Three decades ago the big Aussie red of choice for me was Jim Barry The Armagh.

First, it was readily available, secondly, it was big, bruising and burst-ing with dense blackcurrant flavours and, finally, I liked the label immensely. Printed on high-quality, parchment-like, putty-coloured paper, it looked as if it had been handwritten with an old-fashioned feather quill pen dipped in purple grape juice.

In small letters was "Jim Barry" and then, simply, "The Armagh". As I recall it was always $45 a bottle, which in the 80s was a significant sum of money for a red wine from anywhere.

Inflation and a growing reputation now has The Armagh sitting at around $265 a bottle - but even so it has a dedicated band of fine-wine followers.


The good news for the rest of us is that the Jim Barry brand from Australia's revered Clare Valley has a range of excellent wines at prices that are affordable.

The business is run by Jim's son Peter these days and, with a significant acreage of priceless old-vine vineyards, he continues the twin traditions of excellence and innovation.

"In the wine game you've always got to bring in new customers. You lose 10 per cent every year for all sorts of reasons," says Jim.

He treats the vines like family and is full of knowledge and enthusiasm about what sites are producing what particular style of wine.

"With our Florita riesling we've found that after 30 years these wines are now developing marmalade characters ... whereas our Lodge Hill riesling is 480m above sea level, one of the highest vineyards in the Clare Valley, and with the cool nights and warm days it gives us flavours that are more restrained and elegant."

The first vintage of The Armagh was 1985 and New Zealand was its first export market.
"In 1987 we got the wines into Antoine's fine dining restaurant in Parnell," recalls Jim.

"Tony Astle took The Armagh, along with a selection of others, on his wine list. That was the start of building the brand in New Zealand."

2012 Jim Barry Lodge Hill Riesling - $25

If you prefer your riesling bone dry, then this is perfect, from fruit that is well shaded and not overly ripe. With lots of lemon twist flavour and a teeth-clenching bite.

2010 Jim Barry The Cover Drive - $25

A big seller in New Zealand, this 100 per cent cabernet sauvignon is not as overwhelming as you might expect. It has lots of red fruit flavours with a hint of mint and earthiness. This is good value and a perfect alfresco summer red for the barbecue.