Wine review — Penfolds, Wicks Estate, Chalmers, Shaw & Smith and Zonte’s Footstep

Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay $130
Derwent Valley, Tasmania, Henty, Victoria, and the Adelaide Hills, South Australia

Penfolds releases Yattarna alongside Grange and its other top-end reds. However, Grange, and the accompanying retail price war, invariably upstage Yattarna. It’s a beautiful chardonnay, driven by the intense flavour and elegant structure of fruit from some of our coolest growing regions – principally the Derwent Valley, Tasmania, and the old Seppelt vineyard at Drumborg in Victoria’s Henty region. Winemaker inputs from barrel fermentation and maturation on yeast lees add another layer of complexity in an exceptionally graceful white with considerable cellaring potential.

Penfolds Reserve Bin 10A Chardonnay 2010 $70–$95
Adelaide Hills, South Australia

The “white Grange” project of the early nineties pushed Penfolds quickly up the chardonnay learning curve, to the benefit of the entire group’s wines. It also produced this exciting spin-off from the Adelaide Hills. The winemaker inputs show through on the first sniff and mouthful – a flinty note derived from maturation on yeast lees in new oak barrels. This character meshes with the zingy, grapefruit-like varietal flavour and taut, acidic structure. The wine tastes very young at two years and should evolve well for another four or five.

Wicks Estate Shiraz 2010 $14.25–$20
Wicks Estate vineyard, Adelaide Hills, South Australia

This gold medal winner from the Royal Adelaide Wine Show offers absolutely delicious drinking right now. Estate-grown and made, it shows the ripe-berry, spice and medium body of cool-grown shiraz – the fresh, juicy, berry flavours, in particular, light up a gentle, completely seductive palate. The winemaker says, “the elegant fruit and tannin structure will reward careful cellaring”. This may be true. But it’s hard to imaging the wine every being more charming than it is now, just bristling with fruit.

Chalmers Vermentino 2011 $25
Chalmers vineyard, Heathcote, Victoria
The Chalmers family operates a 650-hectare nursery and vineyard at Euston, New South Wales, embracing over 80 varieties and 150 clones. In 2009 they established Italian varieties on an 80-hectare site they’d acquired in 2008 near Colbinabbin, Heathcote, Victoria. Their first vermentino (white) from the new vineyard shows great promise. It offers more body, flavour and savouriness than other examples of the variety I’ve seen. At a recent tasting it drew mixed, mainly favourable, reactions as it’s well removed in flavour from our mainstream varieties.

Shaw and Smith Pinot Noir 2010 $48
Shaw and Smith vineyard, Adelaide Hills, South Australia
Better known for benchmark chardonnay and shiraz, Shaw and Smith steps decisively into top-shelf pinot territory with its 2010 vintage. The colour’s pale and brilliant and the mid-weight, supple palate reflects the seductive, fruity aroma. It’s very Australian in its pure, vibrant, varietal, fleshy fruitiness – and oh so easy to quaff now. But there’s substance, too, in the strong tannin structure, range of fruit flavours and underlying savouriness. Every mouthful reveals something new.

Zonte’s Footstep Canto di Lago Sangiovese Barbera 2010 $14.95–$20
Langhorne Creek, South Australia

Like the name, the wine combines bits of Italy and Australia. A 50:50 blend of the Italian varieties sangiovese and barbera, Canto di Lago (song of the lake), brings together the sweet, brisk, piquant, summer-berry flavours of barbera and the firm, fine savoury tannins of sangiovese. The same blend made in Italy probably wouldn’t much resemble this all-Australian effort. It reflects Langhorne Creek’s unique growing, cooled by breezes from nearby Lake Alexandrina, and a modern Australian approach to winemaking – capturing pure, clean grape flavours, sealed in with an hygienic screw cap.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2012
First published 16 May 2012 in The Canberra Times