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By Karen MacNeil
February 22, 2019

No country’s wines have been stereotyped more than Australia’s. When we think of them, we often think: big, thick, soft, and simple. But Australia makes scores of beautifully delineated, complex wines that are both structured and refined. Plus, they often taste like they cost more than they do.  Based on eight recent tasting sessions, here are the “OverAchiever” wines I think you should know about.

The wines below are not from a single variety or from a single region in the country.  Instead, I wanted to share a group of wines that had vivid personalities—wines that were both delicious and compelling; wines that just might change the way any of us thinks about Australian wine.


YANGARRA Roussanne 2016 (McLaren Vale, South Australia) $35

If you love creamy whites, here’s a long, slow rolling wave of sensational flavors. Beautiful freshness and lushness simultaneously, plus a texture so silky it feels a bit illegal. Roussanne is rare in Australia, but this might be the best roussanne in the entire New World. (13.5% abv)  95 points


VASSE FELIX Chardonnay 2013 (Margaret River, Western Australia) $55

Rich earthiness in perfect counterpoint to a terrific sense of tension that comes from acidity. Wonderful balance and refinement plus a complex bouquet from just a bit of age. (13% abv) 92 points


PENFOLDS “Bin 311” Chardonnay 2017 (Adelaide Hills, Tasmania, & Tumbarumba) $40

“Bin 311” represents a wholly new style of Australian chardonnay—taut, cool, refreshing, and starched. If you love crisp chardonnay, this is your kind of white wine. Crunchy acidity. Key lime pie flavors. Spring loaded with freshness. (12.5% abv) 92 points


YANGARRA “High Sands” Grenache 2015 (McLaren Vale, South Australia) $90

Australia has some of the most extraordinary old grenache vines in the world and they lead to wines like this—gorgeously rich and tasting of cherry confiture and exotic spices. “High Sands” (which has a cult following) is grown at the top of the Yangarra Estate on ancient sandy dunes. The gnarly old bush vines were planted in 1946. (14.5% abv) 96 points


HENSCHKE “Mount Edelstone” Shiraz 2013 (Eden Valley, South Australia) $230

For anyone who knows Australian wine, the name Henschke is magic. The “Mount Edelstone” has cooling flavors of forest, cedar, and pine, plus licorice and peppery spiced red fruits. Satisfying and savory. From ungrafted “centenarian” vines over 100 years old. (14.5% abv) 93 points


TORBRECK “The Struie” Shiraz 2015 (Barossa Valley, South Australia) $60

Torbreck makes powerful wines packed with syrupy, jammy fruit. Some miss the mark, but the Struie is convincing. Even with its high alcohol, it’s downright sumptuous—a landslide of savory, salty, minerally flavors plus opulent dark fruits. (15% abv)  92 points


POWELL & SON “Loechel” Shiraz 2016 (Eden Valley, South Australia) $90

Deep, brooding, and almost sinister with primordial character. Delicious corruption is here with wonderful smoky, spicy flavors reminiscent of Chinese Five-Spice and a good amaro.  Intense to say the least, and yet shot through with bolts of freshness. (14% abv) 95 points


YALUMBA “The Signature” Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2014 (Barossa Valley, South Australia) $70

The best Barossa wines are usually densely packed with flavor, and “The Signature” is. Imagine a kaleidoscope of raspberry sauce, vanilla, cracked pepper, espresso, graphite, pipe tobacco, and minerals. Tasting this wine, flavors were coming so quickly, I could barely write them down fast enough. Cabernet’s structure meets shirazes’ soft center. (14% abv)  94 points


YALUMBA “The Cigar” Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 (Coonawarra, South Australia) $40

“The Cigar” is named after the famous cigar-shaped strip of terra rossa soil (red clay over limestone) in Coonawarra from which many of the great cabs come. There’s a soaring tannin structure here (much like Napa cabernet) but the flavors are wholly Oz: juicy boysenberry, camphor, spiced tart cranberries plus a wonderful minerality. A grilled steak is in order. (14.5% abv) 93 points


CAPE MENTELLE Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (Margaret River, Western Australia) $72

Sleek and medium-bodied, the Cape Mentelle cabernet has tons of vivid aroma and flavor packed into it: wild cherry, wild blueberry, cassis, sandalwood, and exotic spices. What’s especially lovely about this cabernet is its freshness, as well as its fine tannins. It’s the beauty (not power) side of cabernet sauvignon. (14% abv) 92 points


HICKINBOTHAM “Trueman” Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (McLaren Vale, South Australia) $75

Renowned throughout Australia, the Hickinbotham estate perched above the floor of McLaren Vale (Valley) is the source of a half dozen fantastic wines. “The Trueman” is not the most expensive, but it is one of my favorites. Beautifully elegant and incredibly long, its uplifts of flavor—cassis, almonds, minerals, and camphor—are mesmerizing and complex. Alive and elegant. (14.5% abv) 96 points


VASSE FELIX “Tom Cullity” Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec 2014 (Margaret River, Western Australia) $165

Get ready for a long ride. Along the way, there’s sage and menthol, cassis and cranberry, black pepper and graphite; all coming in slow waves. It is, above all, a wine of great classic balance with a fine tannic structure reminiscent of top Bordeaux blends. Thomas Cullity was the founder of Vasse Felix, one of the pioneering estates of Margaret River. (14.5% abv) 95 points