Alex Mackenzie - Winemaker at Annie's Lane
Eat & Drink

Starting A Wine Collection

Annie's Lane Vineyard

If you enjoy wine we can almost guarantee that at some point you’ve fantasised about having if not a full cellar then at least a bit of a collection at home. This way, when a friend or three drop over unannounced you can crack open a bottle saying ‘this is one of my favourite little numbers from my collection…’.

With all there is out there to choose from though, like us you may be guilty of choosing your drop based on it being the second cheapest selection on the menu, how much you like the country it was made in or even the design of the label.

We thought it was high time we found out more about wine and what to look for when getting a bit of a collection together, so we spoke with Alex Mackenzie from Annie’s Lane (shown above) to get the inside word.


How did you get into winemaking?

There are so many old wine families and lots of people in my industry can say “my father was a winemaker, my father’s father was a wine maker …”. That certainly wasn’t the case for me. My mum doesn’t drink and as a kid I don’t remember my dad drinking at home. When I finished school, I didn’t know what to study. So I began working in pubs, restaurants and hotels, and general hospitality, saving up to go overseas. While working as a bartender, and waiting tables, I became exposed to the wine list and I enjoyed that everyone had different tastes and no one was right or wrong. There was so much to learn and experience. I have always been particular with food and sensitive to aromas, even as a young kid, however wine was still a mystery. I was eager to learn and was very enthusiastic about the industry so I applied to uni, and then travelled to Adelaide to study grape growing and winemaking.


At one time or another, most of us are guilty of choosing wine based on design of the label. What should we be looking for when choosing wine?

Don’t feel too bad about that because there’s a whole lot of marketing brain power behind making wine labels as engaging as possible. But everyone shops differently. There are people who purchase spontaneously, and others that ponder. There are those that shop by price point, and others that purchase by look and feel. Generally, if you have tried a wine by a producer that you enjoyed, then there is a good chance that you will like their other wines. This can be said for varieties and regions as well. It’s a good idea to check the alcohol level, because this gives an indication of the ripeness of the grape when picked. The higher the alcohol, the riper the fruit and then richer the wine. The more you read, taste and learn, the easier it becomes to make decisions.


What’s your pick for a drop that will impress people in the know without breaking the budget?

You can’t beat a fresh Clare Valley Riesling. The 2012 Rieslings are rich and generous and won’t break the bank. They are a great starter that suit most occasions. Whether it’s Mexican or Thai food, fresh or fried, Riesling works a treat.


Are there trends in the wine industry? If so, what’s on your next-big-thing list?

Yes, lighter style reds are really popular right now. These are fresh, aromatic and not too oaky. I love red wine and I’m a big fan of reds made with Grenache, Mourvedre, and Shiraz. These are often described as “Rhonal” wines, which refers to styles that are similar to those wines made along the Rhone River in Southern France.


Which wines would you buy if you were starting a collection from scratch?

That depends on your budget, your cellar and your temptation. The first question you need to ask is whether you like aged wines. They’re not everyone’s cup of tea and many of the wines we produce in Australia are made to be drunk quite young. Having said that, some wines soften and become approachable with time, others become more structural and savoury. It’s best to taste older wines to determine what you like. There is no guarantee that wines will cellar for extended periods, however most wines should last at least 5 years.

Fortified and sweet dessert wines will generally improve over time and in some instances require time. Rieslings from Clare and Eden Valley, Semillons from Hunter Valley, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from cooler regions such as Mornington and Yarra Valley can become something really special with a few years maturation. Likewise, Shiraz from Great Western, McLaren Vale and Eden Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon from Margaret River and Coonawarra cellar really well. These are classic examples, and a great starting position. For those that want to be a bit adventurous, there are many new varieties and new regions emerging. The vintage is important, as well as the producer. Price doesn’t guarantee better cellaring.


Are there some varieties that cellar better than others?

Probably the more structural styles and varieties cellar better. However there is no exact ruling. There are wines that are made to age, and this is a style that the winemaker and producer choose to do deliberately. I think that’s why visiting a cellar door is such a great experience. You can learn about the best way to enjoy a wine by talking with the people who made it.


Finally… what was the last bottle you enjoyed?

2006 Mitchell McNicol Riesling, Clare Valley.


We loved getting the lowdown from Alex so much, we asked him to join the TLD team. Once a month he’ll be answering your questions on wine and educating us all on the good stuff. To send him a question, email

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