The 2023 Shortlist

Dark Horse Winery: The Finalists

By The Tasting Team

We present to you the 2023 Shortlist for Dark Horse Winery of the Year. Dark Horses are wineries that are not new to the Companion but who have received a 5-star rating for the first time this year. Meet our finalists below.

Aylesbury vineyard

Aylesbury Estate, Geographe

It’s sort of fitting that a winery in the Geographe would be nominated as a Dark Horse, for there is no more ‘Dark Horse’ region in WA that this. It seems to be overlooked, or driven by, as people head to Margaret River, but the truth is, here, many vignerons, drinkers and winemakers understand the attraction of the Geographe. Aylesbury Estate typifies the versatility and quality of which the region is capable. With a range of wines as diverse as arneis, tempranillo, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and gamay, there is plenty to experience here, and all the better if you do it in person; the natural beauty of the Ferguson Valley cannot be overstated – EL.

The Kimbolton team on the deck enjoying a glass of wine

Kimbolton Wines, Langhorne Creek

Kimbolton Wines is a relative newcomer to Langhorne Creek, established in 1998. It originally formed part of the Potts Bleasdale estate, and in 1946 it was acquired by Henry and Thelma Case, grandparents of current owners brother and sister Nicole Clark and Brad Case. The 55 hectare vineyard is far, far more than the production requires for its 2500 dozen bottles, the main game high-quality cabernet and shiraz, both for wines and sale of grapes. But it has an unusual support role of fiano, montepulciano and carignan, which brings customers to the cellar door that opened in December ’18. This has a repurposed shipping container with a rooftop view of the surrounding dead-flat vinescape – JH.

Nic throwing a glass of wine in the air

L.A.S. Vino, Margaret River | 2023 Dark Horse Winery

Nic Peterkin was born with pedigree winemaking blood in his veins, but his own ingenuity and hard work have got him to where L.A.S. Vino is today. Nic has consistently produced wines that push boundaries and show a penchant for his calculated, out-of-the-box style of thinking. Whether it is alternate fermentation vessels, wildly extended time on skins (one nebbiolo once spent something like 400+ days on skins), experimental processes (fermenting grapes in sea water, or using the yeast of native flora, for example) Nic throws himself at wine with freshness and a vivacity and a curiosity that are catching. To say that the wines are expressive, and individual is true, but it doesn’t quite tell the whole story. These wines have a tendency to extract unexpected descriptors, flavours and experiences from the writer, and the drinker, all the while portraying a classicism and accuracy of site that make them so brilliant – EL.

Pt Leo grounds

Pt. Leo Estate, Mornington Peninsula

Pt. Leo Estate is perhaps best known for its 16 hectare sculpture park dotted through the extensive landscaped garden, and a diverse range of dining experiences. However, the wines tasted for this edition have stepped up a gear, securing five stars for Pt. Leo Estate for the first time this year – JF.

Hugh sampling wine from the barrels

Yarradindi Wines, Upper Goulburn

Where to start with the long and varied career of Hugh Cuthbertson, the driver behind Yarradindi Wines? He ran the Talavera Wine Company in Melbourne which started his love affair with fortified wines, before moving to Mildara Blass as a marketing manager. All the while, he worked with his parents at their Murrindindi Vineyards property in the Yea Valley and helped with winemaking. This became his focus when he left the corporate world and created Cheviot Bridge, which sourced fruit from a number of vineyards in the Valley. Which brings us to Yarradindi Wines and the Mr Hugh label. The crown in this range of well-made wines are the magnificent old fortified soleras, a cache that Cuthbertson acquired that once belonged to Melbourne’s great wine merchant, W.J. Seabrook – JP.

Owners Andrew and Steven Forbes in the vineyard

Zilzie Wines, Murray Darling

One of the stars of the Murray Darling wine region, Zilzie Wines consistently brings a range of well-made, affordable wines to the drinker’s attention. Its depth and breadth of labels covers everything from the $9 Bulloak range of wines and the excellent value-for-money $20 Regional Collection, which showcases wine from the Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale, right through to the premium Platinum Edition range at $45. Few producers cover such broad wine ground. Members of the Forbes family have worked their land for more than 100 years and bring a deep understanding of the challenges that lie ahead. As part of a sustainable future, they have committed to reducing carbon emissions and introducing 100% renewable energy by 2025. They plan to be around for another 100 years – JP.

*This is an edited extract from the 2023 Halliday Wine Companion, with reviews by Dave Brookes, Jane Faulkner, James Halliday, Erin Larkin, Ned Goodwin MW, Jeni Port, Philip Rich and chief editor Tyson Stelzer. Cover illustration by David Lancashire.

The winner of each category will be announced at the 2023 Halliday Wine Companion Awards. Save the date to watch the live stream on Wednesday August 3, 2022.

The 2023 Halliday Wine Companion is available from August 4. You can pre-order your copy of Australia's most comprehensive wine guide here