Why you should prepare to start paying more for the best Australian wines

Australian wine lovers have had it too good for too long, according to John Casella.

"You go to the US, you go to Europe, and look at what they are selling their super premium wines for, versus what we're selling them for," he says.

"I think the Barossa needs to do a lot more work in building up its pricing, because you can't have the super premium image and be selling $15, $12 or $10 wines."

Bottom dollar value

First growth Bordeaux reds are routinely priced above $1000 a bottle upon release, yet you can buy Peter Lehmann Wines' flagship Stonewell Shiraz at $70 on a good day.

This didn't sit well with Casella, the Yellowtail wine magnate who acquired the legendary Barossa winery in 2015, continuing his family's diversification beyond commercial wine.

"To me it didn't make the right statement that we were selling something for less than what everybody else was," he says.

"We've come to condition Australian consumers to prices that aren't realistic and don't really reflect what it costs to grow that type of grape.

"If we're going to ask growers to grow these super premium grapes, we have to give them super prices. Simple as that."

The price is right

Enter Masterson Shiraz 2015, which at $2000 for a 1.5L magnum, sits atop the pricing hierarchy for top Aussie reds.

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Current release Penfolds Grange has an RRP of $900, while Henschke Hill of Grace is priced at $845.

Masterson's pricing will settle at $1000 a 750ml bottle for future vintages; a clear statement of intent by John Casella, as the field for super premium Aussie reds continues to grow.

There's Taylors with The Legacy Cabernet ($1000), Yalumba with The Caley Cabernet Shiraz ($350) and Jim Barry with The Armagh Shiraz ($380).

Grace of age

Renowned winemaker Andrew Hardy has entered the fray with his independent label Ox Hardy Wines, showcasing the Hardy family's old vine upper Tintara Vineyard in McLaren Vale.

"I always wanted to do a single vineyard wine out of that vineyard, because it is one of the treasure vineyards in Australia, really," says founder Andrew Hardy.

The flagship Ox Hardy 1891 Ancestor Vine Shiraz 2008 is priced at a comparatively modest $225.

"Hill of Grace is probably the nearest thing to what we're doing because it's a single vineyard," says Hardy.

"If you put it in that context, it probably is good value."

Points of difference

The wineries trading in this luxury segment rely upon varying criteria to underpin their pricing, beyond making the best possible wine and packaging it in a fancy box.

Ox Hardy has the scarcity of old vines and the rich winemaking pedigree of the Hardy name, and some of the cellaring has been done for you.

"I'm releasing the first vintage at 11 years of age – the 2008 is in a really fantastic drinking window right now," Hardy says.

"When I release the 2010 early next year as a ten year old, that will remind people what a great vintage that was.

"I think it's quite neat that I have been able to stockpile that wine and release it with some decent bottle age."

Masterson, meanwhile, will showcase the most exceptional parcel of fruit available each vintage to Peter Lehmann.

Subject to opinion

With its unrivalled grower relationships across the length and breadth of the Barossa, this should ensure pretty spectacular lineage, versus the  single vineyard romance of Ox Hardy.

Both are elegant and age-worthy Aussie reds, storied in their own way, and worthy of a spot in the country's finest cellars.

As in the case of any luxury good, whether they are worth the prices they command is highly subjective.

Masterson may be a new wine, but Casella hopes it becomes the halo of the Peter Lehmann range, one of Australia's greatest wines and one of the world's greatest Shiraz.

"I believe that we will stand here in another 40 years' time knowing that we have created a wine that will leave a remarkable legacy, just like Peter Lehmann himself," he says.

James Atkinson is creator of the Drinks Adventures podcast and a previous editor of Australian Brews News and drinks industry publication TheShout. A Certified Cicerone® and 2017 winner of the Australian International Beer Awards media prize, James regularly contributes to other publications including Halliday, Good Food, QantasLink Spirit and more.

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