Wine review — The Islander Estate Vineyards, Port Phillip Estate, Chalmers, Eden Road and Wirra Wirra

The Islander Estate Vineyards “The Investigator” 2005 $60
Kangaroo Island, South Australian

In 2000 French winemaker Jacques Luton staked a claim on Kangaroo Island –198 years after its discovery by Matthew Flinders and circumnavigation by French Captain Nicholas Baudin. Magnanimously, Luton named his flagship wine The Investigator, after Flinders’ ship. The flagship wine, however, salutes south-western France, Bordeaux in particular. Made principally from cabernet franc (with a dash of sangiovese), The Investigator presents a ripe, fine-boned face of this fragrant variety. There’s a ghost of Bordeaux’s St Emilion in the aroma and flavour, but a sunny Australian smile, tempered by a faint Gallic leafiness, on the delicious palate. It’s a unique, beautiful wine, destined for five-star status as the vines mature and the wine gain greater length.

Port Phillip Estate Quartier Arneis 2010 $23–$26
Red Hill, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
Downing platters of succulent oysters at Lake Conjola, we moved from the lovely, austere Simmonet-Febvre Petit Chablis ($19) to Sandro Mosele’s arneis. The variety originates in Piedmont, Italy, where it makes full bodied dry white wines. Mosele’s Mornington version, sourced from a neighbouring vineyard at Red Hill, had the succulence, stunning freshness and minerally dryness to match our still-living oysters. We lingered on it afterwards, too, savouring its fresh, crunchy texture. What a lovely and different drop it is – one to enjoy to the hilt right now. Move onto the 2011 as soon as it’s released.

Port Phillip Estate Pinot Noir 2009 $35.15–$38
Red Hill, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
Winemaker Sandro Mosele writes that a freakish, week long heat wave in February 2009 scorched and shrivelled grapes on the western side of the estate’s pinot vines. The grapes dropped off, reducing yields by around 50 per cent, but leaving a healthy crop to mature in the subsequent benign conditions. The resulting wine reveals fragrant, ripe, varietal aromas, reminiscent of cherry. The medium bodied palate builds in interest as you sip through the bottle, the underlying ripe, vibrant varietal flavour in the grip of firm, fine tannins – setting it apart from many softer Australian styles.

Chalmers Vermentino 2010 $20–$24
Murray Darling, New South Wales
Many Australian vignerons seem hopeful that vermentino, a major variety on the coasts of Liguria, Sardinia, Tuscany and Corsica, might deliver bright fresh flavours in Australia’s warm growing regions. The Chalmers family cultivate many of these alternative varieties and throw up quite a challenge to our palates with the 2010 vermentino. Wild-yeast fermented on grape solids, it reveals probably as much about the winemaking as it does of the variety. Leesy, rustic characters push strongly through a savoury dry white that’s far removed from our usual fare. It’s idiosyncratic, for sure – meaning you’ll either love it or hate it.

Eden Road Shiraz 2009 $45
Murrumbateman, Canberra District, New South Wales
Eden Road’s flagship red sits at the very taut, savoury, firm end of the fine-boned Canberra spectrum. Winemaker Nick Spencer sources his fruit from Murrumbateman (with a splash from Hilltops), aiming for what he calls “a structural style, with gravelly tannins plus perfume”. He says the 2009 shirazes appeared powerful and opulent at bottling (usually this knocks the fruit out for a time) but “have closed up now” – suggesting they’ll evolve well. Eden Road fits this “closed up” description – starting savoury and firm when first poured then, over time, revealing marvellously complex, aromatic characters with a deep, sweet core of fruit. This is knocking on five stars.

Wirra Wirra Catapult Shiraz 2009 $20–$22
McLaren Vale, South Australia

This is a distinctive style of McLaren Vale shiraz, focussing on riotously vibrant, in-your-face fruit aromas and flavours. It’s deeply coloured and the aroma lures with its musky, floral high notes. The palate is juicy, plush and chewy with the vibrancy suggested by the floral aroma, and flavours akin to ripe, black cherries. Layers of tannin remind us this is red wine, not fruit juice. The distinctive buoyancy and aromatic high notes probably arise from a small amount of the white viognier in the blend.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011