Wine review – Long Rail Gully, Clonakilla, Majella, La Maschera and Helm

Long Rail Gully Shiraz $25
Long Rail Gully Vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW

Canberra winemakers became excited about the local 2013 shiraz even before the ferments began. Now the wines are rolling out, and they’re exciting. Ravensworth, reviewed a few months back, Nick O’Leary’s trophy winner and now Long Rail Gully and Clonakilla all show that extra juicy, ripe flavour of a warm and gentle season. The Parker family’s Long Rail Gully 2013 earns its wine-of-the-week status not because it’s better than Clonakilla 2013 (which remains the regional benchmark), but because it delivers regional character at an affordable price. It captures Canberra’s spicy, sweet, berry flavours, medium body and juicy, soft tannins very well indeed.

Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2013 $90–110
Clonakilla Vineyard, Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW

Winemaker Tim Kirk says he breathed a sigh of relief in the benign 2013 vintage, following very challenging seasons in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The even warmth in 2013 produced perfectly ripe grapes, with intense fruit flavours and ripe tannins. The quality of the grapes shines through in this gentle, elegant, deeply flavoured wine – with its floral, berry, spicy and even peppery notes. Australia’s benchmark shiraz-viognier will grow in status with this vintage.

Majella Shiraz 2012 $30
Majella Vineyard, Coonawarra, South Australia

In Majella’s latest newsletter, proprietor Brian “Prof” Lynn calls his shiraz “a very underrated wine”. I agree. We’ve been cellaring Majella shiraz at Chateau Shanahan for a couple of decades now and the wines always please with five to 10 years bottle age. Most recently a 2002 outclassed several far more expensive wines. The young wine comes with Coonawarra’s deep, sweet berry flavours cut through with sympathetic oak. Over time, the delicate and lovely fruit steps to centre stage and the oak falls away in this elegant dry red.

La Maschera Pinot Grigio 2013 $17–$18
Limestone Coast, South Australia

Robert Hill-Smith seems to have let his winemaking team off the leash. They’re making all sorts of wonderful wines under his various labels, including Yalumba, Heggies, Pewsey Vale, Running with the Bulls and La Maschera. This is a particularly lush and opulently textured pinot gris from two vineyards, about 50 kilometres north of Coonawarra. A wild yeast ferment of unclarified juice, followed by six months on spent yeast cells, gives the wine its slinky texture and pleasing, slightly wild flavours that mingle with its natural fruit.

Helm Classic Dry Riesling 2014 $35
Murrumbateman, Canberra District, NSW

“Our vineyards and some of those in our region and other parts of NSW and Victoria suffered pretty badly as a result of the frosts in October”, writes Ken Helm. As a result, Helm dropped one riesling (his Premium) from his Canberra line up for this season. But he added two more from surrounding Tumbarumba and Central Ranges regions, which I’ll review in future. Helm’s standard Classic Dry impresses for its brightness, clean citrus-like varietal flavour, and steely, dry finish. It’s one percentage point lower in alcohol than the Clonakilla reviewed today. This contributes to the wine’s lean, delicate nature and demands some patience from drinkers as the wine will fill out after about another six months in bottle.

Clonakilla Riesling 2014 $28–$35
Murrumbateman and Hall, Canberra District, NSW

Winemaker Tim Kirk says an October 2013 frost wipe out much of Clonakilla’s riesling, located on low-lying land. Kirk, however, topped up his own small crop with fruit from the Parker family’s nearby Long Rail Gully vineyard and a few other sources, including Phil Williams’ vineyard at Hall. The resulting wine shows appealing floral and citrus-like aroma with a powerful, though delicate, palate, with a bit more meat on the bone than the Helm wine, courtesy of a very small amount of residual sugar. The sugar fattens the wine without adding detectable sweetness.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2014
First published 13 August 2014 in the Canberra Times