The jolly fat bloke with the white beard and the red suit has gone, the smoke from the New Year’s fireworks has passed, so it means that I’m due for a Best of 2017.
I get to see so many different labels and brands over a year, it makes it very difficult to pick a best of anything, however I’ve gone back over my jumbled mess of notes and come up with I thought were the best that I tried this year. Selections are made on quality, real world price (not RRP) and, over the last few years, I’ve have decided to limit our selections to only labels that are readily available either at your local bottleshop or online, not drinks that have been created in such super limited amounts that you needed to know someone who knows someone to get it, or that are so expensive you need to sell a kidney to afford a bottle.
There were a few noticeable trends this year, the consistent growth of the Rosé market and the rise of alternative varieties and alternative winemaking, creating Riesling with a touch of spritz to them and the increased use of the variety Kerner are two examples. There has been some cracking Kerners or Kerner blends that I have managed to come across this year, Chaffey Brothers blends or the excellent Robinvale Demter Kerner are two that jump straight to mind. The rosé juggernaut doesn’t seem to be slowing down, and there has been an increase in wineries creating single site wines, where the fruit has come from a single vineyard, not something new, but there has been an increase in labels.
In the beer world there has been three major trends I have noticed: hop-heads and craft beer snobs willingness to sledge a beer, often without having tried it, simply because it comes from a mega-brewer; the second is breweries dropping the word “wheat” off their labels, replacing it with “summer” or “session”, getting around the apparent dislike that the Australian beer drinkers have for wheat beers; thirdly the increasing push of mega-brewers to snap up smaller craft brewers, not something new, larger companies purchase smaller companies all the time, but this year there was more than normal, its yet to be seen whether the new multinational companies will let the breweries have their own head and brew what they want, or whether they will be instructed by the marketing department on what they need to brew.
But let’s cut to the chase and talk about what was great this year:
Hardys HRB Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – a blend of SA’s McLaren Vale and Coonawarra fruit blended with fruit from WA’s Frankland River, clever winemaking work on the blending means they have skilfully meshed the strongest points of each region, intense blackberry and blackcurrant, a feint touch of green tomato and capsicum coming through from the SA fruit, with the WA dark berry flavours showing through with a little time in the glass. It’s a very smart wine that will old well till 2027 in the bottle. Best part about it the price, sitting at about $30 at the local Coles-Worth outlets, it’s a tick under $25 online, probably the best price I’ve ever seen for a 97point Halliday rated wine.
Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon 2011 – probably not something you will ever have a lot of at $60bottle, but for those very special gifts, or moments than this is hard to go by, it’s a classic Hunter Valley sem. Chock full of lemon curd and lime with pretty vanilla notes, built around a core of acidity that gives it great drive and length, will hold well in the bottle till about 2030. If funds are tight, try the Elizabeth, a $20 version that shows the same characters but is a touch shy and underdeveloped compared to its big brother.
Several beers jumped out at me this year, a beer created by Cairns local Guy Hunt, a Flanders Ale, and the awesome Instigator beer created by the very talented Rob Cailin at MacAlisters Brewery but neither fit my easy to get rule. The drops from Pirate Life, Black Hops, Green Beacon, Bentspoke and Modus Operandi are fantastic but again are harder to find in FNQ than stain remover in Monica Lewinsky’s house (if you don’t know how that is your probably too young to drink anyway), and a lot of those beers become huge mouth grenade when you are drinking them in 38degrees. Nor do some of those beers fit the “can I actually afford to drink this”, I would need a second mortgage to regularly drink MO at $45 for 4.
In the end I’ve cast my eye toward a new release from the Asahi owned Cricketers Arms , an interesting, hop driven beer, that has enough going on to keep the hop-heads out there happy, but is still so quaffable that the regular mid-strength crowd that are looking for a bit more in a beer will be easily able to swap over to this. Tropical aromas on the nose, strong hop driven palate with just enough late bitterness, its name says it all. It’s more in tune with a mid-strength IPA, however they have cleverly kept that word off the label as it seems to scare a lot of mainstream, non-craft beer type, drinkers. The beer works so well in the FNQ heat. A beer that will definitely be in my camping kit more often this year.