Collecting on a budget – Australia, NZ, South Africa

Katrina Butler's cellar in Australia

No shortage of underpriced, ageworthy gems here. A slightly shorter version of this article is published by the Financial Times. Above, the Melbourne cellar of Katrina Butler, tasting manager of the Halliday Wine Companion. See this Guide to collecting on a budget.

All of these southern-hemisphere countries can provide serious cellar candidates for wine collectors on a budget, so long as you know where to look.

Of the three, New Zealand has the shortest history of producing wines worth ageing. Mature Chardonnay from top producers such as Kumeu River and Dog Point can be rewarding, as is any wine – serious Chardonnay or Pinot – from Bell Hill if you can find it. Martinborough Pinots tend to age longer than most, from Ata Rangi for instance and, especially, Kusuda. At a recent dinner for 20 wine lovers in finance, Kusuda Pinot Noir 2020 from the little North Island town of Martinborough was preferred to Thibault Liger-Belair’s premier cru Les St-Georges 2017 when the wines were served blind. Biodynamic Felton Road in Central Otago has proved it makes ageworthy wines, notably from the 2012 vintage onwards when they started to pick earlier and make fresher wines.

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is one of wine’s great success stories, especially in the US, UK and Australia. Most of it is designed to be drunk young but a few producers make an oaked style designed to age. (Incidentally, those who find basic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc just too basic and vapid should look out for bottles with the Appellation Marlborough Wine logo, which ensures that the vines were grown sustainably in a specifically demarcated area, the grapes reached a certain minimum ripeness level and the wine passed a taste test.)

Australia has been making wines worth maturing for decades. One of the most memorable tastings I ever attended was organised in London in 1993 by the late Len Evans, known as ‘Australia’s Mr Wine’, to counter the idea prevailing in export markets then that Australian wine doesn’t age. There were fabulous wines from the 1940s onwards. Penfolds Bin 60A 1962 (recently offered by Hedonism at £13,900 a bottle) and Lindemans Hunter Valley Semillons were just some of the highlights.

Like many wine regions around the world, Australia succumbed to the turn-of-the-century fashion for making exaggeratedly blockbuster wines – especially at some addresses in Barossa Valley – but now freshness is in. In fact, some of Australia’s current wave of lighter reds are too light, I would argue. Where’s the beef? This is not an accusation that could be levelled at the country’s most famous producer Penfolds. Their Shirazes and red blends, from Bin 28 and Bin 128 up the price scale (provided you like slightly medicinal concentration), tend to last well – as do all the, more refined, reds from the Henschke family. Penfolds’ renowned chief winemaker Peter Gago recommends Koonunga Hill 76 as a great-value wine worth ageing to his nieces and nephews. I will be reviewing the Penfolds Collection 2024 on 18 July, when it is revealed to an expectant world.

There are also many less mainstream South Australian cellar candidates such as the reds of Wendouree, Yalumba’s The Caley Shiraz/Cabernet blend and The Octavius Shiraz and, newer but reasonably affordable kids on the block, the McLaren Vale wines of S C Pannell and Yangarra. In Victoria, Yarra Yering has a proven track record, as has Clonakilla’s subtle Shiraz from the hills of Canberra.

Australian Cabernet may not currently be as fashionable as the country’s many variations on the theme of the Rhône grapes Syrah/Shiraz and, now, Grenache but it generally ages reliably and often magnificently. In fact, Coonawarra Cabernets positively demand time in the cellar, and even the most basic Wynns Coonawarra Cabernet is worth ageing – and the quality of Wynns Coonawarra Shiraz can be underestimated. Australia’s other Cabernet hotspot Margaret River produces a more luscious style that is also well worth cellaring. Cullen’s Diana Madeline is just one of many Margaret River delights while Vasse Felix’s Estate Chardonnay and Cabernet are also designed to last, and are much less expensive than their special Heytesbury bottlings

As I say all too often, Riesling is a wine that thoroughly repays ageing, and Australia’s steely, dry Rieslings – whether from Clare or Eden Valley in South Australia or the far south-west of the country – are some of the best-value cellar candidates around. Grosset, Mount Horrocks, Jim Barry and Pewsey Vale are outstanding South Australian Riesling specialists, as are Frankland Estate in Western Australia and Crawford River in the cool south-west corner of Victoria. For tasting notes on 33 current Australian Rieslings, plus a couple from New Zealand, see Riesling – a fine Australian asset.

From Sydney’s hinterland, Hunter Valley Semillon is an unexpectedly light, dry white Australian classic that positively demands ageing, developing a uniquely toasty citrus character after many a year in bottle. As for Australian Chardonnay, the full-fat versions of the late last century fell flat on their faces and I’m just not sure at this stage how well the more austere current styles will age. It may be too early to judge. 

I feel more confident recommending as cellar candidates South African Chardonnays such as Kershaw’s, Iona’s, and Neil Ellis’s from the Whitehall vineyard in Elgin, with their fine acidity plus mid-palate fruit. The best South African Sauvignon Blancs can last more than a decade. But the true glory of South African whites is the Cape’s panoply of old-vine Chenin Blancs from too many producers to list. See 424 of them with a score of at least 16.5.

As for the reds, there are tried-and-tested traditional producers such as Kanonkop and Rustenberg from the classic vineyards of Stellenbosch. Among newer producers, Mullineux, Porseleinberg and Sadie Family, focused more on Swartland to the north, are obviously fashioning their wines to last. Eben Sadie, Andrea and Chris Mullineux, Adi Badenhorst, Duncan Savage and Donovan Rall were some of the most obvious early talents among the new wave of South African wine producers but there are now dozens more.

In the UK, retailers such as Cambridge Wine Merchants, Cellar Door Wines, Handford, Harrogate Fine Wine Co, Humble Grape, Justerinis, Museum Wines, RAKQ, Slurp, Stone Vine & Sun and Swig all have a particularly good range of South African wines. Antipodean wines are relatively easy to find, although Grape and Grain in Morpeth, Cambridge Wine Merchants, Loki Wines and The Wine Society have better selections than most.

I think most British wine consumers are now aware of the fabulous value to be found in South Africa, but it’s taking a while to get the message through to their American counterparts. When that happens, we Brits can expect prices to rise considerably.

New Zealand

Kumeu River, Estate Chardonnay 2021 Kumeu 13.5%
£24.60 Four Walls Wine, who offer quite a range of Kumeu River wines, as do Farr Vintners by the case in bond

Dog Point Chardonnay 2021 Marlborough 14%
£23.80 VINVM, £28.95 Berry Bros & Rudd

Dog Point, Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2018 Marlborough 14.5%
£30.80 Hedonism


Penfolds, Koonunga Hill Seventy Six Shiraz/Cabernet 2021 South Australia 14.5%
£16.99 Majestic

Fraser Gallop, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2020 Margaret River 14.5%
£17.90 VINVM, £17.95 Corney & Barrow

Harewood Estate Riesling 2023 Porongurup 12%
£18.50 NY Wines, £19.80 The Good Spirits Co

Sons of Eden, Kennedy Grenache/Syrah/Mourvèdre 2021 Barossa Valley 14.5%
£24.99 Majestic

Yangarra, Noir (red Rhône blend) 2021 McLaren Vale 14%
£23.61 Lay & Wheeler

Mount Horrocks, Watervale Riesling 2022 Clare Valley 13%
£25.18 Shelved Wine and many others

Henschke, Euphonium 2019 Barossa 14.5%
£46 Cambridge Wine Merchants, £46.95 Philglas & Swiggot 

South Africa

Neil Ellis Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 Stellenbosch 14.4%
£23.95 South Downs Cellars

Thorne & Daughters, Cat’s Cradle Chenin Blanc 2021 Swartland 13%
£24  92 Or More

Lismore, Barrel Fermented Sauvignon Blanc 2018 Cape South Coast 13%
£29.48 Lay & Wheeler

Savage, Thief in the Night (Grenache blend) 2022 Piekenierskloof 13.5%
£35  92 Or More, Four Walls and others

Savage White (Sauvignon/Sémillon blend) 2022 Western Cape 13.5%
£35  92 Or More, Four Walls Wine, £36 The Good Wine Shop

Keermont, Riverside Chenin Blanc 2020 Stellenbosch 14%
£44 Swig

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