Why not “the best”?
There’s a word in the wine lexicon that needs a good, hard look at itself – and those, too, who use it with excess hubris, ignorance and ego. That word is “best”.
It gets a fair workout at this time of the year, as pundits like this writer look back at what has impressed them.
And, of course, in the wine show circuit that word is pretty well worn out by the end of the season. It’s true that the “best” wine in a particular show has found its way to the top after a group of judges have tasted and assessed often dozens of wines in a row, noted their thoughts, scored them, and after a round table discussion, decided on trophy winners across various classes, varieties and styles.
Eventually, a wine will be voted and named the top wine of the show. Then, the marketing and PR hounds are let loose and, before you know it, after dozens of competitions all year long, chip after chip is knocked off the concept of “best” until its real meaning is lost, or at least extremely confused.
In the end, how many “bests” can consumers tolerate before the bucket overflows?
To explain: we are tuned into the concept that, in the sporting realm, a gold medal means you’ve won an event. Silver, second, bronze for third. Everyone else: dust. Though participation is a mighty fine achievement in its own right.
In the wine world, gold medals are awarded if an entry is judged to have achieved a certain level of quality. There may be several golds awarded in each class, but they aren’t all dead-heat winners. After often intense re-tastings and debate, a Top Gold will rise in a certain class, then that wine will perhaps go into a shoot-out with other similarly judged wines and, eventually, an ultimate winner is decided.
It’s a most democratic system to that point, though occasionally there’s a bit of dogma and ideological control exerted from senior judges in the styles of wines that are to be favoured at that time and in that place.
All of this is to say that if you were really keen, you could search out the results of every little wine show and figure what has done well, cross-check multiple results to see which wines did what, and you’d start to get a pretty decent spreadsheet together. As well as a well-deserved, wine nerd reputation to boot.
One problem with all this is there are now so many competitions and so many listicles beyond the traditional circuit that tracking them all diminishes their worth and muddles the meaning of “best”. Small, boutique, cool-climate, inland, alternative, Upper Kumbucca, probably even Betoota – they all have their place and some require genuine attention.
A recent addition to the show world, the Drink Easy Awards, held in Adelaide, spruik their winners as the “Best Wine in Australia”, along with best lists of spirits, beers and ciders, alternative beverages and eventually coming up with a top 10 list of the “Best Drinks in Australia” across all categories.
It’s a newcomer but, still, it’s a ballsy claim, and no doubt the ensuing PR messaging from wine companies will not hold back. All power to the awards, in any case, for not awarding scores or medals, and also for its diversity of judges, not all being winemakers or so-called experts, and including more educated consumers in the mix.
So, at the end of the year, these are not my “best” wines/beverages/drinks of the year but more a review of the treasures of 2022. And yes, I stand accused: it’s still another bloody list.
It includes wines I’ve reviewed in this column in the past 12 months, several impressive South Australian winners of show trophies across the country, and other stuff I found delicious in social and professional surroundings.
It’s a wine playlist of 2022: a show that never closes.
I’m not even going to count them – lest someone important decides to put a headline on it that reads: “The Best 50-something Wines of the Year”. (Note to editor: there are more than that!)
At the very least, if these make for a starting point for your drinking plans over the next few months, then that would be the best result ever.
Golding Blanc de Blancs 2016 / Adelaide Hills / $60
Deliciously delicate, classic Hills white nectarine/apple/lime-citrus profile, trophy winner at this year’s Royal Adelaide.
DAOSA Blanc de Blancs 2017 / Adelaide Hills / $90)
Layered complexity, chardonnay fruit highlighted, zesty citrus with a little more weight and rounder feel. World-class.
Deviation Road Beltana Blanc de Blancs 2016 / Adelaide Hills / $105
Consistently up there with the finest sparklings from anywhere in the world, multiple trophy-winning, brilliant tension and refreshment in the palate with excellent yeast lees-derived complexities. Treat yourself.
Mordrelle Blanc de Blancs Reserva 2016 / Adelaide Hills / $50
From a fanatical micro-producer, this is fabulous fizz in anyone’s language, with great palate energy, acidity, tangy citrus flavours and excellent, long-lingering, chalky palate feels.
Sidewood Isabella Rose (Sparkling) 2015 / Adelaide Hills / $35
Highly awarded domestically and internationally, this traditional method pinkie sings with bright strawberry and red cherry flavours, wonderfully refreshing, superbly rendered finish. Delish.
Vigna Cantina Prosecco 2021 / Barossa / $28
A bit more complex than most Proseccos, with some yeast lees maturation contrasting with saline elements, crispy apple flavours and the faintest of bitter lemon finishing notes.
Delinquente Tuff Nutt Bianco Pet Nat 2022 / Riverland / $25
Perfectly simple and tangy Pet Nat in a graphic-graffitied label, like a tropical mocktail meets apple cider. Note it is made from a very rare grape, Bianco d’Alessano, from the only block known to be in Australia. Drink it cold and straight, or splash some bitters into it, even some orange-amaro. Sings of summer.
Camwell Menagerie Rose Pet Nat 2022 / McLaren Vale / $27
Part of the joy here is the simple fun of the pet nat style, and more so given this is a blend of 10 varieties: Vermentino, Muscat, Riesling, Viognier, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cabernet and Grenache. Mad, yes. Why not? Tastes like fresh raspberry slushy, with heaps of lime juice.
Sons of Eden Freya Riesling 2022 / Eden Valley / $25
A standout Riesling from the region with enticing aromas of chalk and lemon zest, serious varietal intensity, and deliciously mouthwatering acidity.
Naked Run Riesling 2022 / Clare Valley / $25
Multiple award-winning, with an astounding track record over many years. And for good reason: delicately perfumed with bath salt classic lemon/lime characters,
Smallfry Isolar Riesling Roussanne 2021 / Barossa / $40
Riesling in a fuller-bodied dressing; ripe, almost tropical, still limey, with saline skin contact characters and added interest, crunch and tension from the addition of Roussanne. Most engaging.
Murdoch Hill Tilbury Chardonnay 2021 / Adelaide Hills / $50
Gorgeous, modern chardonnay, classic yellow grapefruit notes, nut and cream bun, fresh and exciting to the palate. Might be hard to find as it’s highly sought after, but jump on it if you can. Or wait ‘til the new ’22 vintage comes on board.
Tapanappa Tiers Vineyard 1.5M Chardonnay / Adelaide Hills / $59
From Brian Croser’s prized Piccadilly Valley vineyard, there’s a lot going on here in terms of white stone fruit, chalky palate feels, and subtle spice notes. All class, and maybe hard to track down – must be something about Hills Chardonnay! Others from the same stable will also delight.
BK Wines The Fall Chardonnay 2021 / Adelaide Hills / $55
One of five Chardonnays that Brendon Keys creates – all 100% whole bunch/wild yeast/barrel fermented; this variation is classically styled with pristine green pear and ginger notes. Delicious and moreish. And for extreme pleasure, go all out with BK’s Archer Beau Chardonnay 2019 at $110.
Cooke Brothers Schoenthal Vineyard Chardonnay 2021 / Adelaide Hills / $35
Delightful, more linear style, glossy, tangy, in an apple and lime spectrum of flavours and palate feel, with wild ferment elements adding depth. Excellent integration and mouthwatering til the last drop.
Terre a Terre Down to Earth Sauvignon Blanc 2021 / Wrattonbully / $32
Takes the whole Sauvignon Blanc construct to a new level, with part large oak fermentation and clever yeast lees maturation bringing depth and interest in the palate rather than just depending on wild up-front aromatics. Cleverly rendered refreshment.
Wines by KT Pinot Gris 2022 / Clare Valley / $34
Known for her marvellous Rieslings, as expected out of Clare, this is equally racy but with its flavour bag filled with classic crunchy pear/apple notes. Th gris texture is counterbalanced by tangy lime refreshment. Summer right there.
Yangarra Roussanne 2021 / McLaren Vale / $38
There’s a bit of mystery in this wine, a richer style in its fragrance, like chamomile flowers and stone fruits, but the palate has texture and excellent salivating feel in the finish. Go the next step and try also Yangarra’s Roux Beaute Roussanne ($65) for a top-shelf experience.
Mount Horrocks Semillon 2021 / Clare Valley / $32
Stephanie Toole adores her Semillon, made in tiny quantities with so much love and care, nurturing just enough oak into the wine for it to have a lemon delicious creaminess with ground almond notes. Yet it’s still gloriously refreshing. A beauty.
MMAD Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2021 / McLaren Vale / $48
A really exciting inaugural release from the Shaw+Smith team out of their new Blewitt Springs vineyard, bringing a heap of flavour in a lemon to tangelo-like way; fruit and skin, with salivating, maritime backdrops. Turning many a learned head about a trending variety.
Sherrah Wines Fiano 2022 / McLaren Vale / $30
One of the state’s finest artists with this variety, Alex Sherrah has tapped into a mix of lemon and apple blossoms to start, keeping the palate acidity zinging with lingering, mouthwatering persistence. Real yum factor.
La Prova Fiano 2022 / Adelaide Hills / $28
Italian variety specialist Sam Scott does it again, with subtle lemon floral, fruit and pithiness from start to finish, neatly balanced with flavours tracking evenly with encouraging mouthfeel. Everything in place so intricately you could blink and miss all the compass points covered.
Hahndorf Hill Gru Gruner Veltliner 2022 / Adelaide Hills / $32
Pioneers and ongoing stars with this ever-engaging white variety that is loving its many adoptees in the Hills. Of four variations in style from the HH folks, this is the classic, combining vibrant grapefruit and sub-tropical fruit flavours, juiciness, spice, and a delicate mouth-filling texture. It’s a pleasure.
Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2020 / Eden Valley / $28
Chief winemaker Louisa Rose calls this the “essence of Yalumba Viognier” offering white orchard flowers, stone fruits (white peach and apricot) and a delicate mint note as well, with a little chalkiness in the palate feels and trademark finishing gingery and peppery spice. Straight-up delicious.
Larnook Grenache Gris 2022 / McLaren Vale /$27
As new and exciting as can be, this Grenache variation (in the same vein as Pinot Noir, Gris and Blanc) is a real eye-opener. Lovely native bush florals with a little palate weight that provides textural complexities, yet gorgeously refreshing and very, very drinkable. Very!
Unico Zelo Esoterico 2021 / Riverland+Clare Valley / $25
Comes with an amber wine reputation though this latest iteration just delights with a refreshing and flavoursome mash-up of five white varieties, Chardonnay, Gewurtztraminer, Greco, Moscato Giallo, and Zibbibo. Full of wild tang and sensory excitement.
This story was originally published by Solstice Media via @indaily and its not-for-profit arts and cultural journalism masthead @inreviewau