Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese 2008

A tale of three Rieslings, several digressions and a good deal of tension.

Palate memory, for those of us not blessed with fantastically good recall to start with, can be frustratingly unreliable. For me, writing about wine functions primarily as a sort of personal aide-mémoire, a way to record previous experiences and subsequently recall, as much as possible, the experience of a particular wine. Words, though, are only so rich a medium, which perhaps explains why we sometimes overreach with increasingly obscure descriptors to differentiate one wine from another. Point scoring, too, can be another way of adding semantic richness to a note. Indeed, one’s perhaps feeble attempts to capture something as abstract as wine starts to make sense of, for example, Proust’s extreme longueurs in describing flowers, social behaviours and the experience of jealousy.

Given all that, it’s gratifying to encounter a wine and have it taste so familiar. Such was my experience of this Joh. Jos. Prüm Spätlese from the racy, high-acid 2008 Mosel vintage. As Mosel Riesling goes, this is right in the zone, showing the striking minerality and structural finesse I associate with a good Wehlener Sonnenuhr. Flavours are light yet rich, moving between high toned florals and richer cumquat notes. Naturally, this lacks the impact and weight of some auslese-level wines but is utterly correct and delicious nonetheless.

I tasted this wine, and those discussed below, with wine writer Jeremy Pringle. As ever when we taste together, the semiotics of wine appreciation became a topic of conversation, in this case idea of balance versus tension. I feel the J.J. Prüm shows great balance, even if tilted towards a firmer-than-usual line of acid. Jeremy chimed in with the word tension and, while I agree with his assessment of the wine, it does call into question the relationship between these two dimensions.

In a recent post on his site, Jeremy drew a distinction between the two, suggesting balance doesn’t necessarily connote the excitement that some wines generate through the interplay of their elements. Whether he is suggesting that tension, by definition, requires a subversion of balance I’m not sure. My own view is they can coexist; tension can be generated entirely within the context of a perfectly balanced wine, as with the J.J. Prüm, whose gorgeously proportioned acid structure acts as an ongoing counterpoint to the wine’s other elements. This interplay is thrilling and full of tension, as in a freeze-frame whose compositional elements are dynamic yet perfectly placed with respect to one another. It’s the character of each component, and indeed the countenance struck between them, that builds tension. This, within a wine whose balance and proportion are classically formed, whose sense of placement and symmetry are quite pristine. In this, ideas of tension in wine aren’t unrelated to those in the visual and plastic arts.

Two wines tasted alongside the J.J. Prüm amply illustrate this. A conceptual counterpoint, if nothing else, the 2012 Timo Mayer “Dr Mayer” Remstal Riesling Kabinett trocken is, unsurprisingly, of a drier persuasion than the J.J. Prüm. It’s also, structurally, quite different. Phenolics play a big role here, creating textural waves through the after palate and finish, tightening the wine’s moderately relaxed structure. Its relative lack of acid sits in stark contrast to the J.J. Prüm and, tasting them side by side, I couldn’t help but feel the Mosel wine’s even line was in all respects preferable to the Mayer’s undulating palate structure. This is an example of a wine with contrasting elements — acid and phenolics — whose lack of balance robs the wine of tension. Because there’s no unifying proportion at work, one half of the wine simply exists with respect to the other half, without sufficient connection.

Similarly the 2010 Mac Forbes Tasmanian RS20 Riesling. If the Mosel wine’s acid is high even by its own region’s standards, then this takes it several steps further, placing an even but searingly firm line at the centre of the wine and tilting its balance too far in one direction. Unlike the J.J. Prüm, this wine’s uneven proportions drain it of tension, because one element dominates all others. If a sense of precariousness can, at times, build excitement in a wine, this disqualifies itself because there’s never any question acid will end, as it starts, in first place.

All of which brings me back to the Mosel wine. The secret of great Mosel Riesling is, I believe, the interplay of acid, fruit weight, flavour profile, minerality and structure; this is true of most wines but for Mosel Riesling the balance struck between all these elements seems unlikely, almost magically achieved. Tasting the J.J. Prüm made me think back to a moment towards the end of harvest last year. I was picking grapes in terrible weather — cold, wet, foggy — in Wehlener Sonnenuhr, just wanting it to be over. It occurred to me that all this effort simply wasn’t worth it for something as frivolous, as unnecessary as wine.

And perhaps it’s not. But if one’s going to make the effort, a good Mosel Riesling isn’t a bad place to end up.

J.J. Prüm
Price: N/A
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Yelland & Papps Second Take Shiraz 2013

Another in the 2013 Second Take range from the lovely folks at Yelland & Papps. I’ve come to expect good drinkability from this producer’s wines over the years, and this release continues in that line, adding a few twists to its flavour profile along the way.

For starters, the aroma reminds me of synthetic musk as much as fruit; you know, those gorgeously childish Musk Sticks that still provide the occasional guilty pleasure to we adults. These sweet/floral aromas overlay some fairly young-smelling berry notes and cedar oak. I like the layers to the aroma profile, though there are also angles that remind me of primary and secondary fermentation smells — I think it needs a bit more time to lose its raw edges.

Medium bodied at most, this flip-flops between a certain voluptuousness and prominent acid. On entry, it’s the wine’s rounder side that dominates, ushering fresh berries and spice through to the mid-palate. There’s a hint of expansiveness here, curtailed emphatically by increasingly visible acid as the wine moves down its line. I wish the wine’s structure were more connected to its fruit, and that its oak didn’t jut out so much through the finish; this is, though, a very young wine at the beginning of its life. For now, a good spell in the decanter or in your cellar will pay dividends. Certainly, the flavours at its core are most attractive.

Yelland & Papps
Price: $A40
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Domaine Alain Chavy Saint-Aubin 1er Cru En Remilly 2010

I’ve enjoyed many Alain Chavy wines over the years and value this producer for the straightforwardness of his wines. These are vins de terroir par excellence, quite reasonably priced to boot. His 1er Cru Puligny-Montrachets are especially fine, but I’ve enjoyed this wine, from the lesser village of Saint-Aubin, over several vintages, and this edition is one of the most pleasurable.

Forthright aromas of hessian, sulfur, white stonefruit and flint emerge immediately from the glass, even when served quite cold. There’s a good deal of complexity, in fact, which isn’t immediately evident because the fruit seems so up-front and voluptuous at first. With time, it turns increasingly savoury, a reductive influence becoming more prominent as fruit tightens into the grapefruit spectrum.

On entry, what’s immediately striking is the power and impact of the wine’s fruit. I’ve noticed quite a few 2010 white Burgundies from Puligny-Montrachet and surrounds share this aggressiveness, which seems to stem not only from solid intensity but also from firm acid. Perhaps there’s a tendency towards shoutiness, but I value the muscularity on show and feel it may achieve better balance with some time in bottle. The mid-palate is quite minerally, though with plenty of fruit too, and leads to an after palate of powdery texture and taut flavour. Quite long.

While it may lack the subtlety and nuance of a really fine white Burgundy, this is a lot of wine for the money. There’s plenty here to enjoy.

Domaine Alain Chavy
Price: $A50
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Wendouree Cabernet Malbec 2011

Aside from an older vintage of its delightful Zibibbo Muscat of Alexandria, I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never properly written up a Wendouree wine on Full Pour, despite having drunk many over the years. Time to fix that.

This, from the legendarily difficulty 2011 vintage in South Australia, represents my favourite Clare Valley regional blend. Interestingly, growing conditions have resulted in a wine that’s far more approachable and coherent than many a young Wendouree I’ve tasted. There can, indeed, be an upside to these things. The aroma’s expressiveness provides a first clue to the wine’s relative accessibility, yet it’s the aromas themselves I find enveloping and transportive. Instantly, I’m walking home from school in the suburbs, the pavement hot underfoot, each nature strip a mini-oasis of cool, gum trees releasing a gentle aroma into the air, the occasional kick of dust and tar from a driveway. Indeed, this is vivid and spacious and, somehow, so Australian.

The palate’s moderate weight suits its highly aromatic countenance well. Those famous Wendouree tannins do make an appearance, but less so than usual, and with less density and impact overall. The focus here, rather, is on fluidity of movement and complete transparency of flavour. This is so pretty, and so gentle, one goes to it willingly and is amply rewarded with bright fruit flavours, tanbark textures and a general sense of elegant ease. Some may find the acid strident; I welcome its sizzle and vivacity. Certainly, fruit flavours are intense enough to provide balance. The finish isn’t especially long, but what’s there provides a coherent closure to the wine’s line.

This would be a sensational lunchtime claret.

Price: $A55
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Johnson’s Block Shiraz Cabernet 2003

Time to test a theory: that this wine would benefit from a few years in the cellar. I was underwhelmed when I tasted it in 2009 and, while combing through my cellar the other day, thought I’d drag a bottle out to try.

Sadly, it’s different, but not substantially better. Structurally, the edge I noted in my previous note has calmed, though it remains a fairly tannic wine through the finish. There are regional aromas of blackcurrant and dusty leaf that I appreciate, and the wine’s line shows even density. The straightforward fruit character it showed as a young wine persists, though, leading to an impression of simplicity and bluntness on the palate. There are certainly some tertiary flavours now, and these are welcome, yet the wine never transcends the lump of indistinct berry fruit at its core.

Only okay.

Wynns Coonawarra Estate
Price: $A35
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Yelland & Papps Second Take Grenache 2013

I’ve always been particularly drawn to this producer’s Grenaches, feeling they capture the easy appeal and drinkability of the variety especially well. This wine, from the Second Take range, represents an attempt to diverge from standard winemaking practices, although in this case the process used is starting to look rather mainstream: some whole bunch, no fining, no filtering. A fair bit of new French oak (36%) rounds out the regime.

Not that it’s especially evident, such is the exuberance of the fruit. This shows the expressive aromatics of Grenache to full advantage, with red fruit and flowers taking centre stage, supported by some sap, coffee grounds and spice. It’s appropriately fresh at this stage, smelling like the young wine it is and, such is the appeal, one would have to gain something pretty interesting with bottle age to compensate for the vibrancy of its youth.

In the mouth, correspondingly transparent and fresh. It’s not a heavy wine, being just medium bodied and briskly acidic. Fruit is boldly sweet and verges on confected, but steps back into a network of savoury spice and sap in the nick of time. The after palate becomes progressively tauter, with flavours darkening slightly as the finish concludes on mostly oak-driven terms, some loose-knit tannin adding welcome texture. Still, it’s a wine that will reward lovers of fruit-forward styles, and won’t dominate a meal or demand too much contemplation.

Update: holding up remarkably well after a couple of days; in fact, it’s more coherent than it was when first opened. Deceptive longevity.

Yelland & Papps
Price: $A40
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Cherubino The Yard Acacia Vineyard Shiraz 2011

A counterpart to the Riversdale Vineyard wine, this is a catalogue of things that are good about Frankland River Shiraz. It’s also by far the more accessible of the two Cherubino wines, being a more suave, slinky wine than the rather forbidding Riversdale.

The nose is dark, as befits a wine of the region, yet it expresses the most wonderful range of spice notes alongside concentrated, savoury berry fruit. Despite its spiciness, there’s a restraint at play and a sense of full ripeness that allows fruit to cushion more angular notes, including some fairly glossy oak. Mostly, though, this smells cool, pure and vibrant, hallmarks of this region’s Shiraz at its best.

The palate’s structure strikes me as beautifully balanced, and tannins in particular are a highlight. On entry, a bright, brisk expression of red and black berries, flowing to a mid-palate that remains taut while allowing the fruit’s considerable intensity to shine. It’s only medium bodied, but such is the impact of the fruit and deliciousness of the tannins, it quite fills one’s mouth. The after palate connects cleanly and carries through to a savoury, slightly oak-driven finish.

This is my favourite of the various Frankland River Shirazes I’ve tasted of late and, at $35, is good value.

Update: a couple of days on and this is still firing on all cylinders. Wonderful velvet tannin.

Cherubino Wines
Price: $35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Castelli Frankland River Shiraz 2009

Given the isolation of Great Southern, it’s not surprising several producers don’t bother with a cellar door. Shame, though, for those who do make the effort to visit, as I did last year. Not much to do other than order a mixed dozen or two, as I recently did from Castelli Estate. This is the second Castelli wine I’ve tasted from my experimental order, the first being a 2010 Shiraz that seemed quite lean and mean alongside a selection of other cool climate Australian Shirazes of the same vintage.

This edition is, if my memory is any sort of guide, a tad more generous, though it remains a firmly savoury wine. The aroma is quite lifted, with some fairly blunt oak alongside dark fruit, twig-like vegetation and less spice than one might expect of Frankland River Shiraz. I wish it were more defined and precise in the placement of its aromas. Although it’s distinctive and, in its lean way, regional, it’s also a pretty difficult aroma to warm to, mostly due to the directness of its oak component and the aggressiveness of its lift.

The palate is more satisfying, primarily due to an acid structure that delineates each flavour clearly and provides the wine with shape and articulation. There’s also a bit more substance and flesh to the fruit here that rounds out what threatens, aromatically, to be a fairly lean experience. Tannins are well-placed and slightly hard, giving the wine a firm finish. There are flashes of humanity here and there, some fruit to sink into, but these are the exception. The style here is, generally, rather unyielding.

I’ve certainly tasted Frankland River Shiraz with greater purity of fruit, vibrancy and complexity, and respect the region’s potential. Although this shows a genuine sense of place, for my palate it lacks the tension and interest that characterises really exciting Shiraz of the region.

Update: day 2 and the wine has settled somewhat. The aroma remains dark, with a hint of reduction I hadn’t initially noticed, while the palate has evened out and is showing brighter, quite attractive fruit. Still lacking in definition, but I suspect some time in a decanter will help it show to its best advantage.

Castelli Estate
Price: $A28
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Topper’s Mountain Red Earth Child 2011

As perhaps the only Nebbiolo, Shiraz, Tempranillo and Tannat blend made in Australia (the world?), this piques one’s curiosity simply because of what it is. Such a blend might scream “left overs” to some, but this is Topper’s Mountain’s flagship red blend, which in itself signals a seriousness of intent. The project here, as was discussed in my review of the 2009, is to create the best blend possible in any given year from the Topper’s Mountain vineyard. The approach is appropriately responsive – this blend bears little resemblance to the earlier wine in its varietal composition.

And, indeed, there are marked sensory differences too. This is a bright, fragranced wine, the aroma infusing one’s senses with tea leaf, red fruit, brown spice and the sort of intensely aromatic florals that suggest eucalypts rather than anything more exotic. There’s quite a lot going on in fact, the whole light and transparent. It’s a nice wine to smell.

In the mouth, the wine’s light weight and high toned flavours are immediately evident. This is such a delicate wine, with more red fruit and spice winding their way around fine acid and subtle tannin. Yes, despite Nebbiolo and Tannat in the mix, this doesn’t come across as especially tannic, though the tannins present are fine and ripe, more velvet than grain. For me, this wine’s pleasures centre on its gentle, savoury flavours — which are surprisingly intense — and a general sense of effortlessness.

Another interesting entry in the Red Earth Child project, then, if not one inclined to call attention to itself.

Topper’s Mountain
Price: $A38
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Dandelion Vineyards Wonderland of the Eden Valley Riesling 2012

Ancient vines, single vineyard, etc. Boxes ticked, for what that’s worth. But oh, this is an interesting wine. It’s very Eden Valley in a lot of ways but is anything but middle-of-the-road, stylistically.

First of all, there are all sorts of textures going on — chalky, tingly, delightful textures that pass over the tongue in waves from quite early in the wine’s line. Working back from here, a taut flavour profile sits atop this catalogue of mouthfeels, very delicate in nature with as much minerality as fruit. It’s like a talcum powder softly fragranced with green apple, pretty but fundamentally dry and savoury. I feel a tension at play, partly a texture-flavour one, but equally between flavours, and I wonder if there’s some marginal ripeness here. Certainly, some tastes strike me as edgy and green, though this never overwhelms the experience of the wine. Acid is fine and firm, and surely contributes to the wine’s impressive length.

This certainly isn’t going to convert anyone to our dry Rieslings, but it’s a really characterful example of the intellectual end of the genre.

Dandelion Vineyards
Price: $A27.50
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail