Leasingham Bin 7 Cellar Selection Riesling 2000

If Riesling is daggy enough, then aged Riesling would surely give our fortified Muscats and Tokays a run as most unfashionable wine style. How unfair (on all fronts). For starters, like the fortifieds, many of Australia’s Riesling styles are quite singular, and on this basis alone worthy of attention. Then there’s the question of kerosene aromas in aged Riesling. I admit to some partiality to these aromas, and personally don’t regard them as a fault if in balance. But this is far from settled. What should aged Riesling taste like? Perhaps some readers might weigh in with opinions here.

To the undoubted relief of some, petrol doesn’t enter into the picture at all with this wine. The integrity of screwcap closures, though, does. This would have to be one of the oldest Stelvin-sealed wines in my cellar, so it was particularly interesting to see a lot of crustiness, attributable I assume to leakage, on and around the screw cap after I had opened this bottle. Mind you, I had to use a pair of multigrips to actually get the cap off, as it was essentially glued to the bottle (we winos are a resourceful lot when it comes to opening wine). I feared the worst.

The colour shows development, but not overly so, with some golden-hay hues that are pretty but not especially dense or rich at this stage. So far, so good. Some definite aged characters on the nose: honey, toast, nuttiness, all those good things. As mentioned above, no kerosene on this one. There’s also little primary fruit, which is interesting because the aged characters, though evident, don’t seem to me to be in full flower. Entry is very lively and recalls a freshly bottled wine rather than one at eight years of age. Very lively, almost spritzy acidity dominates the mouthfeel and creates an odd counterpoint to the aged notes that begin to register on the tongue. As with the nose, there are notes of honey and toast and little primary fruit. Acid becomes more assertive towards the mid-palate and, for me, is quite intrusive given this wine’s stage of flavour development. On the after palate, the honey starts to fade and, as there’s precious little primary fruit, one is left with an impression of toast and sourness and not much else. To the acid’s credit, though, it does push the wine to an excellent, lengthy finish.

The first thing I will note is that I tried a bottle of this about a year ago and was blown away by how good it was. That bottle (looking back on my notes) showed more development and brilliant balance between primary and aged characters. It appears there was also quite a lot more fruit still in evidence. It had me singing the praises of our wonderful, cost effective Rieslings. So I’m led to suspect this bottle isn’t representative, although the fact that its structure is still so youthful is odd. Perhaps the fading primary fruit accentuates this impression. Having said all that, it’s not a bad wine, and if I had tasted this as my first bottle from the cellar, I would simply have said it needs more time for the structure to calm and aged notes to develop further. Perhaps, indeed, that’s all it wants.

Price: $A15ish
Closure: Stelvin
Date tasted: June 2008

William Downie Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir 2006

What a handsome package. It’s almost too pretty to open, this bottle, capped as it is with a thick glob of wax and decorated with minimal yet humanist labels/artwork. But wine’s there to be drunk, so after admiring it for a moment, I attacked it with a waiter’s friend, revealing a lovely Diam seal. Mere moments with the pump action corkscrew and here we are, ready to taste.The packaging is so seductive and promises such satisfaction, it comes as a (perhaps unreasonable) surprise to find the wine inside isn’t quite so easy. For starters, there’s a powerfully feral pong that emerges from the glass at first. It’s not quite stalk, and not quite oaked spice, but exists somewhere in between, sitting somewhat lumpily atop bright, fresh strawberry/cherry fruit. As someone who likes a bit of pong in his Pinot, I enjoy this flavour profile, but it’s an intellectual experience. With about half an hour of swirling, the feral-ness has integrated nicely into the underlying fruit, becoming an extra layer of complexity rather than a disjointed, if characterful, sore thumb. The palate confirms the light, bright nature of this wine’s flavour profile, and introduces the assertive acid that provides such restraint and definition. It’s all sunshine and light on entry, the acid creating a vivid, fresh impression and the fruit backing this up with bright red, high toned flavour. This wine is a lesson in how impact can be completely different from weight, how intensity is not the same as density. It’s so fleet on the palate, one is surprised any flavour registers at all, let alone the reasonably intense coating of savoury red fruit  and spicy oak this wine actually delivers. Things really start to get interesting through the after palate, where the wine’s structure opens out and promises even more flavoursome times ahead. It’s only getting better as the evening wears on, with additional, deeper registers starting to emerge. It’s not the most complex wine I’ve ever tasted, but the flavour profile is so characterful, you can forgive it for being a little straightforward.I’m betting some short to medium term cellaring (say, 2-5 years) will do some cool things to this wine. At the moment, it is drinking relatively well but its youthful restraint may prove a little frustrating too.Update: I gave this wine a night to think about what it had done. It’s quite transformed, with a lot less bright fruit and a lot more layered complexity. It is, dare I say it, becoming somewhat Burgundian in flavour profile. Nice drop.William DowniePrice: $A40Closure: DiamDate tasted: June 2008 


Once again, I feel compelled to briefly note some of the other wines I’ve opened recently; these aren’t full tasting notes, but rather quick impressions of things that are currently ensconced in my recycling bin. Bear with me…Monte Xanic Cabernet Merlot 2004: One of Mexico’s top wines, this is grown and produced in the Valle de Guadalupe, which is only an hour south of my home here in San Diego. The label says 13.5% alcohol, and the winemaking bears out the suspicion that this is a wine entirely in the Old World tradition. Not especially cheap at US $25 a bottle, this wine was made in a lovely, traditionally French style, with expensive and elaborate oak supporting the very fine fruit. This is a fantastic bottle of wine if you like your wines in the Old World mode: it’s very full bodied in the mouth, and it’s entirely due to supporting oak, not primary fruit. Delicious and a nice change from the usual North American suspects.Ridge late harvest Zinfandel, likely from 2003: This was an ATP selection that I opened after a late night dinner with friends at The Linkery in San Diego. Ridge don’t produce a lot of these late harvest Zins these days, but I’m a fan. Yes, they’re ridiculously alcoholic at 16% and up, but this is a classic California style that’s been decidedly naff since the early 1980s, and I’m glad someone is keeping the tradition alive. Sure, it’s huge, alcoholic, a little porty, and not well balanced in the traditional sense… but it’s also delicious, exhilarating, uniquely Californian, and arguably in a style that lives on today through Robert Parker’s high scoring of behemoth Aussie shiraz from the Barossa and elsewhere. If you buy this, share it with friends and don’t plan on driving anywhere – and prepare yourself for a uniquely Californian experience.Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz, 2002: This demanded decanting; even with air, this was a massive, feral syrah that displayed an earthiness you don’t normally see in wines from outside the Rhône Valley. This is drinking really well right now – if you have some, I’d consider opening it sooner rather than later as I can’t imagine it getting any better than it is at the moment. Soil, minerals, dirt, earth, funk, and none of the ‘raspberry motor oil’ character typically associated with Australian wines.Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir, 2006: Served at cellar temperature, I was disappointed by this wine at first. Although I’d had some at the winery two years ago, this seemed a little reedy, a little too trebly, and altogether wan and uninspiring. However, as it warmed up, it improved somewhat… but was still lacking somehow. If you’re going to go there, I’d consider looking for Bouchard-Finlayson wines first, or perhaps a different vintage of Hamilton Russell. Even so, it’s better than many disappointing wines in this price range (about US $25).Gallo of Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon, Frei Vineyard, 1996: Dead on arrival. Sugar water that smells like it might have been wine at some point. Delicious two years ago, but it’s dead, Jim. Avoid.Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon, 2002: Tim Mondavi’s signature is all over this wine, both literally and metaphorically. This was an oak-driven, restrained, Old World style wine, which seems (especially in retrospect) a stylistic misfire on the part of the Mondavis. Mad props to Tim and family, however, for sticking to their guns and producing it. No, it’s not what any consumer would expect from a California cabernet, but it is nevertheless a delicious drink and an interesting stylistic experiment. This sort of thing works better with family or cult wineries, though – think Wendouree or Rockford – and not at all well with huge corporate wineries. Truly sad to see the Mondavi family dynasty going out on this note: a good, delicious wine in the finest European tradition utterly lost on a wine-buying public that just didn’t get why it tastes like this.

Grosset Gaia 1997

This wine has traveled an awfully long way to my table here in San Diego: it’s from South Australia originally, was apparently imported to Germany at some point (the label says “Wein aus Australien” after all), wound up in a Chicago auction house, and now here it is, suddenly making my table look more sophisticated than it has any right to be. (I hid the carry-out pizza box outside just to make sure.)This is obviously a full mature wine: the nose has more to do with shoyu than grapes at this point, suggesting dusky vats, umeboshi, and dried cuttlefish (which, by the way, don’t really smell of fish, but rather of salt). There’s also a seductive aroma of dried cranberries, strawberry fruit leather, and freshly cut cedar. It’s decidedly strange – and yet appealing.The wine has all held together fairly well; it’s probably slightly past its peak at this point, but you do get more than sweet liquid and smoke, which is a relief. There’s a hint of musky, minty berry, a somewhat tired aged note, hints of charred coffee, and then it slinks away under the cover of darkness, leaving only a very slightly off note of sweet old wine. Tannins are still present, doing their best to support the fading fruit; it’s so very close to being a good older wine, at yet it’s not, not really.[By the way, please accept my apologies for labeling this Meritage. It isn’t, at least not technically, but it is a Bordeaux style wine: mostly cabernet (sauvignon and franc) with 5% merlot.]On second thought, this wine is likely displaying low level TCA contamination, unfortunately – it’s at that subliminal level where all it does is mask the true character and quality of the wine, I think. It isn’t immediately obvious, but it is, I believe, causing the strange muted character on the finish more than any other explanation of which I can conceive.Good on Jeffrey Grosset for moving to screwcaps – this shouldn’t happen with newer vintages.GrossetPrice: US $30ishClosure: CorkDate tasted: June 2008

Lowden Hills Merlot 2003

Having spent four years of my life in Washington state – and three months of that getting a Wine Trade Professional certificate at Central Washington University – I believe that I was finally able to get a sense of what Washington wines are like.Although the terroir of the place is dodgy – the Missoula floods pretty much guaranteed that there isn’t very much of interest going on there, at least in terms of soils – there’s something about the climate that seems to determine a very specific style. Washington is a far bigger state than Seattle and the Puget Sound; yes, Seattle is cold and rainy much of the time (heck, even Dan Savage is starting to complain about the lack of a summer so far this year), but once you cross the Cascades towards Yakima, Red Mountain, and Walla Walla, things change dramatically. Although the winters are cold enough to cause serious damage to grapevines every decade or so, the summers are plenty warm – and balanced out by some seriously cool nighttime temperatures.There’s a certain treble-ness to a lot of Washington wines; the cool nights seem to imbue them with a nervy, electric energy that is a wonderful complement to the dark, ripe character of the fruit. Thanks to the economic boom of the 1990s – and, in Washington at least, the continued good times of the early 2000s (due in large part to corporations such as Starbucks, Amazon.com, and Microsoft), there’s been a massive explosion in the number of wineries up there, many of them family farms trying to cash in on the huge upturn in Washington’s wine quality by making their own wine instead of selling to huge corporations such as Chateau Ste. Michelle.I ventured out to Walla Walla for their annual barrel tasting weekend twice: both times, I marveled at ad hoc helicopter landing pads set up for wealthy tourists from the Puget Sound, just-opened wineries done up in a fake Tuscan style, complete with $75 syrah from two-year old vines. I also basked in the hospitality of some old-time Walla Wallans (thanks again, Brian!) who took pride in the simple fact that some of the local wineries had been there for some time and didn’t charge ridiculous sums of money for some very impressive wines (the Glen Fiona syrahs from the late 1990s come to mind).Anyhow: the first thing that sprang to mind upon smelling this wine was whoa, this couldn’t be from anywhere other than Washington – and it smells like a small family operation on one of their first vintages. There’s a certain smell here that gives it away – it smells like immaculately grown fruit combined with good quality barrels and perhaps a certain amount of what, for a lack of a better word, I’ll call manipulation. Mind you, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s just that some wines smell as if they were effortlessly made directly from the soil of the vineyard (cf. Clonakilla, Ridge, Vieux-Telegraphe, others). This doesn’t.Instead, it’s got a kind of bacon bits aroma to it, combined with sweet oak of some kind; it also has the same, high-toned note to it you’d expect from a quality Washington wine. It also has a very ripe, jammy, Red Vines-esque heft to it that is rather more appealing than I’m describing it, I assure you.It’s agreeably balanced in the mouth, with steely acidity, good, ripe fruit, and a surprising hint of mintiness or eucalyptus there as well. Oddly enough, it seems like it could also work as a chewing gum flavor for adults – something in the clove gum mold of the 1940s. Tannins are moderate and unintrusive, the finish is pleasant if a touch short, and overall it’s, alas, nothing special, really. Still, that isn’t to say it’s a bad bottle of wine – far from it. What you’re getting here is – in my opinion at least – typicité, Walla Walla style, and at a much fairer price than most of ’em.Lowden HillsPrice: US $24Closure: CorkDate tasted: June 2008

Brokenwood Semillon 2000

I can’t remember why I decided to buy at least four bottles of this and place them in the cellar. It must have shown promise on release. Either that, or I found it at a ridiculously low price and made an impulse purchase. It’s been known to happen. Anyway, here we are eight years later and I think it’s time I checked on its progress. Still relatively pale in colour, showing hints of richer hay in amongst the fresh green hues. Mercifully, not corked. Subtle aromas of sharp citrus with a touch of the aged honey character that one anticipates in an aged Hunter Semillon. But it’s hardly a full-blown aged aroma profile. The palate is disappointingly dilute, and I don’t know whether the wine is going through a “phase,” or if it lacks sufficient intensity of flavour to become a satisfying mature style. Entry shows remnants of the spritzy acidity of a young Hunter Semillon, but this quickly trails off to a smoother, slightly waxy mouthfeel. Again, there are hints of the aged flavour profile; honey, lanolin, beeswax, etc; but there’s also easygoing citrus attributable to an easygoing youth. It’s all attractive enough, but somehow watery too, and I found myself reaching for flavour but never getting enough to feel satisfied. I’m not sure if I’ll bother leaving the rest of the stash to mature further. Well, maybe one as an experiment. The rest, I’ll drink soonish and enjoy what is an easy quaffing style that doesn’t ask a lot of the drinker (and doesn’t give too much in return).BrokenwoodPrice: $A20ishClosure: CorkDate tasted: June 2008

Tyrrell's Vat 47 Chardonnay 2007

Juicy Fruit esters spurt from the glass at first, with white stone fruit and a hint of cream. Squeaky clean, very fresh, floral and powdery in character. With some enthusiastic swirling, astringent herbal aromas also start to emerge, adding complexity and edge. It’s evolving quickly in the glass, which makes for an interesting companion if sipped slowly through the evening. Am I detecting the slightest hint of honey, even? Wishful thinking, perhaps.Flavoursome entry; fruit registers early in the wine’s line. Acidity is prominent and a little rough and ready, adding a rustic sourness to the flavour profile. Fruit continues in a white stone fruit vein, but with the addition of lemon-like citrus flavours that recall young Hunter Semillon. It’s quite intense and extremely lively on the tongue; we’re a long way from flabby New World Chardonnay of years past. Firm, defined thrust through the after palate as the acid carries increasingly citrus-like fruit flavour through to the finish. There’s a little lift, or perhaps even some alcohol heat on the finish, and the wine’s density does fall away somewhat precipitously towards the end of its line. But the finish is long and tasty and only promises good things.Yummy wine. This lacks the extra complexity of a really top Vat 47, but is nonetheless a delicious drink and one with a promising future over the mid-term. I’m betting this will be great with fish and chips. An iconic Aussie Chardonnay for the price of lesser village-level white Burgundy or generic Bourgogne.Tyrrell’sPrice: $A35Closure: StelvinDate tasted: June 2008

Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 2002

Right off the bat you’re in decidedly Australian territory with this wine: it smells rich, tending towards blackstrap molasses and other guilty pleasures. Decidedly spicy, presumably thanks to new oak influence, there’s also a hint of mintiness here as well as well as violet pastilles and crusty brown bread.Almost overwhelmingly fat in the mouth, there’s somewhat unintegrated acidity lurking in there as well, which clear the wine off of my palate abruptly; this is salved, however, the finish, which is long, gentle, and almost like Mexican chocolate: it’s spicy, smooth, and almost floral.There’s a distinctively jammy Australian berry fruit component here as well, but it seems to be overwhelmed somewhat by the oak. Tannins are fairly soft at this point, and the wine doesn’t appear to be showing any aged characteristics; this is a solid wine that more or less defines what consumers have come to expect from an Australian wine at this price point, I suppose.  It’s all perfectly good but ultimately lacking on some level; even though it’s labeled Coonawarra, it really tastes more like it could be from anywhere, especially compared to Leconfield or Yalumba wines from the same region.The acidity worries me, though – it seems really out of place here. I’m probably wrong, but I suspect some kind of acid adjustment gone ever so slightly wrong.PenfoldsPrice: US $17.99Closure: CorkDate tasted: June 2008

Lake's Folly Chardonnay 2005

Made in small quantities, the Lake’s Folly white wine is a Chardonnay benchmark of sorts in Australia, albeit one that seems to be labelled “old fashioned” whenever it is mentioned. As a firm believer in the transcendence of style over fashion, I don’t see this as necessarily a bad thing. What I’m more interested in, after tasting my way through a few white Burgundies of similar price, is how this wine stacks up stylistically and in terms of value. Quite a rich, golden green colour. The nose shows a controlled burst of flavour, from pure fruit notes to those rooted firmly in winemaking. Rich oatmeal and cream mixes with round yet fresh Chardonnay fruit. The fruit here is a mix of yellow stonefruit and citrus, and to me smells brilliantly judged in terms of complexity and balance. Despite all the notes on offer, the whole is restrained, keeping its reserves of depth and power in check. The palate shows excellent continuity from the nose in terms of overall flavour profile. A fine acid backbone carries intense, tasty fruit down well defined, yet large scale, structure. By that I mean that it’s not a wine that shoots down the middle of the tongue in a narrow line. Rather, it spreads across the tongue but always maintains poise and flow, never lapsing into laziness. More stone and citrus fruit, spice and creaminess, even some tasty minerality, all the elements tipped towards generosity, again in the context of a clear acid structure. The after palate tapers off quite steeply into a cut apple note, before a subtle acid-driven finish of excellent length.A contradictory wine at this stage of its life, as the flavour profile suggests a generous, flavoursome wine, but (thanks to the acid) one that isn’t able to fully express itself. All it needs is some time to relax.  It is, perhaps unsurprisingly, an utterly different style from any of the white Burgundies tasted of late, although I should note that I’ve hardly sampled a complete cross section. Not an inexpensive wine; however, placed in this context, I think the Lake’s Folly Chardonnay represents excellent value. Lake’s Folly
Price: $A50
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Collector Reserve Shiraz 2006

It’s interesting to compare wines from a producer that offers just two in its portfolio. Collector, a new Canberra-based producer, sells a lower price Marked Tree Shiraz, and this, its Reserve label. Both are made from Canberra region Shiraz grapes, which makes the comparison doubly interesting.

A heady nose of roast meats, vanilla, spice and rich red and black fruit, and of all things a bit of Yorkshire pudding. Showing a clear resemblance to the Marked Tree wine, this is a whole lot more of everything except perhaps a certain lightness of touch. But this is a Reserve level wine, presumably designed for extra oomph, and it attains this goal admirably.

Deep fruit flavours gush over the tongue on entry, and it’s the sort of cool, firm attack that marks wines of sufficient padding. Despite the rush of flavour, though, this isn’t a large scale or clumsy style. By contrast, there’s real balance here, with each element asserting itself just enough to be perceived before retreating into the complex harmonic flow. This wine has the sort of flavour profile that would be considered lolly-like if it were sweeter; that it shows only a touch of sucrosité means the fruit is beguiling and even a little elusive in character, despite its generosity. A lovely blanket of fine, slightly sandy tannins descends on the tongue as the after palate kicks in; they’re ripe and not especially drying, and so contribute primarily to the wine’s textural dimension. Despite the tannins, I wouldn’t describe the wine as overly structured — acid is not a feature. The finish morphs into a sort of raspberry liqueur-like note crossed with licorice that is utterly delicious.

Interestingly, food (well, the lamb chops I’m having tonight) dulls the wine and hollows out the after palate somewhat. I attribute this to the relatively subtle acidity. So, pair this wine wisely with food, or go the total alco route and drink it unaccompanied.

Collector Wines
Price: $A46
Closure: Stelvin
Date tasted: June 2008