Australian wine tastes are changing. Whether it is through the growth in natural wine, pinot grigio and pinot noir or the slow decline in Marlborough sauvignon blanc, the Australian palate is in a state of flux. And nowhere else is this more clear than in wine cellars around the country where collectors are buying and selling wines, constantly changing the mix of their cellars.
For many, a wine cellar is a small handful of bottles hidden away in a dark cupboard. It’s more a stash than a cellar, where wine sits waiting for the right occasion, and not destined for long ageing. And for those that take it a little more seriously, a wine cabinet or two can do the trick for a modest collection.
But for many serious collectors, without the privilege of an underground cellar which is getting harder and harder to come by in our capital cities, the only plausible option is to use one of a number of professional wine storage services to handle their collections. In the last two decades there has been immense growth in wine cellaring with many millions of bottles now stored in purpose-built, climate-controlled cellars around the country.
The largest professional wine cellarage provider in Australia is Wine Ark, which was founded 20 years ago and has 16 wine storage centres holding over two million bottles of wine in its managed cellars and wine vaults. Every three years it takes stock of its inventory to measure the change in the Australian palates and the 2019 survey has turned up some fascinating results. With customers based in over 40 countries, Australia’s Most Collected Wines is the largest national survey of its kind.
In 2019 Australia’s Most Collected Wine was Penfolds Grange, which swapped positions with Penfolds 389, the most collected wine in 2016. This is a stunning result and shows that despite its price rising up to near A$1,000 per bottle, serious wine collectors in Australia still have more Penfolds Grange in their cellars than any other wine, which is quite remarkable considering it is still one of the nation’s most expensive wines.
In addition, Penfolds remains the most popular brand in our cellars with eight wines in the top 50. It is interesting that at the same time Penfolds 389 has dropped slightly in total volume, perhaps reflecting that more 389 is being consumed than Grange. Overall, the cellaring of bottles of Penfolds has increased by 6% despite all but two having dropped their rankings, suggesting Penfolds is becoming less popular with collectors when compared to other wine brands. Most importantly, the results suggest that cellars and the Australian palate are becoming more diverse.
When we look at the regional mix of our most collected wines there are some very clear trends around what our collectors are putting down to age. The Barossa Valley continues to hold sway with a 26% increase in wines coming into collections, particularly from brands such as Rockford, Torbreck and surprise mover Turkey Flat. The performance of Rockford in particular has been nothing short of outstanding with three wines in the top 50 and five in the unpublished top 200 data. For a small Barossan brand, this is an outstanding achievement and continues to illustrate its almost mythical status among Australian wine collectors.
Wines from the Hunter Valley continue to do well, up 13%, based around the popularity of wines from Tyrrell’s and Lake’s Folly, both red and white wines. One small surprise was that this topped Margaret River, up only 9%, despite the high popularity of wines from Leeuwin Estate, Moss Wood and Cullen. Cape Mentelle, Pierro, Vasse Felix, Woodlands and Voyager Estate were the only other Margaret River wineries found in the unpublished top 100 data showing the strength of these brands among collectors.
2019 has also been the year where some, but not all, of our cooler-climate regions have enjoyed exceptional growth in cellaring. Yarra Valley wines were up an impressive 47%, driven by ultra-fine wine producers Mount Mary and Yarra Yering. Again, as with Penfolds Grange, it is fascinating to see that the rising prices for both these labels has not been enough to stop collectors adding these wines to their collection. Also, key cooler-climate Australian shiraz as a whole has also risen in popularity with Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier, Yarra Yering Dry Red No.2, Henschke’s Hill of Grace and Dalwhinnie Shiraz all moving up in the 2019 survey.
The greatest surprise wasn’t the rise of collectors’ interest in Tasmanian wine, but rather the staggering size of that growth. Tasmanian wines in storage increased by 175%, a change not previously witnessed in the survey. It has been driven by a number of producers, particularly Tolpuddle Vineyard with its Pinot Noir that has risen 101 places from obscurity to be the 43rd most-collected wine and second most-collected pinot noir, above survey stalwarts Curly Flat, Bindi Block 5 and Bass Phillip Estate.
On the flip side there has been another significant surprise – the decline of cabernet and particularly the wines from Coonawarra. While shiraz and blends enjoyed an 11% increase overall in bottles stored, cabernet sauvignon and blends were down 22%, with Coonawarra down a massive 43%. Cabernet as a whole still makes up 36% of the cellaring so it remains important but interest is certainly dropping. It appears many cool-climate wine consumers are also turning away from Coonawarra and towards Yarra Valley and Tasmania for their ability to cellar well.
For many Australians, pinot noir remains less of a cellaring option than shiraz and cabernet sauvignon. Australian pinot noir makes up only 2% of wine cellars, below riesling and chardonnay at 5% and 7% respectively, with only Mount Mary and Tolpuddle Vineyard in the top 50. Though there were some interesting trends further down the survey with By Farr, William Downie and Hoddles Creek 1er Cru found in the top 200, as well as stalwarts Bass Phillip, Curly Flat and Bindi, suggesting that pinot noir certainly makes up a significant proportion of some wine cellars.
Unsurprisingly riesling retains its strong presence in Australian cellars due to its exceptional ability to age. While traditional strong Clare Valley performers Grosset and Petaluma did well, there was also plenty of regional diversity with Crawford
River and Seppelt Drumborg figuring highly, as did Clonakilla, Dukes and Howard Park, showing a diversification in riesling tastes. It will be fascinating to see how the habits of Australian wine collectors and their tastes have changed for the next classification in 2022.
Top 50 Wines
1 Penfolds Bin 95 Grange Shiraz, South Australia
2 Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz, South Australia
3 Penfolds St Henri Shiraz, South Australia
4 Lake’s Folly Cabernets, Hunter Valley
5 Rockford Basket Press Shiraz, Barossa Valley
6 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River
7 Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Blend, Margaret River
8 Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra
9 Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier, Canberra District
10 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay, Margaret River
11 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling, Clare Valley
12 Mount Mary Quintet Cabernet Blend, Yarra Valley
13 Penfolds RWT Shiraz, Barossa Valley
14 Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon, Hunter Valley
15 Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia
16 Yarra Yering Dry Red No.1 Cabernet Blend, Yarra Valley
17 Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia
18 Giaconda Estate Chardonnay, Beechworth
19 Rockford Rifle Range Cabernet Sauvignon, Barossa Valley
20 Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz, South Australia
21 Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz, Eden Valley
22 d’Arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz, McLaren Vale
23 Torbreck RunRig Shiraz Viognier, Barossa Valley
24 Wynns Coonawarra Estate John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra
25 Tyrrell’s Vat 9 Shiraz, Hunter Valley
26 Lake’s Folly Chardonnay, Hunter Valley
27 Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz, Eden Valley
28 Voyager Estate Cabernet Merlot, Margaret River
29 Jasper Hill Georgia’s Paddock Shiraz, Heathcote
30 Mount Mary Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley
31 Turkey Flat Shiraz, Barossa Valley
32 Tyrrell’s Vat 47 Chardonnay, Hunter Valley
33 Grosset Springvale Watervale Riesling, Clare Valley
34 A.P. Birks Wendouree Shiraz, Clare Valley
35 St Hallett Blackwell Shiraz, Barossa Valley
36 Yarra Yering Dry Red No.2 Shiraz Blend, Yarra Valley
37 Seppelt Chalambar Shiraz, Victoria
38 Seppelt St Peters Shiraz, Grampians
39 Penfolds Bin 128 Shiraz, Coonawarra
40 Petaluma Hanlin Hill Riesling, Clare Valley
41 Dalwhinnie Moonambel Shiraz, Pyrenees
42 Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz, Hunter Valley
43 Tolpuddle Vineyard Pinot Noir, Southern Tasmania
44 Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz, Barossa Valley
45 Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River
46 Rockford Black Shiraz Sparkling Shiraz, Barossa Valley
47 Giaconda Warner Vineyard Shiraz, Beechworth
48 Wynns Coonawarra Estate Michael Shiraz, Coonawarra
49 Rockford Rod & Spur Shiraz Cabernet Blend, Barossa Valley
50 A.P. Birks Wendouree Cabernet Malbec, Clare Valley
Top 5 Pinot Noir*
1 Mount Mary Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley
2 Tolpuddle Vineyard Pinot Noir, Southern Tasmania
3 Curly Flat Pinot Noir, Macedon Ranges
4 Bindi Block 5 Pinot Noir, Macedon Ranges
5 Bass Phillip Estate Pinot Noir, Gippsland
Top 5 Riesling
1 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling, Clare Valley
2 Grosset Springvale Watervale Riesling, Clare Valley
3 Petaluma Hanlin Hill Riesling, Clare Valley
4 Crawford River Riesling, Henty
5 Seppelt Drumborg Riesling, Henty
Top 5 Shiraz or Shiraz Blends
1 Penfolds Bin 95 Grange Shiraz, South Australia
2 Penfolds St Henri Shiraz, South Australia
3 Rockford Basket Press Shiraz, Barossa Valley
4 Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier, Canberra District
5 Penfolds RWT Shiraz, Barossa Valley
Top 5 Cabernet or Cabernet Blends
1 Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz, South Australia
2 Lake’s Folly Cabernets, Hunter Valley
3 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River
4 Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Blend, Margaret River
5 Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra
Top 5 Chardonnay
1 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay, Margaret River
2 Giaconda Estate Chardonnay, Beechworth
3 Lake’s Folly Chardonnay, Hunter Valley
4 Tyrrell’s Vat 47 Chardonnay, Hunter Valley
5 Pierro Chardonnay, Margaret River
*Top 5 lists are wines from the top 200, and don’t necessarily appear in the top 50.