Wine review — Philip Shaw, Penfolds, Punt Road and Helm

Philip Shaw The Architect Chardonnay 201 $20
Koomooloo vineyard, Orange, New South Wales
It takes just a few sips of “The Architect” to see why Orange and chardonnay intersect. The area’s cooler sites produce pristine, intense varietal flavours. And, as Philip Shaw demonstrates, these flavours can be captured and delivered for our pleasure at a modest price. He sources the wine from “our younger vines, planted in 1995” – a particularly cool, south-facing block. It’s a tingly, fresh white with a delicate core of citrus and nectarine varietal flavour, tightly wound with natural acidity and underpinned by a subtle textural and flavour influence of yeast lees.

Penfolds Bin 311 Chardonnay 2010 $33.99–$39.99
Tumbarumba, New South Wales
In 1982, Ian and Juliet Cowell established vines for sparkling wine in high, cold Tumbarumba. Others followed, and by the late eighties Seppelt was sourcing high quality sparkling material from the area. Adelaide Steamship later blended Seppelt and Penfolds together, giving Penfolds access to Tumbarumba fruit. Subsequently, chardonnay from Tumbarumba became a key player in the “white Grange” project that culminated in the company’s flagship chardonnay, Yattarna. Bin 311, a virtual poor person’s Yattarna, is a spin off of that project – an ultra fine, taut, elegant, utterly delicious, chardonnay.

Penfolds Cellar Reserve Gewurztraminer 2008 $29.99–$33.99
Woodbury Vineyard, Eden Valley, South Australia
The Woodbury vineyard, planted by Tollana in the 1960s, ultimately became part of the conglomerate of assets owned by Foster’s Treasury Wine Estates. One part of the vineyard, prosaically named Bay F1 Block, produces wonderful gewürztraminer – the muscat clone of traminer. Despite having identical DNA they taste totally unalike – traminer being vinous and savoury, and gewürztraminer sensuously muscat like. This dry version, captures the variety’s pure, heady musk and Turkish delight aroma and flavour. While a few months maturation on yeast lees added textural richness to a wine that seems made for Asian food.

Philip Shaw The Idiot Shiraz 2009 $20
Koomooloo vineyard, Orange, New South Wales
In a wine industry first, an idiot won a gold medal and three trophies at this year’s Royal Sydney Wine Show. It wasn’t just any idiot, but a pure, vibrant, peppery, fine-boned, medium-bodied shiraz from Philip Shaw’s Koomooloo vineyard, located 900 metres above sea level at Orange. Shaw, former chief winemaker for Rosemount, planted the vines in 1989 and grafted them to shiraz between 2003 and 2005. “The Idiot”, an appealing drink-now wine, is one of several in Shaw’s character series. Shaw says, “with the lighter, livelier food of today, I believe wine should be a match for that”.

Punt Road Airlie Bank Cabernet Merlot 2008 $18
Yarra Valley, Victoria
Like the two Philip Shaw Orange wines reviewed today, Airlie Bank delivers true regional, varietal character at a realistic price. The Yarra Valley, because of its diverse sites, produces high quality in an unusually wide range of styles. Airlie Bank, for example, combines the ripe, bright cassis-like flavour of cabernet with merlot pluminess. It’s a seamless, medium-bodied combination, leading with vibrant fruit in the aroma and palate, and finishing with the fine but quite firm tannins of the two varieties. It’s made to enjoy young.

Helm Premium Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 $52
Murrumbateman, Canberra District, New South Wales
Long-term collaboration between winemaker Ken Helm and neighbouring grape grower, Al Lustenberger, ultimately produced outstanding riesling. A similar collaboration on cabernet sauvignon, however, hasn’t scaled the same heights – despite significant quality shifts in recent years. The 2008 is probably the best yet, built on sumptuous, ripe varietal fruit, boosted by the obvious but not too intrusive flavour of Missouri oak. Helm says he and daughter Stephanie “have been working hard to balance the oak and fruit” and from 2009 have been trialling French oak alongside the American. This is good wine, though I baulk at the price when classics like Majella Coonawarra are available at $33.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011