Ben Canaider shares some of his favourite wineries from off the beaten track.
There are 2300 wineries in Australia with 1600 cellar doors and yet the top 20 wineries account for 80 per cent of all wine sales.
The big companies do dominate our wine-drinking landscape and that can lead to a little bit of same-sameness.
This is why we need, every now and then, to go off-piste, so to speak. We need to drink wines that are outside the square, wines that have a personality rather than a market-research-group-tested flavour profile. Here's a double-handful of such wineries; their wares can be found either at the cellar door or online - or both.
Chalmers, Murray Darling
Bruce and Jenny Chalmers run the biggest grapevine nursery in Australia. Their thing is alternative varieties: wines made from grapes of the weird and wonderful and often unpronounceable variety. Italian varieties feature strongly: reds such as lagrein, aglianico and sagrantino; and whites from grapes such as malvasia istriana and vermentino. The latter - the Chalmers Vermentino 2009 ($25) - is crispish, exotic and dry. It is the sort of thing that might appeal to verdelho drinkers.
Gembrook Hill, Yarra Valley
The chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and pinot noir have long been favourites of mine. They scream (well, they don't scream, actually, they sing) quality, finesse and individuality. The 2007 Sauvignon Blanc ($33) has that variety's pungency, but expressed in a less confrontational style than many NZ examples; the 2005 Chardonnay ($36) is a testament to the sort of lightly weighted effortlessness this grape can occasionally produce; and the 2006 Pinot Noir ($44) is a beautifully perfumed, long red wine. Drinkability is uniformly high.
Geoff Weaver, Adelaide Hills
Weaver made wines for Hardys for a while and first planted vines in the Adelaide Hills in 1982. He's been making his own wine there since 1992, so he's had the time to get it right. And right it is. The sauvignon blanc, riesling, chardonnay, pinot and cabernet blend are all wines of the highest rate; they have that wonderful, combined quality of purity and restraint. The 2008 Chardonnay ($35) is a complex, stylish, minerally white with an almost unAustralian chardonnay ability to age well in the bottle.
Meerea Park, Hunter Valley
Meerea Park's owners – Rhys and Garth Eather – trace their winemaking lineage back to the mid-19th century. It's clearly in their blood. Making mostly semillon and shiraz from the Hunter Valley and other regions, they bring spotless clarity to the whites and great texture and a keen medium-weight to shiraz. My favourite – probably for the price more than anything – is the 2008 Meerea Park Shiraz ($16). It's made from a blend of Hunter and Hilltops fruit and there's an honest savouriness to this approachable red.
Michael Unwin, Grampians
Michael Unwin makes wines in Western Victoria, out of his cellar door base at Beaufort. There are quite a few wines in a number of styles and ranges – the Tatooed Lady range, the Acrobat range and so on. I like his affordable One Goat range, particularly the 2007 One Goat Shiraz ($16). It has real verve, with an unabashed, flavourful cherry/plummy taste, yet it is not a fruit bomb.
With Adrian Munari, one is struck by his hands-on approach, the emphasis placed on low yields and low irrigation and the way the wines display a great sense of place. The reds seemed rustic, yet are also underpinned by concentration and structure. The range isn't too large, but the 2006 Ladys Pass Shiraz ($45) typifies this winery's expression of Heathcote the best. Oh, the Schoolhouse Red ($30) – a regional blend – can be a belter, too.
Murray Street Vineyard, Barossa
There's another great wine pedigree running through this Barossan brand – it's run by Andrew Seppelt, a direct descendant of the famous Benno Seppelt, the man who set up Seppeltsfield in the 19th century. Today Murray Street wines reflect the quality of the vineyards and intelligent winemaking; they are true to the region but without any problems of overtly high alcohol or cooked/dead/jammy fruit flavours. 2006 The Barossa ($25) is a blend of a lot of Barossan red wine varietals; the result being true to the name.
Dominic and Kystina Morris bring a Portuguese and French angle to their wines – that's where they studied and trained in the secret wine arts. Tempranillo – the red wine grape of Iberia – is something they seem to have a natural affinity with. It's unwooded and a good expression of the seductively aromatic, fruity-flavoured, yet tannin-structured nature of tempranillo. 2006 Pondalowie MT Tempranillo ($25)
Samuel's Gorge, McLaren Vale
Justin McNamee worked some wonders at Tatachilla before taking his own vision for wine off to Samuel's Gorge. The approach is uncomplicated: basket pressing, old open slate fermenters and an ideal that such procedures can capture the true personality of the local grapes. This is another good producer of tempranillo, but it is the 2006 Samuel's Gorge Grenache ($45) that makes one wonder why one doesn't drink more of this trademark fruity, textured red.
S.C. Pannell, Adelaide Hills
Arguably one of the best and most innovative winemakers in Australia? Yeah. The pure expression of the most perfect grape is at the heart of Pannell's endeavours. He makes grenache, he makes shiraz, but his 2005 S.C. Pannell Nebbiolo ($50) captures this north-western Italian red wine's acidity, pale colour and strangely rose-petalled perfume perfectly. And the tannins are there to keep everything upright.