Three singular Australian wines have consistently commanded the highest prices at auction in the 1990s but this elite group has now been added to. Penfold's Grange has been the most highly prized wine from Down Under for more than a decade and in 1996 it was joined - controversially at the time - by Henschke's Hill of Grace and the still less well known (outside Australia) Mount Mary 'Quintet' Cabernets in Langton's second classification of distinguished Australian wine. In the third Langton's classification, published last month, four further names join the head of this illustrious list in the 'exceptional' category.

Two of the 'newcomers'- Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon and Leeuwin Estate's Art Series Chardonnay (the first white wine to make it into the top flight) - hail from Western Australia's Margaret River region. They are promoted from 'super seconds' along with South Australian cross regional blend Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon and Wendouree Shiraz made in the Clare Valley.

Newcomer is perhaps misleading, to even be considered for the classification a wine must have 12 vintages made or 10 released, while wines in the 'exceptional' category need to have at least 15 vintages released. The market-driven criteria by which wines are judged relate to value, consistency and volume of demand in the auction market over at least 10 years.

Langton's, the principal specialist wine auction house in Australia, formed an association with Christie's Australia back in 1990 and a year later released its Classification of Distinguished Australian Wine which it describes as "the first credible form guide of fine Australian wine". The initial list comprised just 34 wines with Penfolds Grange at its head in a category of its own. Grange alone still accounts for about 30% of auction market turnover in Australian wine, according to Langton's Sydney Director Andrew Caillard MW.

Thirty more wines were added in 1996 and the 2000 classification has been expanded further to include the 89 most consistently sought-after Australian wines divided into four categories: 'Exceptional' (seven wines); 'Outstanding' (24 wines); 'Excellent' (29 wines) and 'Distinguished' (29 wines). Among the 25 new names (see full list attached) are: Victorians Giaconda, Taltarni, Mount Langi Ghiran and Bass Phillip; West Australians Howard Park, Plantagenet, Vasse Felix and Xanadu; and South Australians Peter Lehmann, Rockford, Coriole, Katnook and Charles Melton. The giant Penfolds and the tiny Clare Valley producer Wendouree share the honours for most number of wines in the classification, with five each.

The list now includes 33 Cabernet Sauvignons and Cabernet-based blends, 31 Shiraz and Shiraz-based blends, 12 Chardonnays, six Pinot Noirs, four Rieslings, two Semillons (one dry and one sweet) and a solitary Merlot, the first to join the classification. Only 18 of the wines are white and the two ports previously included have been dropped, reflecting the long-term market decline of fortified wine.

Given that it takes at least a decade for a wine to get into Langton's classification this might not be the place to spot short-term trends in Australian wine. It is however interesting to note that while many believe Shiraz to be Australia's most successful grape variety Cabernet and Bordeaux style blends still command more places in the classification.

One longer-term trend that the classification does point up, as Caillard says, is that "in the Australian fine wine market the idea of regionality is becoming important". He also notes that from an "investment/reputation perspective, Margaret River has over taken Coonawarra as the Cabernet region of Australia. Coonawarra produces a lot of commercial wine at a low price point," he says. However, he then continues: "The essence of Cabernet style wines like Wynns John Riddoch have lost support. This is in part due to the aggressive increase in pricing. Jacaranda Ridge (Orlando Wyndham's top Coonawarra Cabernet) has never fired."

"The development of the classification reflects the growing interest in fine Australian wine over the past decade", says Caillard. "It is a simple, straightforward guide for anyone interested in drinking or investing in good Australian wine. It helps to create more interest and confidence in emerging ultra-fine Australian. It is a guide for the collector in that it shows which wines are most sought after, and at the same time it is a guide for the investor in that it shows which wines have increased in value and for which there is consistent and solid demand - the 'blue chip' wines, if you like."

Langton's Classification of Australian Wine III

Exceptional
PENFOLDS Bin 95 Grange Shiraz, South Australia
HENSCHKE 'Hill of Grace' Shiraz, Keyneton, South Australia
MOUNT MARY 'Quintet' Cabernets, Yarra Valley, Victoria
LEEUWIN ESTATE 'Art Series' Chardonnay, Margaret River, Western Australia
MOSS WOOD Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River, Western Australia
PENFOLDS Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia
WENDOUREE Shiraz, Clare Valley, South Australia

Outstanding
BANNOCKBURN Pinot Noir, Geelong Victoria
BASS PHILLIP 'Premium' Pinot Noir, Gippsland, Victoria
BROKENWOOD 'Graveyard Vineyard' Shiraz, Hunter Valley, New South Wales
CAPE MENTELLE Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River, Western Australia
CULLEN Cabernet-Merlot, Margaret River, Western Australia
DALWHINNIE Shiraz, Moonambel, Victoria
GIACONDA Chardonnay, Beechworth, Victoria
GIACONDA Pinot Noir, Beechworth, Victoria
GROSSET 'Polish Hill' Riesling, Clare Valley, South Australia
HENSCHKE 'Cyril Henschke' Cabernet Sauvignon, Keyneton, South Australia
HENSCHKE 'Mount Edelstone' Shiraz, Keyneton, South Australia
JASPER HILL 'Emily's Paddock' Shiraz-Cabernet Franc, Heathcote, Victoria
JASPER HILL 'Georgia's Paddock' Shiraz, Heathcote, Victoria
JIM BARRY 'The Armagh' Shiraz, Clare Valley, South Australia
MOUNT MARY Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley, Victoria
PIERRO Chardonnay, Margaret River, Western Australia
ROCKFORD 'Basket Press' Shiraz, Barossa Valley, South Australia
TAHBILK '1860 Vines' Shiraz, Nagambie Lakes, Victoria
YARRA YERING 'Dry Red No.1' Cabernet, Yarra Valley, Victoria
WENDOUREE Cabernet-Malbec, Clare Valley, South Australia
WENDOUREE Cabernet Sauvignon, Clare Valley, South Australia
WENDOUREE Shiraz-Malbec, Clare Valley, South Australia
WENDOUREE Shiraz-Mataro, Clare Valley, South Australia
YERINGBERG Cabernet Blend, Yarra Valley, Victoria


Excellent
BANNOCKBURN Chardonnay, Geelong, Victoria
BAROSSA VALLEY ESTATE 'E & E' Black Pepper Shiraz, Barossa Valley, South Australia
CHARLES MELTON 'Nine Popes' Shiraz-Grenache-Mourvedre, Barossa Valley, South Australia
CORIOLE 'Lloyd Reserve' Shiraz, McLaren Vale, South Australia
CRAIGLEE Shiraz, Sunbury, Victoria
DALWHINNIE Cabernet, Moonambel, Victoria
DE BORTOLI 'Noble One' Botrytis Semillon, Riverina, New South Wales
ELDERTON Command Shiraz, Barossa Valley, South Australia
GROSSET 'Watervale' Riesling, Clare Valley, South Australia
HARDY'S 'Eileen Hardy' Shiraz, South Australia
HOWARD PARK Cabernet-Merlot, Western Australia
IRVINE Grand Merlot, Eden Valley, South Australia
LAKE'S FOLLY 'White Label' Cabernet, Hunter Valley, New South Wales
MOUNT LANGI GHIRAN Langi Shiraz, Grampians, Victoria
MOUNT MARY Chardonnay, Yarra Valley, Victoria
PENFOLDS Bin 389 Cabernet-Shiraz, South Australia
PENFOLDS St Henri, South Australia
PETALUMA Chardonnay, Piccadilly Valley, South Australia
PETALUMA Coonawarra, South Australia
PETALUMA Riesling, Clare Valley, South Australia
PETER LEHMANN 'Stonewell' Shiraz, Barossa Valley, South Australia
JOSEPH 'Moda Amarone' Cabernet-Merlot, Coonawarra-McLaren Vale, South Australia
REDBANK 'Sally's Paddock' Cabernet-Shiraz-Cabernet Franc-Merlot, Redbank, Victoria
ST. HALLETT 'Old Block' Shiraz, Barossa Valley, South Australia
TYRRELL'S Vat 47 Pinot Chardonnay, Hunter Valley, New South Wales
TYRRELL'S Vat 1 Semillon, Hunter Valley, New South Wales
WOLF BLASS 'Black Label' Cabernet Blend, South Australia
WYNN'S COONAWARRA ESTATE 'John Riddoch' Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia
YARRA YERING 'Dry Red No.2' Shiraz, Yarra Valley Victoria


Distinguished
BOWEN ESTATE Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia
BOWEN ESTATE Shiraz, Coonawarra, South Australia
CAPE MENTELLE Chardonnay, Margaret River, Western Australia
CAPE MENTELLE Shiraz, Margaret River, Western Australia
COLDSTREAM HILLS Reserve Chardonnay, Yarra Valley, Victoria
COLDSTREAM HILLS Reserve Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley, Victoria
CULLEN Chardonnay Margaret River, Western Australia
KATNOOK ESTATE Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia
LAKE'S FOLLY 'Yellow Label' Chardonnay, Hunter Valley, New South Wales
LEEUWIN ESTATE 'Art Series' Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River, Western Australia
LECONFIELD Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia
LINDEMANS 'Limestone Ridge Vineyard' Shiraz-Cabernet, Coonawarra, South Australia
LINDEMANS 'Pyrus' Cabernet, Coonawarra, South Australia
LINDEMANS 'St. George' Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia
MOUNTADAM Chardonnay, Eden Valley, South Australia
ORLANDO 'Lawsons' Shiraz, Padthaway South Australia
ORLANDO 'St. Hugo' Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia
PENFOLDS 'Magill Estate' Shiraz, Magill, South Australia
PLANTAGENET Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Barker, Western Australia
PIPERS BROOK VINEYARD Riesling, Tasmania
SEPPELT 'Dorrien' Cabernet Sauvignon, Barossa Valley, South Australia
SEPPELT 'Great Western Vineyard' Shiraz, Great Western, Victoria
TALTARNI Cabernet Sauvignon, Moonambel Victoria
TYRRELL'S Vat 9 Shiraz, Hunter Valley New South Wales
VASSE FELIX Cabernet Sauvignon, Western Australia
VIRGIN HILLS Cabernet-Shiraz, Kyneton, Victoria
WYNN'S COONAWARRA ESTATE Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia
XANADU Cabernet Reserve, Margaret River, Western Australia
YARRA YERING Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley, Victoria