Clonakilla Ballinderry 2004

One sniff of this wine takes me back to the Clonakilla cellar door, where I first tasted and subsequently purchased the 2004 Ballinderry. At the time, I wasn’t sure about the wine. It seemed to be almost completely dumb on the nose, much more so than previous vintages, but I have enjoyed this Clonakilla Bordeaux blend on so many occasions that I bought a few purely on past performance.

A couple of years on, and as I say, one sniff takes me back, because it’s still quite a tight wine in terms of its nose. It is, however, starting to unwind, the way a stripper starts by peeling back the outermost layers of clothing. So I’m told. Aromas of dark, perfumed fruit emerge from the glass, with edges of leafy cabernet character and spicy, cedary oak. Very tight, coiled, but by now leaking a little.

The wine’s entry is a bit misleading, in that it is quite easygoing and quickly moves on to an elegant, medium bodied palate of pure, fleshy red berry fruit. Good intensity and complexity of flavour. But just as you begin to suspect the wine is a bit of a sheep in wolf’s clothing, the fine, ripe but rather abundant tannins make themselves felt. They don’t exactly swamp the fruit, but they are very assertive at the moment, and create a lengthy, puckeringly dry finish.

It’s pretty clear to me that this wine’s best years are ahead of it, and I may well wait 2-3 years before trying it again. Really good potential on the basis of this bottle. I’m about to tuck in to a big rump steak now and it will be interesting to see how the wine responds.

Update: food didn’t do much to tame this wine’s structure. Perhaps only time can do that.

Price: $35
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: November 2007

Plantagenet Shiraz 2000

Heady, rich cedary blackberries and dusty book leather hit you the moment you pull the cork from the bottle. It’s obvious that this is not a young wine: there’s a bit of wateriness at the rim, and the color is a bit faded there as well, although the drink itself still looks fairly youthful.

In the mouth, this wine doesn’t really taste at all like it did five years ago: it’s calmed down into something entirely different. There’s a little bit of spiciness, and (thankfully) the fruit is still holding in there, but secondary flavors of peat and wood are beginning to dominate. It all still works fairly well, but it’s clear that the wine is probably on its way out – if you have any of this, you’d do well to drink up now while it’s still fairly good. I imagine that another year or two is all that’s left in this, and to be frank I’m sad that I didn’t drink it while it was young (I tasted this wine at the tasting room in the winter of 2002 and it was at that point one of the most stunning wines I’ve ever tasted). Still, it’s a beautiful example of an aged Australian shiraz at this point, and if you prefer your wines aged, this is as a good ‘un.

Price: US $20
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: November 2007

If you’re ever in Mount Barker, Western Australia, you owe it to yourselves to see these guys. As an added bonus, the Valley Views Motel is the best motel I’ve ever stayed at in Australia: well priced, comfortable beds, friendly proprietors, and a lovely, quiet location in a beautiful WA country town.

South Island Pinot Noir 2006

First off, I was surprised to smell this wine because whoa – it actually smells like Pinot Noir, which is practically unheard of in wines at this price point. It smells like a woody cherry Coke, spicy with a strong scent of vanillin. It’s noticeably light for a New World pinot, which isn’t a problem for me at all but I suspect it could be problematic for many American wine buyers who expected red wine to be opaque (this isn’t by a long shot).

It’s rather light in the mouth but not as light as low end Burgundy; there’s some varietal fruit sweetness but not much more than that, and the finish is short and uninteresting. Ultimately, it might be better just to smell this wine (and not drink it).

That being said, though, it’s not too shabby given the price point – but there are better options for just a few dollars more (or even the same price – Montes Pinot Noir from Chile can be much more interesting than this wine is). I’d suggest you serve it with Thanksgiving dinner (oops, too late) and hope that no one pays too much attention to it.

South Island (but really fresh&easy)
Price: US $9.99
Closure: Stelvin
Date tasted: November 2007

Prunotto Barbera D'Alba 2005

A New World style from the Old World.

A truly inviting nose of dark berry fruits, bramble/undergrowth, some sweet spices and noticeable vanillin oak. Smooth, quite seamless, not overly complex. The entry and middle palate are again smooth, showing the same mix of flavours within a body of medium weight. There’s no angularity here; no prominent acidity, no premature raspy tannins. Nothing, in fact, to dominate the round, pleasant fruit and oak flavours. Flavours are perhaps a little light on in the intensity stakes, which in a sense is appropriate for the wine’s easy going structure. Finish is soft and of reasonable length. Despite being a bit light on, the wine does have a nice sense of balance.

I had this with pasta and goat ragu and, whilst the wine was generally a good match (the fruit sweetness in particular enhanced the sweet sauce), I would have preferred something with more structure.

Price: $A25
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: November 2007

Wirra Wirra Mrs Wigley Rosé 2007

Dinner last night was enjoyed outdoors, accompanied by balmy weather and appropriate wines, of course! We had this wine as an aperitif, without food. It was served straight from the fridge and had a chance to warm during consumption. It is made from 100% Grenache.

Bright, happy, lolly shop aromas leap from the glass with the sort of eagerness that one looks for in a wine of this style. Having said that, it’s not overly sweet or cloying, and the bright fruit aromas are balanced, a little anyway, by hints of savouriness, and complemented by more floral, rose petal type overtones. In the mouth, this wine immediately presents fruit flavours along the same lines as the nose, perhaps lacking the intensity promised, but attractive nonetheless. The floral element is slightly stronger on the palate.

Served cold, though, the wine starts to go a bit awry at this stage, structurally. There are surprisingly firm tannins from about mid-way through the palate that rob the wine of its fruity fun just a smidge too soon, and carry the wine off to a premature finish. Mind you, the tannins are fine and ripe, just a bit too eager. As the wine warmed up, the tannins receded a little, and enabled the wine to present a more rounded palate profile, which I enjoyed. But I also found the wine started to lack crispness at this warmer temperature, owing to a fairly relaxed acid structure, and edged towards flabbiness.

I’m probably being super critical of this wine, and really it’s a juicy, tasty rose that will make most people happy at Friday afternoon drinks.

Wirra Wirra
Price: $A18
Closure: Stelvin
Date tasted: November 2007

Marquis Philips Shiraz 2006

On the nose, it’s hard to move beyond a sort of “21st century rich Australian wine made for an American market” kind of smell. There’s a bit of rich jammy road tar, lots of dark indifferent fruit, a certain sweetness, and finally a sort of menthol-eucalyptus smell. It’s all vaguely like those old-timey cherry flavored throat lozenges with the two bearded men on them – almost a 19th century home remedy effect. But I’m half joking here; it’s actually deeply inviting and all very comforting somehow.

In the mouth, the first thing that hits you is the humongousosity of the wine: it feels like you’ve just filled your mouth with the most Brobdingagian thing that’s ever sat around inside of a bottle. Rich and sweet, swallowing really doesn’t get you anything other than a sense of alcohol burning – I do occasionally drink bourbon, and this stuff holds its own, mouth-on-fire-wise, with many bourbons. Coming back to it again, other than a lovely, smooth, silken mouth feel, there just doesn’t seem to be a whole lot going on in terms of actual flavor – although there is just a tang of salty sourness there which adds an interesting note. With time, it starts to mimic a sort of dark raspberry liqueur – it’s so strong and so thick that it’s occasionally hard to believe that this is supposed to be a table wine.

So how do I feel about this sort of thing? Well… against my better instincts (and four months of wine school), I like it just fine. It’s huge, rich, jammy, alcoholic, and trashy in the best possible kind of way. It’s kind of like going to a kegger wearing a toga and then finding out that it’s Duvel on tap (and not Milwaukee’s Best). Sometimes the thing that hits the spot after a hard day at work is booze, plain and simple, and if you’re going to be drinking, you might as well be drinking something that feels good and tastes like it wasn’t cheap to produce. Save your intellectually satisfying Hermitage and your ethereal Côte Rôtie for another time – this wine is all about getting your freak on with a stylish bottle that probably got a bazillion points from The Bob.

Marquis Philips
Price: US $11.89
Closure: Stelvin
Date tasted: November 2007

I had to cheat and look, and yup, Bob likes this stuff, having given it 92 points. Apparently it’s barrel fermented and then raised in American oak, but I swear I can’t tell: all that alcohol (15.5%) tends to deaden my palate. For you obsessive types, it’s interesting to know that the Marquis in the name is no longer relevant: Sarah and Sparky Marquis, who used to make this wine with US importer Dan Philips of The Grateful Palate, have departed for Mollydooker – the few of their wines I’ve tried seem to follow the same template of huge alcohol, huge fruit, huge Bob scores, and good after work drinking satsifaction.

Deutz Marlborough Brut Cuvée NV

I really felt like sparkling wine tonight, but didn’t want to spend a bundle. I reached for some Domaine Chandon at the local bottlo but thought I’d give the Deutz a spin.

Whoops. On pouring, this wine shows a frothy, coarse mousse that almost instantly disappears. In its wake is left a basically non-existent bead. A bit like flat Diet Coke. The nose shows some bready characters, nothing especially interesting or complex, and slightly stale-smelling. The palate is more fruit-driven, with some attractive, round fruit flavours in the mix. The wine froths up again in the mouth, and the coarseness of the effervescence means this is isn’t altogether pleasant. On the plus side, the acidity seems well balanced and there’s some tasty fruit in there. But the textural dimension to this wine lets it down almost entirely, and I can’t find much sophistication anywhere in this wine.

For the price, I would expect more. I wonder if it was a bad bottle?

Deutz Marlborough Cuvée
Price: $A20
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: November 2007

Williams & Humbert Dry Sack Sherry Medium NV

One sniff and you know for sure that this is the real deal: oxidized, delicious Sherry. It’s got an appetizingly dark caramel color that really looks a lot more like brandy than most wines you see these days: there’s also a whiff of burnt almonds on the nose as well.In the mouth, it’s luxuriously smooth with a lush sweetness nicely counterbalanced by friendly acidity that all seems just right. On the finish, the flavors repeat themselves: toasted nuts, caramelized sugar, and something like spring wildflowers (honest!) – it’s almost like orange flower water.

It’s even better with roasted Spanish almonds right before dinner.

Williams & Humbert
Price: US $11.99
Closure: Cork, resealable
Tasted: November 2007

Hoddles Creek Pinot Noir 2006

Time to taste the companion wine to the Chardonnay tasted a few days prior. I started on this bottle last night but wasn’t really in the mood for analytical tasting. And, I must say, the wine didn’t much suit my mood. Tonight, however, the wine and I are more in sync. Fickle, fickle me.

This wine is a savoury expression of Pinot Noir fruit, with little in the way of easy padding or obvious fruit flavour. Instead, the nose greets one with tightly held dark fruits, beetroot type flavours, some sous-bois, perhaps the slightest hint of sweetness peeping out.

The wine’s entry reinforces a savoury flavour profile and, whilst flavoursome, is very focused and structured as it opens out to the middle palate. It is here the wine’s mouthfeel asserts itself. It’s all about texture, this wine, with the same flavours indicated on the nose riding atop the wine’s structure. Savoury tannins kick in quite early and carry the wine through the latter stages of the palate to a lengthy finish. The tannins are again quite remarkable in texture but I wonder if there’s a slightly unripe edge to them too.

This is not an easy drinking quaffer but rather a Pinot that will reward those who enjoy chiseled, savoury wines; a more “intellectual” wine, if you will. It might surprise those who are accustomed to Yarra Valley fruit bombs. At this price, this is excellent value. Don’t serve it too warm.

Hoddles Creek

Price: $A18
Closure: Stelvin
Tasted: November 2007

Saludas Red Wine 2006

Hrm… almost smells like nail polish remover, albeit with a whiff of black cherries; it’s not particularly appetizing. The color is noticeably light – almost like Beaujolais nouveau (hey, what a temporal coincidence!). There’s also a weird smell of dusty closet floor in their somehow – like something shredded up the cedar blocks you put there a few years ago to ward off moths. Yecch.

Taste-wise it’s no picnic. What little fruit there is is quickly overwhelmed by grating, drying tannins as well as a whack of unwelcome acidity. Hoo-boy. This is no fun at all – it’s probably best saved to serve to unsuspecting Midwestern tourists at a “tapas bar” in someplace like downtown Anaheim as part of an “authentic Spanish dining experience.” I can’t recommend this one at all – I’m not even sure it’s up to sangría.

Saludas [but really fresh&easy]
Price: US $2.99
Closure: Stelvin
Tasted: November 2007