From the Barossa to Yarra Valleys, the Mornington Peninsula, Clare Valley, Margaret River, Coonawarra and Tasmania—exploring the wines of Handpicked Wines is like having a first-class seat on a flight through the distinguished, distinctive and astonishingly varied wine regions of Australia.
There may be no simpler, and more comfortable, way to either start or continue one’s journey of discovering what Australian wine is today. Be ready for a chock full of surprises.
To accompany our related article which captures the progressive and forward-looking philosophies that drive this cutting edge Melbourne/Sydney-based wine company [click here to view our companion piece, HANDPICKED WINES: On the Cutting Edge of Australia’s Contemporary Wine Scene] here’s a look at a dozen of Handpicked’s wines, relatively available outside of Australia.
[divider]WINE REVIEWS[/divider]HANDPICKED WINES Melbourne and Sydney, Australia Founder: William Dong General Manager: Jeffrey Tan Winemakers: Peter Dillon, Jonathon Mattick www.handpickedwines.com.au
Versions Chardonnay 2016
Region: Victoria | $15 | 91 pts
Youthful in all the right ways. Bright, zesty notes of pineapple, white peach, California lemons and orange peel converge to create something very contemporary on the palate—the Chardonnay is scintillatingly clean and linear, with soft edges and bright, fresh, subtly ripe fruit of unmistakably high quality. Wonderfully refreshing and just exudes fabulous youth. Defies expectations when you compare the wine’s surprising sophistication to the bottle’s modest price, thanks to its pristine texture and touch of minerality for complexity. Stylish and very fun, it’s the kind of Chardonnay that knows exactly what it wants to be. Exceedingly well crafted and a terrific example of how good Australian Chard can be, even at the entry level.
Versions Shiraz 2016
Region: South Australia | $15 | 89 pts
It’s a moral dilemma… you want a bold, flavorful red but don’t want to spend too much and don’t want to spend too little, having been burned one too many times especially by a well-designed label that grabbed you at a moment of weakness. One need not fret with the Versions Shiraz, which happens to be very moderately priced for the quality, as well as being bold and masculine in dark berry and peppery notes yet soft with its gentle aromas of lavender—and, yes, it also has an eye-catching wine label. A hint of sarsaparilla and tobacco bring on an air of moody complexity, but a nice sense of balance and refreshing acidity remind you this is a youthful red that should be easily enjoyed and not taken too seriously.
Regional Selections Chardonnay 2016
Region: Yarra Valley | $25 | 92-93 pts
Yarra Valley is a kind of Burgundy of Australia, as it is one of the country’s coolest wine regions and possesses equally distinctive terroir which produces superior Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. At just 12.5% ABV, this is a fresh, vibrant, refreshingly clean and polished Chardonnay. A bountiful nose of citrus blossom, lemon zest and starfruit starts the journey, and on the palate is honeysuckle and tropical fruit sweetness. There’s a glowing energy behind the wine—bright, friendly and attractive like a starlet that steals the scene whenever she appears on screen, or just somebody incredibly kind and interesting you meet on the subway. Quite beautiful and alive, with subtle nuances—making it that much more alluring the more time you spend with it.
Regional Selections Rosé 2018
Region: Yarra Valley | $29 | 91-92 pts
Vibrancy is a beautiful thing in rosé, and this one—made of 100% Yarra Valley Pinot Noir—has it in aces. Starting with a vibrant color of salmon pink/copper red and a fashionably stylish nose of rose petals, honeydew melon and pink grapefruit, one is instantly charmed by the scintillating character of the wine. It’s alive, assertive and confident. Sophisticated tannins grab you, and subtle sweetness of strawberry and watermelon candy melt your heart. Though pretty, youthful and attractive, this is no pushover nor dainty thing. Everyday or special occasion, this pink provides that instant celebratory lift.
Regional Selections Riesling 2017
Region: Clare Valley | $29 | 92 pts
Precision is the key to great Australian Riesling, because great Australian Riesling is dry, only subtly sweet and possesses a linear structure that could cut through glass. The Clare Valley region offers Rieslings that abound in minerality, crisp acidity and intricate complexity while dazzling with purity of fruit quality. This Riesling hits all the marks. A bright, zesty nose of lemon-lime, chalk and jasmine immediately catches your fancy—a real zinger. Pristinely dry and evocative, not sweet at all—it’s a very linear and focused wine with crystal clarity. A shot of juicy fruit notes on the finish—green apple and Asian pear—completes a terrific expression of Aussie Riesling. There’s real authenticity here: “This is who we are,” the wine appears to be proclaiming, loud and clear.
Regional Selections Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
Region: Margaret River | $25 | 91 pts
Western Australia’s Margaret River has captured the buzz of the moment as a source of utterly distinctive Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons. With its non-offputting price point, this bottle is a great gateway to further exploration of the unique character of the region. A solid effort that has simple, easygoing pleasures while capturing some of the magic of Margaret River—refinement, power, richness of flavor, silky textures, clean structure, vibrant aromas and appealing complexity. A forthright nose of fresh, ripe blackberry compote and currants, medium toast cedarwood, bay leaf and hint of mint makes way to a wash of dark cacao and black pepper on the palate. As we delightfully witness the transformation of the modern Australian wine industry which is now choosing to focus on regionality, there’s no question this is a Cab straight from the new school.
Regional Selections Shiraz 2015
Region: Barossa Valley | $25 | 92 pts
Those who would say that Barossa Valley Shiraz has nothing new to say would be dead wrong. Sure, clichéd variations of Barossa Valley Shiraz are as commonplace as Crocodile Dundee streams available on Netflix, but distinctive, powerful and gripping Shiraz such as this that stress on—oh, here’s that word—terroir is what today’s Australian Shiraz is all about. Make no mistake, there’s rich concentration of dark berry flavors here, but the glycerine smoothness of texture, suppleness and acidity of young plum—and we should mention further evocative notes of red cherry, violets, black olive and peppercorn—make this a very balanced, food friendly and quaffable wine that challenges the notion of “fruit bomb” attached to the common perception of Barossa Valley Shiraz. That was then, but this is now.
Collection Chardonnay 2015
Region: Yarra Valley | $45 | 96 pts
A Chardonnay of stupendous structure—a shocker at this price point—possessing sharp clarity and supremely expressive complexity of bright, clean flavors, sterling acidity and herbaceous tannins. A beautiful expression of the Yarra Valley region, and I’ll take this over a high-end Burgundy. It’s an artsy wine—I could draw a comparison to the complexity, angularity and controlled emotionality of a Jane Campion film (The Piano, An Angel at My Table) and the engrossing mini-epic feel of a Peter Weir film (The Year of Living Dangerously, Gallipoli). It’s absolutely brilliant attacking the palate, especially after a crisp, brisk and chilly nose of sea salt, sour starfruit and tropical lime. High class sophistication with an independent soul. Mining great depths of expression from its natural, intrinsic qualities, this is beautiful Chardonnay approaching masterpiece level.
Collection Pinot Noir 2015
Region: Tasmania | $60 | 94-95 pts
Surely, one of the most distinctive Pinots to come out of the Southern Hemisphere. Visions of Warner Bros.’ classic cartoon character, the Tasmanian Devil, aside—the most iconic product from this very cool (comparatively to the rest of the Australian continent), island region is going to be its Pinot Noir. What a vivid sense of place that thrills the palate! Medium-bodied at 13.7% ABV, herbaceous and floral with pronounced minerality, this Tasmania Pinot Noir is unlike those found in the Americas. It shares a certain tangy, luscious, red-fruit quality of those from New Zealand’s Central Otago, and perhaps a similar silky, sensuous softness in texture to its cool-climate European counterpart, but the comparisons end there. The note of white pepper on the finish seals the deal on a wine of distinct flair and attitude, riding along an attractive balance of acidity. Pretty Pinot, but bodacious.
Collection Pinot Noir 2016
Region: Mornington Peninsula | $60 | 95-96 pts
Serene and expressive, there’s an inner spirit of calm and peace to this quite special Pinot. Such a lovely supple and mellow quality to the wine’s texture—it feels dense yet has plenty of heart underneath that gives it lift. I hear the London Philharmonic Orchestra with its sweet, sonorous, generous balance of sound playing a joyful Sibelius symphony—melodious but never wallowing in sentiment. The wine’s nose is a perfume of rose water, savory spices and red cherries and berries. On the palate, wonderful complexity of stemmy tannins and spicy character of fruit, which by all sensory measures appears to have been picked perfectly, not too ripe yet assertive in flavor. The long finish has succulence that lingers on and on. Great instincts at work behind this beautifully crafted Pinot. Give it another year or two to really come together into something extraordinary.
Collection Pinot Noir 2014
Region: Yarra Valley | $60 | 94 pts
There is a certain cognoscenti which gets excited upon encountering a cool-climate Pinot Noir clocking in at 12.9% ABV. This crowd adores the kind of silkiness in texture this Yarra Valley Pinot possesses, but it’s the fresh, vibrant and pure quality of fruit that must deliver to satisfy this crowd’s obsessive, great expectations. With a potpourri-like nose of cherry blossom, lavender tea, cinnamon, lingonberry and dark raspberry notes, indeed, this is a Pinot that speaks lovely of its place while satisfyingly pleasing the crowd with its robust yet tender fruit-forward flavor. The wine finds wonderful balance and hints at voluptuousness at the same time. It’s the pleasing, impressionistic and harmonious, flowing, colorful music of Debussy.
Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
Region: Coonawarra | $70 | 94 pts
Brooding and dark, masculine tones of Cuban cigar, black olive and black coffee—this is Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront meets Anthony Quinn in La Strada. Beginning with a dusty yet luscious nose of creme de cassis, blackberries and black plum, the full-bodied Cabernet is rich in expression but never heavy. In fact, it’s brutish, powerful and chewy—nothing pretty about it, but immersive in its dark, complex emotions, caught somewhere between anguish and lust. The Coonawarra region of South Australia made its name on its Cabernet Sauvignons, derived from the rugged terroir of its reddish Terra Rossa soil, iconic for the region. Coonawarra is to Australia as the Haut-Medoc is to Bordeaux. First class, and as individualistic an expression of pure Cabernet Sauvignon as you’ll find in the Southern Hemisphere.