Five of Australia’s leading sommeliers tell drinks writer CHRIS MORRISON about the local and international wines they can’t get enough of (literally).
TO DISCOVER WINES that are truly rare, you must venture deep into the list of a good sommelier — someone who has developed relationships over time with domaines, chateaus and wineries. But even the most established somm has their unicorns: wines so elusive they can take decades to track down. Here, we ask five of the country’s best about the allocations they thirst for, tomorrow’s unicorns and must-haves for the modern collector.
1. Giacomo Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino PIEDMONT, ITALY
Xavier Vigier, who was recently awarded Australia’s Best Wine List, has a passion for the nebbiolo-derived wines of Italy’s Barolo region. “The winemaker Roberto Conterno is, for many, the most outstanding ambassador of the region,” says Vigier, the head sommelier at Ten Minutes by Tractor’s cellar door restaurant on the Mornington Peninsula. “He produces the most ethereal expressions of nebbiolo and Monfortinois a cuvée only made in the best vintages.”
2. NV Domaine Jacques Selosse Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Initial AVIZE, FRANCE
Vigier’s next wish-list wine has a cult following among sommeliers and comes from one of the world’s most exclusive Champagne houses. “Anselme Selosse is a role model in the world of wine,” Vigier says of the producer who learned his craft in Burgundy rather than Champagne. Not only is Selosse a pioneer of sustainable viticulture, he uses oak and oxygen to make his wines and employs the solera system, a method of ageing and blending commonly associated with sherry. “His wines are the most potent and intense expressions found in the region,” says Vigier.
3. Domaine Francois Raveneau Montéede Tonnerre Chablis Premiere Cru CHABLIS, FRANCE
It’s the allocation every sommelier wants and with recent vintages affected by frost and hail, this Chablis will become rarer still. “Montéede Tonnerre is the estate’s most sought-after wine,” Vigier explains. “It can age for decades in your cellar. You can drink it young but it will offer so much more with age.” Pierre Stock, sommelier at the South Yarra bistro France-Soir, also names Raveneau. Stock has probably handled more bottles of rare French wine than anyone in Australia and his understanding of the country’s up-and-coming producers is unparalleled. “I love the classical wines of France,” Stock admits, “but we also champion new and emerging producers, and vignerons who are breaking new ground.” As for Raveneau, it’s an established winery in a region whose success is relatively recent by French standards. Its holdings comprise almost exclusively Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards.
4. 1962 Penfolds Bin 60A Cabernet Shiraz COONAWARRA & BAROSSA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
Today, Alex Kirkwood is the food and beverage director at The Point Group, which owns hip venues in Sydney and Bali, but he was previously the head sommelier at Sydney’s Aria restaurant, where he oversaw the fine diner’s legendary wine program. When asked about his unicorn, Kirkwood selects a Penfolds vintage that is not only one of Australia’s rarest and most-awarded bottles, but is also considered an icon of modern Australian winemaking. “This was my favourite cellared wine at Aria,” he says. “It was an honour to have it and sell it.” It is a true unicorn but it can still be sighted in the wild, at fine wine auctions around the world.
5. Giaconda Estate Vineyard Chardonnay BEECHWORTH, VICTORIA
“We try to hide these ones for as long as we can,” Kirkwood jokes of Aria’s small annual allocation of Giaconda chardonnay, which is an incredibly popular wine among drinkers with an interest in Australian growers. An intoxicating chardonnay, it’s built for the long-haul and will become even rarer as it ages.
6. Bindi Block Five Pinot Noir MACEDON RANGES, VICTORIA
“It’s hard to pass up anything that Bindi winegrower Michael Dhillon makes,” says Shanteh Wong, the head sommelier at Sydney’s Quay restaurant. Under her stewardship, the wine list at the legendary fine diner combines the contemporary with the classical, offering a mix of cult labels from emerging superstars and those from traditional producers, like Dhillon. Bindi makes wines in miniscule volumes and has sommeliers scrounging around for whatever is available. “Buy literally every bottle you can get your hands on,” says Wong. “Especially Block Five as allocations evaporate each year.”
7. Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea Shiraz HUNTER VALLEY, NEW SOUTH WALES
“I love this wine for its sense of place, rigorous fruit selection and incredible history,” Wong says of the wine that takes its name from Mount Pleasant’s founder, who created medium-bodied dry wines, like those he’d drunk in France, at a time when Australians were drinking fortifieds. “O’Shea is the grandfather of Australian wine and this wine is capable of ageing for decades,” says Wong. “It stands shoulder to shoulder with the great wines of the world.”
8. 2019 Domaine Vaccelli Granit Blanc CORSICA, FRANCE
“I love to see our guests discover wines at Society,” says Loic Avril, the beverage director at Lucas Restaurants, a group that includes Society, Chin Chin and Kisumé. Avril believes Corsica is one of the wine world’s best-kept secrets. “This is a new style of wine from Corsica and it’s perfect for those looking for something new and exciting,” he says. Only small allocations of the impossibly delicious vermentino are drip-fed into Australia — right into the hands of people like Avril.
9. Klein Constantia Vin de Constance Muscat di Frontignac CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA
“This is history and mystery in a bottle,” says Avril, whose CV includes a stint at Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck. South Africa’s first muscat vines were planted in 1659 and this remarkable dessert wine is regarded as one of the best examples in the world — if not the best. Made from unbotrytised grapes, it’s naturally sweet yet also refreshing.
10. Place of Changing Winds Clos de la Connerie Pinot Noir MACEDON RANGES, VICTORIA
With the inaugural vintage, from 2019, sold out and the 2020 vintage lost to fires, there’s very little of this wine around. But Avril believes Place of Changing Winds and its unique pinot noirs will soon have a cult following. “This wine proves that the belief system behind the great wines of the world has no borders,” he says. “The passion and attention to detail is remarkable.”