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Highlights: Liberty Wines’ new Australian releases

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It’s the annual Australia Day Tasting in London tomorrow.  It’s a biggie so I’m always glad to have the chance to pick off some of the country’s top drops in advance at leading Australian specialist Liberty Wine’s portfolio tasting. Sadly no Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay because, limited in supply, it’s sold out on allocation (so glad I caught up with the latest 2012 vintage on my recent visit).  But there was no shortage of Aussie thrills.

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My stand out wines of the day? Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2014 (Clare Valley) &, top, Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2013 (Murrumbateman, Canberra) whose sensual, ethereal spice notes placed it in good company alongside some impressive Pinot Noirs, including (new to Liberty Wines), Giant Steps Applejack Pinot Noir 2010 (Yarra Valley) which I’ll be showing at my upcoming Wine Australia Pinot Noir masterclass on 23 February together with the 2012 and 2013 vintages.

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Good then to catch up with owner Phil Sexton (pictured) with one of two very fine, mineral Chardonnays, this one from his own eponymous Yarra vineyard.

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And on the Shiraz/Pinot Noir theme, interesting to see that the latest Shaw & Smith Shiraz 2013 (Adelaide Hills) includes an element of whole bunch fruit.  It lends lively spice and a very attractive, firm rasp of tannins to its charcuterie-edged red and black fruit; like the earthy savouriness to the finish too.  (Other recent Shaw & Smith releases reviewed here; the Chardy and Sav were both in particularly fine form last week, the former looking very restrained, the latter exuberant).

liberty jan portfolio tasting 018Returning to Grosset Polish Hill 2014 (which I’ll write up in detail soon), its arresting quinine-like minerality, punchy thirst-quenching acidity and terrific palate presence put me in mind of Gin & Tonic.   The real G if not the T re-surfaced at the end of the day in the guise of Four Pillars, a rather fabulous Yarra Valley gin – another stand out of my day.

Infusiastic- distiller Cameron Mackenzie

Infusiastic- distiller Cameron Mackenzie

Australian botanicals (including Tasmanian pepperberry leaf and lemon myrtle) and fresh organic orange juice (not peel) differentiate Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin (41.8%).  A richer, rounder yet more structured barrel-aged version of the Dry gin is also made, as is an eye-wateringly strong (when served neat) Navy Strength gin (58.8%) featuring  finger lime and fresh ginger.

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Sticking with the exotic, leading Portuguese grape variety Touriga Nacional is being used to good effect by Steve Pannell.  S.C. Pannell Touriga Tempranillo 2013 (McLaren Vale and Barossa) shows off the variety’s effusive violet perfume while the Tempranillo’s bony tannins and red fruits are a tapering influence.  Lead variety Grenache and Shiraz round out S.C. Pannell Grenache Shiraz Touriga 2013 (McLaren Vale) , which has a lovely mouthfeel – a very complete wine.

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For a classic SGM blend it’s hard to beat John Duval Plexus 2012 (Barossa Valley).  With beautifully managed tannins, Duval’s wines are always very supple and polished, but thankfully not at the expense of character.  This Shiraz Grenache Mourvedre blend has a perfumed, floral edge to its glace cherry, fleshy plum and juicy black currant and berry fruit; savoury, hardpan mineral undertones lend depth and balance.  It has lovely length and line as does  John Duval Entity Shiraz 2012 (Barossa Valley), which has delicious savoury charcuterie and dark chocolate nuances to its plush black cherry layers.  Both provide a lot of class in the glass for under £30.  Like 2010, 2012 is a very strong vintage with wonderful fruit and balance.

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It’s been all change at Peter Lehmann – Liberty have only recently taken on the famous Barossa brand which has just been acquired by Casella Family Brands. Still, Peter Lehmann Stonewell 2010 (Barossa) remains remarkably consistent and, from this vintage, naturally delighted me.  While it shares the rich black forest gateaux black cherry and chocolate notes of recently reviewed Peter Lehmann Stonewell 2008, it also has lovely floral lift and juicy persistence to its lingering finish.

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Museum releases Margaret Semillon and Wigan Riesling both from 2009 exhibited their customary delicious development of lemon and lime curd/Bick’s Lime Cordial, the Riesling particularly luminous and lingering thanks to the vitality of its acidity.   As for the youngsters, I’d not previously tasted Peter Lehmann Hill & Valley Riesling (Eden Valley) but the 2014 vintage from a single vineyard is very pretty with talcy, floral lift, muskier spicier nuances and lemon and lime.  Very drinkable already with nice fruit concentration and a less firm acid profile than some which helps broaden its appeal (RRP £12.99).

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Also very drinkable is Balnaves Cabernet/Merlot 2011 (Coonawarra).  I reckon this is a bit of a triumph in this difficult wet, cool year.  Mid-weight but with lovely bayleaf lift and great purity and freshness to its long, persistent blackcurrant fruit.  Less oak and less extraction in this tricky year has paid dividends.  Altogether more concentrated is Balnaves Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (Coonawarra) whose ripe but firm backbone of tannins  is well met and matched by a great intensity of ripe, perfumed blueberry and cassis, with black olive.  The finish is very long and very precise.  Excellent.

Over to Australia’s other leading Cabernet region and, from Margaret River, Cullen Mangan Vineyard Merlot/Malbec/Petit Verdot 2013 is an atypical Bordeaux blend (63% Merlot, 25% Malbec and 12% Petit Verdot).  This latest (the second) release is already very complete with very fine tannins, lovely persistence and delicious cedar and spice to its plum and juicy blackberry fruit.  With just 12.5% abv it is super elegant; a classy buy for £18.99.

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Vinolok-sealed L.A.S. Vino CBDB 2013 (Margaret River) is a walk on the wild side for the son of Pierro’s Mike Peterkin and Shelley Cullen, whose parents founded another classic Margaret River label, Cullen Wines. With his hand-crafted labels and highly unusual (more Swartland than W.A.) co-fermented blend of Chenin Blanc with Sauvignon and Viognier, Nic Peterkin totally deviates from the classic Margaret River genre (though he also makes a Chardonnay).    On the one hand I like both wines’ muscularity.  And the honeyed, nutty nuances of their gently oxidative, textural style are bang on trend.  However, I missed a bit of clarity/finesse given the c. £40 price tag.  Of the two I preferred the firmer CBDB; I wonder if less oak and earlier picked fruit/less malo might put the structural emphasis more on the acid and less on the Chardonnay’s alcohol and wood?

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