Irvine Springhill Merlot 2006

From one of the few makers in Australia focusing on Merlot as its signature red grape comes this affordable wine made from a blend of Eden and Barossa fruit. I’ve enjoyed previous vintages of this label very much.

Nice nose, a little muted perhaps, showing a mix of bouncy dark berry fruit and leaner, more vegetal notes that strike me as varietal rather than unripe. It’s not quite in the olive spectrum as I have found some Merlot to be, but is definitely on the funkier side, all of which is a relief because one sometimes dreads the simplicity of this grape, in particular at the “value” end of the price scale. As it is, good to smell — not enough volume though — with a subtle thread of bubble-gum oak.
In the mouth, surprisingly well structured, with spiky acidity and loose-knit tannins very much at the fore. In fact, the fruit never quite attains sufficient intensity to match the firm structure, such that there’s an element of imbalance; it’s like a fantastically detailed underground cave which should house a raging river but which is instead graced with a lazy stream. Still, one can’t have it all, and the flavours on offer are most attractive, despite their reticence. Ripe plum and blackberry, some powdery vanilla, and a hint of the vegetal note observed on the nose. It’s not complex, but neither is it facile. 
I’m wishing for more oomph but each sip brings good enjoyment nonetheless. Good food wine.

Irvine Wines
Price: $A17.09
Closure: Stelvin

Di Rienzo Terre di Chietti Pecorino D'Abruzzo 2007

Frustratingly, I bought this wine from a Web site that turned out to be located back East; this resulted in a lengthy transit time to my home in California, which has apparently resulted in it sitting around in some very hot places for an indeterminate amount of time, maderizing the wine beyond repair, dang it.If you can get past the weirdly sweet, somewhat metallic nose – cling peaches in a tin can, anyone? – then you get a sense that this might have been a good wine, with hints of sage and thyme. The mouth is similarly dumb, with a oddly flat appearance that disappears into (again) a strangely sweet, unwelcome finish that is vaguely fruity but not otherwise similar to anything you’d want to actually drink.Two out of the four bottles are cooked; the other two I’m giving to good friend but with the major caveat that the wine probably didn’t survive the cross country journey. Thanks, FedEx. :(Postscript, July 30: Much to my delight, the good folks at Wines ‘Til Sold Out graciously refunded my money; according to their staff, this wine should be just fine if it’s been stored correctly. Good to hear: one day, I’d love to know what this grape variety tastes like!Di Rienzo
Price: $9
Closure: Synthetic cork

Chain of Ponds Novello Nero 2005

A blend of Sangiovese, Barbera and Grenache from South Australia. 

The nose is relatively dumb at first, with sour cherries and raw meat seeming to sit in the glass even when violently encouraged to take flight (my wrist is sore – from swirling). There’s a coarse vegetal edge to the aroma that seems whole bunch-like. A bit of powdery vanilla oak rounds things off. It’s quite sniffable and mercifully free from industrial confectionary. It’s also blunt and rather unrefined.
On entry, a refreshingly rustic mouthfeel that immediately recalls the sort of cheap Chianti that I secretly adore for its rough authenticity. Also like cheap Chianti, there’s never any danger of this scaling the heights of fruit intensity. Rather, this provides “just enough” of a great many things: flavour, length, complexity, interest. But wine is about how the whole hangs together and, in this case, there’s a reasonable impression of coherence. More sour cherry pips, almonds, oak and a moderately unattractive caramel note wash over the tongue, straining to escape the impression of being watered down. Bright acid keeps things fresh and clean, washing away the last stains of flavour and encouraging food.
I wasn’t feeling all that positive about this wine when I sat down to compose this note, and I remain equivocal in some respects. On the other hand, it’s fresh and light in a manner that evades many local red styles, and for that at least should be noted.

Chain of Ponds
Price: $A14.25
Closure: Stelvin

Dopff Au Moulin Gewürztraminer 2007

I’ll be tasting a range of wines under $A20 (retail) in the near future. Yes, the bank balance is looking iffy, so what better excuse to explore the value end of the market. Again.

Thick, syrupy aromas of lychees and white flowers. I struggle a bit with Gewürztraminer in terms of how it’s usually described. Lychee and rose petals I get, but these tend to be so obvious and dominant that I struggle to discern much else. In the case of this wine, there’s perhaps a touch of ginger cake baking in the oven, but more a suggestion than anything else. Distinctive and varietal without much complexity. 
In the mouth, good impact and immediacy thanks in part to a fullness of body that exaggerates the fruit flavours (more lychee and ginger cake). I thought at first this was presenting some residual sugar, but I think it’s just sweetly tropical fruit. There’s more and more flavour as the wine moves through the middle palate, again assisted by a round, pumped up mouthfeel that reminds me of a boob job one might have seen on the cover of People magazine. And then, all of a sudden, it deflates (just like many boob jobs in the 80s), flavour falling away precipitously through the after palate. The wine is quite long, but there’s not much there either, more a persistent echo of flavour than anything with substantial drive, with a bit of alcohol burn to boot.
It’s a wine that might alleviate the facelessness of many a Pinot Gris, if only to replace it with a sense of style akin to gaudy Tokyo street fashion. Your call.

Dopff Au Moulin
Price: $A17
Closure: Stelvin

Mount Langi Ghiran Langi Shiraz 1999

I’ve been really impressed with the various Grampians Shirazes tasted of late – consistency of style, distinctiveness of character, at all price points. No wonder it is such a renowned region for this variety, though arguably lower in profile than it deserves. Swings and roundabouts, though; as attention shifts to cooler climate expressions of Shiraz, the role of regions like the Grampians may end up being disproportionately significant.

There’s more than a hint of Gimblett Gravels Syrah in this wine’s nose, though here the aroma is not so aggressively spiced/floral as some from Hawkes Bay. Still, there’s definitely a shake of potpourri within this complex aroma profile of pepper, blueberries and mushroom. Although it’s almost ten years old, it remains strikingly primary, with only some mushroom or leather notes to betray almost ten years of bottle age. I can only imagine it as a young wine. Overall, very aromatic, rich and exotic. 
In the mouth, an intense punch of fruit flavour. Again surprisingly primary, this wine is resolutely alive on the tongue, an impression to which all its elements contribute. The fruit is dark and concentrated, and frankly inseparable from the array of spice notes also present. The acid is quite firm, though certainly not dominant, ditto the tannins; there’s some of the clean flow of an older red wine, but it’s early days. What I like most here is an easygoing, almost casual, elegance. This isn’t some obsessive study in high style (though it’s extremely stylish). Rather, it drapes effortlessly and hence gives off a vibe of natural vitality. All of which adds up to a wine that is all quality but that is so easy to drink it’s almost quaffable. The finish is especially long and fine, laden with spice and hints of cedar oak. 
A delicious, benchmark Shiraz that is just starting to show some positive signs of age. Along with the 2004 Clayfield, this would be my favourite amongst recently tasted Grampians Shiraz wines.

Mount Langi Ghiran
Price: $A61.75
Closure: Cork

Ridge Buchignani Ranch Carignane 2004

“What is the point of Carignane?”That’s how I was originally going to begin this review. However, I then remembered that I’d already written about this wine a few months ago – and frankly, why revisit it? I said it was naff, right? A historical curiosity, nothing special, purple and childish?I am however in the habit of listening to my elders, to people that know far, far better than I; last week, I was reading through Randall Grahm’s tweets and noticed that he had this to say about carignane:Carignane is the quintessential Ugly Duckling grape, maybe the best thing grown in CA. [link]With that in mind, I’ll try to approach this wine differently this time around. So what does this wine smell like? Mineral? “Rocks and raspberries?” To me, yes, I suppose, but paying closer attention yields smells of expensively tanned leather. Leaning in further, it’s more suggestive of very mild beef jerky with something like lavender-infused caramelized sugar, a strange mix of the meaty and the floral, dusty leather bindings in a gentleman’s library with delicate French confections.Drinking some at last allows me to experience the full complexity of what’s on offer; yes, it can be drunk as a “quaffing” or “bistro” wine (as the back label suggests) – it’s rich, full, grapey, alcoholic, all of those good things you want with your steak frites on a Friday night – but is there more? Well, yes. It’s just speaking a language that doesn’t come naturally to me. There’s a softness that suggests the wine’s peaking in terms of its development; tannins are fully resolved and it’s an ethereal kiss, a sly glance from someone attractive who’s just walking out of the ballroom. Is there real minerality? Well, it’s not as in your face as a Loire red, but yes, listen carefully and you’ll sense it, speaking quietly as the Sonoma hills in Indian summer do. Although there’s that suggestion of sweetness on the nose, there isn’t really any in the wine; the roundness is from ripe fruit, yes, but it’s not porty, not overwrought. More than anything else, though, there’s a sense that it’s too easy to ignore this as something ordinary, something simple, something unexceptional… and much like that quiet girl in the back of the class who you didn’t notice at first, time spent with her, oblivious to questioning looks from your classmate, might just turn into something beautiful.Buy this, drink it, repeat until you get it. That’s the point of carignane.Ridge
Price: $24
Closure: Cork

Best's Great Western Bin No 0 Shiraz 2004

This is building really well in the glass. It started simple and lacking in depth, but a very few minutes’ swirling yields excellent development of the aroma. Juicy yellow plum flesh, vibrant spice and a note that is half way to turned earth; that’s quite a reductive description, though, because it smells very coherent with good complexity, not easily separable into individual notes. It is perhaps brighter than some of the other Grampians Shiraz wines I have been drinking lately. 

In the mouth, the fruit becomes deeper in profile, with a rich dark plum note the centre around which spice, earth, coffee and other goodies revolve. Good impact on entry, with a strong burst of texture hitting the tongue along with intense fruit flavour that builds nicely. Assertive tannins take over somewhat on the middle palate, and mask to an extent the fruit, which becomes increasingly savoury as the wine sits in the glass. They are the kind of tannins that start off luxuriously chocolatey and rich, before crossing the line to become aggressively dry. Very fine and flavoursome, though. Really good drive through the after palate to a finish that struggles a bit against all the tannins. The whole is medium bodied and, at times, I thought I could detect some alcohol heat, but this was a fleeting rather than consistent impression.
This is flavoursome and impressive, though in the mouth there isn’t elegance so much as the tangle of limbs associated with a fashion model in training. Should fill out, soften and gain ease in time but, as it is, not ready for its close up.

Best’s Wines
Price: $A55.09
Closure: Cork

Marof Chardonnay 2007

Surprisingly light inthe glass, this wine looks like riesling and smells like malvasia bianca, at least briefly – it’s probably just Slovenian prejudice on my part, but I really did think for a second that this was malvasia. It’s not, but there’s something about the bright, cheery fruit here that smells very different than other chardonnays. The smells is reminiscent of poire, or pear eau-de-vie, or whatever the proper name for pear brandy is in English; there’s just a hint of heavy alcohols (but not noticeably) plus very light, fresh Bosc pear layered on top. At times, the smells seems to be teen-aged cosmetics – think Miley Cyrus perfume – and then suddenly there’s just the tiniest hint of burnt match before heading back to the fruit meringue pie, less citrus than stone fruit.Surprisingly, the wine isn’t weightless in the mouth; although the color suggests inoffensive whatever, it’s got a bit more heft than that. At first offering all of the charm of pears preserved in neutral brandy, it moves on into something that’s frankly close to circus peanuts, bubblegum, and other children’s candy. There’s a little bit of residual sugar here, acting as sort of a vinuous Wonderbra, and the overall effect is vaguely nasty: it comes across as deeply unserious, slightly vulgar, and pretty damned tacky. The finish does firm up just a bit, though, and you do have glimpses of regional character that could I suppose be described as slightly flabby key lime pie in a graham cracker crust: there doesn’t seem to be enough supporting acidity here, but there is a pleasant bready characteristic that makes it all come out somewhat okay in the end. On the whole, though, this wine is a huge disappointment to me; if the grape had been malvasia, then it probably would’ve been just fine. However, with chardonnay it just feels cheap and lame, especially at this price. C’mon, Slovenia, you can do better than this. I’d suggest you start by inhibiting malolactic fermentation next time, fermenting the wine completely dry, and (maybe?) experimenting with large oak casks, preferably local ones. Please?Marof
Price: $16
Closure: Stelvin

Best's Great Western Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

Wines that prompt me to respond on a level other than the blandly objective are what I hope for each time I open a bottle. This anticipation is always heightened when I taste an older wine. After all, we cellar wines in the hope they will improve and reach the point of maximum pleasure. When writing about such wines, and to paraphrase (or perhaps misuse) Edward Said, I think it’s appropriate to communicate a “sense of the pleasure taken in having tried at least to meet the [wine] on some other level than the ruthlessly evaluative or the flatteringly appreciative.”

What of this bottle, then? It’s an old wine in all the best ways, though it does remind me of why they are such an acquired taste. There are very few hooks here, nothing obvious on which to hang one’s discernment. Indeed, the nose is delicate and hushed, lightweight really, smelling as much like an abandoned hope chest as a Cabernet. Everything is hinted at; old cedar wood, a wisp of vanilla, watercolour red fruit and light spice. It’s an aroma that only makes sense when you step back and understand its subtle flirtatiousness. Incredibly elegant, if not massively complex.

The palate does not speak in quite such muted tones. At first, an impression of some youth, mostly due to drying tannins that fade a little as the wine gets some air. What they leave behind is a rather beguiling flavour profile whose delicacy reminds me of a good Pinot Noir. It’s quite seamless: red fruits and vanilla ice cream at first, turning slowly to a more savoury expression reminiscent of orange peel as much as berries, moving then to a cedar-centred finish with just a twinge of “old wine” sweetness right at the back of the mouth. A strange set of descriptors perhaps, but totally convincing to me. There’s still a bit of velvet texture on the after palate, so it’s not yet at the stage where it flows in the crystalline manner of fresh water, but it’s not far off.

There’s nothing outstanding about this wine in conventional terms. It’s not ultra intense, nor dense, nor complex. But it’s absolutely worthwhile as a balanced expression of aged Great Western Cabernet Sauvignon, no more nor less. I’m enjoying it a great deal.

Best’s Wines
Price: $A35.15
Closure: Cork

DXG Yorkville Highlands Rosé of Syrah 2007

Reading between the lines on the beautifully designed label, it would appear that this is another attempt at selling cleanskins (i.e. wines sold not by the wineries that made them, but by third parties that resell them under the own labels) in the USA. Although K&L have been doing this for years under the Kalinda label, and although the Cameron Hughes label has been around for a couple of years, I have yet to see anyone selling wines cheaply. Instead, what you generally get is relatively high end wines at relatively high prices – this, it seems to me, is a mite perverse in what’s generally acknowledged as pretty crappy economic times. After all, a California pink wine at $10 is still relatively expensive considering that this wine was displayed near $7.50 wines from Argentina, $5 wines from Australia, and of course our very own white zinfandels at $3.So how’s the wine?First off, the color is entrancing. It’s a wonderful, dark pink that’s similar to pomegranate juice.  It’s not quite so dark that it could be mistaken for a thin red Burgundy, but just barely. The nose is medicinal, shot through with camphor, cotton candy, roasted corn, and a fair whack of spicy black pepper.Tasting at first of nothing but fresh wild strawberries, it’s unsettlingly like a gourmand perfume aimed at teen-aged girls. That passes quickly, though, calming down into rhubarb-ridden cream shot through with subtle spicy notes; the texture is fairly serious for a pink wine, with a sort of supporting tannic note that gives it a certain gravitas. There’s a brief uptick in acidity on the finish, giving it a much needed freshness, and yet the finish does go on for a while, restating the themes of the wine – pepper, strawberry, rhubarb – with a steely repetition of serious, serious, serious. This could be the closest pink wine to a red wine that I’ve ever experienced; it’s an interesting style to say the least. Whether or not it’ll work for you isn’t something I can guess, but I can say that you’re getting a hell of a lot of wine for your money here. Yes, I still wish we had a cleanskins industry of Australia scale, but as long as we have wines like this available for not-outrageous prices, I’m more than satisfied with what we’ve got.Piaceri Wines
Price: $10
Closure: Synthetic cork