Wine review — John Duval, Helm, Giesen, Yalumba and Parker Coonawarra Estate

John Duval Plexus 2010 $31–$39
Barossa Valley, South Australia

Following the disastrous Southcorp acquisition of Rosemount, former Penfolds chief winemaker, John Duval, struck out on his own. In Duval’s Plexus we taste the plush and lovely combination of Barossa shiraz (52 per cent), grenache (29 per cent) and mourvedre – sourced from old vines (some more than 100 years) in Krondorf, Marananga, Ebenezer, Stockwell and Light Pass. Duval knows the vines and wines of these Barossa sub-regions intimately – and how to make, mature and blend them. Plexus combines the generosity and softness of shiraz, perfume and juiciness of grenache and the spiciness and firm tannins of mourvedre. It’s a symbiotic, seamless combination providing exceptional drinking pleasure now and for another five to ten years in a good cellar.

Helm Classic Dry Riesling 2012 $30
Helm Valley, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
Ken Helm calls 2012 the vintage of his lifetime, a credible claim based on the two rieslings reviewed today. Diseased caused by wet conditions destroyed much of the crop. But the clean fruit Helm salvaged from the his own and the neighbouring Lustenberger, Rawlings and Mumberson vineyards achieved ripeness at low sugar levels, with high natural acidity. The 10.3 per cent alcohol Classic Riesling shows intense citrus-like varietal flavour (with perhaps a hint of botrytis influence) cut with an austere, drying acidity. Helm will release the wine in October. By this time the varietal flavour should be asserting itself in harmony with the high acidity.

Helm Premium Riesling 2012 $48
Lustenberger Vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
The acidity level’s higher in this than in Helm’s Classic (10 grams per litre versus 8.5) but the extra fruit sweetness and intensity, and sheer power of the wine mollifies the acidity. The wine’s bone dry and austere at present, but the underlying fruit flavour, from past experience, will blossom in time – with a notable step up during spring as the wine warms up. I suspect I’ll move to a five-star rating then going on what I’m tasting now. Helm will release the wine in October.

Giesen Gisborne Merlot 2010 $16–$18
Gisborne, North Island, New Zealand
The success of New Zealand sauvignon blanc opened the minds of Australia wine drinkers to the country’s other wines. Chardonnay and pinot noir followed sauvignon blanc, the latter in considerable volume. Then for the cognoscenti came the extraordinary wines of Hawkes Bay’s Gimblett gravels sub-region. Lesser known in Australia, though, are the wines of Gisborne, the world’s easternmost vineyards. Giesen’s merlot shows plummy varietal aroma and earthy flavours on a medium body. An herbaceous, stalky note reveals the cool origins of the fruit.

Yalumba Patchwork Barossa Shiraz 2010 $13.45–$21.95
Barossa, South Australia
The Hill-Smith family’s Yalumba winery at Angaston, sits on a road linking the Barossa Valley to the Eden Valley. The winery sources fruit from both regions, which together are known under Australian law as the Barossa Zone – the appellation on Patchwork’s label. At 13.5 per cent, the alcohol level is modest by Barossa standards. But this is not at the expensive of ripe, plush fruit flavours and juicy, soft ripe tannins ­– both thumbprints of Barossa shiraz. In a recent tasting it looked good against some pretty expensive competition. Watch for the discounts.

Parker Coonawarra Estate Terra Rossa Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 $40
Parker Estate vineyard, Southern Coonawarra, South Australia
To the casual eye Coonawarra looks uniform and flat, barely changing in elevation in the roughly 15-kilometre drive from the southernmost to northernmost vines. Yet the southern vines ripen weeks later than the northern ones, more than could be accounted for by the miniscule difference in latitude. While the old names of Coonawarra tend to cluster at the northern end, comparative newcomers like Parker Estate (planted 1985 by John Parker but now part of the Rathbone Wine Group) make beautiful wines. Parker 2008 shows Coonawarra’s pure, ripe-berry flavours and elegant structure. Very good oak adds an attractive cedar-like perfume and pulls all the flavour and structural elements together.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2012
First published 5 September 2012 in The Canberra Times

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