Wine review — Devil’s Lair, Vasse Felix, Hewitson, Stefano Lubiana, Mount Difficulty and Cradle of Hills

Devil’s Lair The Hidden Cave Chardonnay 2012 $19–$23
Margaret River, Western Australia

This is an excellent follow up to the 2011 vintage, winner of the Royal Sydney Wine Show’s “best commercial white” trophy. Delicious, vibrant nectarine-like varietal fruit flavours make the wine instantly appealing. But the winemaking techniques infuse it subtly with lees-derived flavours and add to the smooth texture of the full palate. This is really good, modern chardonnay. It walks a mouth-watering path between the fat and flubbery chardonnays of old and new lean, acerbic ones that’ve gone too far the other way. It has a lightness and freshness without losing chardonnay’s inherently generous nature.

Vasse Felix Chardonnay 2011 $21.85–$29
Margaret River, Western Australia

Under winemaker Virginia Willcock Vasse Felix chardonnays have pushed into the very top ranks from the region. Her Heytesbury ($60) easily sits alongside local icons including Leeuwin Estate Art Series and Cullen. The standard chardonnay, too, impresses. It’s a blend from numerous barrels of individual parcels, all wild-yeast fermented and managed individually until blended after nine months in oak. The rich and powerful wine seamlessly combines vibrant fruit with barrel-derived flavours and textures.

Hewitson Gun Metal Riesling 2012 $27
Eden Valley, South Australia

Winemaker Dean Hewitson offers another perspective on the outstanding 2012 rieslings, “the early sensationalism is born from a winemaking perspective, in that it was such a relief and so easy compared to the difficulties faced in 2008, 2009 and 2011. In that respect it was a dream vintage”. Hewitson’s riesling, though, can only fan the vintage reputation. It combines floral and lemony varietal character with the fine, slightly austere acidity of the Eden Valley – a delicate and intense dry white with considerable ageing potential.

Stefano Lubiana Selection 2/3 Pinot Noir 2008 $60 (as part of mixed 3-pack)
Lubiana Yellow block and Moorilla Estate, Granton, Tasmania

Steve Lubiana offers a mixed three-pack ($180) of 2008 vintage pinots, exploring respectively a winemaking option (blend 1/3, barrel fermentation) and two vineyard-soil options (blends 2/3 and 3/3). This one (2/3) includes material from Lubiana’s Yellow block and White block, which was planted to a mix of non-clonal material sourced from neighbouring Moorilla Estate in the mid 1990s. This is beautiful, subtle pinot, the bright juicy, underlying fruit flavours firmly held by fine tannins on a smooth, slippery palate. It’s available only at cellar door and

Mount Difficulty Target Gully Pinot Noir 2010 $99
Target Gully vineyard, Bannockburn, Central Otago, New Zealand

On a $100 budget, the pinot buyer’s options broaden to include very good Burgundy (the original pinot) as well as top shelf Australian and New Zealand versions. Mount Difficulty’s, from one of their six vineyards in Central Otago’s Bannockburn sub-region, sits squarely in the area’s robust style. It’s powerful, but silky, elegantly structured and offers layers of aromas and flavours – ripe, vibrant, cherry-like fruit, a stalky note, savouriness, spiciness, beetroot, earthiness and charry oak. The flavours all roll together, layered with fine, firm tannins. Probably a keeper.

Cradle of Hills Route du Bonheur GMS 2010 $25–$33
Sellicks foothills, McLaren Vale, South Australia

First the interpretation: route du Bonheur is the road to happiness; and GMS indicates a blend of grenache (63 per cent), mourvedre (25 per cent) and shiraz (12 per cent). Tracy Smith tends the vines and Paul Smith makes the wines – hand-sorted fruit; small open fermenters; hand plunging of the skin caps; post-ferment maceration (improves tannins structure and texture); lees stirring in older French barrel for 18 month (builds mid-palate); bottled without fining or filtration. Result: a happy, supple harmonious red – generous but not heavy, spicy, vibrant and with a fine, firm backbone of tannin.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2012
First published 31 October 2012 in The Canberra Times