Wine review — Andrew Thomas, Brown Brothers, Cumulus Wines and Balnaves

Andrew Thomas Kiss Shiraz 2010 $60
Pokolbin Estate Vineyard, Pokolbin, Lower Hunter Valley, NSW
On 4 May, Andrew Thomas released four outstanding single vineyard Hunter shirazes, including the two reviewed today – the drink-now DJV and potentially long-lived Kiss. From a vineyard planted in 1969, Kiss reminds me, in its finesse and understatement, of the legendary Lindemans Bin 1590 Hunter Burgundy 1959. It’s of a medium hue and body, an aroma combining bright fruit, Hunter earthiness and the subtle spice of French oak. These carry through to the intense, elegant, perfectly balanced palate. This is a unique Australian style – and a great wine by any measure.

Andrew Thomas DJV Shiraz 2010 $30
Lindeman Ben Ean Vineyard, Pokolbin, Lower Hunter Valley, NSW

Ben Ean vineyard gave its name to Lindeman’s popular “moselle” of the 1960s, though the wine shared no physical connection with the vineyard. In this brilliant blend, Andrew Thomas uses shiraz from those venerable old Hunter vines, co-fermented with nine per cent semillon verjuice. This results in a highly fragrant, supple, juicy, fruity, medium bodied red. The bright fruit, medium body and soft tannins provide exciting current drinking. Once again the warm Hunter delivers the suave elegance we expect from cooler areas.

Brown Brothers Limited Release Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2011 $24.90
Banksdale Vineyard, King Valley, Victoria

Brown Brothers’ single-vineyard chardonnay shows the influence of the unusually cool season. The flavour moves down the varietal spectrum, from the stone-fruit flavours of the warmer 2010 vintage, towards lemon and melon rind. And the alcohol declines from 13.5 per cent in 2010 to 12.5 per cent. With the flavour change comes the pleasing impact of higher acidity – all against the equally pleasing textural and flavour influences of barrel fermentation and maturation.

Cumulus Wines Chardonnay 2009 $30
Orange, NSW

Winemaker Debbie Lauritz used all the best chardonnay making techniques on this pleasing wine – only free-run juice, fermentation with both wild and cultured yeasts in new French oak barriques, lees stirring and partial malolactic fermentation. Free-run juice means a fine texture and intense fruit flavour. All the other bits mesh aroma, texture and flavour with that fruit. Add a couple of years’ age and we get a full-flavoured chardonnay (grapefruit and white peach varietal character), a honeyed, mature note and a vibrantly fresh, richly textured palate.

Balnaves Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 $35
Dead Morris and Walker Vineyards, Coonawarra, South Australia

Balnaves cabernet appeals 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, like a wrinkled old skin over the cork.

Balnaves Shiraz 2009 $24–$27
Balnaves vineyard, southern Coonawarra, South Australia

In 2009 winemaker Pete Bissell included a small amount of the white variety viognier in the shiraz ferment – much as Clonakilla and other Canberra producers do. The addition fits subtly with the Coonawarra wine, perhaps adding to the silkiness of the texture giving a little boost to the sweet aroma. A hefty 14.5 per cent alcohol doesn’t subtract, however, from the wine’s elegant structure. While the influence of oak is apparent, it’s totally compatible with the fruit flavours and adds to the wine’s overall appeal.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2012
First published 6 June 2012 in The Canberra Times and Fairfax online publications