Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz 2007

It’s especially satisfying to follow a label over time and observe how it varies with each vintage. Sometimes an especially good vintage will show extra depth, or unusual complexity, or a particularly intense perfume, all the while retaining an essential consistency with its siblings. There’s no doubt this is an excellent Hilltops, and it shows the trademark fruit density and character that I look forward to every year. But there’s a powerful something “extra” in this release — an almost flamboyant spiciness that is present both on the nose and palate — that has me smiling tonight.

Smelling this wine is like inhaling the potpourri jar on the coffee table in front of your grandmother’s overstuffed, slightly faded floral lounge. I trust that experience isn’t unique to me.

Langhorne Creek Area Red Blend 2003

Only this afternoon I was listening to Max Allen’s Crush podcasts, which briefly discuss various Australian wine regions in Mr Allen’s typically fanciful style. The episode on Langhorne Creek discusses at some length the relative invisibility of this South Australian region, although plantings there are extensive. Fortuitously, I came across this wine when rummaging through the “cellar” at home. Not only is it a Langhorne Creek wine, but (according to the back label, anyway) is made expressly to showcase the region’s qualities. “Created” by Cellarmasters but made at Bleasdale, the wine was assembled from several growers’ grapes;

Kalgan River Riesling 2007

Forever the underdog is Riesling, at least in Australia. In a way, though, it parallels our most successful grape, Shiraz, in its diversity of regional expressions. Within the generally dry style in which it is made here, there is a range of worthwhile variations across the country. Most enthusiasts have added (at least) Tasmania, Canberra and Great Southern to the Clare and Eden Valleys as regions of note for Riesling. In this case, we have a Great Southern example from the 2007 vintage.

A nose that is all about citrus flowers and talc sprinkled on a bowl of more tropical fruit. This latter, richer aspect takes a while to emerge from an aroma that, at first, seems typically austere and very much of the region. It’s one of the things I like about Great Southern Riesling — it can be so uncompromising. 
This is definitely a softer expression of the grape, though,  and one that is confirmed on the palate. Here, notes of mandarin and paw paw-like fruit flow over a chalky mouthfeel and a structure that is very much about steely acidity. An interesting contrast, I suppose, although there’s something a little jarring about it too. Perhaps it’s a matter of balance; the fruit here lacks the sort of intensity to do the acid justice, so structurally the wine does overreach itself a little. However, the individual elements are attractive and the whole is refreshing and terribly easy to drink. The finish in particular is long and precise. 
As it sat in the glass, it seemed to tighten a little, and I found fascinating how this wine’s more generous fruit notes began to interact with its strongly textural mouthfeel. If it’s not quite coherent at this stage, the general style points in an intriguing direction.

Kalgan River
Price: $22
Closure: Stelvin

Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Chardonnay 2006

Never having had a Ridge chardonnay before, I’ll freely admit that I was expecting something entirely different. At first sniff, this is very much a buttery California chardonnay, with the tell-tale roasted nut nose and fat whack of malolactic fermentation. Mmm… delicious?Yes, delicious. Slightly chilled, the nose is complex and inviting, with sweet cream, pineapple (almost), roasted nuts, and something of a dusty note, light reflected on neglected wooden blinds. Curious!Fairly fat in the mouth, or at least wide, the secret weapon appears to be bright, assertive acidity that quickly cuts it down to size. Before the smooth, refreshing acidity on the finish, though, you’re treated to cashews and pears, summer citrus fruits, and again a sweet creaminess before the acidity arrives to wash it away – and then a very rich, leesy finish arrives to carry it all away on little cat feet. Surprisingly, there’s an almost medicinal note there as well that reminds me of my father’s podiatry office when I was a kid: an unusual ozonic lemon air freshener note (although that sounds terrible, it is in fact appealing in context). Some faint yeasty characterics are also apparently after the wine warms up a bit, subtly framing things in a lovely, earth way.Is this Chablis? Hell no. It it Californian? Hell yes. Most importantly, though: Is it delicious?Yes.Ridge
Price: $33
Closure: Cork

Grosset Gaia 2001

I suppose we all come to a point in our drinking lives when we open yet another bottle of yet another respectable, well-regarded wine and shrug, jaded, resigning ourselves to yet another evening of predictable pleasure. What is to be done? Well, for starters, we train ourselves to pay more attention, to reach back into memory to remember why we’re here in the first place, what that first bottle was like, the time when the wine was the focus of everything, not the alcohol that washes away the cares of the day, not the hastily prepared food that serves as a haphazard coda to the day’s endeavors.So! This wine is getting on in years, its bouquet shot through with violets and summer strawberries and cream, edged with darker leather and tobacco. It’s as if someone spilled cassis liqueur in tobacconists with a significant overstock of paperback novels; it’s eating ice cream at a wake, it’s watching the London winter rage outside from within a greenhouse at Kew.Vibrant, acidic, with tannins that surprise quickly before fading entirely from view, I find the wine to be distinctly peppery and just a little bit simple; it’s much more an Old World model in terms of body, opting for nerve instead of plushness. Still, there’s a certain creaminess, languidly unfolding, that trails off into a finish that reminds me of unsmoked cigars you never knew your Dad smoked, but that you found poking around the basement as a child. All in all, this wine tastes like something unexpectedly retreived from memories you aren’t sure are yours to begin with, like a memory of wine drinkers past. It’s good.Grosset
Price: $28
Closure: Cork

Jacob's Creek Reserve Merlot 2004

There are a few notable Merlots on the local scene but I’d struggle to articulate (based on admittedly limited experience) what a regional Aussie Merlot should taste like. Is that a bad thing? I’m not sure; it certainly makes for unexpected, though often bland, tasting experiences.

This one is sourced from various regions in South Australia and forms part of the Reserve range of Jacob’s Creek wines. There’s often some pretty good value in this range and the wines are just that bit more “serious” than the standard label. In terms of aroma, there’s a lot of oak; the sort of hard, toasty, cedary oak that tends to mask easy fruit flavour. It’s very glamorous but kind of confronting too. Varietally, I’m getting some blueberry fruit but a wider, more dominant range of brambly notes. So, quite an austere aroma profile, really.
In the mouth, quite a hard, oak-driven wine. Maybe I’m being cynical but this wine feels built to a formula that is less about fruit character (and sympathetic treatment) and all about positioning. Quite a firm, powerful attack that showers the tongue with lean (not unripe) flavour and some underlying sweet berry fruit. The middle palate reveals this wine’s essential tension: a thread of firm oak runs alongside plush, quite attractive berry fruit and a hint of green olive. The oak character is akin to nutmeg that you haven’t yet grated. The flavours are large scale and very generous, but the whole feels disjointed, somehow, and unharmonious. Ripe tannins create a lovely texture that carries the wine through a somewhat hollow finish. A bit hot, perhaps, the wine finishing as it starts, with an essentially sappy, angular note that seems mostly oak-derived.
I’m not getting what I need from this wine. It’s extremely well made, clean and flavourful. But, for me, it is pretentious; its style is essentially mismatched to the underlying character of its fruit. I drank this wine with an outrageously inappropriate meal (Japanese curry) that, ironcally, tamed some of the savoury characters and allowed a softer, more feminine side to emerge. 

Jacob’s Creek
Price: $A16
Closure: Cork

Two Georgians Mukuzani 2004

My first instinct was to write a short review that went kind of like this:There are some amazing wines produced in Georgia. This is not one of them.My second instinct was to make an abstruse, lame joke about Two Lari Chuck (or whatever Chuck is in Georgian), but you know? That’s lame. Also, abstruse.So. Here’s the real tasting note:The packaging is cheesy and Russian: a cheap glass bottle inexplicably ribbed for your drinking pleasure. I suspect it’s supposed to look like a woven basket, but what does that have to do with kvevri?The nose is simple and grapey; with ten minutes’ aeration, it does eventually gain a bit in complexity, but not much. Fans of Zinfandel might like this or even confuse it with Zin, especially if already drunk. (Hint: This could be a bottle to serve once you’ve served the good  stuff at the beginning of the party.) Thin and gnashingly acidic, it does manage to right itself somewhat on the afterpalate, but the only flavors here are generic grape wine product with an edge of raspberry sorbet. It’s not nasty, but it’s also not enough to make me want to finish the bottle.My third and final idea for a brief review:How do you say sangria in Georgian?Oddly enough, this wine improved greatly after half an hour in the glass. Ultimately, I don’t think it’s a bad wine, just a fairly traditional one that doesn’t show well immediately after uncorking it, which is probably a bad thing for a wine in this price bracket. Even so, I’m not in a hurry to drink any more of it.Two Georgians
Price: $7.49
Closure: Cork

Domaine Bart Marsannay Les Champs Salomon 2006

A dark, rich red with edges of purple. This wine’s nose is like a bunch of dark cherries being greedily, juicily eaten by a feral animal. There’s some stink that comes in waves, but the overriding impression is of fresh juice and tart, split berry skins. At the edges, an appealing, icing sugar-like powderiness that adds some detail and presence in the higher registers. This seems a darker wine overall, though not serious so much as rich and generous. I’m not sure the animalé is entirely terroir-driven; it smells as much of boiled eggs as it does wild Pinot. Certainly within tolerable limits.

Quite soft on the palate and a little shy on entry. Perhaps because the acidity is approachable, there’s not a lot of impact at first, and the wine takes its time to build fruit weight and presence. Build it does, though; the middle palate is deeply generous and fruit-driven, showing a flavour profile composed mostly of ripe cherries and spice. I don’t know that there’s much complexity, but it’s terribly well balanced for immediate drinking and I like its relaxed personality. Tannins aren’t very fine but descend sweetly on the tongue, reinforcing the wine’s plushness. A nicely tart thread weaves its way into the after palate, and the whole resolves cleanly through a satisfying finish.