Wine review — Penfolds, Swinging Bridge, Evans and Tate and Mount Langi Ghiran

Penfolds Thomas Hyland Cool Climate Chardonnay 2011 $15.25–$24
Predominantly Adelaide Hills, South Australia
We could call Thomas Hyland the forgotten Penfolds range – sitting quietly in the shade of the much-hyped bin and icon wines. The chardonnay debuted in 2001, an offshoot of the “white Grange” project that delivered the flagship Yattarna and Adelaide Hills Reserve Bin chardonnays. The style evolved with the times, and in the 2011 vintage we enjoy a trim, taut wine that looks a steal when the big retailers discount it below $20 ($15.35 at Dan Murphy as I write). At a modest 12 per cent alcohol, it delivers the acid backbone and lemon and grapefruit varietal flavour of the cool vintage. Fermentation and maturation in French oak barrels added nutty and spicy flavours and a smooth, rich texture to support the fruit.

Swinging Bridge Shiraz 2010 $19
Canowindra, NSW
On a recent visit to Canberra, winemaker Tom Ward presented eight consecutive vintages – 2004 to 2011 – of the shiraz he makes from the family’s Canowindra vineyard. While the flavour of the wines reflected seasonal weather variations, they shared a common thread: red-berry and spice flavours and medium body. It’s a delicious, easy-drinking combination. We enjoyed the slightly firmer 2010 vintage (current release), wedged in between the fleshier 2009 and the notably lighter, peppery, utterly delicious 2011 vintage (not yet released). Current releases are available for tasting at the cellar door – in the restored Finn’s Story, Gaskill Street Canowindra.

Swinging Bridge Reserve Shiraz 2010 $45
Canowindra, NSW
Swinging Bridge Reserve Shiraz retains the medium bodied style of the standard shiraz – but rises above it with deep, sweet, juicy, spicy fruit flavour, set in layers of firm, ripe tannins. The extra dimension the wine offers comes partly from fruit selection in the vineyard, and partly from maturation in new oak, which adds to both the flavour and texture. While the wine’s powerful and concentrated, it’s elegantly structured, with a moderate alcohol level of 13 per cent.

Evans and Tate Redbank Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 $38
Margaret River, Western Australi
Evans and Tate Redbank rated top in a recent tasting of cabernet and related varieties from St Emillion (France), Mornington Peninsula, Macedon, McLaren Vale, Clare Valley, Frankland River and Margaret River. Second runner, Balnaves of Coonawarra The Tally Reserve 2009, may ultimately be the better wine. It just needs extended cellaring. But Redbank seduces now with its sweet perfume and elegant, supple, fine palate – a really beautiful expression of cabernet sauvignon.

Mount Langi Ghiran Cliff Edge Shiraz 2009 $22.80–$30
Mount Langi Ghiran vineyard, Grampians, Victoria
This is the second vintage of Mount Langi Ghiran’s popular Cliff Edge shiraz sourced entirely from estate-grown fruit, some of it from the estate’s oldest vines. Like the 2008 before it – perhaps more so – the 2009 is as sexy as shiraz gets at the price – beautifully, sweetly aromatic with a vibrant, fruity palate to match. A spicy, savoury flavour undercurrent and silky tannins make it the complete red for early drinking – though the flavour intensity and layers of tannin mean good short to medium-term cellaring.

Birks Chip Dry Very Dry Fino $25 375ml
Wagga and Yanda, NSW; Barossa Valley, South Australia
Andrew Birk’s limited release Chip Dry is a superb example of Australia’s traditional fino style, modelled on Spain’s fino sherry, from Jerez. At 18.5 per cent alcohol, Birks is bigger than Spanish versions or, indeed, than modern Australian styles, like Seppeltsfield Flora Fino at 16 per cent. But for sherry lovers it’s a dry and tasty treat, made from the palomino grape and matured for many in oak under a natural bloom, or “flor” of yeast. It is indeed chip dry and fine, with sherry’s distinctive nutty flavours. It’s available through Bidgeebong Wines (winery@bidgeebong.com.au).

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2012
First published 20 June 2012 in The Canberra Times

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