Wine review — Lawson’s Dry Hills, Hesketh, Brown Brothers, Water Wheel, Black Jack and Parker Coonawarra Estate

Lawson’s Dry Hills Riesling 2008 $19–$21
Waihopai Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand
There’s an echo of Germany’s Mosel in this juicy, off-dry white. It’s aromatic and delicate with amazingly luscious fruit, a subtle overlay of mandarin-like flavour, courtesy of botrytis – all balanced by racy, fresh acidity. Australia’s warm conditions generally can’t produce this style successfully. But in the Waihopai Valley, a feeder arm of Marlborough’s Wairau Valley, a sunny but very cool ripening period retains that crucial acidity, at the same time producing intense grape flavours. Despite the salute to Germany, Lawson’s remains entirely its own beast – a unique and lovely wine with a modest residual grape sugar of 11 grams per litre.

Hesketh Perfect Stranger Gruner Veltliner 2009 $23.35–$25.95
Krems, Austria
Gruner veltliner, Austria’s most widely planted variety, is gaining a toehold in Australia, including Canberra, at Lark Hill vineyard, high on the Lake George escarpment. It’s an aromatic variety, one of its parents being traminer, and generally made for early consumption, although long-lived versions exist. It can be thought of as a fat riesling. This one – made by Australia’s Hesketh family, in conjunction with Austria’s Berthold Salomon – comes from Salomon’s Wachtburg and Sandgruber vineyards, near Krems. It’s pleasantly citrusy and spicy with a plump, soft and fresh drink-now palate.

Brown Brothers Patricia Chardonnay 2008 $39.90
Whitlands and Yarra Valley, Victoria
This is the first chardonnay in five years in Brown Brothers flagship Patricia range – based on multi-regional sourcing. The idea seams old hat now as Australia shifts to regional, sub-regional and individual vineyard marketing. But there’s no denying Patricia’s beauty. She’s an oak fermented and matured blend from two very cool sites – Brown Brothers vineyard at Whitlands, on a plateau above Victoria’s King Valley, and the Coombe Farm vineyard, Yarra Valley. The cool sites provide Patricia’s core, delicious, white-peach flavour and bracing fresh acidity. It’s a fine textured, slow evolving chardonnay with several years of life ahead of it.

Water Wheel Shiraz 2009 $18
Bendigo, Victoria
Water Wheel’s Mark Murphy says the vineyard owner, Peter Cumming demanded “more berries and fewer plums”. Roughly translated that means picking red grapes earlier to capture the more vibrant berry end of the varietal spectrum. The approach shows in this pure, fragrant, vibrant, berry-laden shiraz from the very small 2009 vintage. Murphy says they harvested just 1.2 tonnes a hectare across Water Wheel’s 120 hectares of vines. Sounds like a lot of effort for a small amount of wine at such a modest price. What a great bargain it is.

Black Jack Major’s Line Shiraz 2008 $22–$25
Faraday, Bendigo, Victoria
What a contrast this is to Water Wheel shiraz, the other Bendigo red reviewed here today. Black Jack – from a different site (David and Ruth Norris’s vineyard at Faraday) and a much hotter vintage – moves squarely to the ripe plum and black cherry end of the varietal spectrum. Despite being big and powerful, it’s balanced, complex and satisfying with discernible spice and black pepper cool-climate characters. Winemakers Ian McKenzie and Ken Pollock describe 2008 as, “our vintage from hell, easily the most difficult one we have experienced in Blackjack’s 20-plus years”.

Parker Estate Terra Rossa Merlot $40
Southern Coonawarra, South Australia

Merlot earned its confused identity in Australia by being too sweet, too simple, too oaky, too soft or too extracted – and sometimes by not even being merlot at all, but cabernet franc. Parker’s, though, is the real thing, from a small clay pan in Southern Coonawarra. Winemaker Peter Bissell pointed the vineyard out to me once, theorising that the clay retarded growth of the vines and its canopy, allowing them to concentrate on the fruit. Having recently visited Bordeaux’s home of merlot, Chateau Petrus, with its boot-clogging clay and spindly vines, the theory gelled. More importantly, the wine stacks up – so fine, so elegant, so fragrant, so packed with berries, yet so firm and assertive.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011

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