Domaine Jomain Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Pucelles 2006

Impossibly muted at first, with suggestions of seaside mornings, all blinding sun, freshly applied cologne, and the faintest hint of a hangover, this wine is hella classy, and I mean that sincerely. I’m transported to an imagine holiday on the Côte d’Azure – scratch that, more like the Costa Brava, home of slightly too much money, blinged-out sunglasses, and overindulgence with negligible repercussions the morning after.OK, let’s try that again. Relatively light yellow in the glass, the wine is subtle, elegant, distanced. The nose is absolutely gorgeous, with faint traces of suntan oil, a distant lemon grove, freshly-churned butter, and just-baked bread. There’s a faint hint of green, almost vetiver in its earthiness, and yet it’s overshadowed by toasty hazelnut and bracing lemon rind.Smooth and poised on the entry, the wine takes its time to announce its refreshing acidity, sliding louchely into a long, gentle fadeout into a slightly woody butter-toasty finish that is smoother than a con artist working the American tourists clutching their Rick Steves guides outside Notre-Dame on a sunny August afternoon. It’s an absolutely mesmerizing effect, and to replay it all all you need do is take another sip: rich, slightly mineral fruit, gentle framing acidity, subtle spicy oak, and then it all runs out again in slow-motion.If this wine were a song, I’m sure Steely Dan would have written it. This is an absolutely delicious wine and yet there’s something slightly dirty behind it that you can’t quite make out. Absolutely recommended for a summer’s afternoon spent undressed with someone to whom you’re not married.Domaine Jomain
Price: $40
Closure: Cork

Mountadam Barossa Shiraz 2007

A blend of Eden and Barossa Valley fruit, this wine makes a great case for itself through a combination of peppery, cooler climate characters and that luscious fruit for which Barossa Shiraz is renowned. 

You know you’re in good hands when you smell this little number, as assertive black pepper rides racily atop juicy blackberry and plum fruit. It’s delicious to smell, in the way a fruit-based dessert smells delicious as it approaches readiness in the oven. No great complexity as such, but it almost says “who cares?” as it caresses one’s nostrils with generous flavour. The palate is in no way a let-down after this tease, as it reveals a generous gush of ripe fruit early on entry. Medium bodied, there’s a spicy lilt to the middle palate that is a refreshing foil to the generous, eager blackberry fruit running underneath. Oak is a mere support act, and I appreciate the unforced, casual character here. This wine knows it is destined for barbeques and weekday evenings across the country, and never undersells these occasions. Delicious plum fruit rides the after palate through to a spicy, surprisingly long finish. 
I purchased this wine for under $A15 and, at the price, it is a bloody bargain. 

Price: $14.25
Closure: Stelvin

Cardinham Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

The final of three Cardinham Estate reds recently tasted. I’ve been impressed with the honesty and straighforwardness of these wines, and feel they are well-priced for what are true regional styles (the Sangiovese excepted, if only because I’m not sure what Clare Sangiovese “should” taste like). Clare Cabernet can be quite rustic, with full-throttle warmer fruit flavours and powerful oak. This wine is very much in the mainstream of the style, with a sense of drinkability that is quite convincing.

An expressive nose of slightly stewed plums, spice, sweet oak and twiggy vegetal notes. The elements are well balanced between each other and, although it’s not an elegant aroma profile by any means, it’s clean, full and generous and, if you like the style, most appealing. The palate is true to the nose’s overall impression, being both full-flavoured and quite chunky. Gobs of fruit and oak flavour coat the tongue at first, and it’s only towards the after palate that a slinky, sophisticated mouthfeel asserts itself, a little unexpected, perhaps, and a pleasant surprise. Some tannins, loose-knit and sweet, add texture and grip. A good long finish of bubblegum oak and plum skins. 
I crave wines like this on certain nights after work when all I want is a flavoursome, robust red to accompany a steak meal. It’s a Cabernet to warm the heart rather than challenge the mind.

Cardinham Estate
Price: $A20
Closure: Stelvin


A few wines consumed in between notes.
The 2008 Hoddles Creek Pinot Noir, like its sister Chardonnay, needs some time to settle, but this seems to affect immediate drinking pleasure more in the case of the red. Currently, it’s almost a caricature of itself, flagrantly aromatic and with piericing intensity of fruit, but without the depth and structural poise to round out what will undoubtedly become a delicious expression of Yarra Valley Pinot. I’ll retaste in a year or so, at the earliest.
A 2007 Water Wheel Memsie Red, however, is drinking at its peak now; I just wish its peak were a little higher. A nice enough, fruit-sweet flavour profile (it’s an interesting blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot) with the mouthfeel (and alcohol) of a bigger wine, but lacking the intensity to match its other dimensions. Not a bad quaffer, and extremely well priced (I’m sure I paid well under $A15). Just not my thing, I guess.
A better bet for quaffing is the 2008 Second Nature Cabernet Shiraz Merlot from the McLaren Vale. No great complexity, just full of easy flavour. This wine is a sure bet; the one you know you’re going to go home with. Dark berries, chocolate, a few tannins here and there; what’s not to like? I’ll take two.

Finca El Portillo Rosé Malbec 2008

When I’m shopping for a relatively cheap pink wine (and for me, that means ten bucks or less), there are very, very few things I’m concerned about, to be honest. The wine should be screwcapped so that I am able to quickly bust it open when I get home from work; the wine should be dry as I think that sweet pink liquids are best left to manufacturers of children’s medicines, and (ideally) there should be some flavor in the wine, preferably something you’d want more than one glass of.This wine works for me on all counts. It’s easily opened, it’s bone dry, and it tastes vaguely like a rhubarb fool: slightly acidic, with pretty red berry flavors and a fine, creamy texture. It is just fine. No, it will not leave you rambling on about garrigue and Provençal herbs. The color is pink, Jolly Rancher Watermelon pink, and not an elegant onionskin pinkish yellow. The flavors are straightforward and good, no pussyfooting around.It’d be hard to do better than this at this price point – yes, I would rather have a bottle of Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare or the Crios de Susana Balbo malbec rosé – but if this is on sale, it’s as cheap as you’re gonna get without venturing into “do not put in mouth” territory. Honest.By the way, if you ever find yourself on vacation in Mendoza, do take a trip down to the place where this wine is made. It is absolutely one of the most overwrought wineries I’ve ever seen (somehow without being vulgar) – if I remember correctly, it was built by Dutch orthodontists spending their retirement money in South America or something along those lines. It features the most insanely ridiculous spittoons I’ve ever seen: stand-alone plinths that look like they were ganked from a travelling Star Trek prop exhibition. I’ve never felt quite as self-conscious as I did horking up Syrah into those things; best of all, it’s a cavernous chai, so every tiny noise you make is amplified to truly epic gross-out proportions. Highly recommended: do book ahead and stay at the nearby Postales del Plata Valle de Uco Lodge if you get a chance. It’s awesome.Bodega Salentein
Price: $10
Closure: Stelvin

Neudorf Nelson Chardonnay 2007

The second time I flew home from New Zealand this year, I was fortunate in that I was on a nonstop flight back home to California – no stops in Fiji this time! – which meant I was able to grab a few bottles at the airport. The Auckland wine shop isn’t half bad, but the prices are nothing special and they tend not to have particularly interesting wines, but of course compared to Los Angeles it’s a godsend; last time I flew out of LAX, I think I remember seeing Robert Mondavi Coastal Chardonnay for a whopping $25 a bottle. Ouch!As mentioned previously, I was fortunate enough to stop by Neudorf winery last January, where an overwhelmed tasting staff dealing with too many customers towards the end of a day on a holiday weekend graciously put up with my wanting to taste but not buy (due to lack of luggage space on the way back home from vacation). Looking at Neudorf’s Web site I now see that there’s a fancy version of this wine that Bob Campbell and Jancis Robinson really really liked – and of course what I have is “the cheap one,” the less-fancy one relegated to airport wine shops (but apparently not exported to the USA). Operating on the principle that only the very best wineries put out less expensive wines that are worthy of the same name the fancier ones have, let’s see what this wine is like…An absolutely beautifully soft goldish-green in the glass, I’m grateful that they’ve bottled under screwcap so that it made it home safely without turning that awful oxidized golden color. The nose is very, very Burgundian, with a sort of reduced burnt-match smell that’s reminiscent of just a small amount of sulfur. Frankly, it’s mouth-watering. The overall effect is of roasted nuts and straw, with no particular buttered-popcorn notes that would ordinarily mess with California wines at this price point.The entry of the wine is smooth, lush, and full at first, before being briefly – very briefly – overwhelmed by racy acidity that screams New Zealand to me. Quickly, though, it quiets back down into an resolved dance back and forth between the ripe fruit and the supporting acidity, finishing on a lengthy descent through well-grounded notes of roast hazelnuts and fresh stone fruits. It’s all perfect for a summer’s day, somewhat less oppressive than a Meursault with a real sense of lightness and finesse. Finally, I should say that if there’s any wine this reminds me of, it would almost be a riesling from Burgundy (if such a thing existed, of course): the light delicacy of the aromatics is a wonderful match for the acidity and heft of the wine.Really delicious, great value, and beautifully packaged, it’s a bummer this wine doesn’t seem to be easily available locally. If the less fancy wine is this good, I’d love to know what the “really good” one tastes like.Neudorf
Price: NZ $30
Closure: Stelvin

Karra Yerta Shiraz Cabernet 2006

This wine (and winery) defines boutique in many respects. A limited run production of 170 cases, made by James Linke from Eden Valley and Barossa fruit, then blended by Pete Schell to create this quite outstanding little number. When I asked the engaging Marie Linke the intent behind this wine, her answer was “a good home brew, for ourselves, but plans change.” And how.

I tasted this over two days, and recommend a good decant at the very least if drinking now. The nose is almost provocatively complex, with notes of gunpowder, barbecued meats, five-spice, lavender, mulberries and cocoa powder. It sounds cacophonous but it’s more like a plaid wool blankie: textured and comforting. The aroma profile softened overnight, not becoming less complex but simply settling into its groove, less puffed out, more sophisticated. If there’s a hint of volatility, it works well to lift into and penetrate the nostrils. 
The palate has shown an even greater transformation with time. At first, unexpectedly bright red fruit shoots down the mouth, accompanied by the same savouriness as in the aroma, falling away a bit on the after palate. A couple of hours later, it fills out significantly, gaining weight and elegance at the same time, and losing the slightly disjointed construction I saw at first. The next day, now, it has melted into a thing of beauty, a limpid pool of dark richness that seems to dissolve onto the tongue with an impossible sense of control. The fruit flavour has gone to dark cherries, with a range of other flavours (including sappy oak) that resist being teased apart from one another. The slinky mouthfeel is a highlight here; tannins are almost excessively fine and ripe. 
This is a “fall in love” sort of wine; distinctive, beautiful. I’m not going to resist.

Karra Yerta Wines
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin

BenMarco Malbec 2003

Still almost a caricature of juicy-ripe fruit a fairly long time after harvest, this wine’s held up amazingly well. Squid ink and raspberries, iodine and white pepper come together as if the seaside’s been transported to central Oregon: there’s also a touch of dusty leather and dried tobacco leaves there as well. Lovely and complex, it promises quite a bit that (thankfully!) it mostly doesn’t fail to deliver.Initially somewhat thinly acidic, the wine quickly spreads out somewhat into a tart, taut, elegant midpalate suggestive of rhubarb tarts before mellowing into a softly tannic finish with subtle spiciness. Give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the inky dark color of the wine while waiting for the finish to complete itself; it takes its time disappearing quietly.Quite good, although I’d personally prefer stronger oak influence here, this wine is surprisingly light for an Argentine malbec, tending towards elegance rather than brute force. Try this one with salmon in a heavy sauce.Dominio del Plata
Price: $18
Closure: Cork

Domaine Pierre Amiot et Fils Grand Cru Clos de la Roche 2006

It was perhaps indulgent of me to crack this over a casual weekday lunch, but I’m worth it. As Grand Cru Burgundy goes, this is definitely on the more affordable side; Burgundy, with its intersection of villages, classified vineyards and myriad producers is nothing if not a fascinating case study in free market economics and pricing.

This wine had been decanted for an hour or so prior to tasting. On the nose, bright notes of cherry, spice, char siu and what seems like aromatic stalkiness. Very expressive, definitely on the higher toned side, and really pretty. I wouldn’t say it knocked me out with complexity or thrust, but there’s a sense of correctness to the aroma that is alluring in its prim and proper poise.

Length is the most striking aspect of the palate; the wine really does go on and on. It’s light bodied, with more cherry fruit and what I can confidently describe as a bloody delicious flavour profile. It reminds me a bit of Yarra Valley Pinot in its beetrootey, rhubarbey vibe, but it is both more elegant and powerful than most. Truly an iron fist in a velvet glove, it disarms with its charming, casual air and proceeds to punch the mouth with detailed, ephemeral lightness. There’s a good deal of very well matched oak too, along with delicious sweet tannins. Again, not terribly complex at this stage, but it drips of good breeding.

One is no doubt to be chastised for opening these sorts of wines so soon after they are vintaged, but I reckon it’s drinking quite superbly now. A featherweight powerhouse.

Domaine Pierre Amiot et Fils
Price: $A120
Closure: Cork

Cockburns Vintage Port 1967

When my father and my mother married in 1967, they had their reception at the Islander, a classic Tiki-themed restaurant in my home town of Stockton, California. Mai Tais were served in tiki-shaped glasses; the wedding pictures are a hoot. I wasn’t around then, but while I was growing up, I knew they were about to celebrate an anniversary when my Dad fetched a bottle of this wine from his cellar the week before, careful to give it plenty of time in an upright position, hoping to reduce the thick sludgy sediment that would wind up in their glasses.There were originally four cases of this wine, I think; my parents aimed to drink one on every one of their anniversaries until their fiftieth. In the meantime, they’re still happily married, but the bottles are a bit scattered: they joined the Peace Corps when they retired, I took over maintenance of the remaining cases, and it’s always been a small hassle getting the bottles to them in time for their anniversaries (they live in London, a short twelve-hour plane ride away from San Diego).When last I checked, I still had seven bottles in my cellar – just enough to make it to their 50th anniversary in 2017 as they’ve still got one in their flat. I reported this to my Dad last weekend and he said, you know what? You and Dan are celebrating your first anniversary this weekend, so I think you should share one of those bottles yourselves – and this is why I’ve got a glass of this wine in front of me right now.Amazingly, opening the bottle wasn’t the disaster I was fearing. The remaining bottles have started to weep a bit over the past few years, climate-controlled storage notwithstanding; the capsules are sticky and they smell, well, porty. I chose the one with a huge dried stain of escaped liquid on its side, washed it as best I could, and hacked away at the capsule with a knife. Thankfully, it came off fairly easy. I tried to wash the gunk off of the neck, but didn’t get too far. Removing the cork was surprisingly easy; although it was soft and not particularly tightly sealed, I managed to get it out all in one piece. Yes, it looked like a Stilton cheese you’d forgotten in the back of the fridge for a year, but at least it didn’t fall apart.Similarly, there wasn’t a lot of sediment still suspended in the wine; it all flowed smoothly into the decanter and left a huge block of crud behind, which promptly fell off the bottle walls shortly after I set the bottle back upright.The wine’s a very thin, pale liquid at this point, and yet it looks like watered-down pomegranate juice in the right light, still dappled with some brighter reds mixed in with the weary browns. It’s starting to look a bit like sangria at this point, but it’s also over-still, seemingly devoid of life.The smell is a shock: this wine does not smell forty-two years old. If I didn’t know anything about it, I’d have mistaken it for a run-of-the-mill decent quality Port at first, something like a LBV. However, a bit more time thinking about it and it smells of finely ground, lightly roasted coffee, with hazelnuts and milk chocolate, neon red strawberries, rancio notes, pistachios and rosewater… there’s a lot going on here. Overall, the effect is of imaginary Turkish coffee served next door to a bazaar specializing in oudh.Rich, unctuous, and plush in the mouth, an initial sip is briefly overwhelmed by very fine, sharp acidity before fanning out into a slightly hot, calming whirl of semi-dried sultanas, Nutella, and Turkish delight – but the overarching flavor is ironically that of simple, direct, rich red fruits, a strong echo of a good harvest nearly half a century later.If, as Randall Grahm recently tweeted, the mysterious, zen-like point of all wines is to bring us back, then this wine certainly brings me back. It brings me back to an imagined 1967 Portugal, where I’m standing in the Douro Valley wondering where all of this work will lead. It brings me back to the Islander in Stockton, California, drinking a mai tai out of a Tiki-shaped mug. It brings me back to childhood memories of my parents celebrating their marriage with a shared ritual year in, year out. It brings me back to standing in a port lodge with good friends just a few years ago, drenched from winter rains. It brings me back to bad truck stop bacalao, to the first time I ever tasted port at my uncle and aunt’s house in Oakland, to the first time I fell in love, to the first time I ever met my partner.Finally, I get the sense that this wine has someone returned full circle as well. I remember it when it was younger, deeper colored, stronger. I remember my Dad expressing disappointment that it had started to fade several years ago. And yet here it is, quite possibly no longer what it once was, and yet it brings me right back to the beginning.Thanks, Dad.Cockburns
Price: $NA
Closure: Cork