Thomas Wines

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang–New Shiraz from a Hunter Icon
Thomas Wines

After 30 years of making world-class Hunter Valley Shiraz, Andrew Thomas’s passion for the variety and his region hasn’t budged an inch. It has allowed plenty of time to refine his craft, and over the years, Thomas’s reds have become purer and more restrained, not least through a more measured use of new oak, more whole berries and gentler fermentations. With all the medium-bodied poise, suppleness and savoury texture you could expect from top-flight Hunter Shiraz, you might say he’s making the truest and best wines of his storied career. Shiraz you can file under ‘pure drinking pleasure’.

Kiss Shiraz stands at the summit of Thomas’s red production. It’s a single-vineyard wine from an old, low-yielding vineyard a stone's throw away from Brokenwood's Graveyard. The second single-site wine is Sweetwater Ridge, another old-vine Shiraz from what Thomas calls “a beautiful site” in the Belford subregion. Finally, there’s the hedonistically styled barrel-selection blend, Elenay. Perhaps counterintuitively, Thomas’s top wine is not his loudest expression. He refers to Kiss as the introvert to Sweetwater’s extrovert, with seductively elegant Elenay, which combines both sites, aptly sitting between the two.

Like 2021, the 2022 season was cool, wet and viticulturally demanding. Thomas and his crew ruthlessly thinned their crops, ensuring open canopies for airflow and exposure to sunlight. They dropped almost 40% in the already low-yielding Kiss vineyard, dragging yields well below permitted Grand Cru Burgundy levels. The sacrifices paid off. “2022 is a vintage that has produced beautiful, medium-weight, Hunter River Burgundy-style wines,” Thomas told us. And, at alcohol levels around the 13.5% mark, “they're smack bang in the middle of medium weight”. As one of the best at what he does, these Shirazes are uniquely Thomas but quintessentially Hunter. Pucker up, people!

The Wines

Thomas Wines Sweetwater Ridge Shiraz 2022
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Thomas Wines Sweetwater Ridge Shiraz 2022

Thomas Wines put Sweetwater Vineyard on the map. Unfortunately, in 2016, the vineyard was sold, and in 2021, Thomas made the difficult decision not to renew his contract with the new owners. Fortunately, he had a contingency plan; in 2017, he had begun purchasing fruit from the adjacent, independently owned and operated Ridgeview Estate. “It’s a fantastic vineyard,” he told us. “The fruit has a lovely floral complexity among the red and blue fruits.” The fruit went into Thomas’s mailing list-exclusive Belford Shiraz until 2022, when Thomas felt ready to siphon it off to the Sweetwater label. In recognition, the wine’s name has been updated to Sweetwater Ridge.

Located in the Belford subregion of the Lower Hunter Valley, the old vines were planted in 1998 and are deep-rooted in the signature red/brown loam over limestone soils of the region. Thomas’s steeply sloped block faces east, providing some protection from the hot afternoon sun. Picked in mid-February, the fruit fermented as whole berries and was pressed to a selection of new, one-, two- and three-year-old French hogsheads. After 13 months’ maturation, the very best barrels were selected and blended before a further 11 months resting in bottle in readiness for release. 

“Quite concentrated and inky, rich and chocolatey elements with raspberry, strawberry red fruit characters, lots of clove, cinnamon, twiggy-earthy notes, smoky graphite minerality. At the fuller end of medium weight with firm, dusty tannins and a woody finish. Serious wine, a touch edgy at present in its mesh of acid, tannin and fruit, but seems like immense potential.”
93+ points, Mike Bennie, The Wine Front
Thomas Wines Sweetwater Ridge Shiraz 2022
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Thomas Wines Elenay Shiraz 2022
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Thomas Wines Elenay Shiraz 2022

The first release of the Elenay Shiraz in 2011 was the result of what Andrew Thomas calls a beautiful accident. A few barrels initially destined for the premium Kiss Shiraz didn’t quite fit the style and were blended with a few barrels of Sweetwater Shiraz to form Elenay. Such was the enthusiasm for the wine that Thomas decided to continue with the label. The vineyard composition changes depending on the vintage, but the style remains the same, with seductive fruit and premium French oak playing an important role.

As with 2021, 2022 brings together two sites. The new-to-the-fold Ridgeview vineyard comprises 60%, with the balance from Thomas’s flagship Kiss vines. Thomas has been working with fruit from the Ridgeview site in Belford since 2017. These mature vines (planted in 1998) are deep-rooted in Belford’s signature red/brown loam over limestone soils and face east, providing some protection from the hot afternoon sun and giving vibrant, perfumed lift to the wine. The Kiss vines at Pokolbin Estate are planted just across the road from one of the Hunter’s most famous vineyards, Graveyard, and these old vines (planted in 1969) yield meagre crops of exceptional fruit. Before blending, both components aged in a mix of new, one-, two- and three-year-old French hogsheads for 14 months of maturation.

“Well meshed woody spices, gingery notes, toast supporting dark cherry, plum, maraschino, blackberry jubes. Supple texture, lots of concentration, fleshy, quite lush and the oak seasoning apt with its woody elements, cinnamon/clove and peppery notes. Potent, quite ripe/sweeter fruit spectrum amongst the wood. It nails the brief for a fleshier, darker Hunter shiraz.”
94 points, Mike Bennie, The Wine Front
“Deeply-coloured, purplish shiraz with aromas of blueberries, peppery spice, anise, dusty oak and a little whiff of reduction, all still subdued by youth. The palate is juicy, full and intense, yet reserved like the nose. This needs time to build but the foundations are there. Ample tannins and mouth-watering acidity should underpin a long cellaring future.”
94 points, Ralph Kyte-Powell, The Real Review
"It is a powerful, weighty, multilayered wine with abundant character. The fruit is dark, the structure dense, and a spirited rustic thread ties it together. Rather than being a wine to dissect, it is a wine to enjoy with hearty fare, good friends and convivial ambience."
95 points, Toni Paterson MW, The Wine Companion
Thomas Wines Elenay Shiraz 2022
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Thomas Wines Kiss Shiraz 2022
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Thomas Wines Kiss Shiraz 2022

First released in 2001, Thomas Wines’ flagship Shiraz is a single-vineyard wine sourced from the mature Pokolbin Estate Vineyard across the road from Brokenwood’s famed Graveyard Vineyard. The vines date back to 1969 and are planted on Hunter’s classic clay/loam soils, where the low-yielding vines produce fruit with exceptional depth and concentration.

As in 2021, the cool, wet conditions in 2022 demanded hard work in the vineyards. After three decades in the Hunter, Thomas is well-placed to navigate such hurdles. Crop-thinning is the norm in the Kiss vines, and in 2022, over 35% of the fruit was dropped post veraison. In the end, yields ended up at a paltry 28hl/ha―lower than those permitted for Grand Cru Burgundy. 

The fruit was picked in late February and fermented on skins for eight days before being pressed to French hogsheads (20% new) for 16 months’ maturation. The wine was held back for a further 10 months in bottle before release. Thomas describes Kiss as the introvert to Sweetwater’s extrovert, meaning, like many other top producers, his flagship wine is not necessarily his biggest or loudest. Expect a more reserved expression, sitting firmly in the medium-weight spectrum while holding just as much complexity and aging potential.

“Dark and brooding red, broad shoulders, intense and layered with ripe berry/cherry fruit, smoky spice elements, touches of turned earth, autumnal leaf, pepper, graphite and crushed rock minerality. Big focus of flavour, deep and rich. It’s chewy with its woody elements but the flavour profile of fruit is to the task. Bold, distinctly Thomas and Kiss, and will have its fans for that.”
95+ points, Mike Bennie, The Wine Front
"An open textured, rich and flavourful wine with boysenberry and Madagascan vanilla. A potent spice vein races through the palate, engaging the drinker and hooking one's interest. Anchored by dark, concentrated fruit, the wine accentuated by hints of sarsparilla, juniper and clove. This combines juiciness and liveliness with a warming embrace, showcasing richness, power and regional character."
96 points, Toni Paterson MW, The Wine Companion
Thomas Wines Kiss Shiraz 2022
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“It is wines like the Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz, Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea Shiraz and Thomas Kiss Shiraz that have really put the Hunter Valley on the contemporary shiraz map.” The Wine Companion

“An insistence on using only the best grapes, grown in great years, from an exceptional single vineyard site, has seen this wine evolve from a signature wine in this small producer’s stable to a wine of international note.” The Wine Companion on Thomas Wines Kiss Shiraz

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