes.
Bellvale Rosé 2018
John Ellis’ dry-grown Gippsland vineyard typically slips below the radar. But the Pinot, in particular, is next-level good, with the depth and concentration that only comes from small berries. Here, the Pinot fruit is turned into a delicious rosé. Cola, meaty Pinot fruit, then some creaminess too. I lost the background notes, but hazarding a guess, this has seen some barrel time as the edges are so soft and creamy. Really quite complex and satisfying grown up Pinot rosé. Best drinking: This year. 17.7/20, 92/100. 12.5%, $25. Would I buy it? Not much rosé of this calibre around for $25 (so yes).
Curly Flat White Pinot 2018
More like a light Macedon red than a rosé (hence the name), and so serious and vinous. Salmon orange, the nose has coppery strawberry hints, some creamy lees character, the creamed strawberry translating to the palate nicely. Ripe, generous and full flavoured, yet still utterly a cool climate rosè. The rosé you have when you’re not having a rosé perhaps? Certainly no delicate, ‘I’ve been to Provence and now I’m copying their wine’ shrinking violet but all the more interesting and drinkable because of it. Best drinking: Good now, but it will age for a good year. 17.7/20, 92/100. 13.1%, $26. Would I buy it? Over dinner – rather than just a drink on the balcony – this will shine. So yes.
Gundog Estate Riesling 2018
Gundog keeps delivering the hits. This Riesling comes from the Four Winds Vineyard, which provides quality fruit as a starter. Interesting to see a whisper of TDN, but it doesn’t last long. Underneath the joy is the balance of flavours, the fruit tending towards green apple rather than citrus, the acid profile genuinely natural and shapely. It’s perhaps not as floral/expressive as some Canberra Riesling, but nails the palate. Very nice. Best drinking: Now and over the next ten years. 17.7/20, 92/100. 11.5%, $30. Would I buy it? Worth sharing a bottle.
Hanging Rock The Jim Jim Three 2017
An advert about why Macedon should do more aromatic whites. A blend of Pinot Gris, Gewurz and Riesling – so Alsace all the way. But not in the Marcel Deiss model – it’s more delicate than that. Fragrant, sure, and floral, but it’s not wide. In fact the generosity sneaks up on you. You find yourself halfway through the glass saying ‘hang on, this is richer than I thought’. Still, great acidity and ultimately really nice balance. Best drinking: Now or next year. 17.7/20, 92/100. 13.3%, $30. Would I buy it? Yes. I’m a big fan of Alsace blends.
Schwarz Wine Co. GSM 2017
Another delicious Grenache-based Barossan red from Jason Schwarz. Plump fruit with a savoury lean, proper tannins and then a meat flecked, red fruit juiciness through the finish. Vibrant, Grenachey, and an excellent contrast between fruit width without excess heat. Best drinking: Now and for up to ten years easy. 17.7/20, 92/100. 14%, $30. Would I buy it? Yes.
Tellurian Viognier 2017
The quest for great Viognier continues, and this is handy. Winner of Best White at the Heathcote wine show, it’s fully ripe and flush with stonefruit, a generously textured Viognier that nails the opulence without the flab. It’s all fruit, the oak maturation showing no influence, with a gently warming and expansive palate that is round but not heavy. Perhaps not smashable, but I could drain a few glasses easy. Best drinking: Now. 17.7/20, 92/100. 14%, $28. Would I buy it? A bottle.
Airlie Bank Franc 2018
Tim Shand’s Airlie Bank wines couple winemaking interest with drinkability. This fun Cab Franc is 100% whole bunch, no fining and minimal filtration – just Franc juice, straight into bottle. Green peppercorns and dill on the nose, it’s punchy and spicy, but not unripe, the sappy palate so lively and genuinely not green. You’ve got to enjoy a little herbs to love this, but it’s not harsh, and the just-bottled vitality makes for a lovely, spicy, affordable light red. Best drinking: Over the next 2-3 years for max fun. 17.5/20, 91/100. 12.5%, $22. Would I buy it? Yes I really would.
Airlie Bank Gris Fermented on Skins 2018
More outright fun. Yarra Pinot Gris where 50% of the fruit spent 3 days on skins the other half 2 weeks. It’s more like a textural rosè than anything, and grippy. The fruit is picked Grigio-esque early which gives this a neutrality and light pear juice, with the skin contact then amping up the weight and perfume. It’s seriously tangy, but the balance and round middle makes this a white I’d go back for multiple glasses (and I did). Best drinking: Now. 17.5/20, 91/100. 12%, $22. Would I buy it? Definitely.
Juxtaposed Bigger Boat Fiano 2018
Wes Pearson’s Juxtaposed wines are all well priced and interesting, with this latest Fiano iteration another goodun’. From the Lacy Vineyard, the blend includes some juice fermented wild in barrel, then bottled without fining or filtration. Not sure if Wes will like hearing it, but this looks like wee. Healthy wee mind you. Tangy, lemony palate is wonderfully varietal, and topped off with preserved lemon sweet and sour action with a tangy finish. Lively lemon tang drink and the cloudiness just means even more flavour. There’s just a little broadness at the edges here – an oxidative hint – that I’m less sure of. But no doubting the complexity and refreshment. Best drinking: This year or maybe next. 17.5/20, 91/100. 12.5%, $26. Would I buy it? A few glasses.
Liv Zak Rosè 2017
Pinot rosè from the Warramunda Estate home block in the Yarra. There’s an argument that we drink some savoury rosé too young, and the bottle aged softness of this wine is certainly attractive. A pink fruit Pinot prettiness here, supported by a finely creamy edge. Strawberries and cream. Texture is the winner, and drinkability is the result. Best drinking: Now. 17.5/20, 91/100. 12%, $25. Would I buy it? Worth a few glasses.
Robert Stein Riesling 2018
Jacob Stein’s Dry Riesling is one of the best whites out of Mudgee, if not the best. The ’18 is a more reserved wine than in previous years. Would be great to see this with bottle age. White pepper, crunchy celery and grapefruit on the nose, the palate straight into grapefruit. It’s acid-shaped this year, taut and refreshing. Will be interesting to watch the progression here. Best drinking: I’d wait until later in the year. Then come back after five. 17.5/20, 91/100+. 12%, $30. Would I buy it? A glass or so now, more to come.
Rock of Wisdom Shiraz Viognier 2017
Another winner from Rock of Wisdom. No mistaking the Viognier stonefruit in this Barossan red and it’s another luscious purple fruited wine. It’s very sweet fruited, tannins just a late meaty edge. A plush fruit bomb, but not heavy, just mega-slurpable. Really nice and generous. Winner. Best drinking: Sooner rather than later. Over the next five. 17.5/20, 91/100. 14.5%, $28. Would I buy it? Worth several glasses.
St Leonards Vineyard Rosè 2018
Great packaging on this St Leonards rosé. A reminder that for popular ‘lifestyle’ styles like rosé that presentation counts. This Rutherglen Cab/Cab Franc based pink is quite vinous too. There’s a softness here that comes from ripe fruit, a raspberry cordial-esque generosity without flab that makes for a much more satisfying wine. It’s probably not delicate, but dry, savoury and nails the refreshment brief. Best drinking: Now. 17.5/20, 91/100. 13.4%, $28. Would I buy it? Worth a glass or two.
Stoneleigh Latitude Pinot Noir 2016
It’s easy to be lazy and cynical about big brand wines, and especially Pinot Noir. But the Stoneleigh range is consistently good – attractive wines, with a crowd pleasing generosity that is hard to deny. So much wine for the dollars here too. It’s bright, juicy and varietal, with mushroom and raspberry then a layer of oak through the middle. Ripe, choc dipped raspberry and minimal tannins. It’s not a big wine, but has that Marlborough red berry sunniness that is v. appealing. A fraction simple, but still a standout for value. Best drinking: Now and for at least 3 years. 17.5/20, 91/100. 13.5%, $22.99. Would I buy it? Several glasses easily. Can be found for well under $20 too.
Tahbilk Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2016
Tahbilk’s classic Nagambie Lakes Cabernet and Shiraz get all the love, but of the 16 reds this blend is my favourite. Such a surprising wine. Gruff, grippy oak tannins to complement the raspberry Grenache fruit, with a great counterpoint between red fruit and tannins. It feels so substantial and so very BBQ meat friendly. Perhaps not smashable, but enjoyable. Best drinking: Good now and for up to ten years no probs (likely more with those tannins). 17.5/20, 91/100. 14.5%, $25.70. Would I buy it? A few glasses.
Lana Il Nostro Gallo Sangiovese 2017
Autentico King Valley Sangiovese from Pizzini in a hold-the-oak, accentuate the fruit mode. Berries, grippy tannins, leather bark. Real fruit tannins, not oak tannins, too. It’s real and chewy Sangiovese for anyone who likes prosciutto pizza. Maybe a fraction too drying, but that just equals savouriness. Great value too. Best drinking: Good to go, but the depth means this will live for five years easy. 17/20, 90/100. 13.8%, $24. Would I buy it? Sure would. Better than lost of middling Tuscan reds.
Longview Queenie Pinot Grigio 2018
Adelaide Hills Pinot Grigio from the Saturno family that does exactly what you want a Grigio to do. Varietally correct pear juice nose is right on – it’s proper Grigio. Slightly sour, but can’t deny the authenticity. It falls away beyond the pear onslaught, but certainly some flavour. 17/20, 90/100. 12%, $21. Would I buy it? A few glasses easy.
Pizzini Brachetto 2018
Clearly inspired by Brachetto d’Acqui and a genuine moscato alternative. Pink grapefruit meets Fruit Tingles juiciness, with plenty of sweetness, it’s light and vivacious but not unbalanced at all. Indeed, like the best Piemonte moscato, it’s just refreshing, especially with fresh fruit. Why settle for monotone local moscato with wines like this? Best drinking: Now. 17/20, 90/100. 6%, $19. Would I buy it? Two glasses easy.
Pizzini Le Volpe Nebbiolo 2017
Tangy, if rather firm, unoaked King Valley Nebbiolo. Tar, redcurrants, raspy tannins. It’s a bit too firm to be absolutely delicious, but the tarry, mid weight, ferrous berry flavour is so varietal, so real that you can’t help but like it. Needs slow cooked meat, perhaps, but for Neb fans this is a viable alternative to lots of Langhe Neb. 17/20, 90/100. 13.8%, $28. Would I buy it? I’d share a bottle.
Pizzini Pinot Grigio 2018
In a similar mode to the Longview and indeed they share a lot (though this is a little more floral). Crunchy, celery and white flower style that is pure and fresh. It’s perhaps too crunchy, too lean, but nails the classic Pinot Grigio style and refreshing. Best drinking: Now. 17/20, 90/100. 12.1%, $21. Would I buy it? A glass or two.
Super Fly Grenache Mataro 2018
From the Rock of Wisdom crew and built to be slurpable. Little oak, so just peppery, meaty purple Barossan black jube fruit and still packs in late spice. What a fun red. Best drinking: Over the next three or so years. 17/20, 90/100. 13.5%, $20. Would I buy it? Well worth sharing a bottle.
Tim Smith Eden Valley Riesling 2018
A slightly more rounded wine than the 2017 and ready to drink. Juicy lime juice, soft acidity, ripe citrus flavours. Easy drinking and genuine Eden Valley Riesling. Best drinking: I like it now. 17/20, 90/100. 11.5%, $25. Would I buy it? Two glasses.
Woods Crampton Pedro GSM 2018
If you’re going to have a preservative free (or more correctly, no preservatives added) red then this is a good choice. An easy-going Barossan GSM that is unaoked and ready to go. Oh and 666 cases made. Mulberry juiciness, light tannins, with a background bark edge and some leathery bits. That whisper of oxidation is undeniable, but so is the flavour. Really good going for a PF wine. Best drinking: Now. 17/20, 90/100. 14%, $24. Would I buy it? Well worth a glass or two.
Yangarra Rosè 2018
McLaren Vale Grenache rosè for the drinkin’. Dry, but soft and pretty style with a dash of talc and pink strawberry fruit. It’s ripe-ish, gentle and generous. Mighty easy, and sneakily well balanced. Best drinking: Now. 17/20, 90/100. 13%, $25. Would I buy it? Worth a few glasses.