Wine review – Wynns, Jim Barry, Stella Bella and Larry Cherubino

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Alex 88 Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 $80
Alexander’s Block, Coonawarra, South Australia
Wynns decade-long makeover of its grape growing and winemaking under winemaker Sue Hodder and viticulturist Allen Jenkins, lifted the quality of the company’s wines to probably the highest level since it began in the early 1950s. Managing vineyards in small blocks, harvesting progressively in blocks, or even vine rows, then fermenting in small batches added up to better fruit, better differentiation and endless blending combinations. It also allowed Hodder to identify special parcels for separate bottling. Alex 88 is one of those, from a vineyard planted in 1988 and named for the family that owned it for the first two thirds of last century. This is a robust but elegant expression of Coonawarra – with deep, sweet blackcurrant-like varietal flavours, married beautifully with French oak. Fine, firm tannins and the depth of fruit, looking so young at four years, suggest a long and glorious cellaring life. Retailer discounting may reduce the price.

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 $25–$45
Coonawarra, South Australia
The Wynn family made its first Coonawarra cabernet in 1954. The vintages have rolled out for 60 years now, and bar a brief hiccup in the late seventies, and a few weaker individual vintages, the wines proved to be long-lived and wonderful to drink. Various winemakers tweaked the style, but under Sue Hodder’s guidance we now see a highly polished, elegant cabernet that’s certainly the equal of the earliest vintages and very likely, over time, to prove even better. The new release reveals fully ripe Coonawarra berry flavours on an elegantly structured palate, with firm but smooth tannins. I’m writing this review before its release, so I’m punting that retailers might cut the price as they have previously (the 2011 currently sells for as little as $25).

Jim Barry Watervale Riesling 2014 $15.20–$18
Jim Barry vineyard, Watervale, Clare Valley, South Australia
In a phone call around Easter, Peter Barry, son of the late Jim Barry, said the 2014 rieslings turned out well considering the hot growing season. “Temperatures were especially extreme”, wrote Barry recently, “with January’s average maximum 1.9 degrees above the long-term average and with 12 days above 35 degrees (six of those above forty degrees)”. However, rain followed the heat and judging by the wine, the grapes came through OK. Barry’s Watervale (southern Clare) riesling is particularly floral this year, with lime-like varietal flavour on a delicate, soft, dry palate.

Jim Barry Lodge Hill Riesling 2014$ 20.89–$23
Jim Barry Lodge Hill vineyard, Clare Valley, South Australia
Though less floral than Jim Barry Watervale riesling reviewed today, Lodge Hill, from a higher, cooler site, shows greater intensity of lemony varietal flavour, and a significantly more assertive acid backbone. The acidity seems to intensify the fruit flavour and lengthen the aftertaste. This suggests tasty evolution if cellared for a few years. But the combination of acidity and intense fruit makes the young wine a good companion with oysters, salads and hot, spicy food.

Stella Bella Serie Luminosa Chardonnay 2010 $65
Isca and Forest Grove vineyards, Margaret River, Western Australia
Stella Bella Serie Luminosa sits comfortably with Margaret River’s other outstanding chardonnays. It comes from two vineyards planted in 1998 and, is so often the case with exceptional wine, the quality stems from outstanding fruit, good winemaking (including appropriate use of oak barrels), then skilful selection and blending in the winery. Stella Bella comes from blending the best barrels from the best blocks. A full-bodied yet elegant white, it has intense nectarine-like varietal flavour in a matrix with the flavours and textures derived from fermentation and maturation in oak barrels. Oak inserts its own flavours sympathetically into an harmonious wine. What a joy it is to drink.

Larry Cherubino Ad Hoc Hen and Chicken Chardonnay 2012$18.05–$21
Pemberton, Western Australia
Winemaker Larry Cherubino sources fruit widely across southwestern Western Australia, in this instance using chardonnay from a Pemberton vineyard planted in 1999. At 13 per cent alcohol, it’s probably a little lighter bodied than many Australian chardonnays. However, fermentation with wild yeasts and maturation in new and two-year-old French oak barrels added textural richness and nutty, spicy oak flavours to the lemon-like and melon-rind varietal character. It’s a rich, soft, gentle style, very easy to like.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2014
First published 16 July 2014 in the Canberra Times