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McWilliams Wines – beyond trends

Tonight we’re tasting quite a few McWilliams Wines, purely in the line-of-duty to learn about the latest trends. The venue is appropriately 1877 Cafe & Wine Bar at Pyrmont in Sydney. Appropriate because the McWilliams founder Samuel McWilliams planted his first vines in Corowa, NSW in 1877.

McWilliams This Magnificent LifeSenior Winemaker Russell Cody is celebrating his 25th McWilliams vintage. Russell has been in the game since 1985, so he knows a thing or two about growing and making wine in Australia. This evening he’s taking us through a 15-wine tasting. Thank goodness for UBER.

The trends we’ll be drinking and discussing are Embracing Bubbles, Rosé Resurgence, The rise and rise of High Altitude Wines, Wine Explorers and Fortifieds Revival.

The amiable, knock-about Russell lets us in on some of the trends from years gone by that mercifully were short lived; from mullets (yes, he did have one) to wine coolers (and he also drank those back in the day). According to Russell we used to drink a lot of sparkling Burgundy and for many, it’s still a favourite for Christmas Day to wash down all that turkey and ham. The 50’s and 60’s saw us drink a lot of sweet, sparkling wine. With winning names like Porphyry Pearl, Sparkling Rinegolde or Cold Duck who could say no?

Then came the wine coolers, some Traminer Riesling and big 80’s Chardonnays. Russell admits Chardonnay was full flavoured then because, “… we tried to pack as much flavour in as possible – “1.5 litres of flavour into a 750ml bottle”.

Nowadays, some are still wandering about in a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc fog. Might the Sauv Blanc drinkers next try Pinot Gris, lighter style reds such as Pinot Noir or even Rosé?


Australians have embraced Prosecco from both Italy and Victoria’s King Valley with an extra big hug. In 2007, it made up only 1% of sparkling wine consumption here and in 2019 it’s a whopping 19%!

The future of Aussie Prosecco is under a cloud with EU (read Italian) demands to change the name. It is the name of an appellation and was the name of the grape used to make the sparklers. Prosecco is made from Glera (the name was changed in 2009 to protect Prosecco as a region) grapes. But the Italians defence is quickly watered down when you learn that Glera grapes originally came from Slovenia!

McWilliams This Magnificent LifeMcWilliams Wines also distribute Henkell Trocken (the world’s biggest sparkling producer), Mionetto Prosecco and Champagne Taittinger. We taste the Champagne Taittinger Brut Reserve and Prestige Rosé as well as the sparklers to better understand how the processes, grapes and region really shape the wine.

Interestingly, Australia is the only country making sparkling red wines.

The winner? Unsurprisingly, Champagne Taittinger Prestige Rosé.

In the era of takeovers and consolidation, its heartening to know that McWilliams, Bollinger & Taittinger are still family owned. 

Rosé Resurgence

Sales of Rosé continue to soar here as we discover that not all pink wines are sweet. Refreshing, food friendly and right for any occasion or no occasion at all, there’s demand at both the affordable and premium ends of the market.

McW 480 Estate Tumbarumba Rosé is the palest of pinks, or as Russell exclaims, “it could be a Pinot Gris”. Very in vogue, made from Sangiovese and Pinot Noir in the Provence style – textural and savoury yet delicate. Mixed on lees and placed in old barrels some of the colour is dragged out. It’s become the style Australia loves. Men and women now equally drink Rosé in Oz.

Mateus Rosé is part of the line-up and apparently we’ve been saying in all wrong for all these years. It should be pronounced as the Portuguese do, ‘Ma-Tay-Oosh’. Darker, sweeter and the top seller in Australia in the $8-12 price tier. 

Rise & Rise of High-Altitude Wines

With higher elevations, sunlight becomes more concentrated and allows for greater UV penetration of the grape skins. Warm days followed by cool nights means slow, complex flavour development. Global warming and less rain means these higher altitude regions are  winemaker’s long term insurance.

McWilliams This Magnificent LifeIn the 70’s, McWilliams Wines ‘cool’ vineyards were planted to produce sparkling. Wines from Tumbarumba are naturally acidic with cleaner fruit flavours. Both the 2017 McW 480 Estate Tumbarumba Chardonnay and 2017 McW 660 Reserve Tumbarumba Chardonnay will develop more in the bottle but both are highly drinkable now. (Says me –  the Chardy drinker).

1989 was when they first planted at Hilltops and the 30 year-old vines are bearing beautiful fruit.

McW 480 Estate Hilltops Shiraz and McW 660 Reserve Hilltops Shiraz are medium bodied and their natural acidity and natural fruit flavours make them perfect examples of the current trend. Like the Tumbarumba Chardonnays it is only the altitude and the ‘all the bells and whistles’ (read extra attention) they afford the Reserve that makes the difference. They all show the region. 

Wine Explorers

Trends may come and go but they usually repeat themselves. Australian drinkers are becoming more adventurous and some are even experimenting with European varietals that grow well here. McW Alternis Vermentino is grown in the Riverina, bright acid with a mineral finish. The McW Alternis Tempranillo from Gundagai is a “perfect match with spag bol”, according to Russell.

Hunter Semillion is low in alcohol and brightly acidic. It is the grand dame of Hunter Valley wines. The Mount Pleasant Cellar Aged Elizabeth Semillion is oh, so elegant from the first whiff to the last sip. This is a personal ‘old’ favourite of 2/3 of the TML team. Highly recommended.

The 2018 Mount Pleasant Heritage Collection Rosehill Shiraz won gold and four trophies last month at the Hunter Valley Wine Show. Soft and approachable with tannins that make it such a good wine with red meat.

The Fortified Revival

In 1995, McWilliams was producing 60% Fortifieds and 40% table wine. In 2019, that’s been completely reversed.

Because, the Australian wine industry was built on fortified wines we still make the world’s finest tokays and muscats. People are drinking less but drinking higher quality fortifieds. Nurtured and tended, McWilliams Show Reserve rare 25-Year-Old Muscat is a National treasure.

What we know is that we’re drinking more sparkling wine – especially Prosecco. Rosé is unstoppable. Climate change is just one of the reasons we’ll be drinking more ‘elevated’ wine. We’re slowly becoming more adventurous in trying new varietals – as long as we can pronounce them. And fortifieds are back, baby

McWilliams This Magnificent Life

Thanks to Joanna and Paul Thompson from the Artisan Cheese Room for a spectacular smorgasbord of sensational cheese. They are opening another Artisan Cheese Room at the Cellar Door at Mount Pleasant in Hunter in October. That will be a match made in heaven – wonderful wine and artisan cheese.

DISCLAIMER: TML were guests of McWilliams Wines.

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Liz Bond

Liz Bond comes from a PR background and loves fine wine, great food and rewarding travel - all the magnificent things in life. She prides herself in meeting famous celebrities at baggage carousels.

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