Twenty-five years after she left her home in Bulgaria to study winemaking in Adelaide, Elena Brooks must be regarded as one of Australia’s most impressive winemakers.

Our wine club president, James Halliday, has described the co-creator of five-star wineries Dandelion and Heirloom as “exceptionally gifted”. She has been crowned Bushing Monarch for Best Wine of Show in McLaren Vale and her wines have won trophies and dozens of gold medals around the world.

Just last month her Heirloom Alcala McLaren Vale Grenache 2022 was named at the prestigious Decanter World Wine Awards as one of the top 50 wines of the year, with judges saying the wine epitomised “the best of contemporary Australian winemaking”.

(By the way, an unprecedented 10 Australian wines were among Decanter’s Top 50, more than any other country including France.)

So here’s a chance to judge for yourself: Elena’s Heirloom Anevo Fortress Grenache Touriga Tempranillo 2021 stars in The Australian Wine Club’s mixed dozen deal this week. The dozen shines a light on what we describe as “the art of the blend”.

The unique Anevo Fortress blend, named after a medieval castle in Elena’s Bulgarian homeland, is of such quality it “makes applause mandatory”, according to Halliday.

Elena, who runs the business with husband Zar Brooks, explains the blend brings together a trio of grapes native to the Iberian Peninsula: Spain’s grenache and tempranillo, and Portugal’s touriga.

Her personal challenge was to create a balanced wine that brought complexity to McLaren Vale’s characteristic sweet, bright and juicy grenache. Elena explains the touriga brings a heightened perfume of “Earl Grey tea and little blue flowers”, while the tempranillo delivers “huge tannins” that give structure and natural acidity.

“I love blends as they’re representative of the winemaker, whereas straight varietals represent the vineyard,” Elena says. “To me, this wine is all about a feeling of being balanced: like you’ve just had a perfect day.”

Elena’s backstory is just as fascinating as her wines: she grew up in one of Bulgaria’s biggest and oldest wineries, Vinprom Lyaskovets, where her mother worked in marketing. Her father flew Russian-made MiGs as a fighter jet pilot in the Bulgarian Air Force.

By the age of 12, she was assessing barrel samples with winemakers and by 16 was making her first batches of chardonnay.

After the fall of communism, Elena’s ability to speak English meant she acted as an interpreter for visiting Australian winemakers flown in to modernise winemaking techniques. One of them encouraged Elena to study winemaking at the University of Adelaide, which she began as a 19-year-old.

Not long after graduating, she met her future husband, Zar, a highly regarded wine judge, at an Adelaide wine show.

“I married well,” she says, laughing. “Zar’s always challenging me, in a gentle way, saying, ‘You don’t want to make a good wine; you want to make the best wine.’”


Heirloom Anevo Fortress McLaren Vale Grenache Touriga Tempranillo 2021

Peerless blend of grenache (60 per cent), touriga (25 per cent) and tempranillo (15 per cent), matured in new and old French oak for 15 months. Expressive strawberry and raspberry aromas pique the senses, with blackberries, crushed black pepper, fresh aniseed, orange peel, smoked meat and vanilla notes in the background.

This is a prelude to a tapestry of flavours: juicy black and red fruits cloaked in a savoury cape, fastened with firm tannins. Beautifully balanced; and a beguiling sweet-and-sour, umami quality to this wine. The winemaker recommends Gavin Sutherland’s Spanish Fish Stew.

95 James Halliday points. Gold at China Wine and Spirits Awards. 14.2% alc; RRP $80 a bottle.

SPECIALS $75 a bottle in any dozen; $24.99 a bottle in special blends dozen.

Thorn-Clarke Shotfire Barossa Quartage 2018

One of Australia’s best value red wines, year in, year out. Bordeaux-style blend of 47-23-20-10 per cent cabernet sauvignon-malbec-cabernet franc-merlot. Aromatic nose of blackberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants, with hints of bay leaf, sage and liquorice wafting in the background.

Velvety soft palate, rich in fruit but with a fresh, tangy core driving to a long finish. Vanilla lace from 12 months maturing in French oak.

Double gold at Melbourne International Wine Show. 93 Halliday points. An absolute bargain. 14.5% alc; RRP $35 a bottle.

SPECIALS $24.99 a bottle in any dozen; $24.99 a bottle in special blends dozen.

Knappstein Spring Farm Clare Valley Shiraz Cabernet 2020

Silky 70 per cent shiraz-30 per cent cabernet combination. Juicy flavours of plums, mulberries and blackcurrants melding with dark chocolate and mint cream on the back palate. Elegant, medium-bodied style with firm tannins and a lingering finish.

Outstanding value. Won gold at the Catavinum World Wine and Spirits Competition this year and at the China Wine and Spirits Best Value Awards. 14% alc; RRP $35 a bottle.

SPECIALS $28.99 a bottle in any dozen; $24.99 a bottle in special blends dozen.

Zonte’s Footstep Canto di Lago Fleurieu Sangiovese Lagrein 2019

An Italian-inspired blend of sangiovese and lagrein, known for producing wines with dark, plummy, earthy characters and high natural acid. Here sangiovese’s brambly red fruits – cherries, strawberries and redcurrants – combine to produce a silky, medium-bodied gem. Matured in new and seasoned French oak.

Char-grilled scotch fillet, please.

94 Halliday points; Gold medal at San Francisco International Wine Competition. 14% alc; RRP $30 a bottle.

SPECIALS $21.99 a bottle in any dozen; $24.99 a bottle in special blends dozen.

SPECIAL BLENDS DOZEN Three bottles of each wine for $24.99 a bottle. SAVE $240 a dozen.

15-BOTTLE DEAL Add three bottles of French vintage sparkling Roche Lacour de Limoux Rose 2019 (RRP $34.99, 12.5% alc) for $24.59 a bottle across the 15 bottles. SAVE $276.

Order by simply clicking the links to our online store or telephone 1300 765 359 Monday to Friday, from 9am to 5pm AEST. Deals are available only while stocks last. The Australian Wine Club is a commercial partnership with Laithwaites Wine, LIQP770016550. Stockhead is partnering with The Australian Wine Club on this offer.