A KALEIDOSCOPIC JOURNEY through this sunburnt country, the world of Australian wine finds itself corralled into the regal coronation otherwise known as Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine. The brainchild of wine master Andrew Caillard MW, it’s a platform that promises to unravel the mysteries of Down Under.
Langton’s is Australia’s premier fine wine destination and its classification is widely regarded as the most respected secondary market guide to fine Australian wines. The first classification was released in 1990, and has since become a go-to guide to Australia’s most highly sought-after wines—it’s now up to Edition 8. The hierarchy is a reflection of consumer demand, collectability, and prices fetched at auction. In short, it’s based on market numbers and analysed by an internal panel.
The Classification is made up of two tiers. The ‘First Classified’ is a holy grail of fermented divinity where the giants of Australian wine strut like peacocks in a parade. These are the winemakers whose elixirs have weathered the sands of time; their bottles whispered about in hallowed wine cellars like forbidden incantations.
Then there’s the ‘Classified’, that liminal space where the rebels and misfits of the vineyards cavort. It’s the knife-edge between tradition and avant-garde, where opposites are recognised as being as good as one another. Here, the wines may lack the haughty lineage of their First Classified brethren, but they possess a spirit that resonates with those who prefer their libations with a dash of rebellion.
Michael Anderson, Head of Auctions and Secondary Market, recently talked me through Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine Edition 8. “While someone could be very, very happy that [they] made it or if someone is very, very sad about coming off, they can never turn around and look at me and say, ‘How could he do that? Because our classification is all about traceability and data. Everything is data led.”
One surprising statistic, says Anderson, was that this year 65 percent of the wines were from cool climate regions. “The cooler climate wines have really begun to stand out, which rings true for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.” Towards the top of the chain, however, more robust and conventional numbers were still shining, “When we sat down and looked at the data, the number one and two wines in terms of border value, clearance rate and value above release were Rochford Basket Press and Penfolds Bin 389.”
The godfather of the Australian wine, Penfold’s Grange has sat at the top of the Langton’s Classification since its inception. “Since the very first classification, Penfolds Grange has held the crown as the best performing wine,” Anderson quips. He reflects on his most memorable bottle, “The finest bottle of wine I’ve ever tried in my life was a 1952 Penfold’s Grange. Whatever you think of Penfold’s and the wines that they make, it’s always been a quality proposition across the board. They put Australian wine on the world wine map. So if you’re the first, everyone is naturally chasing after you.”
Anderson has been following the Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine since he started out in the wine industry. “I had the poster up in my previous job. It’s like one of those things, like playing sports against one of your idols. When I was young, I bought all my wine according to what the classification said. Now I’m running the classification and it’s pretty amazing.”
In the early days, there was one wine on the Classification that inspired him. “Like most people, I was mainly drinking reds; looking at Penfold’s Grange and Henschke Hill of Grace as the absolute pinnacle of Australian wine. I remember drinking Giaconda’s Chardonnay for the first time and thinking ‘this is why people obsess over this grape’.” Anderson holds his thought. “It was every bit as good as the world’s finest chardonnay. It’s a winemaker’s grape that can move in a thousand different directions.”
For Anderson, any conversation around the Classification needs to include the game changers. “I get more excited about the newer wines that are coming on. Wines that I loved before I worked at Langton’s and thinking ‘one day, there’s a chance this one will make it on the classification.”
This year, 19 new wines have joined these prestigious ranks, including The Relic Shiraz Viognier and The Schubert Theorem Shiraz from The Standish Wine Company, Hoffmann Dallwitz and Little Wine Shiraz Sami-Odi from, the Tolpuddle Vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and the Bindi Quartz Chardonnay underlining a clear new direction to more elegant styles of Shiraz and southeast regions featuring Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
There’s one new wine that tops Anderson’s personal list. “Sami Odi is the main one. I used to buy from Fraser McKinley directly, bottles I’d purchase for $100 that were worth $200 instantly. He makes his Shiraz with the classic bodyweight and structure of Shiraz but there’s lower alcohol, softer pressings like lesser laceration time. There’s a lighter touch to his wines, they’re not in your face.”
After a quick consultation with the classification I opened a bottle of Bindi Quartz Chardonnay, a recent addition to the list and a winery that’s close to where I live. As soon as the cork was free, aromas of hazelnuts, flint and small white flowers wafted through the air. The hands of Leonard Cohen and the sound of Warren Ellis. Shotgun acidity, angular and pure. There’s a leading trail of honeydew, ginger and wet stones.
If this empty bottle is anything to go by, the algorithm is working.
Mahmood Fazal is a Walkley award-winning investigative reporter. On the outskirts of his crime writing, Mahmood is currently compiling a book about wine. It is an extension of his Instagram page semiautomaticwine — where he experiments with journalism, automatic writing and poetry to demonstrate the meaning of his favourite wines.