The Thursday VIWF tasting is the opportunity to get an early look at the festival’s wines. Usually I find it difficult to find a large number of exciting wines at the large festival tasting. This year saw a revamped room layout as well as the return of Australia as the theme country, the first time since Aussie wine fell off the cliff in North America. The result was one of the best tasting room experiences the festival has seen in years.
I focused my time at this tasting on the Australian wines, which were spread out by region and saw far more diversity from Australia than this market has yet seen. Some of my favourite wines were those imported by the LDB as one time buys in order to fill some gaps. The wines they chose are some of the hottest cult wines in Australia, made in minute quantities. I was quite shocked and excited to see them.
Besides this, the diversity of Australian regions is available to sample with some fun and serious examples from around the country that truly show regional diversity. My picks of wines you absolutely should taste are as follows:
d’Arenberg makes a huge range of wines in McLaren Vale, a region often known for jammy, ripe wines. But d’Arenberg makes fresh, characterful wines from old vines. The Dead Arm is one of their top wines, and well worth the insight into properly farmed and made McLaren Vale wines. Excellent.
d’Arenberg’s workhorse white The Hermit Crab is a wonderful, value white from white Rhone grapes. It’s fresh and very well made. Very Good.
This iconic wine is one of Australia’s best and hails from Victoria. It’s very rare and hard to find, with prices going up and up, but it is truly worth it. Elegance, finesse, lithe, brilliant. Excellent to Excellent+.
This Heathcote Shiraz from Tellurian is grown on a western exposure on the region’s red-gravel soils. It is a very hot region, but the evenings are quite cold, which keeps the acidity in the grape and the longer growing season helps add the full spectrum of shiraz notes including pepper and game that are often missing in earlier ripening regions. Very Good+.
Tahbilk’s entry level Marsanne is one of the best Australian whites for $20. The more expensive old vine is a masterpiece, though not being poured at the festival. It’s great to get a full diversity of Australian whites that are not just Chardonnay, and this is a perfect example. Very Good+.
The Yarra Valley is another important region that gets little attention here. This should change. Coldstream Hills is one of the better producers there and this Chardonnay showed particularly well. Very Good to Very Good+.
Tyrell’s from the Hunter Valley is an iconic Australian winery. I find them akin to a winery like Ridge that has been doing its thing for decades without compromise: here the wines are old school, acid focused and mineral driven. The Semillon is the famous wine here, but this Rufus Stone Shiraz also showed very well. Very Good+.
The Vat 47 Chard was a pleasure to taste, with plenty of zip and free of the overt lees that marred most of the Chardonnays at the tasting. Very Good+.
An entry level Semillon from Tyrell’s that is 11.5% and eminently drinkable. The label does a disservice for the wine inside, but this is another great value white. Very Good to Very Good+.
This tasty Vermentino continued the unusual grape trend and is only $20. Very Good.
Coonawarra is an important region for Bordeaux style blends. The wines from this region are famous for potent Eucalyptus aromas and I find sometimes this can dominate the profile far too much. The Bellwether Cab Sauv, however, avoided this excess and offered a beautifully structured wine with great texture and length. Excellent.
I did a double-take when I saw these at the festival. Ochota Barrels and Jamsheed are two of the hottest wineries of the ‘new Australia’ movement that I think is similar to the ‘new California’. I.e. focusing on terroir, and a fresher, more distinctive, variety driven style. These two Syrahs are made more in the French style and bear almost no resemblance to what most people think Australian Shiraz is. The Ochota was Excellent and the Jamsheed was Excellent to Excellent+. These wines are only available at the festival and are otherwise not imported into BC. These are must drink wines, even outside of the context of the wine fest.
I had not encountered this producer before, but I thought this was a wonderful, peppery Shiraz with some lovely whole cluster fermentation that led to nice stem aromatics. The body is more like Beaujolais Cru than Aussie Shiraz. Excellent.
This is lifted, beautiful Grenache that is not heavy. It is delicious and diverse with foods. Excellent.
An extremely impressive Burgundian Pinot Noir from the Macedon Ranges in Victoria (also the home of the esteemed Bindi). While the alcohol is at 14.1%, with a little chill this is quite lovely and an excellent example of the expression of Pinot Noir possible in the Macedon Ranges. Very Good+.
The Bellwether Chardonnay was another standout, and a far cry from the boring, leesy versions of most producers. Tasmania really is an intriguing source for Chardonnay given its cool climate. Very Good+.
The Oliver Taranga Fiano from McLaren Vale was a surprise to see and quite varietally correct. It is not dissimilar to versions from Italy’s Campania, and I was happy to pick up a bottle for future consumption. I would never peg this wine as Australian, let alone from McLaren Vale. Very Good+.
At $70 this is not cheap, but it is also extremely impressive bubble that I would compare to some Champagnes. Tasmania strikes again and offers some pretty wild, cool climate wines. Lots of tasters around me really liked this wine. Very Good+.
And to continue the Tasmanian trend, this lovely Chardonnay from Heemskerk was all salt and sea-water, with high levels of acid and plenty of citrus fruit. I thought it was quite lovely. Very Good+.