Wine review — Ten Minutes by Tractor, Topper’s Mountain, Grey Sands, Oakvale, Helm and Stefano Lubiana

Ten Minutes by Tractor Wallis Chardonnay 2011 $65
Wallis vineyard, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
Wallis chardonnay appealed on the tasting bench then moved to the dinner table where we served it masked to wine-savvy visitors. It provoked an initial “Ah, Chablis” response – recognition of its high acidity and lean structure. But as the wine warmed, the cool-climate grapefruit and white-peach varietal flavour blossomed around the acidity. From a very cool and the latest vintage yet at Ten Minutes by Tractor, the delicate, refined Wallis chardonnay held our attention to the last drop. One bottle seemed not enough.

Topper’s Mountain Nebbiolo 2010 $38
Topper’s Mountain vineyard, New England, NSW
Piedmont’s nebbiolo was first mentioned in 1266, making it one of the oldest continuously cultivated grape varieties on the planet. At its best, the wines it makes can be among the world’s finest – pale coloured but highly aromatic, intensely flavoured and very firmly structured. Too often, however, the wines smell lovely, then descend into palate-wrenching toughness. Topper’s Mountain, however, make a most approachable version from their 900-metre vineyard on the western slopes of the New England Ranges, near Inverell. It’s pale coloured, with a warm, inviting, earthy–floral aroma. The medium-bodied palate reflects the aroma and fine but firm, savoury tannins give a unique, taut structure. (See

Grey Sands The Mattock 2012 $30
Glengarry, Tamar Valley, Tasmania
Pinot noir’s the dominant red variety in cool Tasmania and likely to remain so. But other red varieties can ripen there, too, given the right sites and attention. Grey Sands provides a good example of what’s possible in this elegant merlot-malbec-cabernet franc blend. It combines sweet, cool-climate berry character with a leafy note (probably from the cabernet franc) on a deeply flavoured, medium-bodied palate, cut with fine, firm tannins. (See

Oakvale L’Oeuf Semillon 2012 $40
Ablington vineyard, Pokolbin, Hunter Valley, NSW
After several trial attempts in recent years, winemaker James Becker made Oakvale’s first “amphora” semillon in 2012. He pressed early-picked Hunter semillon to egg-shape concrete fermenters for a spontaneous fermentation, with no additions of yeast, acid or enzymes. Becker claims the shape of the vessels “tends to produce a gentle fermentation” and the concrete’s porosity admits tiny amounts of oxygen into the wine. He bottled the wine without fining or filtration. The result is a low-alcohol (8.2 per cent), bone-dry white that’s recognisably Hunter semillon in its lemony zestiness and light body. The affect of the fermentation technique becomes apparent in the texture and gently funky character of the palate. This is an idiosyncratic variation on a classic (and idiosyncratic) Australian regional–varietal combination.

Helm Classic Dry Riesling 2013 $30
Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW
Ken Helm’s Classic Dry won a gold medal at the regional wine show in September. Three months on, it’s probably even fruitier and lovelier than what the judges tasted – a transformation Canberra’s riesling seem to undergo during late spring and early summer. The wine’s highly aromatic, showing both floral and citrus character. These flavours come through on the delicate but intense, bone-dry palate. Its delicacy, flavour intensity and dryness make Helm Classic an exceptional aperitif style for Christmas and New Year. Put six bottles aside, though, and enjoy the wine’s evolution over the next decade or so.

Stefano Lubiana Brut Reserve NV $38–$40
Lubiana Granton Vineyard, Derwent Valley, Tasmania

I’d drink this in preference to most of the cheaper real Champagnes. Why? Because of the appealing depth of flavour, derived from outstanding fruit, and the unique structure, resulting from a 20-month maturation on yeast lees. Chardonnay, comprising four fifths of the chardonnay–pinot noir blend, gives the wine a lightness and grace. But there’s enough pinot to give backbone and an extra flavour depth. The blend is principally from the 2010 vintage, with about one fifth of the total from 2009 and 2008. The wine could easily handle more time on yeast lees – a good indicator of fruit quality.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2013
First published 18 December 2013 in the Canberra Times and