Wine review — Lark Hill, Marquis de Riscal Rioja, Chapel Hill, Down to Earth and Peppertree

Lark Hill Chardonnay 2010 $35
Lark Hill vineyard, Lake George Escarpment, Canberra District, NSW

The 2010 vintage produced a particularly fine, appealing and potentially long-lived chardonnay from Lark Hill, Canberra’s highest and coolest vineyard. High natural acidity and intense nectarine-like varietal flavour underpin the wine, which also bears the funky thumbprint of a wild yeast fermentation in older oak – lending a pleasant lift and pungency to the aroma and flavour. Although it’s two years old, the pale colour and vibrant freshness of the wine indicate a slow and delicious evolution ahead in a good cellar.

Proximo Rioja by Marquis de Riscal 2009 $9.49–$9.99
Rioja, Spain

In a recent tasting we compared this budget Rioja to its $30 and $130 cellar mates. Reassuringly, higher prices reflected increasing quality, if not proportionally, peaking with the magnificent Baron de Chirel Reserva 2005 ($130). However, Proximo, looked good even in this company. It’s a tempranillo sourced from younger vines in Spain’s Rioja region. It’s medium bodied and offers clean, fresh blueberry-like varietal flavour, overlaid with a pleasant savouriness and finishing with fairly firm, fine tannins. The range is imported by Woolworths and sold through its Dan Murphy outlets.

Chapel Hill Il Vescovo Tempranillo 2011 $25
McLaren Vale, South Australia

The alcohol level’s a full-bore 14 per cent and the colour’s pretty dark, but Il Vescovo feels and tastes medium bodied, as tempranillo should.  The aroma resembles ripe, dark summer berries like mulberry and blueberry, but there’s an exotic spicy edge, too. The palate starts with fruit sweetness; but savoury, firm tannins sweep across the palate, creating a delicious contrast of sweet fruit and biting dryness. This is a success by viticulturist Rachel Steer and winemakers Bryn Richards and Michael Fragos in a most challenging vintage.

Lark Hill Gruner Veltliner 2012 $40
Lark Hill vineyard, Lake George Escarpment, Canberra District, NSW

David and Sue Carpenter and son Christopher say they planted the Austrian variety gruner veltliner so they’d have a high-quality white sitting in style somewhere between the delicacy of riesling and opulence of chardonnay. Their fourth vintage does precisely that. It’s notably fuller bodied than the 2011, with an exotic spicy aroma and flavour – very hard to describe, but unlike any other white and very pleasant. Fresh acid cuts through the full palate, although the overall impression of generosity and softness.

Down to Earth Sauvignon Blanc 2012 $26
Wrattonbully, South Australia

Lucy Croser and Xavier Bizot produce Terre a Terre, a quirky barrel fermented sauvignon blanc. But in 2012 they released Down to Earth, an unoaked wine from a vineyard planted in 2004. While all sauvignons tend to taste alike after a while, this one differentiates itself from the ubiquitous Marlborough versions. Principally it feels softer and less acidic, though stunningly fresh, and the flavour heads right out to the warmer, passionfruit-like end of the variety’s spectrum. Alcohol of 13.9 per cent, and smooth texture, add to this rich, ripe, juicy fullness. Drink now.

Random Acts of Winemaking 2010 $70
Hunter Valley, NSW and Grampian, Victoria

In a random act defying the current single-vineyard orthodoxy, winemaking mates Jim Chatto of Peppertree, Hunter Valley, and Dan Buckle, Mount Langi Ghiran, Grampians, swapped two barrels of their precious top-shelf shiraz – Chatto’s from the Roche family’s Tallawanta Vineyard and Buckle’s from Langi Ghiran estate. Chatto’s blend grew more interesting with every glass – a symbiotic combination of Hunter softness and earthiness with the spice, pepper and savour of the Grampians. It’s a wine of many dimensions and despite its slurpy appeal now will surely evolve for many years. It’s available at the cellar door ( Buckle moved from Langi Ghiran to Domain Chandon after the swap, but presumably we’ll see Langi’s Hunter-Grampians blend at some stage.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2012
First published 10 October 2012 in The Canberra Times