One of the cornerstones of the WineFolio plan – and therefore the website, are the tastings that we do by theme or varietal. These are our Top 10 tastings – we might receive sixty wines for the tasting, but we only publish the ten highest scoring entries in our list. As things evolve at Winefolio Towers, I’ve had my arm twisted to firstly pay more (or even some) attention to the wines from Australia, and then to include them in the Top 10 Tastings.
I find that the plans for these never, ever, run smoothly. This tasting proved the case once again – the idea that we’d include Australian single varietal red wines in the tasting seemed ever less likely as delays in deliveries dragged on. I wanted to push on with at least the NZ side of things – these events take a fair bit of planning – so we did those first, and completed the Top 10 tasting with a class of Australian reds a couple of days later. I look at the results as two separate classes, and then compare the two top wines, to present a top wine overall – read to the end…
We started with the New Zealand single varietal red wines. Not Syrah, not Pinot Noir and not a blend. We do those themes separately. I expected (and got) those classic european varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc – but also Grenache, Tempranillo, Gamay Noir and more. Even some of the more obscure varietals that only a handful of producers have stuck with. It became obvious as we moved on to the Australian entries, that they shine at different things. Where New Zealand was strong on Cabernet Franc, Australia was great at Cabernet Sauvignon. If South Australia had the edge on Grenache, then Hawke’s Bay had Gimblett Gravels Merlot.
We taste each glass with a little time, with the aim to give each wine a generous chance to shine. There was a range of varietals, but also a range of styles, from muscular oak-heavy bruisers, to light chill-able ruby-hued wines barely above a rosé in expression. However, each is judged on merit, and the no.1 rule – is it delicious. In itself. Do I like it?
I’m afraid I haven’t much time for something like pre-determined expectations of factors like ‘concentration’ as a benchmark for a wine. It can be a good thing, in it’s place; but I actually like wines that don’t just depend on concentration as a cornerstonejust as well. Wines with a different focus and character where the palate has space in which you discover more subtle nuance – a little tannin here, some pithy drying phenolics there, and with flow and complexity given room to exist. Add in concentration and your mouth is just full of that – not the most exciting place to be… certainly for sip after sip.
Onto the wines
Our winner was Paritua Platinum Cabernet Franc 2019. It received Gold Medal scores from all the judges, and on an afternoon of very high standard wines, was the winner by a couple of points. Director of Sales and Marketing at Paritua, Oliver Kettle, was obviously delighted with this win, and got these winning words of wisdom from winemaker Jason Stent:
“2019 was an excellent growing season, the weather was benign, and we were able to hang the Cabernet Franc out to gain maximum ripeness. The grapes were hand harvested and passed through our optical grape sorter, to select the finest berries. The maceration time was about 30 days, and the wine underwent malolactic conversion on skins during maceration. The wine spent 2 years in 50% new French Oak barriques prior to bottling. This wine is made in small quantities for the HB Charity wine auction and for our Wine Club members and selected Restaurants.”
This what we thought:
#1 Paritua Platinum Cabernet Franc 2019.
A distinctive nose of Cabernet Franc, with tobacco, plum, autumn leaves, bramble and violet floral notes. Classy, “in the style of a fine Bordeaux” noted one judge. Sweet and ripe, and a lovely complexity to the mid-weighted palate that showed plenty of savoury flavours to balance the succulent fruit. “Majestic oak” said the Boss. Not a heavy blockbuster of a wine, but with intricacy and excellent length to the finish. Our top Cabernet Franc
#2 Dancing Petrel Cabernet Franc 2021.
An elegant, floral opening to the aromatics of this Cabernet Franc. Also showing that lovely mossy, balsamic character of the varietal on the nose. One of our tasters commented that it had great “mouth fragrance” – that you could taste the aromatics through into the palate. Complex, with good body – muscular but open. Grippy tannin and nice acidity form the backbone, and there is a herbal edge to the succulent fruit. A touch of bitters to the finish. A complete, compelling wine.
#3 Church Road ‘1’ single vineyard Malbec 2020.
One of the best Malbecs we’ve tried in a long time – much discussion over this one. A young, moody and brooding teenager of a wine. Some olive and cigar perfume to the nose that complements the black plum, liquorice and boysenberry fruit. Well-made and structured – with a force of huge tannins (which pleased our tannin-fan Boss) but real drive and intensity. Smooth and powerful with good weight and balance. “A long way to go” featured in our notes. Our top Malbec
#4 Karikari Estate Tannat 2019.
Not the only Tannat to feature in the tasting – unusual for this rare varietal. Has a distinctive, unique perfume to it, with blue fruits and a pinot-esque cherry, cedar and blood orange aromatic edge. Dense, savoury and plummy, with a fennel, beetroot and “an umami quality into the palate”. Oak! lots of it. Good, brisk acidity give a flow and drive through to a lengthy finish with a hint of citrus oil. Fascinating wine. Our top Tannat.
#5 Esk Valley Grenache 2021.
A pop of youthful fruit, bright and young with an almost old fashioned fragrance, that took in verbena, cherry, raspberry and pot pourri. A vivid, light purple colour with notes of summer berries flowed through into the palate. Herbal and spicy, with good acidity and real character. Provoked a lot of discussion around the table. Great, lighter style of red wine but with plenty of power and drive. Finishes long and succulent.
#6 Villa Maria Reserve Merlot 2019.
No doubting the varietal here – plummy, velvet smooth and ready to go. Everything about this said quality – balanced, with tannin, acid, a dusting of spicy oak, and great juice all working in tandem and in the right place. A lovely depth, whilst keeping tension in the palate. Plump, sleek and glossy, with “an elongated, ripe finish”. Our top Merlot
#7 Hans Herzog Zweigelt 2016
A complex bouquet – enticing with candied fruit, damson, tobacco and a lift of musky rose petal. Ripe, rich and dark, the acidity lends a brightness to the palate filled with fruit cake, spice and succulent red berries. Fine-boned tannins have an edge of black tea, and there’s tremendous length to the palate and the drier, spicy finish. Our top (and only) Zweigelt
#8 Elephant Hill Stone Merlot 2019
A serious, structured style, showing “classic Bordeaux style”. The aromatics are filled with cedar, cranberry, vanilla, plum, graphite, and hedgerow notes of rosemary and blackberry. There’s “a prickle of drying tannin” into the big, burly palate. Oak plays a part here – seasoning the mid-palate with a toasty spice, laid over a dense core of dark fleshy fruit. Firmly concentrated into a good length on the finish.
#9 Church Road ‘1’ single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
A generous and compelling perfume, with blackcurrant, cherry, thyme, smoked mushroom, sandalwood, mint and violet florals – a classic expression of the varietal. Smooth, power-packed and full into the palate. Firm, svelte tannin and an integrated acidity are framed by a dusting of good oak. Plays with the full spectrum of flavours – delightfully complex and layered. Finished with a spicy, sweetening edge.
#10 Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Tempranillo 2019
A powderkeg of a nose – bursting with bright aromatics. Raspberry, bacon fat, almond, blackberry, date, nutmeg, pumpkin and dark chocolate. Juicy and succulent with a combo of sweet oak, dry, dusty tannins and lively acidity, making for a very compelling palate of flavour. As savoury as it is ripe, with notes of olive, pepper and liquorice into the long finish. Our top Tempranillo
Top 10 tasting – single varietal reds – the Australians
#1 Orlando ‘Jacaranda Ridge’ Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
A deep purple-carmine red colour – “a dark ‘tank’ of a wine” according to our notes. A wonderful complexity to the perfume of ripe berries, vanilla, mocha, cassis and crushed thyme. Juicy, inky and coming at full throttle. Some big, fine tannins and a tart acidity give a clarity to the palate that is serious and deep. Layers of interest, with a rich seam of savoury notes that show root beer, a smoky peat and a campari-like bitterness. The finish is plump and elongated. A benchmark wine. Our top Cabernet Sauvignon
#2 Brockenchack ‘Megan Jane’ Grenache 2019
Starting bright, delicate and jazzy – light on its feet. The nose of cherry, rosehip and rose petal, plus raspberry, mandarin and cherry blossom. A juicy and racy entry to the palate, with vibrant acidity. Tannins emerge further back as intensity builds, and now there is more weight and focus. Sarsparilla and flush of supple tannin and pithy phenolics. Love these wines that change in your glass – each sip is different, and this gave us more discussion than any wine I can recall in months. Our top Grenache
#3 D’Arenberg ‘The Hunjee Heartstring’ Montepulciano 2021
“Some magnificent fruit” in this wine. Needs mentioning at the start. A vivid ruby-magenta colour, with a perfume you could sit and smell all day. Pink cherry, salami, blackcurrant, bay leaf, cedar, plum and tapenade. The medium-bodied palate is glossy, concentrated and elegant. Weighty with a youthful bounce and a very direct line of acid. Some decent oak and lovely drying tannins with plenty of grip. Char and tar, a summer bbq at the beach, with even a little salinity on the finish. Ageing potential plus, here. Our top Montepulciano
#4 Langmeil ‘Blacksmith’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2019
“Dark and seductive” in a classic style with varietal aromas of smoky cedar, blackcurrant, mint, liquorice, rosemary, sage and black plum. Old-school Bordeaux at heart, with that ripe, succulent Aussie twist. A sweet intensity with a tight, balanced core of toasty oak richness and resinous tannin offset with moderate acidity. A seamless wine that impressed from start to finish.
#5 Peter Lehmann ‘The Pastors Son’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2020
Another Cabernet sauvignon, another modern-classic Barossa wine. A nose that is packed with super ripe fruit, with blackberry and redcurrant in the lead, then chocolate, smoked chorizo, Christmas cake and pencil shavings. Dry, with lovely, svelte tannins and more of that bright, plush fruit bleeding through the palate. Firmly concentrated and persistant, with a sleek texture and an abundance and intensity to the long finish.
#6 Russell & Suitor ‘Franca’s Vineyard’ Grenache 2021
A needly, sharp, pointed edge to the classily perfumed nose here. Cherry, menthol, orange peel, red liquorice, cranberry and spice. Bloody and tart with a zing of acidity and both parts sweet and savoury, dry and lush to the palate. Fabulous tannin, flexible and fine, wrapping around the fruit and with excellent length and texture. Some talk about the best Grenache on show today – both were top examples, and both had their favourites.
#7 D’Arenberg ‘The Anthropecene Epoch’ Mencia 2020
Dark purple ruby in the glass, with a nose that starts out shy and savoury, and then builds with generous dark fruit, herbals and spicy woody notes. Medium bodied, with plenty of structure, oak and prickly tannins. Very dry, but balanced with a fruit sweetness and a creamily smooth texture. Savoury balsamic, umami elements come through, giving a dry, phenolic tightness on the lengthy finish. Our only, and therefore, top, Mencia
#8 Yalumba ‘The Cigar’ Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
A serious, “port and cigar type of wine”. A reductive, toasty nose filled with spice, tobacco, black berries, liquorice, rosemary and lavender. Some jube-like fruit flavours sit on top of some big toasty oak. A mineral iron-earth savouriness and green olive, herbal notes come through underneath, and the finish is dry, tight and more-ish. “I need a meat pie” was a summary that had us laughing.
#9 D’Arenberg ‘The Danger Mouse’ Nero d’Avola 2021
Juicy and ripe on the nose, perfumed with bramble, redcurrant, smoked meat, eucalypt, plum and fennel. A drive of acidity through into the palate, with mulberry, dried fruits, five spice and cassis. A syrah-like quality. Drying, chalky tannins, but a plush, buttery texture that is generous and waxy. Layered and complex, with tons of interest. Our top Nero d’Avola
#10 Richard Hamilton Lot 148 Merlot
You know it is Merlot. That’s good. It is plummy, plush and velveteen, soft and easy-going. Textural and delicious with a swagger and balance. There is some big oak here, but great tannin too. “A red wine-drinkers wine”. As savoury as it is sweet and ripe – venison, bramble, charcuterie, fruit coulis. Easy to like.
Our top overall wine, then – looking at the Paritua Platinum Cabernet Franc against the Orlando Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon. The award went to the New Zealand wine. Both wines would have won their class – these were the best two examples of their varietal across the tasting. Our no.1 criteria in assessing wines at WineFolio is “delicious”. That’s what we look for. Is this delicious? And I guess that our other top factors would then be (for me personally) – character and personality, and typicity of varietal – does it do what it says on the tin?
The Cabernet Sauvignon was exceptional. I recall being in a decent wine shop in Bristol, UK, and looking at wines like this. When I then tasted them, they seemed to have so much more fruit to them than an equivalent bordeaux red. And personality. Tasting this Coonawara Cabernet brought back those memories so clearly. A wine that has structure and backbone, but an exhuberance and freedom in the palate, with a rich, plush ripeness to back it up.
The Cabernet Franc just had a little something extra. At the top end, the margins are very small – when you’re talking about Gold Medal, Trophy-winning wines, rated at over 95pts – there is often just minor details that make a wine emerge on top. This had ‘heroic oak’ and I appreciate that’s not for everyone – or, indeed, suited to every wine. But this had broad shoulders on finer bones. A lightness of touch as well as a density of flavour. The persistence in the finish was remarkable.
I’d happily drink either of these – in fact I will be looking up a couple of extras for the cellar and pulling them out at some point. But not too soon. Great reds like this benefit from some time, and when they do emerge – say ten years away, I will certainly decant them, and serve them with food – around a table with friends. That’s how we did these tastings, and, to me, it’s what wine is about. A shared experience with good company and good food. Look them up.