Wine Review

Test your wine knowledge today, with a few wine myths shattered by Master of Wine Peter-Scudamore-Smith. See if you can guess what’s fact and fiction!

White wine goes with fish, red wine goes with meat

Well that’s nineteen fifties thinking. We are now in the new millennium!

The more expensive a wine is, the better it is

Not always! It may often be the case, is often the case, but the price of wine is determined by a whole lot of factors. Fruit quality, location, bottle aging, fashion, packaging and even wine marketing strategies can influence price. Wines from less familiar grapes, places, and producers—especially imported wines—can offer impressive quality without hurting your hip pocket. Famous wines such as Grange with high prices have this standing for several reasons—market respect, industry awards, critical review, demand, rarity, cellaring potential and consistency of vintages.


Grange is arguably Australia’s most celebrated wine and is officially listed as a Heritage Icon of South Australia

An ice cube in warm wine is sacrilege

Not at a BBQ on a hot day! It’s wine, not holy water, and necessity is the mother of all invention. What would you rather, warm wine, cold wine or no wine at all?

Champagne should be drunk out of flutes

These days, I only use champagne glasses at home for serving dessert wines. I find they concentrate the bubbles too much and you end up with is a nostril full of fizz, you can’t smell the aromas. Better to use an ordinary wine glass—you get much more pleasure from the smell of the sparkling.

Queensland regional wines have hit great heights with alternative varieties

Most Australian regions have repetitively planted imported varieties originating in the cold and cool regions of Europeover the past 180 years. Take riesling, semillon, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot and others. As climate change is biting harder, it has become more difficult to ripen these, and very easy to ripen varieties from the Mediterranean rim. Queensland regions have struck a more even playing field with varieties such as verdelho, fiano, vermentino, viognier, nero d’avola, durif, barbera, tempranillo, graciano, tannat, sagrantino, saperavi and many more being established.

There are now a number of regions in Queensland delivering really good wine: South Burnett, Sunshine Coast Hinterland, Scenic Rim, Somerset and theDarling Downs.

The Granite Belt has altitude and latitude and is nowadays making great wine to critical acclaim. James Halliday awarded Boireann Wines, Golden Grove Estate, Symphony Hill Wines and Sirromet Wines (Mt Cotton cellar door) the prestigious 5 star winery award. Not far behind with four stars were Ballandean Estate, Harrington Glen Estate, Ridgemill Estate, Tobin Wines and Twisted Gum Vineyards. Golden Grove Estate was also one of the Top 10 Dark Horses in James Halliday’s 2014 edition.


View of Ballandean Station on the Granite Belt

Save the bubbles in your bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine by putting a spoon in it

Sadly once you crack that bottle of bubbles, the bead begins to flatten. A spoon in the neck of the bottle won’t plug the hole and keep the bubbles from escaping. Buy yourself a champagne stopper, for only a few dollars they are a stylish way to keep that bottle fresh. You place the stopper over the bottle top, push down to secure the rubber seal and pivot the two hinged arms underneath. Lily Bollinger once said: “I only drink Champagne when I’m happy, and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it—unless I’m thirsty.”

Red wine is best at room temperature

Depends what the room temperature is! Red wine is best at 15 to 18 degrees. Now “room temperature” in Australia can be anywhere from 1 degree to upwards of 40 degrees. Too often red wine is served warm so that it tastes soupy and indistinct. Pop it in the fridge for a while in summer and see the difference.

Blended wines are not as good as non-blended wines

Untrue. There’s an unfair chauvinistic stigma attached to blends, and it stems from the European DOCGhierarchicalestorie. Yet any single variety from DOC estatesmay contain up to 15% of another without declaration. Haughty thinking is still around, as most generically made wines are blends. But to dismiss blended wine is to dismiss history: so many old world vineyards have been planted with “field blends”; shiraz and viognier are very common in the Cote Rotie in the northern Rhone. very common. Why the award winning St Henri Claret, produced since 1911, is a perfect example of a great shiraz cabernet field blend. The Americans led the new world renaissance of planting fields with single varietals. Blending can make wines more complex: it’s is used to maximize the expression of a wine. It can enhance aromas, colour, texture, body and finish, making it a better-rounded and complex wine.


M Chapoutier, Hermitage Hill blended planting. These syrah vines are over 60 years old, and contain in part marsanne vines as well.

Red wine oxygenates and spoils the day after it’s opened. Only leftover white wine should be refrigerated.

Cold acts as a preservative as much for red as it does for white. It’s still best to consume wine as soon as possible after opening.

Better wines are always sealed with a cork

Screwcapped wines can age just as well as wines finished with a cork. Quality control is much easier with screwcapped wines. Up to ten percent of wines are spoilt by faulty cork.

Old wines are better

Become a student of wine first before even attempting to make a judgement call on this. The definition of age is important.

“Legs” are evidence of a high-quality wine

Legs, the streaks that run down the glass are actually indications of viscosity. This relates to the wine’s alcohol content. The higher the alcohol, the fatter the legs. Nothing to do with quality!

Boutique wineries make wines that are more authentic

We often have idyllic dreams of boutique wineries, especially those that are family-run and steeped in history. But does that give us the right to assume the wine produced at boutique wineries is more “authentic”? Not necessarily. You see, boutique wineries make wines in small lots, often focused on particular vineyards or parcels of fruit. But are such wines really better, or just different? Fewer boutique producers win wine trophies. The bigger wine producers have access to large production resources, winemaker, and economies of scale. This is reflected in their trophy winning wines. As for marketing, Grange-Penfolds for example invests heavily to further the image and quality of its globally-respected wine. Yet there is something to be said for a sense of place and the memories triggered by cracking a bottle bought at a cellar door where you met the winemaker in the flesh and enjoyed a yarn. Depends on your palate, really!



Banner caption: View of Ballandean Station

This story focuses on recognising the recent white wines of the Ballandean region; a dominant grape growing sub-district of the Granite Belt Geographic Indication (GI).

The vineyards are quite highly elevated—from 700 to 850 metres, which is in the top ten percent of vineyard regions in Australia. The essence of such mini-climates is very fresh white wines, pristine in varietal speech and generally delicate or fruity in the mouth. They thrive on being made dry as a dab of sugar is unwarranted, and appreciation is best as they present naturally.

So here is a selection of four whites from this high-country outpost of the GI.

Ballandean Estate SBS Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2012 90 (11.6%), Ballandean, Granite Belt ($18); an unwooded wine made continuously for over 20 years; but now a lot more finessed with the blending and the finer grapes now grown. This year is 60% semillon —the rich citrus and hints of honey bits, then the tropical and vegetal notes on nose and palate come from the 40% sauvignon. So, light bodied and light alcohol, steely palate, great with mussels or pan fried white fish as accompaniment.






Ballandean Estate Fiano 2012 93 (12.6%), Ballandean, Granite Belt ($22); a reasonably new varietal to this country; most of the plantings of it are found in the hills east of Naples in Italy. Winemaker Dylan Rhymer has made a smashing success of this as his first vintage—lovely green colour, and lots of peach, musk, bitter melon aromas then neat, light-medium bodied taste which will enliven any unwooded white drinker. The wine is dry, the acids freshening, sufficient to consume it with poultry dishes made in Mediterranean ways. Last stocks.






Ballandean Estate Viognier 2012 96 (13.5%), Ballandean, Granite Belt ($18); this company has made many viogniers, and sequentially made each vintage is a less full-bodied form, now without oak aging, and recently with lesser ripeness and lowered alcohol. The key with the variety this maker has discovered , is to not make the wine too over-flavoured. However it is still full bodied wine, but not over-the-top, though difficult to sell in great masses. Maybe it because the buying public struggle with the name-ask for vee-on-yeah, if you wish to get the French means of saying it. Quite a lovely wine.







Sirromet Vineyard Selection Pinot Gris 2011 92 (13.7%), Ballandean, Granite Belt ($21); this is a white deliberately building in the bottle so age is beneficial. Unlike the standard Sirromet gris bottlings which are drunk before they turn one-year-old, this wine is selected for its additional ripeness and weight of flavours. Kept aside, it is aged on its yeast for 8 months to gain additional texture, allowing the wine to grow before the bottling decision comes along. Brassy colour, pear and spice nose, then a pure fruit and medium textured taste; quite good with sauerkraut and pork sausage dishes.



You can read more wine tasting reviews from Master of Wine Peter Scudamore-Smiths here:
This article was first published in Queensland Country Life as part of Peter’s regular Tip of the Tongue series.

Uncorked and Cultivated conduct annual bespoke wine and food tours for small groups to drinkable destinations in Italy. Find out more by visiting or calling Denise on +61 412 403 567.

Etna’s best-nerello mascalese grapes

Benanti is one great Etna DOC winery that everyone should visit-it’s a very old place set on a small hill (Monte Serre, 450 m) in the village of Viagrande-on Mount Etna’s eastern slopes.

For a start it is one of the originals to resurrect the Etnean vineyards which had fallen foul of development and the bulk mentality taken towards Sicilian wines in general from the 60s onwards.

Evidence of grape culture millions of years pre the settlement of Sicily was discovered on Etna in 1860 and since that time vineyard production has both expanded and contracted. Today it is expanding again.

The heart and soul of Etnean producers is their palmenti-original yet abandoned wineries that operated by gravity feed and totally by hand labour from the 1860s until the depression in the 1930s where the industry died but the vines survived.

Benanti’s palmento in Viagrande is mid-way through revitalisation but has not been restored for winemaking while other farmhouses are now the tasting cellars and reception halls.

The large wooden grape press handle counterbalanced by a huge granite boulder however gives prominance to the palmento’s doorway. These men must have been one tough race of winemakers to operate such fearsome manual equipment.

Old Palmento Press

Benanti’s seminal white wine is made from the native carricante grape-the best expression being in the Milo region a little north of the cellars, also growing at high elevation (900-950 m).

This wine rides on its fineness. It is pale, slow maturing, unassuming in the mouth until you strike the minerality and acidity, coming around your mouth in a thin stream.

Pietramarina-from carricante grape

It is high end seafood wine which the province of Catania exudes with-swordfish, sea bass, sea urchin, tuna, octapus, calamari and more.

Benanti’s best white is Pietramarina 2008 (96); not yet released; 12%; elegant, smells of small white apples; is lean and restrained; then 2006 (95); subtle and toasty to a small degree, is pale emerald green; then 2001 (96); green, no more colour than that, toasty but still chalky to taste from the dominant minerality.

Three gems, having also drunk the fourth one-2007 (95) when visiting last year.

Serre della Contessa; Etna Rosso DOC (designated red Etna wine) 2006 (90) 14%; contains the two great red grapes of the mountain, nerello mascalese (80%) and nerello cappucio (20%); just a lovely pair to drink here, and take with you.

It’s tobacco, sour cherry, lean and lingering, 2006 is drying, then 2004 (92), 14%; a little funky, dry also, then 2002 (97); 14%; positively great with its cherry-jam notes, extra fineness and line. Great drinks.

Why so good? Well its a mixed-age blend of vines; some pre-phylloxera, over 80 y-olds; falling all over the ground as untrellised and misshapen bushes, low cropping vines, others more recent no doubt giving the blend its vitality.

Ungrafted, 80-100 year-old nerello, pre-phylloxera

Benanti produce a single varietal red; Monovitigno Nerello Cappucio IGT Rosso di Sicilia 2005 (92) from Verzella; 13.5%; having perfume, sweet fruit and very easy to get into; somewhat uncomplicated, spicy and soft; as were 2000 (91); 14%; and 1998 (92); 13.5%; soft landing wines, nice drinks, easy to see that this variety softens the Etna Rosso DOC two grape blend.

Benanti make another super Etna Rosso DOC called Rovitello from a northern Etna site in Guardiola contrada, 750 m altitude, the same 80/20 blend of the two designated red varieties.

This was a great visit. The challenge now is to drink more of these excellent varieties native to Mount Etna.

Donnafugata’s Estates-western Sicily

There was great anticipation in visiting Marsala.

First is the wonderful producer of the near-forgotten wine of the same name.

Then the exotic expectation of the street and beach scenes-more African like with the stark, square buildings, whiteness, both from chalky soils and white beaches, roadsides and salt piles, a startling place which connotes heat and dryness (great for fortified wine too).

Then there is the book-The Leopard which directs me to the notional remains of past Sicilian noble times in the 1890s at the wine properties of Donnafugata penned by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.

A cherub who eats nero d’avola!!

The Rallo family from Donnafugata were responsible for rejuvenation of the slowing marsala trade to super table wines from 1983, now with a 150 years of traditional experience, and maintaining a top vineyard (260 ha) at Contessa Entellina, 60 km south of Palermo.

So it was great to enter Donnafugata’s big barrel room to taste across all their wine styles; with even the wines from their island of Pantelleria- 100 year-old Khamma contrada (vineyard) sites there for dessert time.

While you drink these wines ahead, buy the pair of dvds Donnafugata Music and Wine Live -it should make the enjoyment even better.

Donnafugata’s white wines smelt carefully-made. They are modern, attractive form for New World drinkers yet reminding us that the variety is native, and therefore largely unique to Sicily.

What a great place to be! And of course the labels are happy. That improves the drinking because of the positive expectations. Heey.

I tried Vigna di Gabi DOP 1998, 2006 and 2011; a lovely line of the native ansonica (presented as inzolia elsewhere in Sicily); 88, pale green as I expect it to be, tropical yeast, fresh flowers too, endearing, tasting unwooded where it looks the best (ten percent had three months oak.

This is terrific white, gluggable; the 2006 now honied (89) and 1998 (90) even more honied, nice, tight old wine.

Two terrific and fresh native white IGPs were Anthilia 2011 (catarratto and ansonica, 90); and Polena 2011 (catarratto viognier 88); the latter crossing  alsoover with a chewy French variety.

However these natives just don’t “do it” when blended with chardonnay as the result is a gharish, chewy, over-coloured range of wines. Best leave chardonnay to the cool sites like Etna DOC where the racy, minerally tastes that I had were just divine-not fatness there!

That’s advice from a consummate maker of “new style” minerality-derived chardonnays. Colour must be pale straw, not irridescent green-gold.

Polena 2011- catarratto and viognier

Then there is the most anticipated moment of tasting Sicily’s most favoured red grape-nero d’avola. It comes in many great forms, all enjoyable and it is intriguing to witness the polarisation of style that is developing.

Donnafugata are unashamedly modern, and outfit their neros with tiny tipples of oak aging in French barrels.

I just loved Sherazade 2011 IGP (88); the anthesis of wood-aged wines; this is an entry-level drink, all cherry-juice fruit and fresh, ripe berries, lowish alcohol, all stainless steel-aged for brief life drinking.

The serious nero was Sedara 2010 IGP (91); just an appealing wine, smells sweet, tastes savoury-an ideal outcome; a racy wine, not too alcohol hot, not too oaky either.

Then there is the single vineyard wine from Contessa Entellina: Mille e una Notte 2010 IGP (94); heavenly, cherry-red, rich, oak-sweet, intense, extremely interesting, just engaging on the palate with its “New World” oak weight, still uncoiling, so it has another decade of drinking. One emphatic nero.

Also tasted were 1999 (92) and 2003 (86); the latter too oaky for my preferences.

Mille e una Notte-single vineyard nero d’avola

The next highlight of visiting was to walk below the tasting room to the cavernous barrel room to taste barrel samples. Just for fun.

The single site neros (Miccina, Mazzaporro), shiraz (Casale Bianco), cabernets, tannat (Predicatore) and petit verdot (Pandofina) from the 2011 harvest, bottled much later, show excellent promise to stir my sensory imagination.

More important than tasting was hearing the resident soloist, Jose Rallo, the owner’s daughter serenade her guests with her romantic songs-deep under the ground in a starlight barrel cellar. Goose bump stuff.

Donnafugata say they are a jazz-paced winery blending rules and creativity, feelings and technique. Now that is very sensitive-very Sicilian.

Masters of Wine Tasting-Cottanera

What a pleasant day to visit the Cambria family, makers of Cottanera, on a sunny spring morning.

Etna was behaving itself though there was a thin cloud of steam emitting as one looked across the nerello mascalese vines towards the south.

This visit was hailed as a property taking the international approach-the philosophy focussed on international varietals and a more international style of winemaking.

Cottanera today is reversing its trend and philosophy, and I was there to investigate. We were in Castiglione di Sicilia.

This brand is current in Australia and is becoming well known.

The welcoming party was extensive-principal Vincenzo explained the wines, assisted by Enzo, Emanuele, Francesco and Mariangela.

I took to the Etnabianco immediately because the grape used is really going to be the white face of Etna in future-carricante. It just loves growing at this elevation and produces great results.

Etnabianco 2011 (88) 13%; DOC Etna is pale, not an aromatic or tropical wine, its making in stainless steel actually preserves its terroir; its all about the taste, the minerally, stony notes, long and lean, mouth salivating and delicacy to boot.

The international winemaking here is all about the cool ferment-it preserves fruit and the delicate notes which the grape possesses.Curiously there is is ten percent catarratto included (the western Sicily white used in Marsala) which must be an experiment to see how it performs on Etna. Good so far.

The more international style white is Barbazzale Bianco 2011 (88) 12.5%; IGT which blends a terrific local white-inzolia with Rhone-origin viognier, and gives it a big slap of skin components.

The word barbazzale means golden beard for those curious about the naming.

This looks like work in progress as both varieties have a tendency to taste chewy. This is a step up in body over the loveable, racy, carricante.

Classic Etna Red

The Barbazzale Rosso 2011 (89) 13% DOC Etna is back to traditional Etna red grapes-nerello mascalese and nerello capuccio housed in some new French oak which was evident; these grapes have a lovely texture and softness, even at entry level wines.

The internationalisation of Etna’s prima red grape, nerello mascalese goes one stage further when blended with merlot and shiraz at 15 percent.

That makes Fatagione 2009 (93) 13.5% IGT; a hybrid of flavours which captures the silkiness of nerello with the bigger and fleshier merlot and shiraz; it works well in a new French oak barrel for a year.

The key to this style appears to not being heavy handed with the international pair-keep them in small proportions so the long fleshiness of nerello is not interrupted. Other vintages 2008 (90) and 2010 (92).

Cottonera make a big monster chewy Merlot called Grammonte 2008 (87) 14.5% IGT; other vintages 2007 (90) and 2009 (88). And a curio variety, a savoury Mondeuse called L’Ardenza 2007 (90) 13.5% IGT.

Finally I had to deal with how cabernet sauvignon grows on this mountainside. Cabernet is a very important grape, and the better ones around the world become the domain of collectors. It’s a variety with a great capacity to age and also excite.

This was my first Sicilian cabernet. It did not come across as a cool climate style (Yarra Valley) so I had to make warmer regions-McLaren Vale comparisons.

Nume 2007 (90) 14.5% IGT is a big chunky style of rich and ripe cabernet, has fifteen percent franc, ample layers of ripe cassis and minty fruit, powdery tannins and plenty to satisfy hearty drinkers. Other vintages 2006 (90) and 2008 (91).

The verdict: international versus indigeneous varieties; both types are well-made wines, people chasing honest and original wine will ask for carricante and nerello; new drinkers will just buy international if they are allowed to do so.

A true test of the winemaking is in the straddle of international varieties with local so that the wines produced become the unique personality of the property, local terroir and therefore the lasting and distinctive part of branding.

Owner Vincenzo Cambria (right) | Etna smokes

Etna has special values-it’s a great destination.

For years I have driven past the Seppeltsfield property and always had the same personal thoughts-what an under-utilised site.

Well that has changed. The big ticket item from this Barossa gem has been the 100 year-old vintage dated fortified tawny wines.

Since inception they were under the care of the Seppelt family until being laid at the feet of corporate ownership whereby the necessary investment in its future could not be met. The last owner being Fosters Wine Estates

A few years ago ownership changed hands to interests associated with the Clare brand Kilikanoon.

Management of this property needs buckets of money, and many in the past have looked hard to find any part of a bucket extra called profit.

About two years ago McLaren Vale grape entrepreneur Warren Randall appeared from over the Adelaide Hills to take a majority stake and has been the driver in setting Seppeltsfield’s new direction.

My first taste of a wine from this property with ancient grapevines is the Grenache Shiraz Touriga 2010 (AUD 29); 14%, a wine with more colour than the usual Barossa-based grenache. It reeks of chunk. Big boy there.

Seppeltsfield Grenache Shiraz Touriga 2010-from historical bushvines

The Seppeltsfield activity is very similar to the region-wide investments of the past two decades which have occurred in northern Sicily (Etna Rosso DOC) around the volcano.

Here new investors have purchased 100+ year-old gravity-fed wineries (palmentos) and refitted them with modern equipment.

On Etna the vineyards surrounding these properties are 60-90 years-old to go with the package. Of interest though Seppeltsfield have re-commissioned their original gravity flow red production facility whereas the Italians chose to go new.

So I like the red blend, it’s got density from the shiraz (and touriga, a fortified variety known for colour), and it does not let out much generosity. The tannins are soft but it stays composed-its keeping the best flavours close to its chest at present.

Seppeltsfiled’s other red blends are equally engrossing. Maybe there are two buckets of money to be made from these excellent reds. Look out for them and buy one.

Last year’s Barossa Valley Wine Show Trophy

Had the opportunity to train an eager palate this week, so the lineup was a batch of six Aussie cabernets.

The wines were masked so the taster was forced to go back to basics and use the principles of taste assessment-forget the guessing part.

And the tasting sequence was 2010 vintage (warm climate-McLaren Vale) followed by five cool region grown wines from the 2009 and 2008 years.

The McLaren Vale boomer was a richly-textured Kangarilla Road 2010 ***; 14%, AUD 20, probably as many wines of this region do, tasting a little like full flavoured shiraz with just a bit more dryness.

Warm area cabernet

Kangarilla Road Cabernet 2010

Cooler climate cabernets show more of the grippy tannin that cabernets must have and these five were really good drinks.

First was Leconfield Coonawarra 2009 ****1/2, 14%, AUD 29, colour a little aged, great florals and blackcurrant juiciness, drying, elegant, lots of flavour backbone and just drinkable powdery tannins.

Leconfield Cabernet 2009 Coonawarra

The next Coonawarra was Koonara Ambriel’s Gift 2008 ****1/2, 13.5%, AUD 30, a knockout nose of great ripe bits-licorice, jam, oak sweet nuance, then a sweet mint, spicy and big-flavoured memory.

Koonara Ambriels Gift Cabernet 2008 Coonawarra

Coonawarra number three was Di Giorgio Family 2008 ***1/2, 14%, AUD 26, a wine smelling of black fruits, chunky, angular, lots of grunt but not the elegance of wines prior.

Di Giorgio Family Cabernet 2008 Coonawarra

The last was Zema Estate Cluny, Cabernet Merlot 2008 ***1/2, 14%, AUD 26, a tad expensive, a spicy style, easy, lots of aroma and equally soft and supple in the mouth.

Zema Estate Cabernet Merlot (Cluny) 2008 Coonawarra

To complete the cabernet expose, an outstanding Margaret River cabernet sauvignon was exposed-Cape Mentelle 2009 *****, 13.5%, AUD 89, was just heavenly.

The beguiling features of this wine-spice and cedar oak, a very sexy smell, including the telltale bayleaf nuance,long and lush tannins, powderyness, and juiciness despite the fair barrage of tannin that cabernet gives.

Cape Mentelle Cabernet 2009 Margaret River

Just a total wine.

And what is the take home story?

1. Warm climate cabernet is fuller bodied that cool climate cabernet, the former may not even show much “cabernet” character!

2. cool climate wines are medium bodied with an associated whack of natural tannin which is drying yet a major part of the character of the wine.

Two renowned Australian areas where it grows well are Coonawarra (South Australia)  and Margaret River (Western Australia). Never ignore these two regions when looking to appreciate cabernet sauvignon.