Mollydooker The Boxer Shiraz 2006

OK, so I opened the bottle and did the marketing-recommended Mollydooker Shake, and then dumped some of this stuff in a glass. The nose is largely some kind of unidentified sweetness – it’s not unlike circus peanuts (for you Australians, these are strange large marshmallow-like pinkish orange candies that you still sometimes see in the USA). There’s also a bit of what smells like oak barrels gone slightly off, a sort of butterscotch note, and then something like menthol, eucalyptus, mint, and camphor. There’s even sort of a fusty, earthy, moldy note here as well; it’s not that it’s unappealing, it’s just that it seems at odds with the overall penny candy sweetness of the wine.In the mouth, ther’es a real savory edge to the tannins, some supporting acidity (almost too little; it’s almost flabby), a kind of dark, dour note that I can’t place, a fair amount of sucrosité, and then a sort of nondescript finish that really doesn’t go anywhere before fading out on a sort of Kendal mint cake sweetness that I’m frankly not a fan of.With more time and air, it started to taste like pink popcorn balls or perhaps even Luden cough drops; all bright, neon pink fruit, signifying nothing.All in all, I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to make of this. Compared to the Chris Ringland variants on the style (huge, alcoholic Shiraz from South Australia), this seems less rich, less complex, just plain less. What this wine needs is some bacon fat, some toasty, charred barrel notes, some violets or perfume – anything to offset the huge, hulking, bland sweetness of it all.Color me unimpressed.MollydookerPrice: US $20Closure: StelvinDate tasted: January 2008

Unison Selection 2005

The flagship wine from Unison Vineyards in New Zealand. As with the regular Unison, this wine is a blend of Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, proportions unspecified. A spicy, peppery, dried floral, clean-fruited nose that keeps shifting from under my feet (nostrils?). It’s a forthright. slightly lifted nose that promises intensity and dexterity in the mouth. Fruit is deep and complex, moving between shots of cassis, sweet raspberry liqueur and other goodness. Creamy, custard oak adds plushness. As it sits in the glass, high toned spice is giving way, partly at least, to fruit and oak. I love wines like this, constantly changing and revealing layers of complexity. The palate is initially a bit disorienting, in that it is perhaps less momentous than indicated by the nose. Once you adjust to the scale of it, though, it vibrates with fascinating flavours. Entry is tingly and acidic, signalling the other principal pleasure of this wine: texture. Intense fruit flavour registers soon thereafter, flowing to a medium to full bodied mid-palate of clean, complex fruit and spice. Coffee-ground oak is a fairly prominent flavour influence, and is somehow appropriate given the acidic, extracted nature of the mouthfeel. The after palate leaves behind any plushness of fruit and progresses to a more oak-driven savouriness that suggests some time in bottle may be beneficial. Finish is long, slightly sweet and a little aggressive. I wish I had more bottles of this. It’s a different wine from the Unison, although clearly emerging out of the same idea of “wine.” It’s a bigger wine in most ways, built to drink slowly and examine closely. I love it. Start drinking in about 5 years. Update: I’ve been following this wine for two days (unrefrigerated) and it has really opened up to become almost voluptuous. Great balance, the after palate and finish filling out nicely. No signs of the wine tiring yet. Unison VineyardsPrice: $NZ48Closure: DiamDate tasted: January 2008

Château de Montfaucon Baron Louis Côtes du Rhône 2004

I like a good Côtes du Rhône and, of all French wines, they are often the best QPR option if you are looking for something Old World to add variety to your choice of local quaffers. This one is an excellent example of the genre.Transparent ruby with purple edges, moderate density. The nose here is really interesting. It’s pretty but also rustic and savoury in character. Licorice allsorts, clean raspberry, dried herbs, pepper and earth wrapped in a subtle but enticing package. There’s a lot going on in here and it’s quite seamless and lightfooted. There’s good depth of flavour, which is increasing the longer the wine sits in glass, but it’s not a forbidding wine by any means. The other half suggested a bit of mould/wet hessian character that I wasn’t picking up. The entry has good impact, with flavour kicking in towards the front of the tongue and spreading sideways to coat generously. The mid-palate reveals a medium bodied wine of gentle acid and real generosity of flavour. Here’s a trick: the wine is full of flavour, yet balanced and easygoing too, with genuine complexity. Notes on the palate are very similar to the nose, with the red fruit asserting itself more prominently, and the pepper gaining impact via very fine yet drying tannins that kick in quite early on. There’s also a bit of coffee/vanilla oak that subtly supports the fruit flavour. The wine’s structure is nicely sorted, with the acid dovetailing into the tannins very elegantly and creating an excellent frame for the fruit. The after palate becomes progressively more spicy, and ends in a drying finish of good length. What a lovely wine. It’s exotic and reminds me of warm turned earth and flowers. We had this wine with barbecued meats and it was an excellent match. A very good value for what it is. It’s drinking well now but I’m going to leave the remaining bottles for a few years to see how the wine shows with softer, more integrated tannins.Château de MontfauconPrice: $A28Closure: CorkDate tasted: January 2008

Lindemans Early Harvest Semillon Sauvignon Blanc

As I was handed a plastic picnic cup full of Verdelho yesterday, I reflected that not all wines are intended to demand the full attention of the drinker. A lot of wines are crafted and marketed for their lifestyle value. The new Lindemans “Early Harvest” range is a good example. From what I can tell, it’s the vinous equivalent of low carb beer, “30% less alcohol, 30% less calories” trumpeted proudly on the front label and through the back label text. Fair enough, I could stand to lose a kilo or ten, and I do enjoy lower alcohol wines for their practicality.Very pale green colour, good clarity. The nose is of adequate intensity and presents simple aromas of passionfruit, tropical florals and a bit of capsicum. Nothing challenging, but at least it smells of something pretty. On entry, two things become apparent: there’s not much acid, and the lower alcohol is presumably due, in part, to a moderate amount of residual sugar. These two factors create a rather flabby experience on the middle palate, the sugar propping up and adding body to the wine’s dilute aromatic fruit and slightly grassy flavour profile. The after palate slips away to an interesting, not entirely pleasant, chalky finish. I’m not sure the value in considering this wine in terms of absolute quality, as it will be chosen, I suspect, on the basis of its other attributes. Fair enough. Just don’t think about it too hard as you’re drinking. If this wine works well in the market, I wonder if it’s naive for me to suggest the time for quality off-dry Riesling styles could be near? I wish.LindemansPrice: $A14Closure: StelvinDate tasted: January 2008

Mike Press Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

I tasted this wine a few months ago and it was a bit raw and disjointed. A little time has been kind, and this wine is showing better now. For anyone not attuned to the the value priced end of the market, Mike Press Wines is an Adelaide Hills producer and makes a range of very inexpensive wines from Estate grapes. Not only has a few months helped this wine to settle, but a few minutes (ok, a couple of hours) in the glass has also enhanced the attractiveness of its expression. At first, it was a little bright and aggressive in flavour. Towards the end of the bottle, its profile has deepened and gained richness. So do let it sit for a while, or decant if you wish. Once you have done so, you will observe aromas of deep, clean berry fruit along with Cabernet dustiness. There is perhaps the slightest hint of foliage in there too, though it’s not nearly as prominent as in some Cabernets. The nose is slightly reticent and lacking in impact, but what’s there is attractive.Entry is gentle without any great rush of flavour or structure. Rather, the wine slips to the middle palate and it is here that some real intensity of flavour registers. Round, ripe Cabernet fruit of good depth is the primary feature, assisted by a little stalkiness and some sappy notes, perhaps oak derived. The fruit has a simple, sweet dimension that verges on the confected for my taste, but it’s only an edge to the otherwise attractive fruit character. Acid is relatively prominent and provides freshness and a nicely textured layer to the otherwise slippery mouthfeel. Subtle chocolate and coffee notes become more prominent as the wine moves through the after palate towards a lightly drying finish. This is a cracking wine, and at the price it’s a no-brainer for weekday quaffing and more contemplative moments alike. It’s a particularly good food wine thanks to that acid. I’m not sure whether it’s the style of Cabernet I would choose to drink all the time, but if you like the style, I doubt you could find a better value wine.Mike Press WinesPrice: $A10Closure: StelvinDate tasted: January 2008

Ridge Vineyards Carmichael Zinfandel 2005

For the first time in several months, I experienced a brief shiver of pleasure just smelling this wine. That doesn’t happen often, and the list of wines that have had that sort of visceral effect on me is still fairly short (even after a decade’s worth of sporadically heavy drinking).Ahem. Where was I? It smells like… baked goods? Tarte tatin? Some sort of flower, not rose, but heavier? And would you believe it, finally a wine that actually smells like delicious freshly cooked bacon? I swear I’ve had dozens of French syrahs and Aussie shirazes that claimed to smell like bacon, but none have… until now. Wow. It’s like Farmer John pitched in at the winery. Whoa. On the next sniff, it’s gone again, and this time it smells like Zwetschgenkuchen – freshly baked German plum tart. Oh man. This is amazing. It moves on again, this time to Czech morello cherries fresh from the jar (!), or maybe even baker’s chocolate – the kind you only eat once as a child before discovering it tastes nothing like it smells. It just keeps going and going, changing every few minutes.And I haven’t even tasted this stuff yet.It’s not as heavy as I would have suspected – in the mouth it’s almost more like velvety, silky soft raspberry cordial, hugely surprising. There are no rough edges… but the finish hangs in there for quite a while before resolving itself in an almost woody note of cloves and burnt sugar. There’s almost a coconut shaving note there as well… definitely American oak in play here, no doubt about it. (I cheated before writing that down: yes, there is.) Coming back to it again, the next time it’s almost like cinnamon-specked candy I remember from faux pioneer mercantiles in the Gold Rush country of California: sugar with what would taste like imperfections in modern candy, but subtly delicious in a historic context. Blackstrap molasses, nutmeg, cherries, sweetness, and gentle acidity weaving around it all. There are tannins here as well, but you wouldn’t notice them unless you paid careful attention; they’re beautifully integrated and lend a fascinating sense of traditionality to what, I suppose, is hardly a traditional wine… unless you’re a Californian like myself, in which case you wish you could hand deliver a bottle of this to any European who pooh-poohs the very idea of California wine – or to anyone who thinks that a great Zinfandel can’t hold its own with the traditional great wines of the world.Amazing stuff. I can’t imagine what it’ll be like in five years, but I’m going to try and hold on to my other bottle in hopes of finding out for myself.

Price: US $30
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: January 2008

Picardy Shiraz 2005

Shiraz shiraz shiraz — it always amuses me to read accounts of Australian Shiraz as if it were a single, monolithic entity. If nothing else, the Hunter version will always be sitting out there on its own, stylistically. My point is that it can be misleading to talk about Australian Shiraz as a single wine style. Take this Picardy wine from the Pemberton region in Western Australia.

A transparent ruby colour, moderately deep. Striking nose that shows bright red cranberry-like fruit alongside pretty dried flowers (lavender) and peppery spice. The fruit is remarkable in that it mixes edges of intense sweetness with the sort of savoury character one encounters in dried fruit. It’s not very complex, but it is characterful and attractive. There’s a subtle undercurrent of vanilla oak.

The medium bodied palate shows a good continuity of flavour profile from the nose, but kicks it up to a slightly higher register. It’s bright, pretty and delicious. Entry is gentle but does deliver flavour quickly to the tongue. The mid-palate is full of more bright red fruit, and the floral/spice elements are more prominently balanced here than on the nose. As bright and high toned as it is, the wine’s palate shows an elegant smoothness that encourages drinking. There’s no harshness here, and it’s achieved through balance and harmony of flavour components. Acidity is present and supportive, yet very soft in character. Fine tannins are equally soft, and gently dry the acceptably long finish.

Bonny Doon Vineyard Pinot Noir Gimelli Vineyard 2005

Pouring this into the glass, it sure does look like a young wine: bright, purplish red in the glass, there’s almost a cloudiness to it as well. At first smell, it smells kind of stalky or stemmy – it doesn’t smell like straightforward pinot noir by any stretch of the imagination. There’s also a distinct sweet sappiness there, almost like an imaginary pancake syrup you think you remember from your childhood visit to IHOP: and then there’s some sulfur dioxide there as well. Hrm.In the mouth, it’s medium bodied, distinctly fuller than most French pinot, and there’s a sort of sourness there, just a bit, that balances it oddly. And still, sulfur dioxide or something else unpleasant – some kind of reductive note, perhaps? Did I open this one too soon? Or not? There’s also a meatiness here, something like landjäger almost… perhaps that’s what I’m mistaking for sulfur dioxide? It could also be a nearly nitrate sort of feel… Odd.Going back to it again, there’s now a distinct tannic underpinning to the entire adventure, and again a sort of sweet, smoky, meaty goodness there as well. Over the course of an hour, the wine funked out just a bit, and started to get an almost menthol edge to the nose, as well as something approximating Japanese plums. The finish is fairly long, weaving back and forth between somewhat unruly tannins and a (dare I say it) minerally edge to it.I know the winemaker’s been trying to making something that exhibits terroir for years… and I think he may have done it. This isn’t “good” wine if what you’re used to is straight-ahead, jammy sweet California pinot noir, but it’s exceptionally good wine if you believe that grapes can transmit something about the site where they were grown. I’d be very, very curious about where this wine will go over the next decade, but I couldn’t find it in me to wait that long – I’ve already shared my entire stash with friends.

Price: US $30
Closure: Stelvin
Date tasted: January 2008

Wirra Wirra Church Block 2005

This wine’s full subtitle is “Cabernet Sauvignon – Shiraz – Merlot;” 47%, 35% and 18% respectively. 

Red-purple in colour, moderately dense. Nose bursts forth with sweet, ripe fruit of the blue and black variety. It’s very ripe, perhaps overripe for some tastes (there’s something almost spirity about it), but there’s no doubting how generous and up front is its flavour. There are also elements of spice and chocolate that squeeze in alongside all that fruit and add some savoury interest. The palate is dominated by more ripe fruit, quite sweet, and again perhaps too big for some tastes. Wines in this style succeed or fail almost entirely on the quality and interest of the fruit’s flavour profile and, in this wine’s favour, there’s at least some complexity of fruit character. But it’s unchallenging and, I suspect, designed for consumption without too much analysis. Acidity is soft and fine. Tannins prickle the finish but aren’t especially prominent or drying. Rather, still more fruit gushes through the after palate and sticks around for a little time on the finish. 

You have to admire a wine style that is so sure of what it is, even if it’s not entirely to your taste. We had this with dinner and it’s not a very food friendly style, lacking the structure to truly complement a meal. Instead, I would drink this on its own, perhaps even after dinner, to warm your insides and satisfy that craving for a McLaren Vale fruit bomb we all feel from time to time…
Price: $A21
Closure: Stelvin
Date tasted: January 2008

Tyrrell's Vat 63 Chardonnay Semillon 2007

Is there anything more terminally daggy than the Semillon Chardonnay blend? Perhaps the mullet, but even that seems to enjoy periods of resurgent popularity. Which is a shame, because the mullet really does deserve a good, long rest. This wine, however, is bloody nice. According to the back label, the Chardonnay and Semillon were separately vinified, then blended prior to bottling.