A double bill because I did not publish a column last week.
Now that my 100 Best Australian Wines 2023/24 has been published, I start my search for next year’s wines. I know this sounds absurd, but compiling a list of the best, regardless of whether it is an annual initiative or not, is a 12-month task. This week, I have two producers to bring to your attention. Skillogalee did not feature in my Report because the vintages featured below are not yet in the UK. In some cases, UK distributors are a couple of years behind, but I still want to highlight these wines regardless, not least because you might find them on your travels. The second is Chatto. Why are you talking about Chatto? I hear you cry, not least because you featured a wine from Jim Chatto in your newly launched 100 Best Report. The answer is that 2021 Chatto Intrigue (the wine that made the cut this year) is in very short supply, and the 2022 shipment, which includes a couple of other cuvées, has already docked in the UK, so you can read about them first, here.
Skillogalee, Clare Valley, South Australia
2022 Skillogalee, Riesling 12.5%
Superbly direct and accurate with the volume of fruit turned up just a little bit louder than neighbouring properties, this is a classy wine that always represents great value in the UK. Glossy, bright and with a longer, lemongrass-soaked finish than a traditional Clare Riesling, this beautiful wine drinks well from day one. 18/20
2022 Skillogalee, Gewurztraminer 13.5%
The nose is gentle and pretty with fairy light rose petal tones and a fresh, clean, near-tropical palate and then the trademark Skilly acidity, born of the hillsides in this stunning valley, tightens up the finish to squeaky, immovable tautness. This stunning wine lasts for minutes on the finish, and unlike most Gewurz, there is absolutely no excess flesh or soapiness. Heroic, nervy and sensational, this is head and shoulders above any Southern Hemisphere Gewurz I have tasted this year. 18.5+/20
2022 Skillogalee, Trevarrick Riesling 12.5%
With even more density and amplitude of fruit, Trevarrick is a statuesque wine with prodigious acidity and a stern backbone of tart green apple and lemon pith tones. This wine is a cutlass, not a stiletto, slicing the palate deep with citrus slashes, and it takes a delicious few minutes for the fruit frenzy to abate. The future will undoubtedly be incredible for ’22 Trevarrick Riesling. 19+/20
2021 Skillogalee, Cabernet Sauvignon 14.5%
With warm, chewy, black fruit laden with kindly spices and exotic hints, this is akin to a juicy, welcoming Super-Tuscan, if ever there was such a thing! The oak is controlled, and the finish is bright and even, leaving the palate refreshed and coming back for more. 17.5/20
2021 Skillogalee, Shiraz 14.0%
In many ways, this is built on the same foundations as the Cabernet with easy-going, spicy, crunchy fruit that is not too challenging from a tannin perspective, and the bear hug of generosity certainly satiates the palate with ripe, open, forest fruit notes. 17.5/20
2021 Skillogalee, Trevarrick Shiraz 14.0%
Not surprisingly, Trevarrick Shiraz tightens up proceedings with more focus and accuracy, and it is longer, smoother and more balanced throughout. There could be a little more overall complexity, given it wears this badge of honour, but this is certainly a delicious wine with a decent evolution ahead of it. 18+/20
2022 Chatto, Lutruwita Pinot Noir
NB Lutruwita is the local dialect name for Tasmania.
While this is not a single vineyard wine, it is, in fact, assembled from several single vineyard plots. Jim Chatto’s idea behind this wine is to present an image of Tasmanian Pinot Noir as a whole in this wine, given it draws its flavours from Derwent, Coal River, East Coast and Tamar sub-regions. The idea is to collate flavours to assemble a light, bright, pure wine focussed on cherry, mulberry, and red plum tones and with 15% whole bunch inclusion adding imperceptible crunch and tension, and lending a framework to the silky fruit, it is not surprisingly very close to drinking on release. There are no visible tannins, only chalky acidity that neatly clips the soothing flavours, sending you back to the glass for another sip. This is a wine that will appeal to newbies and lifers alike. If this is Chatto’s Lutruwita tone for the foreseeable future, then it acts as the perfect ambassador for the rest of the portfolio. 18/20
2022 Chatto, Bird Pinot Noir
Bird, by contrast, requires Pinot fluency, at the very least, to translate its singular message. This vineyard-specific wine is sourced from the Pipers River region, and the great Dr Andrew Pirie originally planted this vineyard. While no whole bunches are used here, this is a more severe wine than Lutruwita, with brittle edges and chalky, mildly scouring tannins. It is beautifully floral, but this gentleness comes at a price. You are encouraged to embrace the profound minerality that courses through this enchanting wine’s veins. While it will soften a touch in time, its character will always be direct and slender, with convoluted pink and purple florals intertwined with hedgerow berries and heightened peppery nuances. This is a mesmerising creation, celebrating its terroir and single clonal source (114), resisting the urge to billow and relax into a looser, less controlled form with little discipline or rhythm. Bird soars, and while this is the lightest wine in the portfolio, it is a pure Chatto song to this vineyard and its harvest, and it could not taste any other way. 18+/20
2022 Chatto, Intrigue Pinot Noir
Intrigue comes from Jim’s own vineyard in the Huon Valley, and it is a blend of eight clones which combine to deliver a much darker and more tannic offering than the first two wines. The 2021 vintage of this wine first caught my eye, making its way into my 100 Best Australia Wines Report 2023/24, and it is safe to say that this vintage ratchets up the tension a couple more notches. Layered and complete, this is a breezy wine with cool astringency on the finish, promoting repeat visits to the glass. The fruit notes are a couple of shades darker than Lutruwita and a whole palette darker than Bird. Intrigue seems like a Premier Cru-shaped offering, given its amplitude of flavour and stature on the palate. Actively youthful and surprisingly racy, this stunning wine is all too easy to fall for. I suppose the clue is in the name – it certainly keeps you on your toes, challenging you, asking questions, and pushing forward in an unexpected and fascinating trajectory. 18.5+/20
2022 Chatto, Isle Pinot Noir
Isle will be available for the first time in the UK this autumn, and it is the apex Pinot in Jim’s collection. It is richer, darker, bolder and more intense than any of the other wines, and it is a magnificently controlled and dynamic wine in the greater Pinot planet. This is a more intense offering, but that does not mean it is in any way heavier than Intrigue. Its concentration and penetration of flavour, deep into the taste buds, is tremendous and entirely satisfying. From carmine via garnet to amaranthine and heliotrope, the colours this wine conjures up in one’s mind are kaleidoscopic, and a multitude of flavours follow these leads. Despite its apparent balance, this is a restless wine, and many will drink it far too young. I venture, given time, it will shapeshift into a glittering work of art and an astonishing tour de force for this label. 19+/20
The fascinating but rare white grape Siegerrebe, grown mainly in Germany with some notable plantings in England, pops up randomly in Jim’s vineyard. As a nod to history, he maintains a 1-2% inclusion of this quirky white grape in all his blended Pinots. And, finally, the image on the label is not, as I thought, a wall, but a fossil found in the vineyards!