10 dark horses

James Halliday by James Halliday
Presented by Dan Murphy’s
To qualify for this award, each winery has to have received a 5-star rating for the first time, and a history of at least four lesser ratings. Dal Zotto Wines is Dark Horse of the Year, and accordingly heads the list; the remaining wineries are in alphabetical order.

  • DARK HORSE OF THE YEAR: Dal Zotto Wines, King Valley, VIC

  • Dal Zotto has been part of the Wine Companion story continuously for decades and has finally broken out of the 4- and 4.5-star ring. The Dal Zotto family cantered to 5 stars and Dark Horse status this year – and front of the field, at that, with no less than six wines receiving 95 points. The taster was Jane Faulkner. Read the full story. 

  • Battle of Bosworth, McLaren Vale, SA

  • Battle of Bosworth has been part of the field since 2005 and has received ratings of 4 or 4.5 stars except for a solitary 5 stars in 2014. The winery was established in 1996, and its vineyards were certified A-grade organic years ago, when the practice was uncommon. Part of the production from the 80ha is sold to buyers wanting to use organic grapes. The estate production is 15,000 dozens.

  • Box Grove Vineyard, Nagambie Lakes, VIC

  • This is the venture of the Gough family and winemaker Sarah Gough, who battled hard until switching from traditional varieties to those of the Mediterranean. It was a success, and the business rated 4.5 stars year in, year out, trembling on the brink of 5 stars. Ned Goodwin was the taster this year and was very impressed with the broad range of wines.

  • Goaty Hill, Northern Tasmania

  • The proprietors of Goaty Hill must have thought their winery would never break through to a 5-star rating, with nine 4.5-star ratings between 2008 and 2017. They have struck gold more than once at the Tasmanian Wine Show, and have had 95-point wines widowed on so many occasions. Contract winemaker Jeremy Dineen must be very pleased to see the cards fall the right way for a winery with so much potential, and a now mature 19.5ha vineyard to reap its reward.

  • Hedonist Wines, McLaren Vale, SA

  • Hedonist Wines has won many awards and trophies including the George Mackey Memorial Trophy. After 5-star ratings in 2013 and ’14, it has been through a moderately lean period, rated between 4 and 4.5 stars over the past five years. Jane Faulkner found much to enjoy with vintages between 2016 and ’18. In addition, since 2017 the estate has been certified organic/biodynamic. Its 35ha of estate shiraz, cabernet, tempranillo and grenache have all contributed to this year’s success.

  • Lobethal Road Wines, Adelaide Hills, SA

  • Lobethal Road is owned by long-term vineyard developer and manager Dave Neyle and partner Inga Lidums, who has more than 25 years’ experience in marketing and graphic design primarily in the food and wine industries. The property is managed with minimal chemical input, and the winery came charging through this edition with two wines given 96 points and another two 95 points – an exotic mix of chardonnay, late disgorged sparkling, pinot gris and roussanne.

  • Magpie Estate, Barossa Valley, SA

  • A partnership between two lovers of Rhone wine, Barossa winemaker Rolf Binder and UK wine impresario Noel Young. They have an estate credo, which carries with it an aversion to massive extract and excess oak. The consistent quality of the wines submitted for this edition is most impressive, led by wines that are immediately drinkable, with $25 and $30 prices encouraging a second glass.

  • Plan B Wines, Great Southern, Margaret River and Geographe, WA

  • Plan B Wines is a joint venture between Terry Chellappah (wine consultant), Bill Crappsley (veteran winemaker) and Andrew Blythe. Bill has won very significant awards for his contribution to Western Australian wine, and astute marketing by Terry has added lustre to the business. The wines are led by the OD Great Southern Riesling 2018, an off-dry wine that topped its class at the Canberra International Riesling Challenge that year.

  • Sandhurst Ridge, Bendigo, VIC

  • Sandhurst Ridge has caught the eye of Campbell Mattinson, with the distinctive depth and power to its estate-grown reds, supplemented by wines made from grapes grown nearby in the Bendigo region. It’s the product of two brothers, Paul Greblo the winemaker, George the viticulturist. They have extensive experience in business, agriculture, science, construction and development, and have not seen any reason to change their robust wine style.

  • Torzi Matthews Vintners, Eden Valley, SA

  • Domenic Torzi and Tracy Matthews, former Adelaide Plains residents, searched for a number of years before finding a 10ha block at Mt McKenzie in the Eden Valley. The block they chose is in a hollow; the soil is meagre, but they were in no way deterred by the knowledge that it would be frost-prone. They have dealt with the limitations of their vineyard by purchasing grapes from the Adelaide Hills and the Barossa. The tasters this year were Ned Goodwin and Campbell Mattinson.

    This extract is from the 2020 Halliday Wine Companion guide, published by Hardie Grant and available at all good bookstores.