Wine review — Lark Hill, Maipenrai Amungula Creek, Balnaves, Majella and Peter Lehmann

Lark Hill Gruner Veltliner 2011 $40
Lake George Escarpment, Canberra District, New South Wales
Following a suggestion from Jancis Robinson, a visit to Austria tasting its signature variety – and the fortuitous discovery of two vines in Tasmania – the Carpenters of Lark Hill propagated gruner veltliner from cuttings, then planted 1,000 vines in 2006. The Carpenters say the wine sits in style somewhere between the delicacy of riesling and opulence of chardonnay. The third vintage, from the cool, wet 2011 vintage, says they’re on a winner. It’s a pale lemon-green colour, with an appealing aroma like melon rind and spice and a full, richly textured palate, with a refreshing line of acidity.

Maipenrai Vineyards Amungula Creek Pinot Noir 2009 $13.33–$18
Sutton, Canberra District, New South Wales
Maipenrai’s Brian Schmidt describes this unfined and unfiltered (but limpid) red as “not your typical inexpensive pinot”, and adds it “will be best in five years”. In the warm 2009 vintage Schmidt produced just 10 barrels of pinot noir – four destined for the flagship Maipenrai label (released in December) and six to the second label, Amungula. And he’s right that it’s not your fluffy, strawberry-like cheapie. It’s a solid pinot, the aroma showing earthy, stalky pinot aromas laced with oak – and the palate revealing similar flavours, plus a rich texture. Firm tannins permeate the wine, giving it a rustic charm.
Footnote, 5 October 2011: Congratulation Brian on your Nobel Prize for physics.

Lark Hill Viognier Dark Horse Viognier 2011 $25
Dark Horse Vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, New South Wales
Today’s wine story discusses the Carpenter family’s recent purchase of the Dark Horse Vineyard, Murrumbateman. The acquisition gives them a stake in the main game in town – shiraz – and its sometimes fermentation companion, viognier. But viognier has a life of its own, too. In this case it’s a comparatively low-alcohol version (12.5 per cent), fermented with wild yeast. At this level of ripeness, viognier doesn’t present its full-bore, apricot-like flavour or viscosity. It’s a far more subtle wine, richly textured but not over the top, with an echo of apricot and ginger.

Balnaves Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 $35
Dead Morris and Walker Vineyards, Coonawarra, South Australia
What a close call it was between Balnaves and Majella in this week’s tasting – two outstanding Coonawarra cabernets, both definitively regional, but different nevertheless. Balnaves appealed for the power of its tannin coated varietal flavours – reminiscent of blackcurrant and black olives. Despite its power, the wine’s elegantly structured and capable of ageing well. Its cellar companion, The Tally 2009 ($90), seems even more tight-knit and concentrated, requiring years in the cellar – a big, elegant, multi-dimensional red, firmly in five-star territory. Both wines are sealed with ‘Pro Cork’ – a natural cork protected by a thin polymer membrane.

Majella Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 $31–$33
Majella Vineyard, Coonawarra, South Australia
In the tasting-bench arm wrestle with Balnaves, Majella gained the advantage on several fronts, starting with its slightly more vivid, crimson colour. But it was the aroma that drew us in. It really sang, thanks, in part to a perfect matching of oak and fruit. The combination lifted the fruit aroma, adding sweet floral notes to a wonderful cedar-like character that combined oak with Coonawarra’s beautiful, vibrant blackberry-like varietal flavour. The very friendly, juicy palate closely reflected the aromas. But for all its harmonious, drink-now appeal, it’s a wine of substance and complexity needing time to reveal its best.

Peter Lehmann Semillon 2010 $9.50–$11.90
Barossa, South Australia
Semillon grows well in Australia’s warm regions although its identity varies from era to era. In the eighties as the chardonnay boom took off, it found a marriage of convenience in blends, principally filling in for the chardonnay shortfall. For a time it found favour in oak-matured Clare and Barossa “white burgundy”. And today, it’s more likely to be seen in company with sauvignon blanc – a far more compatible union than its old one with chardonnay. Then there’s straight semillon, like this lovely, light, lemon, lemon-grassy, low alcohol (11 per cent) dry style developed by Lehmann as an affordable white with distinctive regional, varietal flavour.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011
First published 17 August 2011 in The Canberra Times