Wine review — Shelmerdine, John Duval, Helm, Thorn Clarke, Ross Hill and Smith and Hooper

Shelmerdine Heathcote Shiraz 2009 $23.75–$33
Shelmerdine Vineyard, Heathcote, Victoria
The Shelmerdine family established Mitchelton, just across the Goulburn River from historic Tahbilk. They moved on from there decades back and later established vineyards in the Yarra Valley and Heathcote, one of Australia’s new hot spots for shiraz. This wine comes from the family’s Merindoc and Willoughby Bridge vineyards, at opposite ends of Heathcote. It’s a medium bodied, shiraz featuring the region’s unique combination of bright fruit and savoury flavours. The elegant palate finishes with Heathcote’s signature fine but firm tannins – a farewell tweak that goes so well with food.

John Duval Plexus Marsanne Roussanne Viognier 2011 $26–$30
Barossa and Eden Valleys, South Australia

With Plexus, a blend of three Rhone Valley grape varieties, former Penfolds chief winemaker John Duval says he wants “to build structure and texture, rather than just acid crispness”.  Duval recognises that since the warm Barossa can never compete in crispness with wines from cooler areas, then he should take another path. The result in this partially barrel fermented and matured white is pretty much as Duval says – richly textured and soft, but fresh, with subtle and savoury fruit flavours seasoned with leesy notes from the time in barrel. It’s a little lighter bodied than 2010, the firs vintage. But that’s what you’d expect from the cool 2011 season.

Helm Premium Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 $52
Lustenberger Vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
Canberra can and does make decent cabernet. But critics, myself included, don’t always assert, as Helm says we do, that it can’t ripen here. Clearly it can in the right conditions. Very pleasant wines from Long Rail Gully, Pankhurst, McKellar Ridge and Helm show that it does. Our criticism is more that to date Canberra hasn’t produced a single great cabernet, and that the quality of the average cabernet is pretty average. However, Helm and daughter Stephanie plan to change that – evidenced by steady improvements in their Premium wine, sourced from neighbour Al Lustenberger’s vineyard. The 2009, to be released in December, shows intense, ripe cabernet varietal flavours and elegant structure. The oak flavours and tannins, however, intrude a little on the fruit. But this is a minor blemish in a very good wine.

Thorn Clarke Shotfire Shiraz 2010 $16–$20
Barossa, South Australia

Thorn Clarke, one of the biggest private winemakers in the Barossa, owns a little under 300 hectares of vineyards in the Eden and Barossa Valleys. They produce a range of wines, but enjoy a particularly strong following for the two reds released under the Shotfire range – this straight shiraz and a cabernet blend. For a reasonable amount of money, the shiraz gives us a lot to like: rich, ripe, earthy, savoury varietal flavours, mixed in with mouth-drying, soft tannins – and a sympathetic, vanilla-like character derived from oak maturation.

Ross Hill Pinnacle Series Chardonnay 2011 $30–$35
Ross Hill Griffin Road home block vineyard, Orange, NSW
Ross Hill is collaboration between Terri and Peter Robson and Greg and Kim Jones. The Robsons planted vines at Orange in the mid nineties and in 2008 joined forces with the Joneses to establish a winery and plant more vineyards. This chardonnay comes from the original Robson vineyard. It shows the lean, tight structure of the cold season. But under the lean, acidic structure lie delicious grapefruit and white peach-like varietal flavours. The rich texture and “struck match” character derived from maturation on yeast lees add to the wine’s appeal. The wine should evolve well for another five years or so in a good cellar.

Smith and Hooper Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2011 $16–$22
Wrattonbully, South Australia
If we have to drink sauvignon blanc, let’s bolster it with semillon, in the dry Bordeaux style. In this example from Robert Hill-Smith’s Yalumba group, the winemakers fermented one fifth of the blend in old oak, leaving this component on the spent yeast cells (lees), and stirring the lees every two weeks. The process builds a rich texture and subtle flavours that, together with the semillon, contribute so much to the drinking pleasure. But sauvignon blanc still exerts its pungent, herbal flavour and zesty acidity.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2012
First published 12 September 2012 in The Canberra Times