De Bortoli Windy Peak Pinot Noir Chardonnay NV

I’m still on my “anything but Champagne” quest and last night saw me consume the most inexpensive sparkling wine I’ve had in years. Nowadays, $A8 buys you about half a bottle of Seppelt Fleur de Lys or a whole 750ml of this number from De Bortoli. Now, the Windy Peak range has a reputation for reliable quality at an excellent price, and even the Pinot Noir has been known to be quite drinkable — no mean feat for around $A10. Sparkling wine, though, accelerates the challenge somewhat, as it’s rare, in my experience anyway, to find true quality and interest at the lowest levels of price.A lively, coarse mousse that gives way to not much bead at all, but a pretty, rose-tinted wine of good clarity. The nose hints at a broad flavor profile, and shows slightly chunky strawberry and citrus notes, alongside some yeasty complexity. It’s kind of obvious and lacking in freshness. The palate offers a mouth full of fruit flavour, again mostly strawberry and citrus, quite full for the style, slightly effervescent, and easy to drink. There’s a slight mustiness that leads me to suspect a mild to moderate level of cork taint, so it’s hard for me to say this bottle is representative. The wine went well with light food.Keeping in mind possible cork taint, this wine is easy and full flavoured, but a little uninteresting too. I’d like to taste a fresher bottle, to see if the overall profile of the wine gains freshness and edge, as this would contribute greatly to enjoyment. De Bortoli Price: $A8Closure: CorkDate tasted: March 2008

Mount Pleasant Philip Shiraz 2003

The 2005 Philip took me by (not entirely pleasant) surprise, its scale and style seeming bigger than the regular Philip and feeling a bit borderline to me in terms of balance. I thought I’d revisit the 2003 version, which I remember enjoying a lot on release, now that I’ve tried the newer wine a few times. I recall the 2003 being a rich wine, full of flavour, but identifiably regional too. The nose is quite dirty/dusty in the regional sense, with savoury red fruits weaving through the earthiness. It is ripe, yet balanced and with no hint of portiness. There’s a fair whack of vanilla too. On the palate, a rich entry that shows soft, concentrated fruit character and medium body. Flavour unfolds onto the middle palate with softness and grace, but things start to go awry a little, with rough, sappy, vanillan oak threatening to unbalance the wine’s flavour profile. The fruit, however, is excellent and full of character, with definite signs of aged complexity. A soft after palate and reasonable length round the wine off.I don’t remember so much oak on this wine; perhaps some bottle variation is happening here. In any case, I like this wine a great deal and might even prefer it to the 2005. Having said that, they are both excellent wines and amazingly good value for money, and the 2005 may be a more appropriate choice to accompany robust food flavours (it went well with some pizza we had the other night). The 2005 has the added advantage of being bottled under screwcap.McWilliams Mount PleasantPrice: $A15Closure: CorkDate tasted: March 2008

Ridge Monte Bello 2005 + Quixote Petite Sirah 2004

You’ll have to excuse me, but last night was the last night my parents were in town – they live in London and were visiting San Diego, so I had to whip out some of the awesome ‘cuz my Dad likes a good bottle of wine every bit as much as Julian and I do. Given that I was concentrating more on the company than the wine, I decided not to write about these two wines right away: as a result, what you’re getting isn’t a proper tasting note, but rather further musing on the difference between these two wines.

We began the evening by opening the Monte Bello. This is arguably one of the finest wines produced in California; every once in a while, usually when I’m feeling flush with cash and slightly inebriated, I’ll cave to Ridge’s offer of Monte Bello futures (sadly, they aren’t really doing that any longer; instead, you have to sign up for a subscription program). $400 or so gets you a six pack, or 12 half bottles; then, you have to wait a couple of years until they deliver the bottles to your door. At this point, I’ve got some of the 2000 and 2001… and the 2005 was delivered to my office last week.

Within a few minutes of opening the Monte Bello, I flew off onto one of my usual spiels about how truly excellent wines can almost be diagrammed on staff paper – there should be different things going on in different registers. Perhaps there’s some floral perfume in the treble, and some deep, heavy bass in the sense of wood or roasted coffee; at the very least, there should be a common thread in the midrange that holds the entire wine together.

The 2005 Monte Bello was… very difficult to accurately describe. There was definitely a vanilla perfume above the entire construction, with some classic cabernet sauvignon fruit, with an underpinning of dirty violet perfume (presumably the petit verdot). No matter how many times we smelled that wine, all of its components drifted in and out of focus, perfectly balanced, perfectly harmonious. You had the rich, mulberry (and very, very young!) notes some times; other times, you mostly smelled vanilla, sandalwood, and eventually camphor. It was incredible.

My Dad and I decided it would be interesting to set our glasses aside for a while – we wanted to see what would happen with an hour or two of air – so we did, and went for the other bottle I’d grabbed from the cellar: a Quixote petite sirah. Both of these wines are roughly in the same price range: $33 for a tenth of the Monte Bello, and $60 for the Quixote. Both of these wines are hugely enjoyable. Both of these wines will probably send shivers down your spine with sheer physical delight. And yet, only one of these wines is a great wine.

The Quixote was huge. Heck, my Dad’s teeth went dark purple in a few minutes. It’s a massive, hulking wine: very rich, obviously very expensive, and with an overwhelming sense of espresso towards the finish. It screams California: this isn’t a Rutherglen durif, not even close. It’s ripe – not hyperripe in the Barossa sense – and it’s obviously been raised in the best French barrels money can buy. The tannins are fine, sweet, and delicious.

What’s missing is of course a sense of place. Just as a wine like the Mollydooker Carnival of Points (er, Love) can be huge, intense, delicious, and all of those good things, the Quixote petite sirah is huge, intense, delicious, and a visceral thrill. I kept thinking of Robert Musil, though: this is a wine without qualities. That is, it doesn’t appear to come from anywhere: this is what happens when you take a plant, apply the most awesome growing technology (canopy management, microirrigation, whatever) imaginable, stick it in the most expensive barrels you can find, and then bottle it in bottles with exquisite labels. By the time we finished the bottle, we had gotten over the initial thrill of it, and began to wonder… is that all there is?

We then went back to the Monte Bello. Two hours’ time had caused the wine to soften appreciably; my Dad described it as “sensuous,” and I wouldn’t disagree. Unusually for so-called New World wines, the Ridge seemed carefully designed and constructed to express beauty, not power: more importantly, it tastes like itself and not like any other wine out there. The 2000 and 2001 both had the same, impossible to describe feeling to them… a feeling that what you’re drinking couldn’t possibly be duplicated anywhere else on Earth. Just as with a Hunter semillon or a good Burgundy, you just knew that you were drinking an incredible wine from a place like no other on Earth.

This is the difference between the excellent and the great: complexity, harmony, balance, and fidelity to place.

Ridge + Quixote
: US $33 (375 mL; futures price) + US $60
: Cork + Stelvin
Date tasted
: March 2008

Mount Riley Savée 2007

I don’t recall having tasted a sparkling wine made from Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc grapes before, so it was with particular interest that I sampled this number.
A fresh, lively nose that strikes me as pretty but perhaps less explosive than many still wines made from the same grape. What’s interesting about the palate is that it shows very evident Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc character in the context of a highly atypical wine style. There’s the trademark grassy, passionfruity, capsicummy flavour profile, surrounded at entry and after palate by lively fizz. It’s an odd, unexpected combination that nevertheless shows great freshness and is certainly fun.
Whether it’s a style I prefer over the still version remains questionable. The winemaking does blunt the typical flavour profile a bit, which may please some people but, for me, may not satisfy the craving for utter vulgarity that usually strikes before I reach for a Marlborough Savvy. I think this would be a great wine to serve as an aperitif if you’re looking for a variation on the usual sparkling theme.
Mount RileyPrice: $A25Closure: CorkDate tasted: March 2008

Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2002

First off, there’s petrol here in spades: yes, this wine is six years old and counting. After waiting a few minutes, the wine warmed up enough to give off a hint of lime rind, field honey, wet stone, mineral, and something almost like peaches. There’s a real austerity here: this is not German (or even Washington) Riesling – it’s stony faced and unforgiving.In the mouth, this is a surprisingly full bodied Riesling – it’s rich, not fat, but definitely a surprise after the nose. The acidity is generous, and the length is as well; the finish is long, smooth, and delicious, with lime rind and honey notes counterbalanced by a sense of rain on warm stones (really, I know this isn’t a Moselle, but I couldn’t help myself). As it warms up, it’s beginning to veer over towards grapefruit; at any rate, this is an incredible value and an exceptional bottle of wine. In fact, there’s a savory note on the finish as well – I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s almost like venison somehow – almost gamy, rich and strange, with orange blossoms hovering around the edges. There aren’t many wines like this one: if you’ve never had a Grosset riesling, they’re well worth hunting down.GrossetPrice: US $25 [my best guess]Closure: StelvinDate tasted: March 2008

Petaluma Croser 2005

People drink sparkling wine for all sorts of reasons, and it seems even those who don’t like wine will go for a glass of bubbly on occasion. Personally, I often enjoy sparkling wine as an aperitif; perhaps its most common use. Dinner the other evening saw a bottle of Croser opened as we awaited our entrées. A fairly aggressive mousse and persistent, fine bead. On the nose, sprightly aromas of cut apple and citrus, with a hint of baked good complexity. So far so good. In the mouth, it becomes evident how fruit-driven this wine is, and I guess whether you like it will depend on how you like your sparking wine. Round, full fruit flavours of apple and citrus occupy the wine’s entry and mid-palate, before structure starts to take over and slim the wine down towards the after palate. OK finish. I haven’t had Croser for a while, but remember it being a leaner wine in its youth. It’s certainly lively in the mouth, and very approachable, but without much complexity at the moment.For my taste, it’s a simple wine, lacking the sort of savoury excitement I enjoy in other sparklers. I’m not sure it worked terribly well as an aperitif either, given the fullness of its fruit profile. Drink this one with your food, not before it.PetalumaPrice: $A35Closure: CorkDate tasted: March 2008

Sebastien Roux Pommard 2004

On the nose, this wine presents a solid, medium bodied nose of red fruit gel with a hint of cinnamon or other sweet spice – cloves perhaps? There’s also a hint of cedar of possibly even cigar box; it isn’t feral, really, but more along the line of sweet wood, almost sandalwood.In the mouth, it’s immediately apparent that this is a French wine: there’s quite a bit of drying tannin there, and it’s only after a minute or so that the fruit starts to show itself; after the first swallow, it wasn’t especially pleasant. With time and air, a beautiful cherry note appeared; the wine starts off on almost a sour red candy note, then smooths out into a lovely, supple finish of rich, velvety red fruit and again some tannin.It’s entirely possible that this bottle needs a bit more air to further integrate the tannins; even so, this is a fine drink and good value for money.Sebastien Roux [Domaine Roux Pére et Fils]Price: US $19.99Closure: CorkDate tasted: March 2008

Vasse Felix Classic Dry White 2007

You see this everywhere. It’s easy to find in pretty much any bottle shop fridge and turns up with alarming regularity at BBQs, Summer lunches, etc. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s good or bad — it does, though, mean you’re probably going to have a glass or two of it sometime soon…
More than those from some other regions, Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blends from the Margaret River can tread a fine line between fresh astringency and overbearing grassiness. They don’t usually suffer, though, from a personality deficit. So smelling and tasting this wine came as somewhat of a surprise. It’s pretty on the nose — ultra clean, a bit tropical, a bit herbal. But lacking in intensity and character.
The palate is all quite correct, with relatively soft acidity (for the style) that enters freshly and pushes lightly tropical fruit along with zip. There’s not much grass or herb here; it’s definitely an easygoing, unchallenging flavour profile. The biggest surprise for me is the lack of intensity of flavour. It tastes almost watery on the mid-palate, and this, combined with its flavour profile, turns the wine into a bit of a non-event. It’s just not especially interesting. For the price, I would expect more.
Vasse FelixPrice: A$18Closure: StelvinDate tasted: March 2008