Joelle Thomson

Author, journalist, writer

How high can you go?

How much would you spend on a single bottle of wine for the ultimate occasion?

It may depend how much money is in the kitty, but if price was no object, how much do you think is too much? Is it $200, $2000, $20,000 or even more?

Australian winemaker John Casella wants to see Barossa Valley winemakers raise the prices of all their wines to a more profitable level and this year he’s putting his money where his mouth is with the release of a new Shiraz priced at $2000 a bottle.  Admittedly, it’s not actually one bottle but two because the new wine is available only in magnums (1500 mls instead of a standard 750 ml bottle). Still, it’s a steep rise from what he says he would like the bare minimum to be – “I don’t believe the future of the Barossa should be anything less than $20 or $25 for a bottle of wine coming out of the Barossa Valley,” he told a group of media in the Barossa Valley this month.

The high priced newcomer was unveiled at a celebration tasting of the 40th anniversary of Peter Lehmann Wines, a brand and winery that Casella acquired in 2014.

The new wine is called new wine is called Masterson Shiraz and the first vintage is 2015. It’s made with grapes grown on a single vineyard planted between 1990 and 1991 in the Moppa district of Barossa Valley, between Ebenezer and Greenook. The vines were planted on their own roots (rather than grafted) in deep sandy loam soils made up of ironstone over red clay. They were dry grown. This means no irrigation was applied. The grapes were harvested in late February 2015 and crushed into a small stainless fermenter where they remained for two weeks on skins, then basket pressed and moved into French oak hogsheads for malolactic fermentation. The wine was then aged in a 2.5 litre foudres for 36 months (Francois Freres) and matured for 12 months prior to release.

Casella and his late parents, Filippo and Maria, are the founders of the well known Yellow Tail wines, based in Yenda in New South Wales. He now owns Peter Lehmann and he has also bought Morris of Rutherglen; two companies with long histories and family-run reputations. Both brands add jewels to the Casella wine crown. Both have been acquired because of their illustrious histories and high regard within wine circles. Casella plans to keep them that way.

  • The 2015 Peter Lehmann Masterson Shiraz is available only in magnums; 1000  will be released globally this month at $2,000 AUD. It will be available only at the winery in Australia.

How high is too high?

A rising tide floats ships, said one taster at the launch of the new wine. Watch this space.

Blanc slate for Blackenbrook

Blackenbrook Vineyard in Nelson has released its first Pinot Blanc.

The wine was made from tiny amounts of Pinot Blanc from the 2019 vintage, a year that was characterised by early growth and good spring rainfall with a drier than usual start to summer, which led to drought conditions in January. Fortunately, this was offset by the moisture-holding clay soils, which enabled the young vines to  grow well.

There is just 11 hectares of Pinot Blanc in New Zealand in total and it has traditionally not found the same favour with wine drinkers as its similarly named Pinot Gris.

The newcomer from Nelson was inspired by winemaker Daniel Schwarzenbac’s judging experience at the Mondial des Pinots competition in Switzerland. It’s a competition that focuses solely on Pinot grape varieties and he was impressed by Pinot Blanc that he tasted there and decided to make his own.

“We want to make the wine in a way that allows the varietal flavours to shine by maturing it in stainless steel rather than oak. This way the grape expresses its pure style from our Nelson vineyard,” said Schwarzenbac, who suggests that this wine is going to surprise anyone with a pre-conceived notion of Pinot Blanc and also  people who aren’t familiar with the variety at all.”

Watch this space for my tasting note and thoughts on the 2019 Blackenbrook Pinot Blanc.

Find out more at

Unknown great Australian white

Peter Lehmann Semillon tasting 

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Peter Lehmann Wines, now owned by the Casella family who bought the winery in 2014. Today we’re looking back in history with John Casella, who drove 800 kilometres to meet a group of invited journalists at the Barossa Valley winery in South Australia.

We’re tasting Semillon, a 100% varietal wine which is better known as one of the great white grapes of Bordeaux and, from closer quarters, as the leading white in Hunter Valley north of Sydney, which is known for its searing acidity and ability to age.

This Barossa Valley version is another take on the same theme – and far more approachable in its youth, with aging potential too. Like its Hunter Valley counterparts, Peter Lehmann Barossa Valley Semillon is made from early picked grapes, which shows in the relatively low alcohol levels, high natural acidity (a hallmark of the Semillon grape) and the wine’s ability to age – as well as its refreshing qualities as a young wine.

All of the wines in this line up tasted fresh and appeared significantly more youthful than their age. Even the first wine, now seven years old, tasted extremely youthful. They all have the ability to age further.

Oak was trialled in the winery’s Semillon in 1995, 1996 and 1997 but the wines were not released onto the market – “They were monstrous and not good. Cork also was awful in those wines too. To find two or three wines that tasted the same was impossible, due to the unreliability of cork,” says Malcolm Stopp of Peter Lehmann Wines.

No oak is used in these wines and they are all sealed with screwcraps.

The tasting

2012 Peter Lehmann Margaret Barossa Semillon, 10.95% ABV, 5.9 RS

Pale lemon, medium intensity on the nose with aromas of wax, hints of honey, and straw, medium bodied, long finish thanks to the high acidity, which makes the wine taste fresh and vibrant. Very good quality. 18.5/20


2011 Peter Lehmann Margaret Barossa Semillon, 10.4% ABV, 6.3 RS

Pale lemon, medium intensity in aromatics with more grassy aromas (quite a classic hallmark of Semillon) and a ripe melon fruit core with a long, zesty, lemony finish. Succulent and leaves a dry impression of taste, thanks to its high acidity. Very refreshing. Very good quality. 18.5/20


2010 Peter Lehmann Margaret Barossa Semillon, 11% ABV, 6.1 RS

Pale lemon, starting to show tertiary flavour development into green herb aromas and flavours. Refreshingly long on flavour. Good quality. Drinks well now and definitely has further time up its sleeve, thanks to the high acidity. 17.5/20


2006 Peter Lehmann Margaret Barossa Semillon, 11.5% ABV, 6.2 RS

Pale lemon, super fresh with waxy and lemony aromas and flavours, super succulent, great balance of richness with acidity. Long finish. Extremely good wine which drinks well now and has more aging potential. Still so youthful. Tasty. 19/20 


2005 Peter Lehmann Margaret Barossa Semillon, 11.5% ABV, 5.95 RS

Medium lemon, strong aromas of wax and dried grass, medium bodied, succulent and refreshing. Very good balance, still very youthful – a top white with refreshing character and a lot of life ahead. 19/20


2002 Peter Lehmann Margaret Barossa Semillon, 12% ABV, 6.77 RS

Medium lemon colour with strong aromas of green grass, a medium body, flavours of honey, wax and dried grass. Drinks well and has further aging ahead but is developing a greener flavour spectrum than the other wines in this line up. Very refreshing, very good quality. 17.5/20

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