Wine review — Penfolds, Combe Farm, Couryabyra, Paxton and Chrismont

Penfolds Bin 169 Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 $350
Coonawarra, South Australia
Late last year, Macquarie analyst Greg Dring estimated sales of Penfolds wines represented five per cent of the total for parent company Treasury Wine Estates – but comprised around 50 per cent of pre-tax profit. The international strength of the Penfolds brand, built over many decades, means its top wines now command prices far beyond their cost of production. Bin 169, a newcomer to the Penfolds range, provides a contrast to the similarly priced, powerful Bin 707 style. It presents perfectly ripe Coonawarra cabernet matured in new French oak, rather the more aggressive American oak used in Bin 707. It’s a wine of great beauty and harmony – revealing the unique power and elegance of top-notch cabernet. In this expression, the fruit’s particularly intense and aromatic, with floral notes, and layered with ripe, supporting tannins derived from the fruit and the oak. It should evolve well for decades.

Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 $350
Barossa Valley, Padthaway, Coonawarra, Wrattonbully
and Adelaide Hills, South Australia

The deep, crimson-rimmed, red-black colour, assertive, cassis-like, ripe cabernet flavour, mixed with oak, and aggressive, desert-dry tannins set Bin 707 apart from the more fragrant, supple Bin 169. But despite the sheer dimension of the wine, the various flavour inputs harmonise well enough – although the mouth-drying affect of the tannin builds with every sip. This is all standard for a young 707. But I know from experience, extended bottle maturation transforms Bin 707, revealing its beautiful, complex fragrance, flavours and elegant structure. I rate this as an outstanding vintage and would expect it to be at its best between 15 and 30 years from vintage.

Combe Farm Chardonnay 2012 $32
Combe Farm vineyard, Yarra Valley, Victoria
In 2011 the Vestey family engaged Nicole Esdaile to make wine and oversee their 60-hectare Yarra Valley vineyard. They’d previously sold most of the fruit to other wine makers, while making small quantities for their Combe Farm label. Esdaile’s 2012 combined two clones of chardonnay from the property, all hand picked, whole-bunch pressed and barrel fermented. The barrel inputs add texture to a wine that’s alive with rich but delicate, melon-like varietal flavours. It’s a really delicious example of modern chardonnay making, where carefully judged winemaking tricks enhance excellent fruit.

Courabyra 157 Pinot Noir 2012 $31.50
Revee Estate and Courabyra vineyard, Tumbarumba, NSW
Courabyra is a collaboration between Stephen Morrison and his sister and brother in law, Cathy and Brian Gairn. The Gairns planted Courabyra vineyard in 1993. And Morrison owns the nearby Revee Estate, established in 1981 by Ian Cowell. Both properties enjoyed a long relationship with larger companies, providing fruit mainly for top-end sparkling wine. The relationship with Hardys led to the current arrangement where former Hardy winemaker, Alex McKay, makes wine for the Courabyra label. This is a delightful, fragrant, soft and fruity pinot noir that looks simple at first, but grows in interest as you work through the bottle – the slippery, silky texture being a particularly appealing feature.

Paxton Tempranillo 2011 $20–$25
Thomas Block and Landcross Farm vineyards, McLaren Vale, South Australia

Paxton’s certified biodynamic tempranillo survived the cold, wet 2011 vintage to produce an attractive dry red for current drinking. The aroma suggests summer berries and spice – pleasant characters that come through on the medium bodied palate. Tempranillo’s tannin, however, keeps the palate lean, tight and savoury, making it good company for protein-rich or savoury food.

Chrismont Pinot Gris 2012 $26
Cheshunt, King Valley, Victoria

There’s no formal definition of what makes pinot gris different in style from pinot grigio – they’re simply the French and Italian names respectively for a grey mutation of the pinot vine. But, in general, “grigio” denotes a leaner, tighter more savoury Italian style; and “gris” means richer, fatter, sometimes sweet wine, in France’s Alsacian style. Arnie Pizzini’s new “gris” style, complements his much-loved La Zona “grigio”, first made in 1999. The dry, savoury La Zona Grigio 2012 ($22) contrasts with the fuller bodied, richly textured new pinot gris – a plum, barrel-fermented style that makes me think of pork sausages and duck liver.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2013
First published 5 June 2013 in the Canberra Times and