Wine review – Moss Wood, Houghton Jack Mann, Penfolds, Hill-Smith Estate, Oakridge and De Bortoli

Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 $95–$112
Moss Wood vineyard, Margaret River, Western Australia
Moss Wood earned its wine of the week possie by a slim margin over Houghton Jack Mann Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, also reviewed today. These are great cabernets by any measure, both with proven cellaring potential and both, therefore, collectible as either special-occasion mementoes or simply as fabulous wines to enjoy decades from now. Moss Wood is the more floral and aromatic of the two, with deep, supple, ripe cabernet flavours welling up through the firm structural tannins. Its sweet, accessible fruit put it a nose ahead of Jack Mann in the first 24 hours after opening. But in the following days the wines proved equally impressive, albeit in distinctive styles.

Houghton Jack Mann Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 $93–$115
Frankland River, Western Australia
We’re not quite addicted to Jack Mann cabernet, but we’ve consumed enough of it, both young and old, to see it as one of Australia’s greatest cabernets. It emerged as the flagship Western Australian red of BRL Hardy (now subsumed into Accolade Wines) when the company owned or managed vast areas of vineyards in Western Australia’s southwest. In the outstanding 2011 vintage, the wine comes from the Justin vineyard, Frankland River. Although very tight, closed and tannic when first opened, the wine revealed its deep, sweet core of fruit during three days on the tasting bench. The flavour intensity, taut structure, deep fruit and harmony mark this as a very special wine indeed, with good long-term cellaring potential.

Penfolds Bin 311 Chardonnay 2013$35.15–$40
Tumbarumba, NSW
In the early nineties Penfolds put its mind to making a white flagship – a white equivalent to Grange. Though the search began with semillon, riesling and chardonnay, the latter fairly quickly became the sole focus. During this search, Tumbarumba chardonnay made the initial cut, but soon bowed out to components from the Adelaide Hills and, later, Tasmania. However, Penfolds didn’t abandon Tumbarumba altogether and the region generally contributes partly or solely to the brilliant Bin 311 – a rich, fine and sophisticated chardonnay. It has immediate drinking appeal and potential to evolve in the cellar for several years.

Hill-Smith Estate Chardonnays 2012 $25–$35
Adelaide Hills, South Australia
Every now and then, along comes a wine that makes you look twice at the label – could this wine really be so good? Robert Hill-Smith’s chardonnays always rate well. But in the great Adelaide Hills 2012 vintage the wine lifts another couple of notches, offering intense, mouth-watering fruit flavours, so beautifully integrated with all the add-ons from wild yeast fermentation in French oak. Hill-Smith’s makers experimented with this technique decades before it moved to mainstream chardonnay making. Their mastery of it now shows when a special vintage comes along. Pile in for the 2012.

Oakridge Local Vineyard Series Merlot 2012$26
Oakridge vineyard, Coldstream, Yarra Valley
What is merlot? Is it light, full, soft, firm, sweet or dry? You could answer yes or no to any of those questions and be correct – simply confirming the confusion surrounding it. At it’s best, though, merlot produces substantial dry reds, tending to medium body and elegant structure, but with quite firm, persistent tannins. Oakridge is an outstanding expression of this style, showing the ripe, plummy, earthy depth of the variety, cut through with firm tannins. Right now it needs protein rich food to cut through the tannins. But a few years in bottle should allow its full, fruity elegance to emerge.

De Bortoli La Boheme Act One Riesling 2013 $20
Yarra Valley, Victoria
Leanne De Bortoli and husband Steve Webber’s La Boheme range includes this delicious white, made from riesling (89 per cent) plus gewurtztraminer and pinot gris. While delicate riesling drives the aromatics and citrus-like flavour, gewürztraminer adds a light but distinctive lychee-like and, with pinot gris, a slippery texture not seen in riesling on its own. It all adds up to pleasing aromas and flavours, great freshness and a satisfying feeling in the mouth. De Bortoli and Webber attribute recent improvements in their riesling-vineyard management to young winemaker Sarah Fagan.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2014
First published 23 April 2014 in the Canberra Times

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