Shaw Isabella Riesling 2009

Australia is world-renowned for its amazing, razor-sharp dry Riesling styles. So of course there’s currently a resurgence in off-dry Riesling. I jest – I think it’s great that producers are experimenting with styles, and it will be interesting to see if some regions and sites are better expressed with some residual sugar. 

To this wine then, a Canberra Riesling from Shaw Vineyard Estate and, according to the label, both Reserve and Handpicked. I’m feeling a warm glow already (or is that just the Verdelho from before?). I must admit I failed to read the back label before tasting, so was surprised at the rich, confected fruit aromas that emerged from the glass. A quick sip confirmed this as a decidedly off-dry style. The aroma profile comprises fake banana flavouring, candied pineapple and a range of other lively notes. It’s quite expressive and fun, though whether you will warm to its lolly store bent is a question of personal preference. It may also be showing its youth, and indeed some time in glass has seen the more aggressively confected aspects of the aroma blow off, to reveal fresher fruit versions of  pineapple and citrus notes, and some more floral, perhaps even mineral, dimensions too.
The palate is richly flavoured, with more candied fruits and a refreshing acid line. In an off-dry Riesling, the balance of acid, sugar and fruit intensity seems to be of the essence; here, there’s perhaps slightly too much sugar relative to the character and assertiveness of the acid, which translates to a broadness on the mid-palate. On entry, though, a lively and very fruit-driven experience, with sweetly preserved fruits and bubbly acidity moving things through to the mid-palate. Here, the palate widens and becomes really quite generous, almost relaxed, teetering on the edge of simplicity. A twist of phenolic bitterness on the after palate pulls things back into line, and balances the riper tendencies of the flavour profile, bringing a welcome freshness to the wine. Pretty decent, fresh finish.
A worthy attempt at a more “German” Riesling style, and one that has improved after several hours. From a regional perspective, I enjoy the delicate floral, talc-like flavour profile of many dry Canberra Rieslings, and it’s an open question for me (for now) whether this character adapts itself well to a moderately off-dry style. It’s certainly there in this wine, but its very delicacy sits uneasily against sweet fruit notes. I should add this wine responded exceptionally well to a robust pasta dish, its more candied fruit tendencies tamed and its structure more than adequate. 

Shaw Vineyard Estate
Price: $A28
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Windowrie The Mill Verdelho 2008

A few years ago, I remember asking someone to whom I wanted to make a gift of some wine whether she had any favourites. Her answer was “Cowra Verdelho,” a singular response that sticks in my mind to this day. Needless to say, I didn’t hold high hopes of tracking any down. Halliday’s Wine Companion site lists just two Cowra-based producers with a Verdelho in their portfolio, of which this Windowrie is one. Further, the label lists this as a wine of the “Central Ranges,” the zone into which Cowra falls, so the fruit may not be entirely sourced from the Cowra region. No matter – this is the closest I’ve come to Cowra Verdelho since the memorable, unfulfilled request.

And hey, it’s a Verdelho alright, presenting straightforward, crisp fruit salad-like aromas. The particular fruit salad here isn’t anything fancy; it’s the salad I remember seeing (and not especially liking, though I was a fussy child) at numerous barbeques in the 80s; a bit heavy on the unpeeled red delicious apple, not much in the way of tropical fruits, and perhaps a squeeze of lemon to keep it all from browning. I quite like it.
The palate is lightly flavoured, with a rounded, hot presence that speaks to this wine’s 14.6% abv. Despite this unexpected scale, it’s curiously satisfying and certainly pleasant to drink. Verdelho is one of those wines one tends to approach without many expectations, save those relating to drinkability and simple pleasure; within that context, this delivers well and is squeaky clean. Entry and middle palate are both quite fruit-driven and mouthfilling in a decidedly hydraulic manner. The after palate shows a line of bitterness that offsets the fruit flavour particularly well. The acid seems a bit low to me, or at least overwhelmed by the mouthfeel. 
On the whole, if this is representative of Central Ranges Verdelho, I prefer the Hunter style, which seems more robust and fully flavoured. However; what’s here is tasty and very easy drinking.

Windowrie
Price: $A17.99
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Spring Ridge Merlot 2007

There’s something to be said for a well-executed commercial style. These are wines that I often tend to gloss over, but it’s wrong of me to do so, at least in terms of my own philosophy of enjoyment. As tempting as it is to indulge in singular, ultra high quality wines whenever possible, I’m not sure they are always an appropriate choice, especially when in mixed (wine freak and normal people) company. 

For example, I was having a very fun afternoon with some work colleagues during the week, and we ended up at a typical inner city eatery that surprised me with its thoughful, diverse wine list. Of course, I immediately geeked out and suggested a bottle of Seppelt’s 2008 Drumborg Riesling which, while full of interest, is a difficult wine to approach due to its austerity. Once we had made our way through that one, the group’s next selection was a much friendlier Pepperjack Shiraz, a plush Barossa style with plenty of oak and very low stylistic barriers to entry. And it was a much more enjoyable wine, with company, on the day.
Which brings me to this wine. I feel a train wreck attraction to Australian Merlot, which isn’t renowned for stylistic coherence nor, indeeed, for elevated quality. And, to be sure, this wine won’t change any of that. What it can do, though, is provide a well made burst of enjoyment. 
The hue is ruby-like, of moderate density, and in general looks slightly older than it ought. The nose immediately signals this wine’s intent: assertively cuddly, peanut brittle oak over fresh plum fruit. Digging slightly deeper, there are hints of olives in brine, but this isn’t a wine of overt complexity. The palate is fresh and flowing, with good clarity of fruit. On entry, flavour slowly accelerates towards the middle palate. Medium bodied, there’s better integration of oak and fruit in the mouth than on the nose, which creates an easygoing, smoothed out flavour profile. The addition of some lightly spiced notes add interest. Structurally, things are very much in line with the curvy flavour profile, with enough acid and pleasingly fine tannin to add shape and a drying, very slightly raspy mouthfeel towards the back palate. Decent enough finish.
If I scored wines (which, of course, I don’t), this would sit in the mid to high eighties, as a wine of straightforward, well-made charms. It has no pretensions other than to offer accessible, cost-effective pleasure to as many tired office workers as possible as they share a bowl of deep fried something-or-other after work. As one such office worker, I’m very cool with that.

Spring Ridge
Price: $A19
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Schafer-Frohlich Bockenauer Felseneck Dry Riesling 2007

I bought a selection of 2007 German Rieslings the other day from Eurocentric and will taste my way through them over the coming weeks. This is the first, and hopefully a sign of things to come.

Lovely nose; what strikes one first is the richness of fruit, sort of tropical and apricot-like in equal measure, and sufficiently assertive that it initially masks the floral, mineral aspects of the aroma profile. Some more sniffing reveals the full extent of this wine’s complexity, which is quite impressive and very well balanced. Once it has time to settle in the glass, it’s simply a wall of quite luscious, detailed aromatics; something to sniff repeatedly for sure.
The palate is equally rich, without being especially intense. Again, the vibe here is balanced, a number of elements combining with good harmony. The entry is sharp and glossy, like a well-honed Wusthof knife, acid cutting a clear path to the middle palate. While the fruit is quite generous in flavour profile, with just a hint of apparent residual sweetness, it’s curiously restrained and allows space for a range of flavours of a more pebbly nature to share the stage. The acid is lovely; prominent and shapely, a bit grainy even, without feeling coarse or out of control. Honeysuckle and mineral flavours flow through the after palate, whisked along briskly by an acid structure that here, more than at any other point, contributes sourness to the flavour profile. Talc-like aromatics on the finish with a squeeze of grapefruit for good measure.
Delicious wine on its own, and an admirable partner to awesome fish and chips from a renowned corner store down the road. I feel rather spoiled on this Friday evening. Totally worth the dosh.

Schafer-Frohlich
Price: $A60
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Dowie Doole Tintookie Chenin Blanc 2008

I believe this is due for release in late 2010, so I feel lucky to get a sneak preview of one of the few adventurously styled Chenin Blancs in Australia. The 2006 was impressive, even though its vibe seemed in some respects unresolved. Hence, I’m keen to understand how Dowie Doole, with its second Tintookie release, has evolved its idea of Australian Chenin style.

This has been made broadly in the same manner as its predecessor; picked early, barrel fermented, left on lees, etc. Yet the balance is subtly different. The nose is quiet and seems more Loire-like than the 2006: intense minerality and an ephemeral fruit character that seems a cross between stewed apple and something much pricklier. I’m not getting an overt oak influence in the aroma profile, which isn’t to say it’s not there. Indeed, there are wisps of vanilla and spice that combine well with the other aromas and seem subservient to them. Overall, the nose is far from exuberant; rather, it poses little questions and scatters clues in equal measure. Very curious and quite compelling.
The palate is a lot more assertive. My key criticism of the previous release was its forthright, slightly simple fruit presence on the middle palate, which seemed at odds with the sophisticated architecture around it. Pleasingly, this aspect of the 2008 seems better balanced. The entry is immediate and flavoursome, with tight, controlled citrus and apple flavours riding a lovely wave of fine acidity. The shapeliness of the attack is reflected in a mid-palate of excellent definition, where fruit and tantalising minerality are joined by oak and lees derived flavours. Even though it’s very young, the flavours seem well integrated; especially slick is the way the minerality seems to turn subliminally into spicy oak then back again, neither dominating the other. Texture is another highlight; the acidity is fine and even, and there’s a deliciously chalky mouthfeel through the back half of the palate. Excellent drive and continuity of line through the after palate, through to a finish that is impressively long. 
Lots of superlatives here; I’m probably biased, as this is my kind of wine. It’s exceptionally dry, no doubt too severe for some tastes, and would seem well prepared for bottle age. A clear step up from the first release, then, suggestive of both smart handling and a firm view on how Chenin ought to taste. Can’t wait to see what’s next.
Update: a couple of nights in the fridge and this wine is showing a lot more worked complexity, in line with receding acidity. It retains the grainy, lees derived flavour and palate texture on the back palate in particular, but the whole is softer, funkier and more expressive. A really interesting wine. 

Dowie Doole
Price: $NA
Closure: Diam
Source: Sample

The Wine Society Exhibition Range Saint-Aubin 2006

My Dad proudly whipped out his wine atlas to show me where this wine was made: just around the corner from Le Montrachet. Cool. So how’s the wine? Well, I think we’re both a little disappointed by this; he likes his Burgundy a bit more on the voluptuous side, and me, well, I don’t mind lighter, ethereal Burgundy, but this is every so slightly too simple.That being said, I get a hint of iodine on the nose, with pretty cherry flavors and the slightest hint of green tannins. Brightly acidic, the mouthfeel tends towards thinness but not overly so; it’s very light in the mouth with somewhat vapid flavors, and yet the tannins creep in solidly towards the finish, ending it all with a heavy-handed abrupt halt. Even so, it’s not a bad wine, just a sort of baseline wine: most of the notes of what make Burgundy Burgundy are here, albeit very slightly. If you strain your nose, you can pick out the ghost of earth and soil, but whether or not it’s because it’s actually there or because you don’t want to feel disappointed, I’m not sure.Good wine, not bad value considering the geographic provenance, and yet I can’t help but think most of us would be happier with a good Chilean pinot noir, even.The Wine Society
Price: £12
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Undurraga Reserva Chardonnay 2006

This wine starts with an over-the-top slap of vanillan, spicy, smokey, sexy, fuck-me-that-smells-expensive oak that it never entirely sheds. But it works, and here’s a lesson in ostensible imbalance tasting delicious and right. 

Not to suggest it’s all oak; far from it. There are lovely Chardonnay fruit flavours in the lean yellow peach spectrum, ripe but very well controlled. The aroma treads a nice line between full-on, quality oak and quite assertive fruit, neither of which is rich or fat. Rather, there’s a nervy freshness to the nose that belies its constituent components; when was the last time you tasted a heavily oaked Chardonnay with peachy fruit that was shapely and taut? 
The palate shows more spicy oak, delicious really, plus fruit that shifts between white and yellow stonefruit, and a bit of cantaloupe for good measure. The flavours are well-integrated and the wine is not massively worked, which shows good winemaking judgement; there’s quite enough going here as it is. The middle palate is intense and hints at opulence before fine, integrated acidity whisks away any hint of flab or excess. There’s an appealing freshness through the after palate and lingering finish, which is impressive considering the gold wristwatch oak continues to assert itself here as throughout this wine’s line.
I had this wine with a robust, Vietnamese-ish salad and it stood up well to pungent flavours, including a very salty, acidic dressing. Excellent, if oak-dependent, winemaking, and a very tasty wine indeed. Good value too. Imported by Southern Cross Wine Merchants.

Undurraga
Price: $A23
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

Ishtar Pinot Grigio 2008

Yet another hot, humid Brisbane day. My little Queenslander is as open as it can be, windows gaping wide on every side in a rather futile attempt to catch the occasional wisp of breeze. Some liquid refreshment is surely in order. 

This is the first time I’ve seen a wine sealed with a Novatwist closure, which strikes me as a simultaneously downmarket and more user friendly version of the metal Stelvin closure. Certainly did the job here, in any case. I had this wine open last night but it proved disappointingly vague, so I whacked it back in the fridge for later tasting. This rest overnight has certainly improved things and I suspect in its likelier context — lunchtime, restaurant, probably al fresco — it will present to its greatest advantage immediately.

An attractive, straw-like colour, clear as a bell. The aroma is straightforward in a typically Pinot G way; it’s grapey and pear juice-like, with an attractive side of aromatic brown spice. One can’t expect an excess of complexity with this wine style (at this price point), and on that score this wine utterly lives up to expectations. It is, however, well balanced and clean, weighty enough but stopping short of love handles.
The palate shows a full, slippery mouthfeel alongside easygoing fruit flavour. Entry is fluffy and fun, with pale fruit flavours upstaged by the pumped up, viscous mouthfeel. The fruit never gains enormous intensity, settling for a watercolour expression of pear and spice, while the mouthfeel continues on its merry way, slipping and sliding across the tongue, underlined by just enough acidity to provide some shape. The after palate is quite fresh, with really well-judged phenolics roughing up the tongue and adding a twist of bitterness to the flavour profile. Soft finish.
Not bad really; it’s very well made and, while it doesn’t push the variety forward in any respect, should provide good drinking at many a Summer lunch.

Balthazar of the Barossa
Price: $A19.50
Closure: Other
Source: Sample

Domaine Breton Bourgeuil Trinch !

Poking around the house for a low alcohol wine – I’ve got a long flight tomorrow and couldn’t deal with a 15.8% monster from the likes of Michel Rolland – I happened across this one, another Kermit Lynch import. Only 12%, biodynamic, amusing label, crappy plastic cork. Sounds fun!

Appealing soft purple – you know, for kids! – the wine’s visually stunning. On the nose, fairly typical Loire red with that tell-tale minerality, but with somewhat more fruit than I’ve come to expect. Drinking some’s a pleasure, with full, rustic tannins nicely set off by what seems to me to be riper fruit than anyone would have a right to expect at this price point. The only tip-off that this is not especially expensive is that the range of the experience of this wine is relatively narrow, staying relatively the same from the attack to the sostenuto. In short, what you have here is a wine that’s best enjoyed in a very linear, La Monte Young fashion. What you get is very, very pretty – and yet that’s all you get. Still, when the music’s this good, why complain?

Domaine Breton
Price: €8
Closure: Synthetic cork
Source: Retail

Domaine du Prieuré Savigny-les-Beaune Vieilles Vignes 2005

I tasted this inexpensive red Burgundy a few months ago at a dinner party, and remember enjoying it. Last night, I had the opportunity to taste it at leisure, so am able to provide more concrete impressions.

Nice, savoury expression of Pinot Noir. The nose shows dark aromas of sous-bois and only a hint of the beetroot-rhubarb fruit that can dominate some New World Pinot styles. There’s perhaps a bit of rubbery reduction too, which blows off after some of air. As with a number of other wines I’ve tasted lately, I’m interested in the tension between sweet, seductive fruit and savouriness or even a degree of challenging funkiness. It seems an especially difficult thing to pull off successfully, but I like watching wines (and winemakers) try.
The palate seems quite resolved and approachable. It shows a similar balance of sweet and savoury to the nose, and is moderately intense. What I like most about it its sense of balance and easygoing drinkability, which it achieves without being at all simple. In fact, given its price and provenance, it’s surprisingly sophisticated, with well integrated flavours and a finely textural mouthfeel that helps it to cut through food (ok, take-away pizza) one may not naturally pair with this kind of wine. 
A very drinkable, well-priced Pinot, ready now. Quite sophisticated too.

Domaine du Prieuré
Price: $A25
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail