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Best’s Wines was established in 1866 by the pioneering Henry Best and sold to neighbour and second generation vigneron, Frederick P Thomson in 1920.
Under the guidance of the Thomson family, the Best’s name has continued to thrive. Fourth generation vigneron, Viv Thomson and son Ben continue to combine traditional methods with modern technology to create wines of renown and integrity.
Founded in 1866 in the Great Western wine region of Victoria, Best’s Great Western is one of Australia’s oldest continuously family owned and operated wineries. Best’s is known to have some of the oldest vines in Australia and produces extraordinary wines with great longevity. Best’s flagship wine, the Thomson Family Shiraz, has an Outstanding designation from Langton’s Auction house.
Until the 1950’s, Best’s red wines were labelled Claret and the white wines were labelled Hock and they were bottled for customers both in Australia and overseas on demand. In the 1960’s, Bests began to release varietally labelled vintage wines. Throughout the history of the winery, there have only been two owners, the Best family, who founded the winery, and the Thomson family, who bought it after Henry Best’s death in 1920.
Riesling at Best’s Great Western has a long and illustrious history. Henry Best planted our Concongella Vineyard in 1868, and Riesling was one of the first varieties planted in this historic patch of earth. In fact, the importance of these plantings has attracted German scientists to visit Best’s to take cuttings in order to identify the source of these vines and to potentially improve the mother vines’ material in Germany.
What we do know is that the Riesling planted at Best’s predates most of the vines in Germany, the spiritual home of Riesling, and the old world vineyards that were wiped out by the Phylloxera insect in the late 19th century.
In the viticultural timeline at Best’s, the next substantial planting of Riesling after the 1868 vineyards was in 1944. Subsequent plantings were made at Concongella in 1978 (in the House Block) and at Rhymney in 1999.
Great Western’s Riesling Terroir
The climate and soils in the Great Western region are ideally suited to the Riesling variety. Our cool, continental location makes for very cold winters and strong diurnal (daily) temperature shifts during the growing and ripening season. This ensures full ripeness and plenty of natural acidity in the grapes.
The soils in the Concongella Vineyard are deep clay loam mixed with granite sands. This makes for very aromatic wines that exhibit the floral characteristics and fine minerality of the variety. It’s interesting to note the best Grand Cru sites in Alsace for Riesling are typically on granitic soils.
On the other hand, the soils in our Rhymney Salvation Gully Vineyard in the hills above Great Western contain more slate and quartz in clay soils. This site is more elevated (about 350m above sea level) than our Concongella Vineyard (about 200m above sea level) and therefore its fruit ripens later. These vines produce fruit with more citrus, predominantly lime, flavours and aromas with steely acidity.
The fruit from our Salvation Gully Riesling forms the framework for our Great Western Riesling. This wine is a blend of several sites of Riesling around Great Western. Best’s also produces a single vineyard wine from a select portion of our House Block in the Concongella Vineyard.
Riesling is known as one of the best white varieties to age, and Best’s Great Western Rieslings from the 1970s are still drinking well today. Interestingly, when those wines were produced, refrigeration was not commonplace in the Australian wine industry, nor was stainless steel storage, so it was standard to mature and stabilise the wine in large oak vats, as is still the practice in Germany and France today. Best’s went back to the future with the reintroduction of this practice of maturing Riesling in oak vats in 2012 with its Foudre Ferment Riesling.
Germany’s influence on Best’s Riesling production also came in the form of Trevor Mast, the first winemaker outside the Thomson or Best’s family to work at the winery. Trevor joined Best’s in 1975 after he spent time studying winemaking at the Hochschule Geisenheim University in Germany under the tutelage of the esteemed Helmut Becker. Trevor’s training in this great Riesling-producing area helped lift the pool of knowledge of the variety and the style of wine produced at Best’s. He imparted a great deal to the legacy and continued excellence of Riesling at Best’s.
In 2003, Best’s made the decision to bottle its Riesling under screwcap. For delicate aromatic varieties, any taint or oxidation from the cork ruins the wine completely, so it didn’t take long for this decision to be accepted by the whole Best’s team. When comparing corked wines versus screwcapped wines today, the screwcapped wine is far superior.
So which Rieslings does Best’s produce today?
Discover your own favourite Riesling in Best’s line-up of this variety. Allw these wines hold their own with various weights, sweetness and flavour profiles.
FOUDRE FERMENT (CONCONGELLA)
As a member of our wine club exclusive range, the Concongella Collection, the Foudre Ferment Riesling is matured in a 2500L French oak “foudre”, or barrel, crafted by Marc Grenier of Burgundy. The Foudre Ferment is the successor of the EVT 51. The Foudre Ferment is a full-flavoured Riesling with complex honeyed aromatics of lime blossoms, straw bales and lime cordial with hints of ginger nut biscuits. Lime and honey flavours dominate the palate with a fine lingering texture of lemon curd, lime pith and succulent acidity. It’s well balanced with a touch of sweetness and a crisp acidity. It will continue to improve over the next 10 years.
GREAT WESTERN RIESLING
A real insider’s wine, or another best kept secret, Great Western produces aromatic, flavoursome yet structured and spectacularly age-worthy Rieslings that stand confidently alongside their more famous South Australian cousins. On the nose there are lifted aromas of kaffir lime and honeysuckle with a background of red apple and musky spices. On the palate there are intense lime flavours with a slippery mouthfeel and a fresh mineral finish. The Rieslings of Best’s have a proven ability to mature gracefully for 20 years or more. This example is no exception and its youthful freshness is a good sign for its long life in the cellar. It will gather complex toasty aromas and flavours as the years pass. Enjoy with Moreton Bay Bug Ravioli.
HOUSE BLOCK RIESLING (CONCONGELLA)
This Riesling is made from grapes sourced from Best’s House Block directly behind the winery. Planted in 1978, this block typically produces highly aromatic and delicately flavoured wines. On the nose enjoy lifted lemon and apple blossoms with hints of lavender. On the palate there citrus and luscious green apple flavours fill the mouth, followed by the slight sweetness, which is balanced by the steely acidity. This Riesling will age until 2030 – if you can’t wait until then, enjoy it with a Creamy Prawn Laksa.
In 1929, celebrations kicked into gear across the country to celebrate the Centenary of Western Australia. One hundred years before, Perth was founded and the Swan River Colony was established, which was the first permanent European settlement in Western Australia.
One of the festivities in 1929 was the East-West Air Race or the Western Australian Centenary Air Race as it was also known. Pilots flew the 3940km from Sydney to Perth in six stages (and 12 sections within those stages):
On the Melbourne to Nhill section, the pilots needed a signpost to ensure they were flying on the right path, so the race organisers paid for Best’s Wines to be painted on the top of its cellar door as a race landmark, ensuring pilots they were on the right course. This painted sign has remained clear and crisp for viewers from the skies ever since.
Seventeen teams left Mascot in Sydney on 29 September in 1929, and only 14 teams finished the race, arriving at Maylands Aerodrome in Perth on 7 October.
British Major Hereward de Havilland
took out the fastest overall prize of £300 in his modified Havilland Gypsy Moth, and the handicap winner was aviator Horrie Miller, who won £1000. Settling results in the handicap event was a challenging task, with type of machine, tumultuous weather conditions, wind direction and strength of wind for each half day’s hop, compounded by starting times being taken into consideration.
Except for the 1911 Circuit of Europe Air Race, the East-West Air Race and the 1919 England to Australia Flight, the East-West Air Race of 1929 was the longest race in the history of aviation.
We’re thankful the path of this historic race covered the skies over Great Western, so Best’s Wines will forever be viewed as a landmark for those with their heads in the clouds…
This is one of Chris Thomson's regulars at her table over autumn / winter.
Chris Thomson has been cooking for visitors to Best's for many years. Here is one many people have shared at her table.
Justin Purser, Best’s winemaker, is a dab hand at knocking out a pot of lamb shanks, so we called on him for his recipe, which includes a glug of one of our Great Western reds.
¼ cup (60ml) olive oil
4-6 lamb shanks, French trimmed
plain flour, seasoned
2 large shallots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 carrots, sliced
2 parsnips, sliced
400g (1 can) chopped tomatoes
½ cup (125ml) red wine (Best’s of course!)
1 cup (250ml) water
½ cup (125ml) beef stock
fresh parsley, chopped
mashed potato or cooked pasta, to serve
In a heavy-based pot with a lid (a Le Creuset casserole would be great), heat olive oil. Lightly dust lamb shanks with seasoned flour, then brown two shanks at a time and set aside. Add a little more oil if needed and sauté shallots until soft. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add carrot, parsnip and tomato, and cook for 5-10 mins, until flavours come together.
Return shanks to pot, add wine to help deglaze and bring to boil. Add water and stock and reduce heat to very low. Cover pot and allow shanks to simmer slowly for 2-2½ hours – meat should almost fall from bone. Turn shanks at least once during cooking time. Season to taste, sprinkle with parsley and serve with mashed potato or fresh pasta and a glass of your favourite Best’s red wine.
Decanting Young Reds blog by Hamish Thomson
Growing up in a family in which wine is the backbone of our existence has taught me a thing or two about the enjoyment of wine. One thing I’ve learned along the way is that decanting younger red wines (screw top or cork) always improves their flavour. From my experience at cellar door, holding tastings and at home, I’ve almost always seen a benefit from allowing a young red wine breathe; and the younger, more tannic the wine, the more time it needs to “breathe”.
So what is breathing? Breathing or aerating a wine gives it exposure to oxygen, which in turn lifts the aromas from the wine into the surrounding space and softens the tannins. (I’ve also seen this transformation occur in the occasional Chardonnay.) It basically allows the wine to express itself in its most open, heightened state.
Which wines should be allowed to breathe? Most young full-bodied reds – Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Mourvèdre.
There are two commonly used methods to allow a wine to breathe – one method is to pour the wine into a decanter; the second is to use an aerator, or Vinturi, which is the common brand. An aerator sees the wine being poured through the aerator device into a glass, and this exposes the wine to oxygen. In my experience this method seems to give the wine a good lift to the flavours on the nose and the palate. This is a quick and convenient way that can be achieved by the glass. Whereas the decanting method is best done by the bottle. It allows the fruit aromas and flavours to grow, the tannins to soften and the faults to dissipate.
If you’re keen to get the best out of a Pinot Noir, I suggest allowing it to breathe in the glass. I have used a Vinturi on Pinots in the past with varying results. On some wines it works wonderfully; on others the Vinturi has stripped almost all the aromatics and fruit flavours from the wine. If you do want to aerate a light red, decanting will allow you to get the best from those more delicate characteristics without affecting them detrimentally.
Decanters come in all shapes and sizes. For young wines, you’re looking for a method of exposing the wine to the greatest surface area or volume of air possible. Choose a decanter that does this in a way that works best for you and suits your personality.
How long does a wine need to breathe? For best results, remove the cork or screw top from the wine after lunch to allow it to come to life for dinnertime. Or pour it into a decanter at about 5pm for a 7.30pm dinner date. Try not to be in a hurry.
Which serving temperature is best? Temperature can play an important role in the enjoyment of wine. If your reds are too cold, breathing the wine will not open it up very much. It’s like walking into the house after being out in the frost – the protective layers come off. So always get the temperature right before allowing a wine to breathe.
Serve your lighter reds at 12-13°C and heavier reds close to 15°C. In winter, pull the wine out of its hiding place and place it on the dining table or kitchen bench to bring it to room temperature. In summer, your wine may need time in the fridge to cool down before serving. The hotter the wine, the quicker it will release its aromatics, leaving only the acid and tannin structure behind.
Want to read more about decanting and aerating wine? Give this interesting article a read:
The story of Best’s and the history of its Dolcetto plantings are vague to say the least. It all begins in 1866, when Henry Best purchased 73 acres of land in Victoria’s Great Western region and planted the first vines 2 years later. Among Shiraz and Pinot Meunier, Henry planted the varietal Dolcetto on his Concongella estate. Translated from the Italian to mean “sweet little one”, Dolcetto was originally from Piedmont in northwest Italy, and this Mediterranean location is still considered its spiritual home.
Scottish-born William Thomson purchased the Best’s site in 1920 and since then, many generations of the Thomson family have pondered why Henry chose to plant 25% of the entire vineyard to this lesser-known variety.
We may never know why he put his faith in Dolcetto – perhaps it’s because Henry believed he was planting the French Bordeaux variety, Malbeck! In the early 1980’s, a French ampelographer (vine identifier) came to assess Best’s old nursery block that included this mystery Malbeck, as well as other rare varieties such as Pinot Meunier. When the ampelographer looked at the “Malbeck”, he said, “I don’t know what you’ve got but it’s not Malbeck”.
In 1982 when his findings were given – the correct identification of the Malbeck was Dolcetto. In the early 1980s, Bordeaux blends, including Merlot, were king, and varieties from outside France, including Italy, had not been considered as potential products by the wine industry nor had the consumer even considered venturing outside the usual French suspects. And Viv Thomson, being a stickler for authenticity, renamed the old Malbeck “Dolcetto” and it has thrived in popularity ever since.
It’s very likely that Best’s original plantings of Dolcetto are the oldest ungrafted vines of this variety in the world. In Great Western, this early-ripening variety has stood the test of time and weathered many a storm (and a drought or two) since it was planted 150 years ago.
Best’s newer Dolcetto plantings have come from cuttings from Henry’s original vines – in 1971 they were grafted and planted in a new block in order to guarantee their survival. Now, in good vintage years, they produce amazingly flavoursome yet small parcels of fruit. When Best’s does produce its Dolcetto, it’s always in limited quantities due to the small plantings and dry-grown nature of the vines.
So why is Dolcetto referred to as “sweet little one”? It’s not in reference to its sugar levels, rather the fact that it has low natural acidity, making it an easy-to-drink style of wine. The skin can be very dark purple, almost black. The colour of Dolcetto is quite interesting – it does not show the deep purple of many other red varieties. It’s a very attractive deep crimson, which is quite distinctive.
Best’s Dolcetto sits in the popular Great Western range – like many expressions of this wine all over the world, Best’s produces a light-to medium-bodied red. It’s brightly coloured in a vibrant garnet red hue, with lifted aromas of perfumed cherry, anise and savoury herbs. On the palate discover juicy black cherry flavours with fine powdery tannins and a savoury finish. It makes a beautiful red served with foods that have naturally occurring high acidity, such as Italian-style cured meats and cheeses, as well as a variety of pasta dishes, particularly those with a tomato base.
This Italian-born variety is best while young, when it is fresh and lively, within 5-7 years of vintage. Taste the history of Best’s Dolcetto by enjoying a bottle of this small-batch wine right here
Best’s Vintage 2017 Wrap-Up
Justin Purser, Best’s Winemaker
What an amazing few months it has been for the team at Best’s Great Western. Harvest has seen us enjoy a record intake of fruit with more than 700 tonnes coming into the winery. Our focus has since moved to ensuring the grapes receive loving care in their transformation from grapes to wine.
So why so much fruit in 2017? The last few seasons in Great Western have been lean to say the least, with frost and dry conditions taking their toll. So early in the season, when we realised that conditions were good for the impending months ahead and the quality of the vines in spring 2016 was high, we took a gamble and secured extra fruit from our growers. Thankfully, the season progressed with near-perfect conditions – mild weather and intermittent rain, but warm enough in spring to ensure good fruitfulness, ripening and excellent fruit quality.
Other surrounding regions experienced detrimental rainfall in January but it was less heavy in Great Western and largely beneficial for our grapes that didn’t ripen until late March and throughout April, which was nearly five weeks later than the 2016 season and two weeks later than recent averages. Overall, our own vineyards did especially well, with good yields and great quality.
In the wine world, we live around the vagaries of the weather so to have such an optimistic season like this, when the rainfall comes at the right time (and doesn’t affect ripening by falling at the wrong time) and there are no heatwaves or frosts to contend with, it is truly a cause for celebration.
Already we have great batches of 2017 wine in the cellar, with Riesling and Shiraz looking particularly good. The only downside was that some vineyards had a little too much fruit and therefore the flavours were a little dilute, but with all the other good batches, I am sure the overall quality of 2017 wines will be memorable.
With all the hours we’ve been putting in, it’s rewarding to see the wines looking so good. We have one more batch to press, which is Pinot Noir from the old block that was picked two months ago. It smells and tastes great, so it will be pressed off after two months on skins.
So how did we celebrate? We enjoyed a lovely dinner at the end of the harvest at our favourite local restaurant Steel Cutters Cottage. We presented awards to Best’s hard-working team members – one notable award was given to Claudio from Italy, who managed to receive three speeding fines within a few weeks (his nickname became Fangio) but he also did a great job cleaning and sealing up our old vats for the new wines. He was awarded a handbrake and an old vat door to hang around his neck in the hope that it might slow him down a bit in the future. Our French team members have now departed for France and Claudio is leaving for Italy this weekend. It’s certainly sad to see them go.
Best’s cellar is now returning to some kind of normality, with that other great time of year we love looming – bottling!
Best’s Cellar Door Project
Ever heard of a cellar door team making its own drop from the winery’s vineyard and winemaking facilities? Best’s Cellar Door Project could be a world first – read all about this eye-opening exercise in the blog post below.
Imparting knowledge to their team does not trouble great leaders. And our winemaker Justin Purser embodies this attitude when he encourages Best’s cellar door team to make its own wine, under his winemaking counsel, of course. Branded The Cellar Door Project, the mission is to impart valuable winemaking knowledge to the team, who in turn share this knowledge with Best’s visitors – it’s one skill to be able to describe a wine’s characteristics; it’s an even greater skill to experience the craft of winemaking and share that with Best’s visitors.
Best’s winemaker Justin Purser takes the first step in a project that culminates in the production of a fantastic Shiraz, as well as the unification and education of our cellar door team. First up, Justin reserves a special area of Shiraz, called James Block in our Salvation Gully Vineyard at Rhymney. At vintage time, it’s all hands on deck to handpick the grapes. Luckily the sun was shining and the hard work resulted in a tonne of beautifully juicy and ripe Shiraz grapes.
Second step sees the cellar door team “foot stomp” the grapes – a fun and fruity task with a bit of mess thrown in. Then for the next week, the team members take turns plunging (to extract colour and tannin in the wine) while the grapes are fermenting. They even enlist the help from cellar door visitors (we’re nothing if not resourceful).
The next, even messier stage is pressing the grapes, using a basket press. It’s incredibly satisfying to watch the grape juice flow through the press and move one step closer to magically becoming wine.
The juice is then “racked” into barrels where it sits peacefully, until instructions are given for the next steps.
The next phase of the project sees the wine racked off its malolactic lees into tank and analysed in the laboratory, where small adjustments and additions are made before returning to barrel for further maturation.
The cellar door team approaches the tasting component of this practical experiment with grand enthusiasm – and they are all happy to put on their science coats and watch the chemistry in action.
Time to check the wine’s maturation process! Thankfully, it’s looking good with rounded, supple fruit characters, yet retaining wonderful freshness. The maturation journey is occurring in second-fill French oak, where monthly topping is undertaken to ensure the wine is kept off ullage (any amount by which a barrel is left unfilled).
The wine has reached its optimum maturation point in barrel and put into bottle with a release date pegged for early 2017. The cellar door team have been dedicated participants in this project, taking in every morsel of fact and nuance in this caper that is called winemaking. Their approach to learning about the winemaking process has been inspiring.
It’s time to release the cellar door team’s labour of love. The 2015 Cellar Door Project Shiraz is made from fruit grown in a special plot of Shiraz called James Block in our Salvation Gully Vineyard at Rhymney. The cellar door staff handpicked the grapes, foot stomped, basket pressed, racked, matured in oak, blended and bottled the wine, to present it to you in their place of work – the cellar door. This corner of the world is the only location from which this drop is available. And a mere 30 dozen cases were produced so if you want to stock your cellar, come and visit, or call the cellar door and purchase over the phone – 03 5356 2250.
What’s does the 2015 Cellar Door Project Shiraz taste like?
Delicious! It’s dark red with a garnet hue, and lifted herbal peat-like characters. Its rich, mid-weight palate displays dark fruit flavours with a long savoury finish. It will soften and become more complex over the next 10 years.
Keen to try it but can’t make it to the cellar door? No problem, give the friendly cellar door team a call on 03 5356 2250. They’d be very happy to talk you through the entire project and help you purchase a few bottles over the phone.
Best’s winemaker Justin Purser gives us an update on how the Great Western vineyards are faring with harvest looming in the coming weeks.
It has been an ideal start to Vintage 2017 in Great Western. So far, we’ve picked nearly all the Riesling, all the Chardonnay and some Pinot Noir. It’s been a slow but steady maturation of the grapes. Compared to the fast pace of vintages in recent years, 2017 has been a bit of a waiting game for the fruit to ripen. The advantage of this is two fold.
The first benefit is that the flavours in the grapes have had plenty of time to mature before the sugar level becomes too excessive. Too much sugar means too much alcohol, which we do not want.
The second bonus is that the slow ripening allows us to plan and pinpoint the right time to pick, which is not easy in warmer years. Most of our blocks that we’ve picked so far are four or five weeks later than last year.
The frustrating thing about this waiting game is that the staff (myself included) in the winery and the vineyard are anxious to get their hands on the fruit, so we don’t have to process any more grape maturity samples or do any more cleaning.
We did see plenty of nervous energy in the winery this week, with an impending rainstorm threatening our Riesling crop. Never fear though, the team rallied and we spent a long night and day picking and pressing five different blocks of Riesling plus one of Orange Muscat and some Gewürztraminer for our Gentle Blend. The result of these picks is fantastic – I’m really excited about the potential for high-quality wines this year. The flavours coming through the juice and the early fermentation are very encouraging.
The rain seems to have fizzled out now and has resulted in giving the vines a freshen-up and allowed the dust to settle. We need to wait a couple more days for the grape’s flavours to return to their previous state – which leaves us with the perfect opportunity to clean and write a vintage blog. We’re also putting together our 2016 Bin 1 blend at the moment, a task normally reserved until after vintage, but it is ready to go now, so carpe diem.
This year, our winery vintage staff includes stalwarts Leanne, Jamie, Hadyn and Justin Burns (the other Justin), Glenn (in the vineyard), plus celebrity guests Viv and Hamish Thomson, and our new recruits of Claudio from Bologna in Italy and Manon and Jeremy from Champagne in France. We all went out to the Pigsty Vineyard last week and picked the small amount of old-vine Pinot Noir that’s mingled with the Pinot Meunier. We intend to recreate the wine we made from these vines (the oldest Pinot Noir vines in the world) in 2014 and released in 2016 to celebrate our 150th anniversary. The Pinot looks great, with fruitful and balanced crops and delicious flavours in the berries. We’ll pick all of this fruit as soon as it dries out. (As I am writing this, it seems we’ve been lucky as only a small amount of rain fell and we have some drying winds to follow.)
This week we should also start to pick our Shiraz, but next week will be the true onset of the “Shiraz-alanche”.
Yours, until the next update.
8th February 2017
The good news is that overall the vineyards are looking great. The above average spring rains have made a hugely positive impact on the vineyards – we’ve not seen above average rainfall for 20 years! The canopies are lush and healthy and they’re providing good shading to the vines and the bunches. What’s also exciting from a grape grower’s perspective is that the crop levels are up on average. So after three seasons of low yields or none at all, it’s very uplifting to see lots of green bunches on the vines.
However, the most exciting news about the vineyards is that they are on the whole in balance. After a few difficult seasons where the vines have been stressed, it’s been very difficult to achieve balance. This season, the ample soil moisture and favourable temperatures have allowed the vines to find their own balance. What that means is that the amount of leaf and shoot growth is in check with the fruit, and the bunches of grapes are evenly distributed throughout the vine canopy. This results in the fruit ripening up evenly and ultimately makes better wine, which is the goal!
The only downside is that there have been cases of hen and chicken (a term to describe grape bunches containing berries differing greatly in size and, most importantly, maturity) in the Cabernet Sauvignon and some isolated areas of Shiraz.
These shot berries (chickens) will not develop into full-size grapes. This is mainly due to the high winds and some cooler weather we had during the pollination of the flowers in these vines. Viticulturists can control a lot of things, but they’re yet to work out how to control the wind and temperature in the vineyard.
Apart from this issue, we’re shaping up for a good vintage. Then again, it could rain for the next two months and turn to pot (or bot), so cross your fingers, toast the weather gods with a nice wine and I’ll join you in looking forward to tasting the new vintage.