Wine review — Helm, Clonakilla, De Bortoli and Brokenwood

Helm Classic Dry Riesling 2011 $30 – wine of the week
Murrumbateman, Canberra District, New South Wales

The two Canberra District 2011 rieslings reviewed here today probably share more similarities than differences – although there are distinctions. Both show the high acidity of the cool, wet growing season. But the high acidity seems to intensify the delicious fruit flavour. In Ken Helm’s wine this shows as a lemon-like varietal character in the aroma and flavour. It’s bone dry and definitely, at this early stage of its life, in the aperitif style. Ken says there’ll be no premium riesling this year because of crop losses on Al Lustenburger’s vineyard. The small production from the vineyard went to this outstanding classic dry.

Clonakilla Riesling 2011 $25–$30
Murrumbateman, Canberra District, New South Wales
Tim Kirk’s 2011 riesling is slightly more alcoholic than Helm’s wine (12 per cent, versus 11.2 per cent), suggesting marginally more ripeness. This reveals itself in the delicate floral notes in the aroma and flavour. The wine seems, overall, a little more delicate than Helm’s, perhaps because of the floral character and the absolutely delicious integration of the acidity and fruit flavour. Both wines should be candidates for gold medals at the regional wine show later this year. That’s how good they are. Either could have been wine of the week. 2011 looks exciting for Canberra whites.

De Bortoli Chardonnay 2010 $21.85–$28
Dixons Creek Vineyard, Yarra Valley, Victoria
The concept of wine being too fruity may seem far-fetched for a product made from grapes – especially given Australia’s export success with fruity, “sunshine in a bottle” wines. But Australia’s best chardonnay makers, including De Bortoli’s Steve Webber, headed down this less fruity path a decade or more ago. Webber writes, “ whilst it is important to have nuance of variety and oak, the characters of site, season, texture and minerality are equally important to us”. Webber’s subtle, richly textured 2010 chardonnay is an affordable and excellent example of the style.

De Bortoli Pinot Noir 2010 $25.95–$33
Yarra Valley, Victoria
Leanne De Bortoli and winemaker husband, Steve Webber, drink lots of Burgundy, notably those from Domaine Armand Rousseau, one of the region’s greatest pinot noir makers. Benchmarking of this calibre sets a winemaker’s sights very high indeed – and it shows in the beautiful pinot noirs made by Webber. His latest estate-grown release captures so much of the variety’s magic – limpid colour, heaps of perfume, deep, juicy, plump fruit flavour, savouriness and an abundance of fine, soft, velvety tannins giving structure. Our bottle revealed a little more each day for four days, suggesting it’ll evolve well with several years’ cellaring.

Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz 2010 $25–$30
Hilltops, New South Wales
Tim Kirk’s new Hilltops shiraz shows the comparative elegance of a cool, post-drought vintage – following the plumper juicier wines of the warm 2007, 2008 and 2009 seasons. Appropriately for a wine from Young, the flavour resembles fresh, ripe cherries – with a noted buoyancy and liveliness. Kirk says he picked a little earlier than usual, just beating the rain. This, along with a portion of whole-bunch fermentation (where the fermentation occurs in inside the berries), and a touch of viognier, added to the bright, berry-like flavours.

Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz 2009 $150
Graveyard Vineyard, Pokolbin, Hunter Valley, New South Wales
Brokenwood’s Graveyard shiraz sits at the top of Australia’s collectible wines –alongside Penfolds Grange and 15 other wines comprising Langton’s “Exceptional” classification. It’s the only Hunter wine on the list and beautifully expresses the unique long-lived style of the region’s shiraz. It’s a generous wine, but medium bodied – rather than the full-blooded style we might expect of a region as far north as the Hunter is. It’s earthy and savoury and easily absorbs a sweet, spicy dose of new French oak. The palate’s an essence of Hunter shiraz – like a reduced stock in its flavour concentration and silk smooth texture.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011
First published 3 August 2011 in The Canberra Times