Comparing Wines

To Discover the Influences of Climate, Winemaking and Time

A great way to learn about wines is to compare them! Here’s some suggested comparisons for a special dinner or event that are sure to impress and intrigue. The selection is from a recent wine appreciation evening I put on for some friends, so the tasting notes are from that evening.

You could just as easily pick any one of these wines and be armed with the knowledge about the key influences on that wine.

The main influences on wine fall into three broad categories: Climate, Winemaking and the length of time the wine has been aged in the bottle.

The wines below are mostly $25 and above because this particular collection is about special wines with distinctive characteristics. However if you prefer wines that are still great value but not as expensive, have a look at recommendations for the $15-$25 price range.

Bracket 1: The Influence of Time on Riesling

Good Riesling, like many varieties of wine, gets better with age. Riesling, like Semillon, develops a honeyed, toasty, syrupy character and turns golden in colour. After a few years it can also develop a kerosene-like aroma! It doesn’t sound great when you read that, but you really need to try it to appreciate how good it can be. Aged Riesling from a great region like the Clare Valley can be sublime and provides a great demonstration of the influence of time on quality wine.

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Wine 1

O'Leary Walker Watervale Riesling 2017, Clare Valley ($19)

A great example of fresh, Australian style dry Riesling (floral, citrus, refreshing).

Gary Walsh of The Wine Front gives it 94 Points, saying it “tastes and feels very ‘classic’, with a little spice, white flower (almost vanilla), ripe lime and all that. Tastes clean and pure, delivers quality fruit flavour, a subtle powdery texture, inviting mouth-perfume, and a crunchy mouth-watering finish of good length. Yes.

The Halliday Wine Companion gives it 94 Points and says “Quartz-white; the first reaction to the wine is ‘where's the catch?’. It has drive and intensity to clearly defined varietal fruit, citrus leading the obedient acidity with a firm hand.

Wine 2

O'Leary Walker Watervale Riesling 2011, Clare Valley ($26)

What great Riesling tastes like after being cellared well for 6 years. (kerosene, honey, toast, syrupy)

The Halliday Wine Companion gives it 92 Points, saying it is “a fascinating wine that only starts to reveal its character on the finish, and even more on the aftertaste, that continues to expand its roll call of citrus/lime fruit after there is no wine left in the mouth. I suspect it will merit higher points given a few months in bottle, and will live for a decade.

Bracket 2: The Influence of Time and Winemaking Technique on Chardonnay

Penfolds’ Adelaide Hills Vineyard

Penfolds’ Adelaide Hills Vineyard

This bracket is about the effect of age on great Chardonnay - we can see 5 years of extra age in a benchmark Penfolds Bin 311 Chardonnay (from cool climate vineyards). Great Chardonnay like this will age well for 5-10 years, although most Chardonnay will only improve for the first 2-5 years. With age, Chardonnay develops more complexity, becomes a little more honeyed in colour and texture and loses a little of the freshness of aroma it usually displays in youth.

Also it is a comparison of the careful precision of Penfolds (scientific and controlled like Australian wine in general) with the unbridled wild ferment style of a small rouge premium producer (making wine in an old-world style that leaves much more to chance but introduces more character and complexity).

wine 1

Penfolds Bin 311 Chardonnay 2017, Adelaide Hills, Tasmania, Tumbarumba ($37)

Really nice aromas, peach, some oakiness, some match strike, buttery, peach, vanilla, cashew, great length of flavour but on the citrus side of things.

The Halliday Wine Companion gave it 95 Points and said “Super-elegant; carries itself with sotto voce confidence, fruit, oak and acid in nigh-on perfect balance; a crisp, lively finish. “

Campbell Mattinson of The Wine Front gave it 95 Points and said “Clean, pure, highly varietal nose. White peach and nectarine, a flintiness rising. The palate introduces toast, malt, wheaty elements and a little funk, though it’s well contained. There are many elements here and yet they present in unison. Dry, serious finish. Bristling length. Excellent wine. Will mature beautifully. “

wine 2

Penfolds Bin 311 Chardonnay 2012, Tumbarumba ($42)
Some volatility, reductive, great taste though - more full, syrupy, smoother, more complex and great length of flavour. Tastes much better than it smells. Preferred by many.

The Halliday Wine Companion gave it 95 Points and said “White flesh stone fruit plays hopscotch with grapefruit and mineral nuances, the oak subtle, the finish crisp, fresh and long.”

wine 3

Savaterre Chardonnay 2016, Beechworth

Complex, some nail polish remover(!), all sorts of other aromas; it kept changing, still really attractive flavour, depth and great length. High alcohol. Another favourite.

Click here to view the wine in Dan Murphy’s ($68)

Bracket 3: The Influence of the Ocean on Shiraz

This bracket is all about maritime influence - i.e. how close the vineyards are to the sea. The ocean moderates night-time temperatures in the vineyard which changes the types of flavours and aromas produced in the grapes. Closer to the sea (‘maritime’) = more ripe fruit characters (raspberry, red lolly), more fruit driven wine. Further inland (‘continental’) = more spicy, more pepper, darker fruits (e.g. plum, cherry), more savoury wine.

Both wines are still super vibrant at 7 years of age (and so they should be at this price).

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Wine 1

Howard Park Leston Shiraz 2011, Margaret River (maritime) - $53

Soft red berry fruits, vanilla, medium bodied, smooth tannin, complex, long. Delicious. My favourite.

Campbell Mattinson of The Wine Front gave it 92 Points and said “The Howard Park range of Leston/Scotsdale releases – showcasing shiraz and cabernet from Margaret River and the Great Southern respectively – has long been one of the most high profile “regional difference” releases each year. It’s always interesting to look them over.

This is a crowd-pleasing shiraz. It has flesh, it has oak, it’s a notch above medium-bodied, it feels smooth and soft. It tastes of plum, gum leaf, cedar spice and dark cherries. There are some twiggy notes but fruit and oak make the most dominating impression. Tannin clumps fractionally but all up, this is a most attractive red wine.”

Wine 2

Howard Park Scotsdale Shiraz 2011, Great Southern (continental) - $48

‘Focused core of dark fruits wrapped in the warmth and comfort of oak’s vanilla with dark chocolate, liquorice and black pepper spice’, according to their website. Also, white pepper aroma is a signature of this region. More tannin - more drying afterward.

Campbell Mattinson of The Wine Front gave it 91+ Points and said “Howard Park’s regional shiraz release out of the Great Southern. Matured mostly in French oak though with a spot of American oak (5%) for good measure.

It’s a clean, fruit-driven, well-balanced release. It’s a simple pleasure as a young wine though time in bottle should bring with it complexity. It tastes of plums, toast, mint and brighter, floral, red-berried notes. Succulence is on its side. It should develop well; fine-grained tannin and overall balance are the keys here.”

Bracket 4: The Influence of Climate and Winemaking - Shiraz Vs Syrah

This bracket highlights the difference between two opposing styles of the same grape variety - Shiraz (or Syrah if you are French). Classic Barossa Shiraz - fruity, bold, tannic, rich, dark in colour, high alcohol, Vs more hipster, lean, delicate, easier drinking, old-world style Syrah that comes from cooler, higher altitude places like Canberra.

In this case the differences are from climate and also from winemaking techniques aimed at making the most of the climatic influence.

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Wine 1

Eden Road The Long Road Syrah 2014, Canberra District (cool climate) - $24

Light colour. Beautifully perfumed, light, easy drinking, complex. Great value wine. Excellent example of hipster Syrah, made in the French style. In fact, made by a French woman who was named winemaker of the year recently.

Campbell Mattinson, writing in the Halliday Wine Companion gave it 91 Points and said “It's all about the juice. This is a succulent, mid-weight, spice-shot wine with low oak influence and no great intrusion of tannin. It's an example of easy sophistication. Meat, game, black pepper and crushed clove notes make guest appearances; drinkability remains the focus.

wine 2

Turkey Flat Shiraz 2014, Barossa Valley (hot climate) - $43

Inky black colour, aromas of anise, dark fruits, burnt toffee. Full flavour, warmth from higher alcohol, flavours of plum, chocolate, even jammy. Smooth but tannic. Would be good with steak. Old-School Barossa Shiraz done really well.

James Halliday gave it 97 Points and said “This is a hero Barossa Valley shiraz, its backbone planted in 1847, with great colour, profound complexity, yet retaining a calm personality within its array of primary, fresh flavours.

Bracket 5: The Influence of Grape Variety - Merlot Vs Cabernet Sauvignon

This bracket highlights the different attributes that Merlot and Cabernet bring to a classic Cab-Merlot blend (‘Bordeaux blend’) from the classic region for both varieties, Coonawarra.

Notice how both these wines are identical in every way (Winery, Vintage or Year, region), except for the grape variety. This highlights the influence of grape variety.

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wine 1

Parker Coonawarra Estate Terra Rossa Merlot 2016 ($33)

Aromatic, (blackberry, capsicum, leafy) . Fruit flavour up front. Not as ‘long’ in terms of persistence of flavour, compared with other red varieties, and a touch of bitterness in the tannins.

The Halliday Wine Companion gave it 91 Points and described it as “a high flying merlot, enrobed in a cloak of dark plum, licorice and verdant herb, smudged with bitter chocolate and coffee grind oak tannins. They are not obtuse, though, melding with the fruit in a hedonistic pledge to merlot's plushness. Serious Merlot here. “

wine 2

Parker Coonawarra Estate Terra Rossa Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($33)

Cigar, eucalyptus, blueberry, plum aroma. Smooth but much longer in flavour and structure. More tannins. Solid example of Coonawarra Cabernet. Definitely a food wine. Could blend well with a little Merlot for aroma and complexity to make a Bordeaux blend.

It scored 96 Points from the Halliday Wine Companion, describing it thus: “This is a welcome return to form; a beacon of light for a region that has fallen under the bushel of those on western shores. The tannin management here, recently lacking in Coonawarra, is exemplary. Of a pure varietal clarity with cassis, bay leaf, cedar, olive and bouquet garni, strewn about a crucible of well appointed oak. Nothing is excessive. This is mid-weighted of composure. Assured.”

In Conclusion:

These wines provide an example of some great comparisons that demonstrate the influence of time, proximity to the sea, winemaking style and grape variety.

You can pick up any of the above wines at Dan Murphy’s via the links above. Many of them will also be available from wherever you normally buy wine. You can read about how buying through WIne Wisdom links supports a Vision-saving cause.

Use this collection to make your own tasting for an upcoming dinner or function. If you want to impress your guests, you might as well make it an occasion by setting up a mini-wine comparison. Use the notes above to talk about the wines as you bring them out. You’ll be surprised at how interesting, delicious and fun it makes the occasion,

Click on the red links below each of the wines above to order them for delivery.

For further reading you can also check out these articles on comparative wine tasting.