Not all wines can be great. Plenty are just ok drinks. And some are just bad.
Here is a selection of wines that almost made it in March 2021. You can see plenty in this list that are just good, simple drinks. Or they’re not far off being winners.
Next, there is a tier of underwhelming wines – a bit thin, a bit overripe, unfocused, yet still drinkable. Almost wines.
Finally, there are a couple of wines on this list that are inexcusably bad. It’s this last tier that always gets me thinking – do these winemakers drink their own wines? More importantly, do they benchmark them against similar likely competitors? Crack open a dozen similar priced wines and see what looks good? Because there are plenty in this collection where price, quality and intentions are completely unmatched to what is in market. And don’t get me started on the organic wine pricing…
Then again, the market will ultimately decide, which means they’re just going to end up as half-priced mystery/discount products in a matter of time…
Bibliotheque Sauvignon Blanc 2020
This is what $15 Marlborough Sauv should taste like. Solid, varietal, aromatic. Not quite the intensity for high marks, but well-priced. Passionfruit-laden nose, slightly sweet and sour palate, with plenty of fruit generosity. Solid. Best drinking: now. 16.8/20, 89/100. 12.5%, $15. Would I buy it? Not for me, but a solid recommendation if you’re looking for sub $15 Sauv.
Clandestine Vineyards Chardonnay 2020
This is perhaps a bit young but also undercooked. Using Wilyabrup (Margaret River) grapes, it’s driven by plump, peach juice fruit and some light oak vanilla to fill out the palate. But the acid through the lemony finish strips this out and leaves it overly lean. A little malo would go a long way here. Let’s call it a classic ‘almost’ wine. Best drinking: late this year/early 2022 for a start. 16.8/20, 89/100. 12.5%, $30. Would I buy it? No.
Clandestine Vineyards Tempranillo Rosé 2020
Geographe rosé. Barrel fermented in old oak, which is always good to see. Pleasant, mid-weight style with gentle orange blossom fruit. No alarms, no surprises, it doesn’t reach and grab with you with its intensity. Lots of acid though. Ok. Best drinking: now. 16.8/20, 89/100. 12.5%, $28. Would I buy it? No.
Henty Farm The Farm Barossa Shiraz 2017
The intention is good, but the execution isn’t quite there with this overt Barossan red. Glossy, oak laden Barossan red. Cut with vanilla cream, oak tannins a constant force. A blunt instrument, swimming in vanilla oak and very ripe fruit. There is no shortage of flavour, but gee the oak and weight of this make it less than easy drinking. Best drinking: Maybe next year. It will live, but I question whether there is much improvement. 16.8/20, 89/100. 14.5%, $30. Would I buy it? No.
La Resistance Cotes du Rhone 2018
Organic Cotes du Rhone. Red fruited and bright, the palate’s only rusticity coming from the late tannins. Grenache is the king here with this easy and vibrant red a showcase for unoaked Grenache. It’s not complex enough for big points, but such an easy wine. Good, simple drinking even if I can’t see the quality for $30. The organic tax at work? 16.8/20, 89/100. 13.5%, $30. Would I buy it? No.
Pig in the House Organic Shiraz 2019
Jubey, ripe, purple fruited Shiraz with minimal oak, warm alcohol and lots of chunky flavour. Uncomplicated and does a good job at the mouth-filling, ripe-fruited, big-boned style. It’s Central NSW, but I’d almost call it ripe Hilltops with that fruit profile. It just a little bit more tannins, less alcohol and more spice to carry through the finish, and it would be a winner. Solid though and well priced (no organic tax here). Best drinking: over the next five years. 16.8/20, 89/100. 14.5%, $25. Would I buy it? Not quite.
Running With Bulls Garnacha 2019
Garnacha, not Grenache. I loved the Tempranillo, though this doesn’t transcend the price point in the same fashion. Gentle, slightly confected, juicy light red of simple red fruit appeal. Captures the joven style well, but ultimately a little thin and light beyond the initial fruit flourish. Pleasant and varietal, though. Best drinking: nowish. 16.8/20, 89/100. 13.5%, $23. Would I buy it? A glass or two.
Soumah Brachetto 2020
Probably the most balanced Soumah Brachetto yet. Off-dry, but you don’t notice the sugar as much this vintage – it’s dryish. Musk stick and sultana sweet fruit, the style akin to a dry moscato but with a little twist of herbs and strawberry. Fun, easy drinking., no more and no less. Best drinking: now. 16.8/20, 89/100. 11.25%, $28 for 750ml. Would I buy it? A glass.
Soumah Viognier 2019
This comes Soumah’s Hexham Vineyard in the Yarra. Gently understated and perfumed style with just-ripe apricot fruit. A little underdone, but such is life with the Viognier ripeness lotto. I like the fruit, not loving some of the fusty old oak characters, though. Best drinking: nowish. 16.8/20, 89/100. 13%, $40. Would I buy it? No.
Taylors St Andrews Shiraz 2017
Monolithic Clare Valley Shiraz made to win gold medals. It’s a huge, bruising, minty and alcoholic red, the oak a caramel jab, the alcohol a late punch, acidity a sly hook. No doubting the impact, length or power, but it’s more of an outright attack than a sensual experience. Time will be kind, though. Best drinking: comes back in two years, and that score could well go up. 16.8/20, 89/100+. 14.5%, $70. Would I buy it? No.
Angullong Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
Serious Orange Cabernet. Maturing quickly, the nose varietal with cedar, green veges and meaty berries. The palate is quite substantial, and the green elements aren’t necessarily unripe – indeed, its quite chunky. It’s just not an easy wine, full of angles, firmness and alcohol. Not bad, but not pretty enough for higher marks. Best drinking: will likely mature over a decade still. 16.5/20, 88/100. 14.5%, $22. Would I buy it? No.
Cellier des Dauphins Les Dauphins Cotes du Rhone 2018
An easy Rhone red. Light Grenachey fruit, a little aniseed and a bright jubey profile. Little or no oak. The red and black jellybean palate is a bit thin, but it’s varietal and bright enough with pleasant tannins. Not a bad entree to CdR, really, if simple wine. Best drinking: nowish, maybe to five years. 16.5/20, 88/100. 13.5%, $20. Would I buy it? No.
d’Arenberg The Custodian Grenache 2017
Rough-around-the-edges McLaren Vale Grenache. Dominated by typically grippy d’Arenberg tannins, contrasting with jubey bright Grenache red fruit and alcohol warmth. Fruit is nice, tannins add depth, but the whole piece feels like culled barrels from a premium release, with all the imperfections that follow. Not insubstantial, but not great. Best drinking: over the next five years for a start. Then it’s a question of whether the tannins just take over. 16.5/20, 88/100. 14.5%, $21. Would I buy it? No.
d’Arenberg Lucky Lizard Chardonnay 2018
Plump and ripe flavour is the mode for this Adelaide Hills Chardonnay, and it feels both thick and overwrought and yet lacking through the finish. That yellow peach toasty mid-palate might find appeal. But otherwise, it’s a bit chubby and cheesy. Best drinking: now. 16.5/20, 88.100. 13.5%, $32. Would I buy it? No.
Dirt Candy The Favourite Vermentino 2020
Varietal, tangy and correct Hunter Valley Vermentino. There’s not a whole lotta punch here as the finish tails off, though. It’s varietal but doesn’t go very far. Best drinking: now. 16.5/20, 88/100. 12.4%, $26. Would I buy it? No.
Harewood Estate Flux VII 2018
I still don’t get the Flux wines. So few of them are genuinely convincing, which is so odd given the excellence of the Harewood range. Weird. This carries the theme – an understated, underpowered blend of Pinot Gris/Gewurz/Riesling that carries trademark rosewater Gewurz thiol, but the palate is light and falls away into acidity. An Alsace blend pitch, but without the fruit weight to carry it off. Best drinking: nowish. 16.5/20, 88/100. 12.5%, $35. Would I buy it? No.
Heggies Cloudline Chardonnay 2020
The kick-off point for Heggies Chardonnay and feels like it’s on training wheels. Understated apple pie fruit, the palate reticent and a bit underdone. It’s clearly missing a stroke in the complexity stakes, the palate lightly rich apple pie flavour. It’s ok, but a bit lean and ultimately feels like half a wine. Best drinking: over the next few years. 16.5/20, 88/100. 12.5%, $25. Would I buy it? No.
Henty Farm Pinot Gris 2020
Henty Pinot Gris. Slightly shrill and phenolic style, it initially promises ripe fruit but ends up undistinguished, the acidity raw but without the fruit generosity to match. Not quite. Best drinking: nowish. 16.5/20, 88/100. 13.2%, $30. Would I buy it? No.
Hofer Montepulciano 2019
Southern Fleurieu sourced Montepulciano from a vineyard near Normanville. Making profound Monte is hard work, as even in Abruzzo, it’s a simple drinking wine most of the time. Anyway, this is at least autentico, complete wine in the rusty cherry mode. Caramel and a little sweet and sour, the alcohol dominates the finish too. Varietal, but a little ignoble and syrupy warm. It’s ok. Best drinking: over the next five years. 16.5/20, 88/100. 14%, $25. Would I buy it? No.
Mandala Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2019
Ultra lean and taut Yarra Chardonnay, with fine Sao oak. It’s too lean, really, even though it’s classy. More please, as it feels ultimately too light. Best drinking: over the next five years. 16.5/20, 88/100. 12.6%, $30. Would I buy it? No.
Rameau d’Or Petit Amour Rosé 2019
Dusty, but fruit-sweet dry French rosé of simple commercial appeal. It is a little dull and lean on the nose, but the palate is a balance between fruit and acidity. By the numbers, pink wine really – I bet they sell oceans of it, even if you could do much better for the dollars. Best drinking: right now. 16.5/20, 88/100. 12.5%, $25. Would I buy it? No.
Silkwood The Bowers Sauvignon Blanc 2020
Pemberton Sauvignon Blanc. Some low-level sweetness drives the palate here, the nose grapefruity and white nectarine, the rounded edges making this juicier. It’s going to win friends with that generosity of flavour, even if I find it a bit too chunky. Best drinking: now. 16.5/20, 88/100. 13.5%, $20. Would I buy it? No.
St Anne’s Port Phillip Riesling 2018
From a vineyard at Myrniong, halfway between Melbourne and Ballarat, and no-mans-land for wine. It’s an odd sort of Riesling, too – the petro toast nose promises flavour, yet the palate is lean and dry. It’s not unripe, but not a lot of fruit intensity and the bottle age toast just throws in some awkward sweet and sour shapes. It’s still quite long and fresh, but not quite a good drink. Best drinking: nowish. 16.5/20, 88/100. 12%, $22. Would I buy it? No.
The Group The Fever 2018
I’ve got to be honest – none of these new releases from The Group have been impressive. Conceptually, it’s a good story, with Matt Moran partnering with a group of growers to produce distinctive wines. Yet in the bottle, everything under this label so far has tasted like bits and pieces wines. This red is the perfect example. A weird blend of Merlot, Mourvedre & Cabernet that ends up hearty but a bit gruff with hard tannins. Lacks generosity through the middle and then astringent too. Tarry, leathery. Plenty of flavour but hard going. Nah. Best drinking: nowish to five years, I guess. 16.5/20, 88/100. 14%, $34. Would I buy it? No.
The Group The Quiver Grenache 2019
Old vine Grenache. Big impact – ripe, luscious, warm edged very ripe fruit with raspberry syrup and alcohol to burn. It has red fruit intensity, but alcohol ends up as the overriding character. A missed opportunity – just pick it earlier! Best drinking: now, before the alcohol takes over. 16.5/20, 88/100. 15.5%, $34. Would I buy it? No.
The Group The Shadow Pinot Noir 2019
Ripeness seems to be an issue on every count with The Group red. This Pinot is low on alcohol but lacks vibrancy, all stewed raspberry and rhubarb with little actual fruit generosity. It tastes like Adelaide Hills Pinot, but the heart and soul isn’t there. Not quite. Best drinking: over the next three years. 16.5/20, 88/100. $34, 13%. Would I buy it? No.
Zontes Footstep Globe Skimmer Rosé 2020
Dry Fleurieu rosé. Rosato style, bone dry and phenolic, it’s a saignee with plenty of acidity. A bit hard to finish is the distraction and needs more juice. Ok, but it needs more delicacy for higher marks. Best drinking: right now. Don’t wait. 16.5/20, 88/100. 13.5%, $30. Would I buy it? No. Expensive for the quality too.
Zonte’s Footstep Scarlett Ladybird Rosé 2020
Variety not supplied. Fleurieu fruit. Pale and savoury is the aim, but it largely comes out as pale, lightly sweet and affable. Strawberry fruit, lots of acidity, pretty pink fruit. More alcohol than expected. It’s ok, but a simple fruity creature. Best drinking: now. 16.5/20, 88/100. 13.5%, $22. Would I buy it? No.
Hofer Barbera 2019
Ripe and jammy Langhorne Creek Barbera. It’s a fruit pastille stuffed Barbera; the fruit pushed into glycerol thickness and little else. Too juicy and ripe for real enjoyment. Best drinking: nowish. 16/20, 87/100. 14%, $25. Would I buy it? No.
Hutton Vale Farm Grenache Mataro 2015
A showcase for the dangers of pushing fruit too far. The Hutton Vale Farm vineyard is A-grade too, so this is another missed opportunity too. It’s basically port, except without the spirit, and lacks some fruit sweetness. Heavy, boozy and forward, the savoury palate has a meaty heartiness and unquestioned power but not much liveliness. Too (over)ripe, too hard. Best drinking: now, before the fruit fades. 16/20, 87/100. 15%, $75. Would I buy it? No.
Oxford Landing Chardonnay 2020
Gently peachy South Australian Chardonnay. It’s not complex, but it is transparent about the style – just-ripe fruit, plenty of acidity, no oak. You could do worse for this price. Best drinking: now. 16/20, 87/100. 13%, $10. Would I buy it? No.
The Group The Murder Shiraz 2017
Why? Why pick this so ripe? Blocky, oaky and reductive, sweet vanilla essence oak is the main game, the fruit surprisingly tame. Oak tannins too and plenty of awkward acidity. A bit directionless and sweet/sour with no shortage of warmth. That oak is not enjoyable. WHY? Best drinking: nowish. 16/20, 87/100. 15%, $34. Would I buy it? No.
Zontes Footstep Blackberry Patch Cabernet 2019
Fleurieu Cabernet. Thin, leafy, confected with some astringent tannins to finish. I get that it’s trying to be leafy, but really it ends up just tasting thin and cheap. Best drinking: over the next five years. 16/20, 87/100. 14%, $30. Would I buy it? No.
Zontes Footstep Canto Sangiovese Lagrein 2019
Fleurieu. Reductive. Bright fruit but ultimately thin and lacks a varietal stamp. Late, ferny bitterness disrupts the flow too. Needs more generosity through the middle. Middling, especially the lean finish. Best drinking: over the next five years. 16/20, 87/100. 14%, $30. Would I buy it? No.16. 14%, $30
Clandestine Vineyards Pinot Grigio 2020
Adelaide Hills Pinot Grigio. Coarse, tinny and already broad white with ill-defined varietal character and a flabby finish. A miss. Best drinking: now. 15.8/20, 86/100. 12%, $28. Would I buy it? No.
Three Vintners Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
Limestone Coast Cabernet Sauvignon from Casella. Rough, chunky, and tart commercial Cabernet. There’s ripe fruit in the middle, but raw edges, a sweet and sour palate, astringent finish. $12-$15 commercial red, no more. Best drinking: over the next few years. 15.8/20, 86/100, 14%, $18. Would I buy it? No.
Zonte’s Footstep Nature’s Crux Shiraz 2020
A push to a fresh and vital Shiraz style, but it just comes across as confected, the fruit tending to raspberry jam sweet fruit and little else save for late bitterness. Overly confected. Nope. Best drinking: right now. don’t wait. 15.8/20, 86/100. 14.5%, $35. Would I buy it? No.
Twisted Sticks By Salena Estate Organic Shiraz 2019
South Australian fruit. Reductive and rubbery, the (added) acid fighting with the fruit for who wins, alcohol in the background. But no one wins. Best drinking: nowish. 15.5/20, 85/100. 14%, $24. Would I buy it? No.
Jacobs Creek Nature’s Craft Organic Chardonnay 2019
Jacobs Creek bringing organic to the masses. It’s a very basic cheap Chardonnay. Some staves vanilla bean over a tart, citrusy palate. Tastes cheap. Raw finish too. Nope. Best drinking: now. 15/20, 83/100. 13%, $20. Would I buy it? Genuinely poor value drinking for this price. So no.
Morris Chardonnay 2017
Why? Confected peach juice meets tart acidity. Why bother? Just graft it over already. Best drinking: now. 15/20, 83/100. 13%. $25. Would I buy it? No.
Sans Pareil Devil’s Blend Bianco
No vintage. Sauvignon Blanc Vermentino. Neutral, acidic white wine. Vaguely floral. Gently fruit sweet. I’d rather drink beer than this acidic fruit water. Best drinking: now. 15/20, 83/100. 12%, $15. Would I buy it? No.
Sans Pareil Devil’s Blend Rosso
No vintage. Shiraz Cabernet. Thin. Tart. Has no redeeming features to talk about, although the packaging might have fans. Best drinking: now. 15/20, 83/100. 13%, $15. Would I buy it? No.
Sans Pareil Estate Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2020
Weak passionfruit but that’s about it. Not much happening here. Nope. Best drinking: now. 15/20, 83/100. 12%, $24. Would I buy it? No.
Schild Estate Chardonnay 2020
Barossa Chardonnay. Lightly confected peach fruited white with simple fruit and a slightly tinny finish. This could be a $10 Riverland Chardonnay with that tinned fruit vibe. No. Best drinking: now. 15/20, 83/100. 13%, $18. Would I buy it? No.