Wine review — Vasse Felix, Pepper Tree, Kangarillo Road, Tapanappa and Zilzie

Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay 2009 $55
Margaret River, Western Australia
Our best chardonnays almost invariably show the winemaker’s thumbprint, generally related to fermentation and barrel-ageing options and whether or not the maker allows or blocks the secondary malolactic fermentation (this softens the wines as it converts malic acid to lactic acid). What the best have in common is an intense fruit flavour that easily carries the winemaker’s “seasoning”. In Heytesbury, Virginia Willcock blocks the “malo”, ensuring the citrusy, taut acid sings all the way across the palate. It carries the vibrant fruit flavour and barrel-derived characters gracefully, providing one the most delicious chardonnay experiences imaginable.

Pepper Tree Limited Release Chardonnay 2010 $22
Mount View, Lower Hunter Valley, New South Wales
Last week we reviewed Pepper Tree’s chardonnay from the Venus vineyard, Orange – a beautiful white, revealing the keen acidity and intense nectarine-like flavours of cool-grown chardonnay. This week, Pepper Tree Hunter reveals the warmer end of the chardonnay flavour spectrum. It’s as fine and pure as the Orange wine, but it’s more peachy and rounded, with softer acid. It’s finely textured and despite the varietal purity, there’s a background flavour and structure complexity derived from oak fermentation and maturation. Both wines (and another chardonnay from Wrattonbully, South Australia) were made by Jim Chatto.

Kangarillo Road Primitivo 2008 $20–$22
Langhorne Creek and McLaren Vale, Fleurieu, South Australia
The two Kangarillo Road reds reviewed today reveal different aspects of the primitivo, or zinfandel grape. It’s not widely planted in Australia and perhaps most widely known through the Cape Mentelle Margaret River version. The cheaper of the Kangarilla Road pair, a Langhorne Creek-McLaren Vale blend, focuses on vibrant, fresh fruit flavours and an unusually high level of acidity. This seems to accentuate the fruit and add to the grip and structure of the wine. The flavour’s unique and it’s therefore a must for thrill seekers.

Kangarilla Road Black St Peters Zinfandel 2009 $32
McLaren Flat, McLaren Vale, South Australia
Here the Kangarilla Road crew emulate the Californian style, using the American name for the varietal (primitivo in Italy) and making a wine of substance and complexity. It’s from a cooler part of McLaren Vale, says the press release, and certainly the wine shows a fruit intensity consistent with that. It’s aromatic, deeply coloured, deeply fruity and cut through with acidity and a fine, firm backbone of tannin. The layering of tannins and savouriness with the fruit give it a more serious, complex tone than the primitivo reviewed here today.

Tapanappa Cabernet Shiraz 2007 $51
Joanna, Wrattonbully, South Australia
After Lion-Nathan’s acquisition of Brian Croser’s much-loved Petaluma Wine, Croser established Tapanappa with Jean-Michel Cazes of Chateau Lynch-Bages, Bordeaux, and Societe Jacques Bollinger, the parent company of Champagne Bollinger. In 2003 Tapanappa acquired Koppamurra Vineyard (established in 1974 by John Greenshields). The vineyard, since extended and renamed Whalebone, contributed the cabernet sauvignon to this blend, the shiraz coming from neighbour, Rob Hooper. Croser made the wine in the Petaluma Winery, Adelaide Hills. It’s very ‘Petaluma’ in style – clean, fresh and ripe but not over-ripe, beautifully balanced and not a hair out of place, so to speak. It’s elegant, restrained and likely to evolve well over time.

Zilzie Regional Collection Chardonnay 2010 $14–$16
Yarra Valley, Victoria
Although based in the Murray-Darling region making good value, locally grown wines, Zilzie added a range of regional varietals to its portfolio in 2009. In 2010 they added this Yarra Valley chardonnay to the regional range. It sits well with the other two chardonnays reviewed here today as it offers yet another slant on this complex variety. Like the other two it’s barrel fermented, but the more melon-like flavour comes in a generous, reasonably complex palate that seems all about current drinking – without the delicate structure of the Hunter or finesse and complexity of the Margaret River wine.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011

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