Collector Reserve Shiraz 2007

I burned my mouth on soup today. Aside from causing me to wonder why on Earth I chose to drink hot soup on an almost-Summer Brisbane day, my tongue is now less than sensitive to the more subtle, textural nuances of this wine. I find the more I taste it, however, the more discerning I become (a fact not unique to this wine, or so it often seems).

It takes a few minutes to get going. On the nose, considerable complexity of spice-like notes overlaying rich, plummy fruit and sleek oak. Somehow, I’m reminded of modernist Californian residential architecture; think Richard Neutra. Clean, spatial and coherent, but with a sense of warmth missing from some harsher intepretations of the International style (and, in the vinous context, of cooler climate Shiraz). This is certainly well-formed and harmonious, and keeps getting better in the glass.

The palate is all class, showing a particularly compelling texture thanks to some bloody good tannins. Totally controlled on entry, dark plum fruit flavour leaps forward first, followed by a gush of spice and more of the cedar oak. It’s medium bodied at most, and presents as both delicate and confident. Everything comes together on the middle palate, which shows a unified flavour profile underlined by a blanket of sweet, ripe, powdery tannins. There’s also what seems to me like a thread of minerality running through the core of this that is fascinating. Fruit takes a liqueur-like turn through the after palate, and the finish is both dry and fruit-sweet at the same time.

Very Canberra, very classy. Just like me.

Price: $A46
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Shameless self-promotion #1

The other day, the Courier Mail newspaper’s lovely food writer, Natascha Mirosch, asked Jeremy Pringle (of Wine Will Eat Itself) and I if we might provide a list of ten wines under $20 we thought to be suitable for consumption on Christmas day. As a normal, well-balanced person, I imagine Natascha was expecting a straightforward list plus, perhaps, a concise introduction.
Ah, but neither life, nor wine, is that simple. In response, we produced a dialogue fit to try anyone’s patience. To my great delight, Natascha has most generously published our missive in its entirety on her blog.
Jingle bells, jingle bells…

Have a Cigare

Ladies and gentlemen, here we go. Tonight, a fair number of friends are coming by to (hopefully) enjoy the Leonid meteor shower; given that we’re in the middle of the city, I’m not sure we’ll see anything (and staying up ’til 1 am is hardly a given), but I figured that tonight was a good night to bust out a vertical of Le Cigare Volant and share it with friends. I’ve got eleven different variations of this lined up and ready to go. Without further ado, my tasting notes:1. Le Cigare Volant 1998 (14.5%, mostly grenache-syrah). I haven’t seen one of these synthetic corks since the Clinton administration, I think. The winemaker has since expressed regret for using these on his flagship wine; thankfully, the wine doesn’t smell as bad as I was expecting. Light and dusty on the nose, it seems sweet and inoffensive, bordering on Luden’s cough drops. Strangely gritty, the wine is shot through with iron-fisted cloves; most of the interest here it textural rather than anything else. Frankly not too bad at this point, I suppose I should be lucky that the Supremecorq (I think) didn’t leave me with an oxidized mess.2. LCV 1999 (14.5%, GSM in roughly equal propotions). And now we’re back in cork territory here, presumably after the Supremecorq experience didn’t quite work out as planned. Immediately, this wine seems fresher and more vibrant, smelling rather like a Christmas fruitcake awash in sweet spice and rich, dark fruits – think plum pudding in a room with a cedar log fire. Relatively light on the palate at first, it seems a bit thin at first, slowly building to a firm base of fine tannins with restrained smoky-cherry meat mixed with elegant cherry fruit. Absolutely lovely and a delight for anyone who prefers their wines with some elegance and finesse, it seems that this has years of life left yet in it.3. LCV 2000 (13.5%, tripartite GSM again, this time with 1% viognier). Did I mention that there are URLs on the corks? Dude! Remember when those were still novel? Anyhow! Stylistically similar again to the 1999, bright cherries and spice lead the way, all treble notes… but this time there’s also a lurking sense of gravitas, surprisingly. Much more tannic at this stage than the ’99, the mouthfeel is denser, drier than you’d expect and somehow strangely joyless. Even so: the finish is longer, richer, more complex, with a core of meaty cherry fruit framed by those humorless tannins. Frankly, this wine tastes like a bid for respectability, something less Californian that before, and yet very good for whatever it thinks it is. An odd duck, but a good wine.4. LCV 2001 (13.5%, GSM sort of but with very small doses of viognier, cinsault, and carignane) was the first Cigare to be released under Stelvin, leading to a subtle and frankly rather lovely redesign of the packaging, finally hitting that perfect balance of absolutely serious in the best French tradition while subtly being absolutely ridiculous in the Uncle Charlie’s Summer Camp tradition. My only beef is the alien head on the top of the screwcap: was that really necessary? More annoyingly, the screwcap doesn’t snap the way you’d expect, so you wind up with a fairly ugly ripped-up cigar band. Still, this blog isn’t Brand New, so I suppose I should STFU about the packaging and get on with the wine itself. How’s the wine smell? Fresh and clean, very different and perceptibly younger than the cork-sealed variants. As someone prone to buying more wine than he can drink, I am greatly cheered by this. Do screwcapped wines offer the promise of greater longevity? God, I hope so: whenenever I find an old cork-sealed bottle I bought eight years ago and forgot about, I feel sad that I probably just threw out twenty somewhat hard-earned dollars.On the downside, this wine seems to mark the beginnings of excessive experimentation with micro-oxygenation at Bonny Doon. It seems to me – and I can’t say for sure, this is strictly speculation on my part – that the early 2000s were marked by an obsession with changing the structure and mouthfeel of their wines to be, well, much more velvety. I for one never really cared for the effect; it seems unnatural and decidedly idiosyncratic (and yes, I wonder what the sales figures showed here). There’s a sort of slipperiness you sense on the nose, even, that tends towards the vinyl-ly cosmetic; years ago, upon tasting a Bonny Doon mataro vintned in similar fashion, I mentioned that it tasted like the smell of a Tijuana reupholstery shop. This isn’t quite so far out there; still, it just doesn’t seem right. It’s the difference between prosciutto di Parma and the “meat topping” you get at Domino’s.The wine doesn’t taste like it’s properly balanced to me either; it’s strangely high pitched, slightly too acidic, without the lovely supporting tannins or richer, meatier mataro that did so well in the ’00. All in all, a letdown.5. Cigare Alternative A (13%, mostly grenache, some cinsault, less syrah, and 1% viognier; cork, not screwcap) arose out of the 2001 harvest as a wine club only offering that purported to ask a simple question: What would Cigare be like if it weren’t Cigare? First of all, we’re treated to a beautiful Gary Taxali label (more of these, please!). Sadly, though, we’re firmly back in super sibilant slippery softness territory here, with that same oddly smoothed out feel reminiscent of Sylvia Plath just back from electroshock therapy: there’s still poetry here, but it’s reflected against a lime-green wall. Strange.The oak influence seems to be a bit more prominent here as well; the nose suggests more new oak, perhaps, with a woody-spicy element working fairly well with the pretty cherry-red grenache. Tannins, however, are firm and unattractive, sitting leadenly underneath an airheaded bubblegum-cherry-red veneer of candy apple fruit. The overall effect seems cheap and more than just a little bit slutty; is this the Bonny Doon version of Harajuku Lovers? I’ll never know.6. LCV 2002 (13.5%, mataro-shiraz with some grenache, a little bit of cinsault, and some counoise thrown in as well for good measure) is – to me, at least – a return to form. One whiff of this bad boy and hell yeah, you’re back in strictly believable California territory. At this point in the evening, it’s like listening to tortuous prog rock that suddenly jettisons the Zorniana and just goes for beauty without cruelty: at first, this smells like good, honest, New World wine made with careful attention to detail, nothing fancy. Wonderfully subtle and shifting slightly, the nose seems to offer up darker red fruits than before – we’re almost back to that plum pudding territory – but this time overlaid with a fine suggestion of graphite, minerals, and reasonable wood. Sweet.Strangely, the wine morphs again upon actually ingesting some, suggesting extreme youthful exuberance, again with a tendency more towards treble than bass, and yet with a lovely, finely knit texture of fine tannins propping up the relatively straightforward flavors of the thing. It all pans out well on the finish, lingering with notes of smoky sweet tomato chutney and a real savoriness I don’t normally associate with red wines. Strange (in the best possible sense of the word), this is probably best drunk shortly after reaching Solaris, reminding you both of your home as well as the oddness of being alive at all.7. Cigare Alternative B (tripartite grenache, carignane, syrah with a tiny amount of mataro, wine club only, 13.5%, even more awesome Taxali label, 2002 vintage). God knows why, but the fake cork is back with this one, and this time it’s generic. Ugh. Remember those Necco wafers you ate as a kid? Correction: those Necco wafers you either accidentally bought or wound up with trick-or-treating and which tasted so bad that they immediately brought your childhood to a screeching end, suddenly causing an epiphanal realization that life is short, you don’t always get what you want, and that there are no guarantees at all in life? Welcome to my nightmare.This h
as an appalling cod-Smucker’s nose that smells like a Britney Spears or Paris Hilton perfume idea that was discarded because, well, overly vulgar. This grenache smells like something you’d expect in low-end Mexican candy, albeit without the interest and kick of chili powder. It smells like cheap soap in the motel you check in to when you’ve just made parole in Big Tuna, Texas. It smells like a Chinese shower curtain that will slowly give you cancer (but with unicorns printed on it, of course). It does not smell good.Thin and strangely full-bodied, one mouthful of this and I’m done; it’s like I accidentally took a mouthful of the kiddie wading pool in Brawley California on an overlong Labor Day weekend. This is emphatically not good. Still: awesome label.8. LCV Reserva Triperfecto (God only knows what or how alcoholic, this wine en screwcap was produced with wine from 2001, 2002, and 2003). I’ve long since lost the wine club insert that explained what’s in this bottle, but Google led me to the San Francisco Chronicle, which suggests that this is a straightfoward blend of the previous three vintages of Le Cigare Volant.What we have here is an interesting experiment, no more, no less. The nose seems strangely dumb, muted; I don’t sense much here at all, strangely enough. Texturally, there’s some interest here, with tannins and what seems like relatively low acidity leading to an overall relatively mellow sense of calm. Other than that, though, I’m at a loss for words here. This is good wine, but honestly? It seems like the sum of the parts has incurred a tragic rounding error. This could have been Big House Red Reserve and I would’ve been happy; as a Cigare reserve, though, it seems somehow lacking.9. LCV 2003 (13.5%, GSM again but with 7% cinsault). Screwcap. My first thought: French, albeit with a soupçon of the veterinary waiting room. I keed! As with the ’02, we’re heading into stranger, more refined territory here, with something like pink peppercorns, damask roses, and our old friend the Christmas pudding jostling for attention. Tannins here again provide much of the interest, this time monolithic and yet strangely friendly, giving way to a savory berry-cherry fruit character that sails on at great length. The line here is phenomal: first, alien roses from unpronounceably fashionable planets, then delicate fruit with a savory edge, and the finally that firm whoosh the exit of firm, wonderfully supple tannins and a finish of finely edged macaron and frankincense. Incredibly good stuff and very, very much itself, it seems to me like this is the Cigare to beat so far.10. LCV 2004 (grenache-syrah with some mataro and even less carignane-cinsault). Screwcap. Although I’m tempted just to refer to my most recent review of this, I’ll be good and talk about the glass in front of me. Surprisingly charming, this wine really seems to be hitting its stride in terms of being uniquely itself, definitely Californian, simultaneously different enough to be interesting and familiar enough not to be alienating. There’s a dark-floral, pretty-yet-threatening smoked tea effect here, setting off fully ripe California fruit to great effect against well-judged new oak (not too much, just enough for contrast). Bright acidity teams up with the heft of the wine (and, thank God, relatively restrained alcohols), resulting in something simultaneously pretty, serious, and elegant without, well, being foppish. Again: damn good. More like this one, please. 11. Cigare Alternative C (half mataro, with grenache-syrah making up the other half plus a tiny amount of cinsault), screwcap. This seems to me to have a fairly masculine cracked-peppercorn nose; in short, it’s tranny Cigare. It also seems to have a more forward, assertive sense to it, striving less for elegance than for chummy sports bar affinity. Surprisingly complex, we have well-judged tannins backed up against meaty, plush, decadent fruit that repeatedly fades into a mouthfilling, firm yet somehow gentle tannic background. This is damned good and I frankly hope to see more wines like this from Bonny Doon in the future.If you’ll excuse me, my guests are arriving. More on this later, but in short? I sense progress here. Delicious progress. Keep up the good work, RG.Bonny Doon Vineyard
Price: $24-$40
Closure: Other
Source: Retail

Simply Sunshine Red 2008

The companion wine to Simply Sunshine’s White, and made in the same mould. The challenge, it seems to me, at this price point is to deliver something with a bit of character within the constraints imposed by production costs, margin and the presumed taste of consumers. With regard to the latter, I have a horror of wines that are cynical and hold their drinkers in contempt; this attitude is by no means limited to cheaper wines, either. 

There’s no doubt this red wine is, stylistically, in value mode, but what makes it interesting, and hence why I’m writing it up, is that it adds a bit extra to the mix that helps elevate it beyond the usual sub $A10 bottle. The nose is quite rich and plummy, with a whiff of the confectionary fruit character that, in excess, sinks some cheap wines. But it’s held in check by some unexpected aromas: turned earth, dark spice and the smell of plum skins that, together, add savouriness and complexity. 
The palate sticks to this pattern, sweet fruit certainly dominant, just falling short of cloying simplicity by an undercurrent of sophisticated savouriness and well-handled oak. A soft, subtle entry that takes a bit of time to get going. Fruit flavour builds at the top of the mouth towards a very generous middle palate. There’s quite a bit happening at this point; plum fruit, boiled lollies, vanilla oak, an undercurrent of crushed leaf and sweet earth. The balance, it should be said, is tilted firmly towards the first three flavours, but there’s enough of the latter to suggest loftier objectives. A subtle after palate and finish.
A well-made wine with plenty of flavour; I feel like an attempt has been made to pack in as much as possible at this price, including a bit of “real wine” sophistication. 

Simply Sunshine
Price: €5.45
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample


Yelland & Papps Grenache Shiraz 2008 ($A19.95, sample)Although priced lower than most other wines in the Yelland & Papps range, I enjoyed this a great deal and feel its style is suited well to the sweet, plush fruit that went into it. It’s a wine designed purely for enjoyment, with luscious, dark fruit in the context of a smooth, easygoing structure. Not a hint of mass produced confection. This would be a nice house wine for pleasurable consumption on weekday evenings.
Clonakilla Semillion Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($A25, retail)As with the 2009 Riesling from this producer, a broader wine than usual, presumably a reflection of vintage conditions. The flavour profile itself is attractively fresh, with the sort of high toned, aromatic flavours typical of this blend. But underlining it all is a richness that seems lazy and fat, and out of place given the style. Certainly not unpleasant, and definitely well-made (as one might expect of this producer), but needs more incisiveness. Tahbilk Riesling 2009 ($A15, sample)I’m not intimately familiar with this label, in fact I believe this is the first Tahbilk Riesling I’ve tasted. Perhaps it’s a style thing, but I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t click with this wine at all. It’s certainly got plenty of flavour, yet the structure here seems coarse and phenolic on the palate, leading to a rough mouthfeel and excessive bitterness. Having said that, may improve with well-matched food that could smooth its rough edges. 

Balnaves Chardonnay 2008

It’s interesting to note this wine’s up-market position in a range, indeed region, known almost exclusively for its red wines. At $A28 retail, it’s hardly bargain basement territory, and the label goes to some effort to impress the drinker with the care (hand picked!) taken here. 

The style is opulent, with fruit flavour in the yellow nectarine spectrum and no shortage of winemaker input. On the nose, rich aromas of ripe stonefruit and cream, soft cashew nuts and lightly smoked vanilla. Wannabe Chablis this is not, and for that I’m grateful, because it offers, instead of second-hand style, a balanced interpretation of heavyweight Chardonnay that seems to suit the character of the fruit. 
The palate is as expected, combining a similarly rich flavour profile with a slippery-slide mouthfeel and what appears to be a bit of alcohol heat too (label says 13% abv).  Nicely flavoursome entry, with subtle acid and a hint of minerality underlining nectarines that aren’t quite as squishy as on the nose. The middle palate is where it’s at, though, presenting a wash of quite complex flavour, including a decent contribution from spicy oak. There’s a bit of crème caramel too, cushioning the assertive fruit and oak elements. Things start to fall apart a bit through the after palate, as all that rich, bold flavour becomes too much for the wine’s architecture to contain. But it’s a pleasant sort of disintegration, leading to a long, quite powerful finish of peach tarte tatin
I’m wishing for a tad more minerality, structure and thrust through to the finish, which would make this wine’s voluminous flavour profile nimbler and more elegant. Still, it’s a solid wine and will be pleasing to those of you (like me) who enjoy bustier Chardonnay styles.

Price: $A28
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Tahbilk Marsanne 2009

Authenticity in the realm of luxury brands is one of those difficult-to-define qualities that, ironically, is terribly easy to spot. For example, Hermès has it, Louis Vuitton doesn’t. QED. It can also, once possessed, be lost; see Vacheron Constantin or RM Williams.  In the case of Australian wine, Tahbilk is one of those wineries that seems to effortlessly exude a sense of history and authenticity, which is laudable in itself, but doubly so considering its reputation rests in part on some wines that, let us say, aren’t exactly at the forefront of vinous fashion.

Take this Marsanne. It’s arguably Australia’s cheapest most undervalued icon wine, made from a variety that, until the recent elevation of interest in white Rhône varieties, was pretty much off the radar. Ask an Australian wine geek and, chances are, they will acknowledge this wine as a classic, certainly sui generis in the history of Australian wine and one that continues to stand with few peers today. 
Given this legacy, it’s lovely to sit down to a glass of the 2009 Marsanne this afternoon and find not only a nice wine, but a familiar friend too. This is the real deal, with aromas of preserved lemon, pineapple and other, similarly pungent, yellow things. It’s a very appealing, fresh aroma profile, really direct in the way it communicates its composition, even if it is necessarily straightforward as a very young wine.
The palate has a couple more tricks up its sleeve, relating to structure and mouthfeel. But first, the entry is solid and quite immediate, with lots of lemons and unripe nectarines filling the mouth, underlined by quite textural acidity. As a fuller white variety, this really swells towards the middle palate, intensity remaining measured and the whole delicate within the confines of the style. The after palate and finish are interesting in that they show a waxed lemon attitude that I would expect to appear further down the wine’s development line. A promising sign? 
You really can’t go wrong with this wine. Personally, having been inducted into the pleasures of this with a few years’ bottle age, I’d be drinking some now and stashing the rest in a cellar. Surely the cheapest way to get your aged white wine kicks?

Price: $A15
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Vinoterra Saperavi 2003

This is a beautiful wine to look at, all rich damson murkiness disappearing into the glass. The nose is wildly complex, offering up suggestions of Marmite, drippings, cola, and dried herbs. To be absolutely honest, I can’t tell at first whether or not it smells good; it seems to exist in a strange herbal-yeasty funk zone that isn’t clear about whether or not it’s supposed to smell like that. On the other hand, I appear to be salivating, so I suppose it’s not all bad.Drinking some of this comes as a shock: I wasn’t expecting something as austere as this. With that wildly massive nose, I was expecting a New World fruit bomb, and what I got instead was an elegant, restrained display of finesse. The tannins are the first thing I notice, somewhat drying, very firm; then, the chalky acidity mixes in with very herbal, dried fruits reminiscent of dried cherries and air-dried meat (think Bündnerfleisch, perhaps). It’s absolutely gorgeous, more like a ripe Burgundy than anything else I can think of, especially given the elegant, mineral, chalky mouthfeel juxtaposed against solid tannins – and yet there’s no greenness here, just lovely fruit set to great effect against that solid tannic-acidic background.Vinoterra
Price: $24
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Château de la Negly Coteaux du Languedoc La Clape "La Falaise" 2006

Wow, lots of tiny French words on the label here. At times like this, I throw my hands up and just Google the damn encépagement because I really can’t be arsed to remember details about every AOC under the sun, now, can I? Anyhow, what we have here is a straight-up grenache-syrah from the south of France with a slightly porty, slightly confected, and very much grilled nose, grilled meats and toasted wood, with a homeopathic dose of whatever French is for the funk. The wine offers up an enchanting mixture of stewed prune dessert, well judged wood, and a sort of strawberry-balsamic-black pepper effect – very complex and pretty freakin’ lovely.Very rich and mouth-filling, this is big enough to be Californian, and yet that fine-grained tannin and minerality gives it away instantly as Not Being From Around Here, if you know what I mean. Sharp, lively acidity underpins it as well, so the fullness of the wine doesn’t grow tiresome; the finish is long and smooth, all roasted toffee over a bed of freshly planed tannins.Absolutely lovely wine and a steal at this price.Château de la Negly
Price: $13
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Tahbilk Shiraz 2006

I have a mini-fascination for wine labels, both new and, especially, old. A case of Tahbilk samples arrived the other day with a media pack, the first two pages of which focus entirely on the new label design being rolled out across the range. As someone who has an affection for Tahbilk’s terminally daggy yellow label, I was initially disappointed to see the modern, cleanly graphic design now applied to most wines in the range. But on closer examination, I’m forced to admit it’s a very successful design, engaging key aspects of the older label without creating an excessively modern look. 

The wine itself echos its label, a veneer of contemporary oak overlaying gleefully old-fashioned aromas and flavours. The nose is mostly savoury and slightly elusive, modulating between bubblegum and baked goods but never settling on either. It’s actually quite hard to describe, and the closest I can come is the smell and taste of blackberries that are, somehow, robbed of their sugar, leaving an appealingly plump, yet savoury, fleshiness. 
The palate amplifies this impression, a determinedly savoury core of dark berry fruit running its full length. Quite relaxed on entry, a peachy plushness develops towards the middle palate thanks to dense fruit flavours and chocolate-like tannins. It’s medium bodied and friendly, which masks to an extent the honest rusticity of its flavour profile, kind of like a farmer who scrubs up especially well. A slight objection is the prominence of nougat-like oak, which seems at times unnecessarily assertive. The after palate is dry and fruit-driven, with a slightly liqueur-like flavour. A surprisingly long, satisfying finish, filled with residual berry flavour and seductive oak.
A good wine and exceptional value for money, I reckon.

Price: $A20
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample