Reports 16 June 2020

The great investable wines of Australia

From Grange to Wendouree, Hill of Grace to Grosset, Huon Hooke lists his 15 most collectable Australian wines

Words by Huon Hooke (Recommendations), Adam Lechmere (Intro)

Photography by Facundo Bustamante

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When it comes to identifying the most ageworthy and collectable Australian wines, Langton’s Classification is a reliable guide. Published every five years by the auction house and wine merchant, the Classification has very simple rules for inclusion: the wine must go back at least 10 vintages, and must show consistent performance in the auction market. Both criteria are eminently provable, which is what makes Langton’s – now in its seventh edition – a useful, though not exclusive, record of the very best of Australian wine.

Penfolds Grange has sat at the top of the list since the first Classification in 1990; there are now 22 wines in the “Exceptional” category, described as “The most highly prized of all Australian fine wines. Representing generations of effort and character of place.”

Huon Hooke’s list of the 15 Most Collectable Australian Wines, below, is personal and not exhaustive. Only one of the list – Penfolds St Henri Shiraz – is not in Langton’s Exceptional category but in the second tier: “Outstanding”.  A fascinating and compelling wine, Hooke describes St Henri as Grange’s “alter ego”.

All of these are wines that over the years have held their value and performed consistently well at auction. Almost all are household names: Grange, Hill of Grace, Leeuwin Estate, Mount Mary, Wendouree, Cullen, Torbreck, Grosset, Brokenwood, Wynns, Giaconda. They are rightly seen as not only the finest examples of Australian wine, but among the greatest wines in the world.

Henschke Hill Of Grace
Current vintage 2015
Henschke is one of Australia’s most respected wineries, family owned since its inception in 1868, with fifth generation winemaker Stephen Henschke now in charge. His wife Prue is the viticulturist, completing a rare husband-wife combination. The portfolio, base on Eden Valley vineyards, is augmented by wines from the Adelaide Hills and Barossa Valley floor. Viticulture is biodynamic. Hill of Grace is a powerful but elegant single-vineyard shiraz, first made by Stephen’s father Cyril in 1958 from vines which turned 100 that year. It ages for at least 35 years. Screw-capped since 2002.
Average price (case of 12) £5,712

Penfolds Grange
Current vintage 2015
Grange has never skipped a vintage since its inception in 1951, the continuity no doubt contributing to its great success as a collectable. The ability of the winemakers to blend across vineyards and regions (limited only to the state of South Australia) enables them to make the wine each year, although quantities vary widely. The blend is normally based on the Barossa Valley. The best vintages, such as 1955, 62, 66, 71 and 83 are 50-year wines. Grange remains a collectable, although recent dramatic rises in the release price have affected its investment potential. It’s massive, powerful, strongly-oaked.
Average price (case of 12) £5,508

Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon
Current vintage 2016
Grange might have been produced from cabernet in 1951 had cabernet been available, but there was too little of it available of the necessary quality. There was a one-off Grange Cabernet made in 1953, but Bin 707 did not appear till 1964, and is not made every year (there’s no 2017). Like Grange, it is a South Australian vineyard and regional blend, based on Block 42 of Penfolds’ Kalimna vineyard in the Barossa Valley. Chinese demand for Bin 707 is exceptionally strong.
Average price (case of 12) £3,840

Torbreck Vintners RunRig
Current vintage 2016
Torbreck is a relatively young winery, established in 1994, the first RunRig being the 1995. Founder Dave Powell quickly built Torbreck’s fame for full-bodied Barossa Valley reds. It’s now owned by Californian Pete Kight and chief winemaker is Ian Hongell, formerly of Peter Lehmann. Northern and western Barossa vineyards, old low-yielding vines, and late harvesting are the Torbreck hallmarks. RunRig is sourced from various growers on the Western Ridge. A small percentage of viognier is blended in before bottling. RunRig is no longer the most expensive Torbreck wine – that’s The Laird – but has a longer pedigree and remains a solid collectable.
Average price (case of 12) £1,812

Wendouree Shiraz
Current vintage 2017
Wendouree is a great vinous treasure, a winery established in 1895 producing six estate-grown red wines based on cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, malbec and mataro. It is a toss of the coin which you prefer, but the straight shiraz rates highest in Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine (based on auction performance). These are statuesque, full-bodied reds with silken tannins that age well for 40 years. Their reliability will be all the greater since bottling under screw-cap began in 2009.
Average price (case of 12) £1,380

Henschke Mount Edelstone
Current vintage 2015
Like Hill of Grace, this is a single-vineyard Eden Valley shiraz, sourced from a 16-hectare planting. Like Hill of Grace, the wine was created by Cyril Henschke, the first vintage being 1952, harvested when the vines were 40 years old. It was rare at the time to plant a new vineyard to a single grape variety, as Ronald Angas did in 1912. The vineyard was bought by the Henschkes in 1974. It ranks number two in the Henschke portfolio after Hill of Grace and possesses a similar elegant style and longevity. Screw-capped since 2002.
Average price (case of 12) £1,368

Giaconda Estate Vineyard Chardonnay 
Current vintage 2019
Australia’s most iconic chardonnay has been produced by the Kinzbrunner family at Beechworth at the foothills on the Victorian alps since the late 1980s. The vineyard is on granite-based soils at 400 metres altitude, but as the seasons have warmed, the Kinzbrunners have seen fit to move their chardonnay vines to cooler, south-facing slopes. Rick Kinzbrunner has always had a global outlook and this chardonnay is as close to Burgundy as Australia gets, employing full malolactic and barrel fermentation in a gravity-based cellar. Under screw-cap (since 2013), it will age well for a good 15 years.
Average price (case of 12) £1,188

Brokenwood Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz
Current vintage 2017
From struggling vines on land so poor it was once earmarked for a cemetery, comes this concentrated Hunter Valley shiraz that has gradually accumulated an outstanding record for quality and longevity. The 1983 was the first Graveyard, the winery having been founded in 1970. Iain Riggs has directed the winemaking for every Graveyard vintage, providing continuity of vision. All but the lesser vintages are still drinking well, and today it’s only bottled in the best years. The 1986 is still superb. Screw-capped since 2002.
Average price (case of 12) £1,176

Mount Mary Vineyard Quintet
Current vintage 2017
Dr John Middleton founded Mount Mary in 1971 and today his grandson Sam makes the wine. The medico’s fastidious attention to detail survives. The wines are all estate-grown. Dr Middleton, a local Lilydale GP, was also a musician and Quintet was his name for a blend of the five Bordeaux red varieties; Triolet for his blend of the three Bordelais whites. Quintet relies on elegance and balance rather than brute power for its charm and longevity. It drinks well for at least 25 years. The 1990 is a famous vintage.
Average price (case of 12) £1,020

Wynns Coonawarra Estate John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon
Current vintage 2016
Wynns is Coonawarra’s senior winery, with a history dating back to 1897 and by some margin the largest owner of vineyards on the famed terra rossa strip. John Riddoch is a barrel selection, the best cabernet of the vintage, first produced in 1982 to instant acclaim. Always powerful, its oak and alcohol levels have been moderated since chief winemaker Sue Hodder took over in the late ‘90s. It’s very collectable in Australia but globally its profile is lower because of limited exporting. Forty year lifespan is conservative. Screw-capped since 2004.
Average price (case of 12) £948

Penfolds St Henri Shiraz
Current vintage 2016
The first commercial vintage was made in 1957 by Grange’s arch-critic John Davoren as a riposte to Max Schubert’s Grange. It could be said to be Grange’s alter ego: medium to full bodied, soft-textured, and always aged in large wood, never in new or small oak. Paradoxically, it ages almost as well as Grange and has its own loyal cult following. Like Grange, it can be produced from a variety of vineyards and regions in South Australia.
Average price (case of 12) £924

Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Merlot
Current vintage 2018
Together with Vasse Felix and Moss Wood, Cullen was one of the first wineries in Margaret River, a region that celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017. Cabernet Sauvignon has always been this winery’s and the region’s greatest strength. Under the skilful direction of chief winemaker Vanya Cullen, youngest daughter of the founders, the wines are better than ever today. Vanya is an ardent proponent of biodynamics and the entire domaine is managed biodynamically. This wine, named after her late mother, the first winemaker, ages for 30-plus years. Screw-capped.
Average price (case of 12) £804

Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon
Current vintage 2017
Moss Wood was established by Dr Bill Pannell and has been owned since the 1990s by winemaker Keith Mugford and his wife Clare. The cabernet, grown on a discrete and privileged slice of land in the prime cabernet sub-region of Wilyabrup, was the region’s first to achieve cult status. From the very first vintage, in 1974, is showed great depth of flavour, quality and ageworthiness. It’s exceptional in the region for its softness of tannin coupled with proven ability to age. Screw-capped.
Average price (case of 12) £792

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 
Current vintage 2017
The Horgan family established Leeuwin Estate in the southern half of the Margaret River region in 1974 with advice from Californian Robert Mondavi. Planted to the locally favoured Gingin chardonnay clone, Leeuwin’s Block 20 vineyard immediately began yielding exciting wines in an opulent, tropical fruited style. Today’s wines are tighter, more refined and less oaked, and appear to be even slower maturing than the early vintages – which aged superbly. Under screw-cap (since 2004), they will be even more reliable in the cellar, aging for a good 20 years.
Average price (case of 12) £732

Grosset Polish Hill Riesling
Current vintage 2019
Jeffrey Grosset has worn the crown of Australia’s riesling king with ease. Having first worked for Lindemans, he opened his eponymous winery in the Clare Valley in 1981 and produced his first Polish Hill riesling the same year. Sourced from slate-based soils in the Polish Hill River sub-region, it is the most nervy and longest-lived of Grosset’s rieslings. The vineyard is certified organic. Fifteen years is easy for these wines; the best should last for 20, especially those under screw-cap, which has been used exclusively since 2000.
Average price (case of 12) £360

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