Reading others’ tasting notes helps me to learn — about wine, sure, but more often about a particular point of view. No death of the Author for me; as much as I buy into the idea that wine stands alone, there’s a huge amount of interest in understanding how its aesthetics are shaped by those who practice the craft of wine writing. For one thing, wine writers inevitably hone in on one or other aspect of wine, and this resonates not only in terms of how a particular wine has been perceived, but more interestingly in terms of how wine in general ought to be regarded.
The obvious example is the “fruit salad” approach to tasting notes. We’ve all read them; notes that consist exclusively of a list of smell and taste analogues associated with a wine’s nose and palate, as if the pleasure of wine could ever be captured so reductively. I’m prompted to ask: are the various flavours present in wine its primary pleasure? I can’t deny they form a huge part of it, but (and here we begin to get to the point) I’m smelling and tasting the 2005 Clayfield Shiraz tonight and flavours couldn’t be further from my mind.
What’s striking about this wine is its architecture (if you will forgive my semantic preciousness). Volume, density, texture, presence, thickness, flow, viscosity, impact. The flavour profile itself is identifiably Grampians Shiraz, though certainly a large scale expression of this classic regional style. The nose is immediately full and expressive. Volume is the key word here — it’s like the Spinal Tap amplifier turned all the way up to eleven. The fact that its aroma profile is squarely in the cool climate mode comes as something of a shock. Blackberry brambles, plum and pepper in spades. It has such presence and immediacy.
The palate is in no way a letdown after this promising start. There is plenty of flavour for starters, very much in line with the aroma. But what’s striking are, again, the architectural elements. The tannins are truly remarkable. At first forbidding, with some time in the glass they begin to melt like chocolate in the mouth, transforming from blocky and solid to a more velvet textural expression, all the while retaining a dry, slightly bitter (as in Angostura) finish. At the same time, a silky viscosity causes the wine to swell sensuously on the middle palate. The label says 15% abv and perhaps this shows, yet I don’t see perceptible alcohol as a fault a priori. Here, it adds to this wine’s sense of elegant debauchery, like a party guest not quite hiding the fact that they’re snorting a line of coke. Or something.