Attwoods Old Hog Pinot Noir 2012

A tale of three vintages, from the difficult 2011, through this wine to the as-yet unreleased 2013. These wines are those of a good friend, Troy Walsh, who made wine school a hell of a lot more fun than it otherwise would have been for me, and who comes with a background working as a sommelier in some of London’s better-known fine dining establishments. After returning to Australia, he and his family settled in the Ballarat area, and his goal is to make exceptional Pinot Noir. He works with Geelong and Ballarat fruit, and is in the process of establishing his own vineyard on a lovely slope in Scotsburn. The best is almost certainly yet to come.

All of which makes these three wines fascinating. There’s a family resemblance, but each speaks clearly of its vintage. The 2011, long sold out, is a light wine, savoury in character and ephemeral in effect, providing a transparent look into a challenging growing season. This is a massive step up, with more of everything – intensity, structure, length, density. This is a sinewy, uncompromising style that is all about savouriness of flavour and acid-driven structure. It’s startlingly adult, in fact, and very regional in its refusal to cushion its impact with any sort of plushness. I can imagine its vibe might be too extreme for some, but for those who can get inside the wine, there’s a wealth of detail and interest, and surprising depth of flavour. A distillation of Geelong Pinot.

The 2013, though a way off release, softens the 2012′s countenance slightly with a big opening of bright fruit. There’s a good deal of whole bunch happening here, so I presume some of this fruitiness is a function of some carbonic maceration as well as extreme youth – in any case, the question of family resemblance is quickly settled as the wine breathes. Although showing some puppy fat, this is a savoury wine at heart, if one with a bit more flesh and scale than the 2012. I tasted this over several days (it was decanted on opening and stayed that way) and it never tired. It simply became darker and more like the 2012 in flavour profile. I look forward to its release.

It’s fascinating to watch this portfolio evolve through its early stages. Already, Troy is exploring his somewhat uncompromising view of wine style, and engaging strongly with the regions he chooses to work within. I see only good things ahead.

Attwoods Wines
Price: $A45
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Mitchell Harris Sabre Vintage 2010

The second release of Mitchell Harris’s sparking wine, this has credentials that stretch back far beyond the establishment of this label. Indeed, John Harris brings a wealth of experience as former winemaker at Domaine Chandon to this wine, and it’s important to remember Western Victoria was once renowned for its sparkling wines above all other styles. So, quite a pedigree.

The style here, as with the 2008, places an emphasis on freshness and generosity. It’s an absolute crowd-pleaser, in fact, but still retains a range of complexities of flavour that reward closer tasting. What I like about this wine in particular is how its lees-derived, savoury notes creep their way in softly, adding interest to a core of citrus fruit and creating an edge of sophistication without robbing the wine of its fundamental deliciousness.

Acid and texture, the bugbears of many an Australian sparkling, are well-handled here. The palate has a creamy mouthfeel that complements its fruit and spice flavours well. There’s ample spritz which means the wine is lively in the mouth, yet it has a softness to its textures that is pleasing. Some nice, chalky phenolic pucker brings up the rear.

While it’s possible to approach this wine analytically, that would be somewhat missing the point of a style that seems designed, first and foremost, for drinking.

Mitchell Harris
Price: $A40
Closure: Diam
Source: Sample

Tyrrell’s Vat 47 Hunter Chardonnay 2005

I remember tasting this at cellar door, along with the superb 2005 Vat 1, and purchasing immediately. At the time, though I don’t remember specifics, I do distinctly recall being impressed by its focus and drive.

That structure and linearity has served the wine well. This is the first bottle I’ve tasted in quite some time and it’s ageing really well. There are aromas that show definite bottle-age — toast, biscuits, a softening of the lemon flavours down to more curd-like notes — and in a way this reminds me of Hunter Semillon as it gains age. There’s also, unlike your typical Hunter Semillon, a good deal of oak, and I like the way the oak’s spice integrates with the fruit’s evolving aroma profile. This wine’s in a good place right now, aromatically.

The palate shows a nice lick of lemon curd that pools on the mid-palate, along with riper stonefruit flesh and sweetness that gains as the wine moves down its line. There’s a progressive richness to the wine’s shape in the mouth, leading to a rather wedge-shaped palate. Fittingly, the finish is well extended, and there’s plenty of acid to keep things alive and moving. I find this has really good clarity of articulation and, although it’s not a fine-boned wine by nature, it shows good form and drive. Certainly, within its warmer climate style, it has great balance and tension throughout.

I thoroughly enjoyed this wine and am happy to have a few more in my cellar. Given its Stelvin closure and good cellaring conditions, I think this might live for quite some time (as, I submit, many good Australian Chardonnays can).

Tyrrell’s Wines
Price: N/A
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Clonakilla O’Riada Shiraz 2011

The gulf between quality and pleasure can be vast.

One of the mistakes of wine appreciation is to assume one is equivalent to the other – that, somehow, a wine with length and complexity, one that ticks all the boxes of canonical wine quality, will taste good and provide pleasure. Or, equally, that a wine one likes must be framed as a wine of quality. Sometimes the two meet, and it’s glorious. But this intersection isn’t necessary for intense pleasure, and a wine which delivers an amount of sensual enjoyment even as it lacks some key ingredients deserves to be as vigorously defended, if not more so, than a wine of perfect form.

I’d never put this forward as a wine of comprehensive quality. In fact, it’s quite flawed on a formal level, lacking the length and definition one might reasonably demand at this price point. It’s also light on, almost exposed, and hence treads the line of being disappointingly insubstantial. All of this no doubt a function of difficult vintage conditions — if that matters.

The fact this has given me more pleasure over the past few days than any number of better wines is a matter for some introspection, and no mean challenge when it comes time to write. If there’s a shared element to those things I love despite their flaws — genre cinema, Proust, Four’N Twenty pies — it’s that their distinctive pleasures are so outsize, so overwhelming, as to obliterate (or at least make tolerable) their evident shortcomings. So this, a wine with inadequate body and length, and one which fades far too quickly with air, is also the most explosively spiced, fragrant Shiraz of any I’ve tasted in recent months. Its song on attack is so charming it carries the wine’s slight blur right through its moderate line and textured finish.

Is it wrong to enjoy a wine so much for being so little? No — indeed, what’s wrong is to contain enjoyment within the narrow confines of Platonic form. Wine is many things, people are varied, and the intersections between a wine and its audience are bound to be complex. I know this isn’t the greatest wine, yet I’m happy to have opened a bottle that made me smile, as much for what it lacks as what it gives.

Clonakilla
Price: $A35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Castelli Porongurup Riesling 2009

This is still available by mail order from the producer – I picked up a bottle a while back when I put together a mixed dozen of Castelli’s wines. I also have more recent vintages to taste – so many Rieslings, so little liver function.

This starts well. A lot of Great Southern Riesling has a particular fizzy lime character that’s quite aggressive but also rather moreish. It’s partly a function of the acid structures these wines seem to develop in the region, but also of the powdery, high toned citrus flavours one often sees. In any case, it’s here, along with a soft landing on the mid-palate and a tauter, mineral after palate. It’s pure and driven, perhaps lacking an ounce in refinement of line and mouthfeel. There are a few suggestions of bottle age, but on the basis of this bottle there’s a way to go before it hits full flavour maturity.

After a day of being open the flavours don’t tire but the wine does lose some focus on the palate. It broadens as its acid calms and, while this creates less friction, it also increases the impression of sweetness and fleshy simplicity. Perhaps it will build complexity with a bit more time in bottle. In any case, a nice wine; it just needs an extra dimension of detail and finesse to join the upper echelons of the region’s Riesling.

Castelli Estate
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Yarra Yering Carrodus Viognier 2012

The entry for Yarra Yering in James Halliday’s excellent Australian Wine Compendium (1985) reads in part: “the vineyard includes some very exotic varieties, including tiny quantities of viognier.”

It’s been a while since Viognier has been regarded as exotic in an Australian context; indeed, I can’t think of another variety that has had so meteoric, and so brief, an ascendancy. Now that it’s been largely relegated to the same figurative drawer in which one might keep incontinence pads and prawn cocktail, it’s worth remembering the variety can give rise to wines of spectacular beauty, such as this.

Unquestionably the most complex, taut and fine young Australian Viognier I’ve ever tasted. Although varietal in its expression of apricot kernels and spice, this finds a way of seeing the grape at its most crystalline, most mineral. There’s little of the voluptuousness one might expect. In its place, a positively racy palate structure, complex and orderly, sprinkling well formed flavours down the line with decisive articulation. If ever a wine were tense, this is it — there’s such a coiled intensity to the way the palate is placed on the tongue. It comes across as quite worked, with a good deal of oak input, and I like the way these winemaking artefacts are subservient to the fruit’s linear movement. Alcohol marks the after palate a little too prominently for my taste, though I don’t want to overstate its impact — there’s simply a bit of heat as the wine comes to a close.

It seems true that Viognier is a more divisive variety than many. I just wish more drinkers were able to see its expression here. An exceptional wine.

Yarra Yering
Price: $150
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Olek Bondonio Rosso Giulietta 2012

Humility’s in short supply when it comes to wine. Let’s face it, baked into the very idea of wine quality is the assumption that more is better – length, intensity, complexity, power. If a wine were to be described as humble, as I’d charactertise this, it’s at best a backhanded compliment, suggestive of a wine that succeeds despite itself, of something that should be condescendingly admired for its lack of pretension.

Here’s the case, then, for humble wine:

  • Firstly, a decidedly un-noble variety: Pelaverga piccolo, from a mere four rows owned by the producer.
  • Secondly, a style that’s best described as functional. Indeed, this wine presents so straightforwardly as to be completely disarming. There’s some fruit flavour, some acid, and some tannin; another sip, thank-you-very-much.
  • Thirdly, flavours that recall nothing short of fresh, rather sweet, fruit, rattling about in a cage of tannin that allows plenty of elbow-room. How wonderful to taste a wine that doesn’t demand every ounce of one’s attention, but which still tickles the drinker’s sense of deliciousness and avoids even the slightest hint of pandering. Have you ever looked past someone for an age and then realised, all of a sudden, they are intensely attractive? It’s as much to do with their indifference as your perception, and this wine just doesn’t care if you notice its curves. It knows they’re there.
  • Lastly, crucially, it fairly jumps down your throat. Low-ish (13.5% ABV) alcohol helps with this, and reminds me that I regret higher alcohol styles not because of any necessary sensory imbalance but simply because one can’t drink terribly much of them.

I’m not inclined to make statements like “this is what wine is,” simply because wine can be many things. To me, though, this represents one of the drink’s most intensely pleasurable forms.

Olek Bondonio
Price: $46
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Eloquesta by Stuart Olsen Shiraz Petit Verdot 2011

I’m not one who believes things like transparency of vintage or site are ends in themselves, but at the same time it’s nice to see a vintage shine through, making its mark on a wine and reminding us that we’re dealing with an agricultural product. Over the course of the last few releases of this label (see my notes on the 2009 and 2010), Stuart Olsen has apparently worked with, rather than against, the qualities of each vintage. Having observed that, I will also add that this, despite being a leaner, more exposed wine, is also showing a degree of polish that seems a step above what has come before.

The aroma certainly signals the sort of sappy freshness that speaks of whole bunches and considerable acid. It’s not signalling any dramatic underripeness, but there’s a lean crunchiness to the aroma that banishes any hint of abundance. It’s also emphatically spicy, which I like in the context of these aromas. Fruit isn’t the driving force here, but to the extent that it winds its way around the spice, it’s dark and sinewy in character.

The palate is a replay of the nose. There’s lean, rope-like fruit within an acid-driven structure that is both fresh and tight. If you’re coming off the back of a fuller wine, this might seem quite anaemic, yet I think it finds its own balance, even if rather tilted towards acid. On the negative side, it pulls up a bit short, exposing the finish to oak’s influence, as well as that of its alcohol.

In the context of Stuart Olsen’s oeuvre so far, this is a worthwhile, distinctive addition to his evolving Shiraz Petit Verdot project. I don’t think it’s a complete wine, but it’s one I’m glad to have tasted and which, in its own sprightly way, provides good pleasure.

Update: this certainly rounds out with some air. The winemaker believes it’s suffering from bottle shock, and my own experience with it over several days is that it benefits from considerable time after being opened. Fruit steps forward and the wine gains a distinctly more expressive balance. A very interesting wine.

Eloquesta by Stuart Olsen
Price: $A32
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Chapel Hill McLaren Vale Shiraz 2012

I’ve tasted this over three days and it has changed a fair bit in that time.

At first, the flavour profile and mid-palate are spot on in terms of regional character. There’s a particular fleshiness that, whatever misgivings one might have about warmer climate Shiraz (I have very few, in case you’re wondering), is undeniably generous and seductive, and a hallmark of this region. This has that particular plump mid-palate, full of plum flesh and ripe berries. It’s well-formed, as expected from a vintage generally regarded as excellent, though I also feel it lacks an element of distinctiveness; it conforms so closely to the regional archetype that I struggle a bit to see its own particular personality.

Now that I’m on day three, I can report the wine gradually loses its fleshy side and becomes somewhat more savoury and angular with air. I’m not sure I prefer it in this guise; it’s leaner (for those who like that sort of thing), its structure is more apparent and, certainly, it hasn’t completely fallen over in the days it’s been open. On balance, though, I prefer it freshly opened, its fruit pendulously full.

It’s a solid wine but, throughout my time with it, I couldn’t help but feel its edges have been just a little too aggressively sanded down.

Chapel Hill
Price: $A30
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Main Ridge Pinot Meunier 2012

This proved a bright spark in amongst a line-up of significantly more assertive wines, including some impressive Chardonnays and a full-throttle Barbaresco. In its own way, it provided just as much pleasure.

To be sure, this lacks the immediate distinctiveness of Pinot Noir from the same region, and as a consequence comes across with less panache. The aroma is full of spice, squashed red fruit and more savoury components, and shows good articulation and clarity. There’s a transparency without simplicity that I like about how this smells, and the aromas are clearly apart from many other wines, even if they don’t take an especially eccentric route.

The palate is light and delicious. As with the nose, spice takes centre stage and thickly overlays bright red fruit and some sappy notes. I like how this sits in the mouth; there’s good fullness of flavour through the mid-palate, even as the wine struggles to achieve anything beyond moderate weight. If there’s a flaw in its construction, it’s length; this is fairly short in terms of fruit, though I note spice does provide an echo of continuity through the finish.

Within Main Ridge Estate’s portfolio, this is clearly the odd one out varietally, but I’m grateful to Nat White for continuing to produce one of the few straight Pinot Meuniers in Australia. This quiet wine is a refreshing pause in amongst so many Mornington Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays vying for one’s attention.

Main Ridge Estate
Price: $A65
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail