Wine review — Bay of Fires, Madfish, Angullong, Bloodwood and Main Ridge Estate

Bay of Fires Pinot Gris 2011 $24.69–$36.50
Lower and upper Derwent and Coal River Valley, Tasmania
Yeah, right, we thought as we read the press release. James Halliday must be losing the plot – giving the chairman’s trophy at the Tasmanian Wine Show to a pinot gris. How could a second-tier variety knock off the state’s superb pinot noirs, chardonnays and rieslings? We called for a sample. It came. Halliday nailed it – in the sense that Bay of Fires 2011 expresses the flavours and texture of pinot gris about as well any winery could. It won’t knock pinot noir and chardonnay off the top shelf. But it shows Tasmania is the right place for this occasionally brilliant variety.

Madfish Shiraz 2009 $14.95–$17
Great Southern and Margaret River, Western Australia
Madfish is a second label of Amy and Jeff Burch’s Howard Park, with wineries in Margaret River and Denmark and extensive vineyard resources across south-western Western Australia. Like so many Australian wineries that make more expensive, cutting edge wines, quality trickles down the line to entry-level products. In Madfish shiraz we enjoy ripe-berry and shiraz varietal character, with the lovely spicy, savoury accent and firm, tight tannins typical of the Great Southern region.

Angullong “The Pretender” Savagnin 2011 $25
Angullong vineyard, Central Ranges, New South Wales
Angullong, on Orange’s southern border, has been trialling several lesser-known varieties, including savagnin (thought to be albarino when planted), tempranillo, vermentino, sagrantino and sangiovese. Theirs is a surprising full-bodied expression of savagnin, leaning to citrusy and savoury flavours, with a rich texture and just a touch of alcoholic heat in the dry finish. The style is well removed from the more overt fruit flavours we see in most Australian whites, but retains the familiar cleanness and freshness.

Bloodwood Chardonnay 2010 $27
Bloodwood vineyard, Orange, New South Wales
Peter Doyle writes, “This chardonnay is made from grapes grown on the region’s oldest chardonnay vineyard, planted in 1984 with much bemusement from neighbouring farmers”. Coming on to two years’ age, Doyle’s new release looks fresh and young – its vibrant acidity and restrained but delicious melon-rind varietal flavour revealing its cool-climate origins. The varietal flavour easily keeps its head above the barrel-derived characters. Indeed, these simply make a scrumptious wine even more interesting. The wine will probably drink well for another decade.

Main Ridge Estate Chardonnay 2010 $55
Main Ridge Estate vineyard, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
What separates a so-so chardonnay from one costing $55? It starts with the quality of the grapes – meaning an appropriate climate, site and vine age, backed by diligent vineyard work to achieve perfect grape ripeness. Then comes the winemaking – a tricky affair with chardonnay as the techniques (barrel fermentation, secondary malo-lactic fermentation and prolonged ageing on yeast lees) all have the potential to overwhelm the grape flavour. In Main Ridge, the winemaking inputs support the glorious grapefruit and nectarine varietal flavours on a plush but very fine, buoyant and ethereal palate. It’s an exceptional wine capable of extended bottle ageing.

Main Ridge Estate Half Acre Pinot Noir 2010 $70
Half Acre vineyard, Main Ridge Estate, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
Nat and Rosalie White’s flagship red reveals a subtle, sensuous, ever-changing face of pinot. The style evolved over many decades (vineyard planted in 1975) as the White’s constantly fine-tuned vineyard management and winemaking techniques. From 2007 on, the pinots were not only wild-yeast fermented, but bottled without fining or filtering – as Nat learned to produce bright, clear wines in barrel. Some of the insights to achieve this came from visits to Burgundy, pinot’s heartland. On opening, the 2010 appears tight and tannic; then, over time, the beautiful layers of pinot fruit characters come through on a supple, deeply layered, sensuous palate, framed by those fine, firm tannins.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2012
First published 22 February 2012 in The Canberra Times