From the tasting team

James Halliday's red wines for summer

James Halliday by James Halliday

5 Jan, 2023

James Halliday shares his top red wines for summer.

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Red wines to enjoy in the heat of summer. An oxymoron, surely, and leaving nothing more to be said. Well, no, there’s lots. What is the temperature of your body, the room and the wine? Is it dark outside when you sit down for the evening meal? Is it at home or a restaurant, a cafe, or bistro?

Enough prevarication. It’s the summer holidays that set the tune, and there are three red varietal styles that offer the most: pinot noir, grenache and sangiovese. What’s more, grenache (including grenache shiraz mourvedre blends) and sangiovese offer a swag of wines under $30.

Most of the wines I’m recommending were tasted over July/August, so should be available. Moreover, 90 per cent come from the 2021 vintage. For much of Eastern Australia, it was a truly great year, and for grenache and McLaren Vale it was the marriage of a lifetime.

Wirra Wirra has two grenaches. Supple red and purple fruit flavours drive the 2021 Farmer’s Heart ($26), tannins and oak play support roles to this so-attractive wine. At the top end of the Wirra scale is the 2021 The Absconder ($70), where the scented/perfumed/spicy bouquet is foreplay for one of McLaren Vale’s greatest grenaches, the vintage giving fruit of stunning purity, the flavours taking in contributions of red cherry, raspberry, spice and florals. 

Red durif grapesPinot noir, grenache and sangiovese offer great value for money when it comes to summer reds.

Chapel Hill also had two stunning wines with different pedigrees; the first is one of the bargains of the year, the 2021 The Parson Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre ($18). It’s juicy, it’s silky, it’s beautifully balanced, it’s so fresh on the finish. In a slight vintage twist came their 2020 The MV Bush Vine Grenache ($33), the bouquet full of flowers, spices and forest berries, the beautifully balanced and shaped palate taking the wine to another level altogether.

I can’t leave McLaren Vale Blewitt Springs without Yangarra’s 2021 Old Vine Grenache ($45), ex 1946 bush vines planted in a deep sand dune Yangarra call The Beach; dry-grown; bunch-sorted, wild open fermented and basket pressed. Bright and clear, yet deep, crimson hue; scented/perfumed, and I’m gone for all money without even tasting it. And I haven’t fooled myself. Except why on earth is it only $45?

But the Barossa Valley doubtless challenges McLaren Vale, led by the 2021 Turkey Flat Grenache ($45) from estate vines mostly over 100 years old (and the ’16 vintage won the Jimmy Watson Trophy in 2017). Its bright, clear colour announces a perfumed red flower and fruit bouquet, the palate adding some purple fruit and gently savoury notes.

The 2019 Turkey Flat Butchers Block Red Blend ($25) is a blend of grenache, shiraz and mataro, sourced from some (very old) original vines on the property. It’s super-fragrant, with tantalising spices and cured meats, tannins right where they are needed. 

James Halliday tasting a flight of red winesJames Halliday tasting a flight of red wines for the 2023 Halliday Wine Companion Awards.

John Duval’s 2021 Concilio Grenache Shiraz ($30) has 85 per cent old bush vine grenache fermented with 1/3 whole bunches, 15 per cent shiraz, the grenache with two vineyards, one 100 years old; 50 per cent matured in used French hogsheads, 50 per cent in stainless steel, for eight months. A vibrantly fresh, red-fruited, light-bodied wine; what it lacks in body it more than makes up with its elegance and length.

Sangiovese comes next, and don’t be put off: they aren’t expensive. The 2021 La Prova Adelaide Hills Sangiovese ($28) is wild yeast fermented with over a month on skins to extract the tannins, doing so with top class restraint: no kick in a private part of the male anatomy. Sure, the wine has a savoury carapace, but there’s its overall impact of cherries of every kind to provide balance.

The 2020 Mr Riggs Wine Company Sanjo Adelaide Hills Sangiovese ($35) is an ultra-fragrant scented array of raspberry, cherry and allspice, the palate living up to the promises of the bouquet with its sour cherry base note sliding through to the finish and aftertaste.

For the 2021 Serafino McLaren Vale Bellissimo Sangiovese ($25), the ’21 vintage makes the absence of any technical info irrelevant. This is a juicy red-fruited, supple, long and lingering red wine calling out to Italian food of any kind, anywhere, any time. The 2020 Coriole McLaren Vale Sangiovese ($28) has all the attributes expected of sangiovese, most obviously the play between all the cherries of the rainbow from fresh, to sour, to poached, backed by super-fine tannins. It’s a wine I would drink now or over time.

The 2019 Coriole Vita Reserve McLaren Vale Sangiovese ($65) is a delicious sangiovese that provides full-throated cherry family fruit and fine savoury tannins without any of the sharp/dry notes on the finish that can stop sangiovese in its tracks. The 2019 Eden Road Wines Gundagai Sangiovese ($50) spends 14 months in one to three year old French barriques. Transparent ruby in colour, this is out of the box thanks to the absence of dry, grippy tannins, relying instead on the array of cherries of all kinds, sour first up, and a bag full of spices.

A glass of red wine being held upThe global demand for pinot noir is significantly higher than the supply.

I close with a Cook’s Tour from five regions of pinot noir. It was inevitable the pinots would all be in higher price bands. The cost is higher, and global demand far exceeds supply. The 2021 Bream Creek Pinot Noir ($45) makes effortless work of Tasmanian power, painted crimson through to the rim. A perfumed array of red fruits and flowers fill the bouquet, spices lurking in much the same way as the tannins on a palate overflowing with a luscious compote of cherries and red berries.

The 2021 Helen’s Hill Estate Long Walk Single Vineyard Yarra Valley Pinot Noir ($37) has an immediately expressive and complex bouquet that sets the scene for a delicious pinot in a drink now or later framework. Cherry and rhubarb sits within a spicy/savoury support role. Its balance and length are right on the money.

The 2021 Oakdene Peta’s Single Vineyard Bellarine Peninsula Pinot Noir ($43) has a small percentage of whole bunches in the ferment, and was matured in French barriques (some new) for 12 months. It's an attractive wine, with good varietal expression – spicy cherry to the fore – and length. Ready now. The 2021 Seppelt Drumborg Vineyard Henty Pinot Noir ($45) is a masterclass in not judging pinot noir by the depth of its colour, here only a little deeper than that of its pinot meunier sibling. And there’s more in the mouth, initially hesitant then majestically expanding on the finish as the peacock’s tail opens. The rainbow of berry aromas surging from the glass.

The 2021 Yabby Lake Vineyard Red Claw Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir ($35) is hand-picked and sorted; open fermented with 10 per cent whole bunches, and matured in used French puncheons. The perfumed spicy, foresty bouquet catches attention, reinforced by the medium-bodied palate where red cherries/berries have the depth of fruit others lack. It will build on this foundation through to the end of the decade.

This article appears in issue #67 of Halliday magazineBecome a member to receive the print publication as well as digital access.

Image credit: Wine Australia.

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