Smallfry Barossa Tempranillo Garnacha Joven 2009

What are the chances? This is the second Australian wine tasted in as many weeks made in a joven style, blending Grenache and Tempranillo, but referring to the former as Garnacha instead of the more bogan-sounding Grenache. This one is from micro-producer Smallfry, and the bottle in front of me is one of a run of 110 cases.

Dowie Doole’s G&T showed a Grenache Garnacha-dominant flavour profile of jammy red fruit, with Tempranillo adding savouriness and complexity at the edges. This, by contrast, takes a completely different approach, with funky, meaty Tempranillo taking centre stage, and Grenache adding some soft fruitiness. On the nose, the smell of pulling weeds, charcuterie, spice and soft red fruits. It’s light and fun, and its savouriness is attractive to me. No oak that I can detect. 
The palate is feather light, almost insubstantial, and it all might be too ephemeral if it weren’t such easy fun. Entry is sweet, but this quickly fans out to a savoury middle palate that is perhaps a bit dilute. The after palate shows the greatest complexity of flavour — crushed leaf and fresh cranberries —  plus a smattering of grainy tannins. Finish is decent. 
Very refreshing style. Personally, I prefer this to the Dowie Doole, though the latter’s generously sweet fruit will win many fans too. 

Price: $NA
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Chile, Day 2: Lapostolle

Fun fact: when I landed in Chile, I had no idea, but I’d always pronounced the name of this winery incorrectly. Even though I vaguely knew that Lapostolle is the name of the French family that produced Grand Marnier liqueur, I somehow thought that the name would be pronounced as if it were a Spanish name – and I was totally wrong. Sitting with an old friend of mine in a Peruvian restaurant in Valparaiso, sharing the best ceviche I’ve ever had, I was trying to thank him for the wines he’d selected as a belated wedding present and, well, I got it wrong. It’s Lapostolle, three syllables, and very French.

Forty-eight hours later I found myself relaxing over a lunch of empanadas and beef stew behind a colonial bakehouse in Cunaco, a small town in the Colchagua valley, just down the road from Viu Manent winery. The restaurant was called Mistela, and there is no doubt in my mind that you couldn’t possibly find a better restaurant in wine country. It was summertime, warm with a slight breeze, and we sat outside at an old wooden table, looking across fields of wildflowers towards grapevines in the distance. The service was gracious, the food nothing short of amazing – and most importantly, I felt truly relaxed and a million miles away from my office. Lapostolle had confirmed a visit to the winery later on in the afternoon, and I was hoping that it’d actually work out, unlike the Cousiño-Macul debacle the day before.

Fed, watered, and thoroughly refreshed, we hit the road again and snuck over into the relatively small Apalta valley, which meets up with the Colchagua valley near the relatively large town of Santa Cruz. Seeing that we were slightly ahead of schedule, we drove past Lapostolle and on to Montes winery, which was only a km or two further. Unlike other Chilean wineries, their gate guard was friendly and welcomed us in, explaining where we could park and that the gift shop was open. Sure enough, it was, although you reach it by way of their offices, which was a little bit strange. Lovely building, though, and if you ever wanted a Montes T-shirt or apron, you’d be in the right place. Once again, though, it wasn’t clear if you could taste wine or go on a tour, and time was running out, so we made our excuses and left.

Back down the road a couple of miles and there we were at a rather imposing gate compound with a guard; slightly confused (which appears to be usual for me when visiting South American wineries, I’m afraid), I waited for the guard to appear. He did, bad Spanish ensued, and he smiled and explained how we could get up to the winery, which was easy enough. Several minutes later – we drove slowly so as not to dust out the vines – we arrived at a very plain parking lot, parked, and sat down with a couple of German tourists and waited for the tour to start. The tour started – and then Lapostolle’s Brand Ambassador, Diego Gosselin, arrived, introduced himself, and soon it became clear that we weren’t there for the tour, but rather for something a bit more in depth than that. Suitably embarrassed, I thanked him profusely, and then we got to work.

Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle, the great-granddaughter of the founder of Grand Marnier, founded the winery in 1994. It’s a familiar story: French company visits the New World, preferably somewhere where the harvest isn’t the same time as France, and founds a winery dedicated to producing high quality wines. Sometimes it doesn’t work out – I still miss the Deutz winery that used to be in California – and sometimes it does. Just as Robert Mondavi partnered with Chilean to found Seña – in that case the Chadwick family – the Lapostolle family partnered with the Chilean Rabat family. Unlike Mondavi, though, the Lapostolle family eventually took over the entire operation, buying out the locals.

Grapes had first been planted near the site of the winery back in the 1920s, which meant that the Lapostolle folks had a fairly good idea as to the potential quality of the site. Many of the vines are still producing today, which of course means that if you’re looking for old vine Carménère and Merlot, then this is probably a good place for you to start… but I digress. The older vineyards are generally on the valley floor, but they’ve also begun planting newer vineyards on the hillsides as well, taking full advantage of the microclimate of the site. Standing outside the winery, I was reminded somewhat of the Dry Creek Valley in California, or Sonoma more generally: it seemed warm, dry, rocky, a little bit scrubby… only the Andes looming in the background were an obvious reminder that this was not even remotely Californian!

Mind you, I’m no architecture critic, but I have a real soft spot for building that are designed not to be flashy from the outside, but rather to be wonderfully thought out once you’re on the inside. The entrance to the winery was nothing special – it reminded me of a Spanish seaside hotel, concrete and wood and glass, but of course it wasn’t designed to be beautiful, but rather to be functional. During harvest, it looked to be no problem to set up sorting tables outside to receive grapes coming in on trucks; just as with, say, Drouhin Oregon, it had also been constructed to minimize energy usage and to avoid having to pump wine around the winery (it’s gravity-fed – and they seem to be fans of pigéage, only pumping over once or twice at the beginning of fermentation and then again only for the standard product lines).

Speaking of product lines, they were thankfully straightforward: Casa at $12, the Cuvée Alexandre line at around $20, and Clos Apalta, the tête de cuvée, at around $75. Grapes for the flagship wine are grown here, as merlot and cabernet for the Cuvée Alexandre, but they’ve got other vineyards as well; their syrah and sauvignon blanc comes from the Cachapoal valley (up by Altaïr winery), and they’ve even got chardonnay planted in the Casablanca valley, the fairly cool valley nearer to Valparaiso than to Santiago. Of course this is an oversimplification – I think they may have other, smaller vineyards near these main three – but I was taking notes as furiously as I could and didn’t get it all down!

Anyhow: we walked through the winery and this is what I remember. Gravity-fed as much as possible, it looked superficially like Altaïr on a grand scale, with large oak uprights for fermentation arranged in an oval, smaller barrels on the next level down, older barrels on the floor below that, and underneath it all a very James Bond-like wine library as well, complete with futuretronic auto-lifting glass door (yes, really). As I mentioned earlier, the winery is set up so that you can hand-carry sorted grapes directly from the sorting table into the room with the oak uprights; once they’ve moved grapes from into the uprights, they’ve got equipment to chill it down to about 5 degrees for a week or so. Unusually, they don’t use packaged yeast at all, opting instead to go with local native yeasts; they’re also in the process of certifying their vineyards as biodynamic (!) over the next two years or so. In short, they’re obviously dedicated to leaving things as much as they are as possible: no acidulation, no pesticides, no added yeasts, no nothing. Just as the winery building itself shows its beauty in its functionality (and the wonderful views out over the vineyards and valley, of course), I started to get the feeling that these people are very serious indeed about producing wine that has a real sense of place to it.

Speaking of dirt, the 200-odd hectares of vineyards nearby are planted on gray sand with clay way down deep. Surprisingly, they dry-farm the older, established vines on the flats, but the newer ones on the hillsides still have drip irrigation set up for now. Everything’s south-facing, too, which means that it’s cooler than vineyards down in the valley proper. However, there is another subtle difference: it doesn’t get as cool at night as it does in the valley because cool air from the Andes doesn’t flow down this valley. In short, it sounds like it’s overall cooler but with less temperature variation than the Colchagua valley proper.

After viewing the winery proper, we had a quick squiz at the guest houses; I’d seen them online but alas found them to be solidly outside my price range (let’s just say that a single night’s stay for two people cost more than a round-trip ticket to Chile from Los Angeles does). Up close and personal I found myself briefly kicking myself for not going into debt to stay there – yes, they were beautifully furnished and oh, that view – but thankfully I returned to reality soon enough and was more than happy to sit down and taste the wine.

We tasted eight wines at Lapostolle; here are my notes from the day.

1. Casa Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (92% sauvignon blanc, 8% semillon)

This is from the Rapel valley, further north than the winery; the Rapel valley includes the Cachapoal valley, which is where (I presume) most of the grapes for this wine were grown. This part of the country does get cold air coming down from the Andes, so it’s a cooler climate than the Colchagua valley. The soils are largely alluvial, with lots of large pebbles.

Tasting notes: Lush and perfumed, almost like fresh Bartlett pears. Not Kiwi or Sancerre at al, not fruity banana wine either; maybe a bit of tropical fruit, but a definite edge of waxy, lemon notes presumably from the old vine semillon mixed in from the Colchagua valley. Returning to it for a second time, there is a definite hint of a cat’s pee nose here; the most impressive thing here is (to me) the texture, which is rich, creamy, and mouth-filling. The finish is long as well.

This wine seemed to me to be very good value for money – and if not perhaps as good as the Lapostolle semillon sauvignon blanc chardonnay I’d had earlier in the week, only so because this was styled more along the lines of a dry white Graves. It’s definitely a nice change of pace from watery Californian, tropical-fruit New Zealand, or stony-mineral Sancerre; it manages to taste different and interesting enough to warrant a purchase.

2. Cuvée Alexandre Chardonnay 2008

This, the only wine from the Casablanca valley, would therefore be the wine from the coolest climate. At first, a very worked style was apparent, with very subtle flavors of quince and wood smoke. It opened up to show a really lovely sort of baked custard tart quality, delicate and creamy; I guessed that there was definite lees stirring here and I was told that I wasn’t wrong (thankfully). Toasted nuts were also in evidence, but as with everything else very restrained, very elegant; the wine appeared to be all about showing as many distinct notes simultaneously without any one aspect dominating. Definitely more Burgundian than Californian, though, with no hint of any buttery or blowsy characteristics.

As it turns out, the trick here is to gather biodynamically grown fruit from seven different exposures, vinify some of it in 1- and 2-year French oak and some in stainless, and avoid malolactic fermentation. Mix it all together and presto, you have an absolutely elegant wine that would be good value at twice the price.

3. Casa Carménère 2008 (85% carménère, 15% merlot)

Grown with fruit bought in from contract growers as well as with some estate-grown fruit, we’re back at the value brand here. What’s it like?

Kind of an aggressively fruity/jujube aspect to the nose here, frankly kind of whorish, but it tastes much more serious than it smells. Plenty of firm, somewhat drying tannins here that show quickly after the sweet plums and smoky mouth; there’s also a note of spearmint or eucalyptus on the nose, which makes for a quirky, moderately complex wine.

If you’re a fan of the Chris Ringland school of winemaking, this might be a good place to start. Definitely aggressively fruity compared to their more expensive wines, the big tannins here should make this an excellent choice for steak. On its own, though, it’s overwhelming; you could try cellaring it a couple of years to tame the tannins, but you’d be better off grilling T-bones, I think.

Interestingly, they don’t add acid to their carménère, which appears to make Lapostolle very much the odd man out here. According to Alder Yarrow, nearly 100% of Chilean carménère is acidulated – but this one isn’t. I didn’t detect any flabbiness here at all, though, so I suspect they’re doing something very right in the vineyards.

4. Cuvée Alexandre Merlot 2007 (85% merlot, 15% carménère)

An entirely estate-grown wine, this strikes me as a very Ridge-like wine: native yeasts, relatively little new oak, no fining, minimal filtration, and biodynamically grown grapes. In short, no tricks here.

Tasting notes: Relatively light and sweet (not in terms of sugar, but rather sucrosité… you know), there’s also a fleeting hint of tomato leaf; the overall effect is very fresh and appealing. Medium in body and very supple, the wine shows almost a kind of smoky, meaty effect (which I suppose is probably the ubiquitous carménère adding depth and complexity to what would otherwise be a merely pretty wine). There’s also a subtle hint of black olives and some burnt cocoa notes on the finish; there’s also a fleeting hint of that spearmint or eucalyptus oil on the nose here too. Tannins are fine and well-judged; not dominant, just correct.

5. Cuvée Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (85% cabernet sauvignon, 15% merlot)

Another estate wine, at this point I was definitely getting a strong sense of the house style; again, I’d say that the most stylistically affiliated wineries I can think of would be Ridge in California and perhaps Grosset or Clonakilla in Australia. I almost got the sense that the person making these wines was following a few simple rules: grow grapes the best you can, don’t mess with it, and when in doubt, aim for elegance, not raw power.

My tasting notes: Mulberry scented wine here with a very young look to it in the glass. Pain grillé here for sure, no doubt about it; a wonderful, almost textbook example of how to use oak to add complexity and balance to a wine without overwhelming it. Initially sweet (again in the sense of rich, concentrated fruit), the wine quickly shows complex spices and herbs. Absolutely huge character here; this is the proverbial “loads of personality.” Overall, the tendency is towards oregano and herbal notes, which are in pretty incredible balance with the spicy oak and rich fruit. Tannins are the only thing that don’t seem quite there yet; they’re somewhat lighter than the other wines, but it doesn’t bother me at all. I’d be very, very excited to taste this again in a year’s time and see where it’s going.

6. Cuvée Alexandre Syrah

This is an estate wine as well, but from the Las Kuras vineyard near Requinoa in the Cachapoal valley; this is just down the road from Altaïr.

My tasting notes: This is very, very much la syrah here, feminine and floral, and not Côtes du Rhône or (God forbid) Barossa shiraz. Smoke and bacon fat, classic in the extreme here, this is smokehouse violets lying on a raw venison steak.

I stopped taking notes on this wine because I wanted to fully experience it in the moment: this was possibly the best wine I tasted in Chile. There are a handful of New World syrahs that all manage a similar effect: the rich, ripe fruit you don’t often get in the Old World, but not overwrought at all, but rather sensitively grown and vinified with an eye towards smoked meat, bacon fat, and flowers. For my money, this wine can hold its own with the likes of Cayuse and Clonakilla. Truly remarkable wine, no question about it.

7. Cuvée Alexandre Carménère 2008 (85% carménère, 15% merlot)

This wine hasn’t been released yet; I believe it’s the first go at a midrange carménère, rounding out the Cuvée Alexandre line. For better or worse, this is very much carménère; it’s kind of a love it or hate it proposition. Me, I wasn’t a huge fan of this wine at all.

Tasting notes: The acid seems a bit out of whack here. Overall, the wine tends towards the bass end of the spectrum, showing notes of dark chocolate, tobacco, and spices. If the syrah was elegant, this is a wine taken in nearly the opposite direction: this is muscular, brutal, and very nearly harsh. If it were up to me, I would hold this back for a year before selling any of it at all: the tannins need time to soften, and it just doesn’t seem well integrated at this point. I suspect this wine could be a big seller at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, but this really isn’t a style I particularly appreciate.

8. Clos Apalta 2007 (61% carménère, 12% merlot, 24% cabernet sauvignon, 3% petit verdot)

Nearly every winery produces a wine that’s much more expensive than anything else the winery produces. This retails for triple the price of the Cuvée Alexandre; yields are lower than any other wine they produce, they use only new barrels, the vines are ancient (well, 60 or 80 years old) and ungrafted, they’re biodynamically grown, everything’s hand-destemmed, all native yeasts… you know the drill. We’ve all been to wineries and read through the list of Reasons Why This Wine Is Totally Worth A Lot Of Money. We then taste the wine – if we’re lucky – and most of the time my reaction is “well, OK, I taste the new oak and it’s concentrated and, well, that’s all well and good, but is this really anything special?” This wine is.

Sometimes – not very often, but every once in a while – you smell a wine you haven’t tasted before and the first thing you think is “oh, there’s that undefinable, ineffable great wine smell.” This hasn’t happened often to me.

My tasting notes: Unctuous, almost like Port at first, the wine smells overwhelmingly of graphite, stone, and minerals. This does not smell like fruit. Tarry, rocky, stony, asphalt and tar: additionally, there is huge, bright acidity here that suggests immense ageing potential. Tannins are curt, serious, and not at all green. There’s almost a fresh, wet redwood smell here; I also feel warm stones and sense a light jasmine or honeysuckle perfume surrounding it all. This wine manages to balance acidity an dfruit absolutely perfectly; there is obvious structure here that will carry this wine forward for decades.

The greatest wines are not like other wines. The greatest wines are instantly recognizable as themselves and themselves alone. This wine has the potential – and I hope that it eventually is – to be recognized as one of the greatest New World wines.


When we were finished at Lapostolle, I felt that we’d just experienced something very, very special. A month later, I’m still convinced of that; the Cuvée Alexandre syrah and the Clos Apalta in particular were phenomenally lovely wines that really went the extra mile: they showed, well, terroir. After all of the hype I’d heard about carménère, I feel like I’ve finally tasted something that justifies it; just as with California zinfandel or Hunter sémillon, I think that Lapostolle are obviously growing something equally distinctive (in the sense that no other place on Earth produces anything like it) – and they’re doing everything right in the vineyard and winery to ensure that its character is transmitted without distortion.

More like this, please!

Casa Lapostolle
Price: $NA
Closure: Other
Source: Other

Tyrrell's Canberra District Shiraz 2008

No red Hunters worth making from the 2008 vintage; hence, Tyrrell’s turned to other regions to source fruit for its premiums, the result being this Canberra Shiraz amongst other things. I like Canberra Shiraz — for its flavour profile and weight in particular — so this wine appeared adequate compensation for missing out on a vintage of Hunter beauties. Also, I see some broad similarities between Hunter and Canberra Shiraz, climates notwithstanding, so I am interested to see how Tyrrell’s has handled the style.

Very fragrant, with dark red berries and a bit of spice; this seems quite a ripe aroma profile, so the spice is downplayed in favour of juicy fruit and general generosity. The oak is a bit obvious in character but its volume is well controlled, allowing the fruit to speak first. 
The palate is very generous and round, and it has all held up well over two days of tasting. Weight is medium bodied, and structurally the wine has quite firm acid to prop up its flow through the mouth, along with a smattering of dry, dusty tannins on the after palate. On entry, quite tingly and bright, acid registering before much else, then juicy blackberries driving through the middle palate. There’s abundant flavour, and edges of black pepper, though I wish for a bit more complexity to the fruit character. I feel almost as if this is a blending component of a finished wine, that it could benefit from a little extra something. What’s here, though, is delicious and drinkable, so one shouldn’t complain too much.

Price: $A33
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Salisbury Estate Block 14 Barnevelder 2010

A rich egg yolk yellow in the glass…

The backyard hens are finally laying, after being raised, with much care and amusement, from day old chicks. Wilhelmina, the Barnevelder, is an especially pretty bird, with gold flecks through her dark brown feathers and a quirky disposition. Narelle, the Australorp, is rather common-looking but a good layer. Daphne, the Light Sussex, is just fat and lazy and no less cool for it.
There were four birds at first, but Sheila, the Rhode Island Red, turned out a tad butch, and thus became the centrepiece of a marvellous roast dinner. The food chain can be so cruel. 
So for breakfast today, there is a batch of eggs of various sizes and shades boiling on the stove. Perhaps hens, like vines, take a while to produce predictable yields. I will have them plain, just sprinkled with salt perhaps, and savour the satisfaction of growing something myself.

Ökonomierat Rebholz Riesling Vom Buntsandstein Spätlese 2007

I was a bit underwhelmed by this wine initially; it’s quite rich and I found it a little cloying. But extended tasting reveals a complex, delicate flavour profile. There’s a lot to enjoy here. Besides which, the label looks totally home made, which is fun in a low-tech way.

On the nose, slightly sulfurous with powerful fruit aromas and some floral delicacy. It has gained better balance with some air, so do let it breathe a bit or give it a good swirl, even if (like me) you’re feeling thirsty. Your reward will be good complexity and increased coherence. 
In the mouth, some air has again worked to its advantage, lightening the wine’s feel and allowing a wide range of flavours to express themselves. Entry is quite full and immediate, with fragrant mandarin and preserved citrus peel the dominant flavours. Sweetness peaks on the middle palate, before maximum complexity asserts itself through the quite wonderful after palate, with bitter orange flavours sitting alongside sweet, small stonefruit and a streak of savoury minerality.  A gentle, sweet finish of impressive length. There’s no doubt this is a richly flavoured wine, full of expressive, sweet fruit and, arguably, acidity that is too restrained. I’d still prefer a more nimble middle palate and slightly cleaner finish, but I can appreciate this wine’s silky, sophisticated mouthfeel — with just a hint of soft spritz — and overall generosity.
Not my ideal style, but a quality wine nonetheless.

Ökonomierat Rebholz
Price: $A70
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Clayfield Wines

I sometimes become intellectually lazy if immersed in something for too long. Perhaps it’s a universal experience or simply a personal failing; in any case, one of the great pleasures of any long term endeavour is to reach a tipping point of challenge and stimulation where jaded complacency gives way to renewed enthusiasm.

I mention this not simply in passing; this afternoon, I spent several wonderful hours tasting wines with Simon Clayfield. The wines were his current (and some previous) releases under the Clayfield Wines label.  I’ve written about Clayfield Wines before and confess to have enjoyed them beyond reasonable measure; to me, these are wines of immense integrity and appeal.

The process of tasting them at length with their maker was in some respects daunting. Clearly — and unsurprisingly, given I am but an enthusiastic amateur — the sophistication of his palate far surpasses my own, so it was as much a learning experience as anything else. What was fascinating, though, was to understand the common thread that holds these wines together, and how this might relate to a certain philosophy of wine.

What they are not is superficially uniform. Variation between vintages and labels is striking, so much so that it was a challenge, at first, to relate the wines to one another in a meaningful way. They do in fact relate, and quite profoundly, but there isn’t anything so obvious as, say, showy oak or a put-upon style on which to hang one’s tasting hat. What unifies this portfolio, and perhaps Mr Clayfield’s approach in general, is a pragmatic response to vintage variation and site character combined with an uncompromising attitude towards balance.

These overriding principles make sense of a portfolio of Grampians Shiraz wines whose alcohol levels range from about 13% to 15.8% abv (in the case of the 2008 Thomas Wills Shiraz) and whose styles move from elegantly spicy and medium bodied to full-throttle, dense and quite tannic. Indeed, once finished tasting, I felt as if I’d had a glimpse into the region’s full potential, which is an impressive achievement within a single portfolio of wines.

The 2005 Black Label wine prompted me to suggest perceptible alcohol isn’t necessarily a fault. This is certainly out of step with the current vogue for elegant, medium bodied styles, but I reiterate my feelings here and provide the 2008 Massif and 2008 Thomas Wills wines as ample evidence in support of this position. Both show some alcohol on the nose and palate (keeping in mind our tasting conditions included a 42 degree Summer’s day), yet remain coherent expressions of Shiraz that are refreshing and food-friendly. Most importantly, these wines show balance, in the sense that no one element stands out to the detriment of the others.

The 2008 Massif Shiraz ($A25) changed enormously in the glass. Starting quite big, with some port-like aromas, I found it initially challenging, as I rarely enjoy a fortified character in red table wines. As it cooled a little, the wine freshened considerably, evolving its aromas through several stages to end at ripe plum, cherry pips and olive. The palate is luscious and rich, not at all overripe, with fabulously smooth tannins and a sense of expressive, accessible fun. This is the closest Clayfield Wines comes to an early drinking wine, in the sense that it is open and generous, though showing a sense of complexity that other wines at this price point would do well to emulate.

The 2008 Thomas Wills ($A35) is a curious wine, conceptually. The intent here is to reference an outmoded red wine style of the sort that might have been drunk a hundred years ago, perhaps before striding out to face a renowned fast bowler in a game of cricket. I described it while tasting as an “anti-fashion” wine, and it stands alongside wines such as those from Wendouree in terms of its independence from the prevailing vinous norms.

To the wine itself, this is altogether tighter than the Massif, showing more complex aromas of rich aniseed and almonds alongside robust dark fruits. As with all the wines I tasted, mouthfeel is striking, here showing a round, textured presence through the middle palate and beautifully fine, silt-like tannins that melt onto the back of the tongue. This is a beautiful wine, coiled and tight for now, with a depth of fruit and power only hinted at. The alcohol is absolutely in balance within the context of this style, seeming to enhance flavours on both nose and palate, similarly to how salt might bring out the inherent flavours in a particular dish.

Oak handling on both these wines is quite different, yet very sympathetically done in both cases. This positive oak treatment is in line with my notes for previous Clayfield wines and clearly a strong point for this maker.

The 2006 Black Label Shiraz ($A45), which is the premium label, is all potential at the moment. It’s very aromatic, with almonds and other high toned aromas sitting atop powerful, but restive, spice and plum fruit. The dots may not be connected right now, but they are all there and it seems what is needed is simply time. The palate shows a remarkably elegant flavour profile, with the sort of seamlessness one always finds in the best wines. Classic Grampians concentrated plum fruit and spice, shored up by an abundance of chalk-like tannins. This will be fabulous.

According to the most recent newsletter, the 2004 Massif Shiraz is currently available as a museum release at $A40. A riotously expressive nose, with brown spices (cardamom-like), a good whiff of iodine, subtle but glossy cedar oak and some char siu, all atop regional fruit in the fresh plum spectrum. We spent some time discussing the iodine character, which is really distinctive and reminiscent of the seaside and Betadine swabs in turn.  The palate is light to medium bodied and, structurally, there’s still a lot here. Definitely one for those who enjoy classically styled, lighter wines, it shows a sense of balance that is quite different from, say, the 2008 Massif.

The 2004 Massif comes from a single (non-Estate) vineyard on an East-facing slope, which is shaded in the afternoon and, hence, develops quite different flavour characteristics from sites that receive more sunlight late in the day. This is strikingly, almost blatantly, obvious in the wine. There’s a sense of honesty here; a transparent view into the fruit that isn’t so much about “minimal intervention” (whatever that means) but which is all about understanding the best expression of a particular site in a particular vintage, and working to highlight this character above all else. I feel with this wine I am tasting the vineyard and year, which is, after all, the point of great wine.

The 2001 Black Label Shiraz was a real treat for me, as it’s the first Clayfield wine I’ve tasted with evident age. On the strength of this, I’ll be ensuring I always leave a few aside each vintage. Initially, a big hit of ripe banana, which is apparently related to the particular yeast used. This blew off after a while, revealing the most floral aroma profile of all the wines tasted. It smells of classic Grampians Shiraz but also, lightly, of juicy green flowers and honeydew melon. It’s the freshness of watermelon skin and aloe vera, and it adds a fascinating dimension to this wine. A small percentage of Chardonnay may be a contributor here.

On the palate, there are some deliciously leathery aged characters just beginning to peep out alongside a structure showing hints of that wonderfully limpid quality of older red wines. It’s far from old, though, with masses of primary fruit and interest. The whole is very clean, and shows a sense of relaxation and ease that is quite beguiling. It reminded me a bit of the 2005 Black Label in its round, luxurious mouthfeel. This is a wine to make you feel smart if you drink it with dinner; casual elegance, effortless sophistication.

I felt humbled and somewhat demolished after tasting through the range. They are without exception excellent wines, all of which I would be happy (indeed fortunate) to have on my table. Yet their differences challenged me at first. I suppose that’s what happens when you begin to understand something more deeply. My experience of the Grampians until now has been mediated by some flagship wines that are distinctive and beautiful in their own right (Seppelt St Peters, Bests Bin 0, Langi, Clayfield Black Label), plus a smattering of lower priced labels with a similar, less amplified, regional character.

What the Clayfield wines gave me is a view into the fabric of the region, full of site and vintage variation, leading to wines of uniformly high interest but wonderfully diverse character and style. I felt I had zoomed in for a closer look, and the closer I came, the more there was to see. That’s a deeply exciting thing for a wine lover to feel, as it promises exploration and inexhaustible interest.

How nice, then, to have a guide like Simon Clayfield, who, quite apart from being a technically accomplished winemaker, imparts a sense of appropriateness to all the wines he touches. His is a different approach from the winemaker who imposes a certain character irrespective of what the season might be saying. There’s a celebration of diversity in the Clayfield portfolio, of responding to nature and a particular moment in time, seeking to bring out the best in each opportunity to make wine.


A few glasses consumed over the past few nights. Very casual drinking; vintages mostly, shamefully, not observed. The best of them was a small pour of Crawford River Nektar. I wouldn’t call this wine elegant, but it’s fascinating for its structure and flavour profile nonetheless. Opulent and perfumed on entry, it proceeds down a sweet path before a range of crystalline flavours fan out through the middle palate. It then turns wonderfully dry, flinty almost, and quite textured through the after palate and finish. Very refreshing, complex and flavoursome, and quite excellent with tiramisu.
By contrast, a glass of the Dal Zotto Arneis seemeda bit tired. Still crunchy and relatively crisp thanks to some bouncy acidity, the flavour profile nonetheless came across as ever so slightly oxidised. Perhaps the bottle had been sitting out a while. There was enough here, though, to suggest a pleasant, full-flavoured white in the right circumstances.
From Gippsland comes the 2008 Narkoojee Pinot Noir. Pinot’s one of those varietals that, to my taste, doesn’t wear a confectionary flavour profile well, seeming to cheapen quickly. This treads a fine line, with a robust, quite characterful entry turning to simpler, rounder boiled lollies through the mid-palate, though it retains a pleasant rusticity to the end. There’s enough complexity here to sustain some interest but, unlike a few years ago, my expectations at this price point ($20 retail) have risen to desire a level of finesse not present here.

Dowie Doole Garnacha & Tempranillo 2009

dd_gt.jpgThere’s something both fun and savvy about the way this wine is marketed; indeed, about what this wine is. The label design for starters, which caused me to laugh out loud when I pulled the bottle from its box, calls out the initials of its constituent grapes. Being a fan of gin and tonic, I immediately thought of satisfyingly fresh aromatics and a vaguely medicinal effect. More to the point, though, I thought of fun, ease and casual sophistication. Not a bad association to make given a new wine label.

The style here carries through, presenting a McLaren Vale spin on the easygoing vibe of a Rioja joven. The nose shows unmistakably fruity Grenache alongside some soft oak influences — light nougat and caramel — and a darker, more funky angle that, perhaps, is driven by the Tempranillo component. It’s fresh and fun, provided you are OK with a fruit sweet aroma profile, and its complexities are expressed as cuddliness rather than anything more intellectual. 
The flavour profile is absolutely in line with the aroma, showing juicy red fruits, rhubarb, some sunlit brambles and gentle caramel oak. It’s light to medium bodied, with a solid attack of confectionary fruit, leading to a middle palate that is all about deliciousness. The flavours are fleet of foot, registering then moving quickly on, never allowing time to be fully savoured or indeed examined too closely. This is deceptively sophisticated; there’s something impressive about making a wine seem so effortless. A fairly light after palate, with a smattering of grainy tannins, leads to a vibrant finish of average length.
There are some things one could object to here; the fruit is quite sweet, the structure very light, the concept derivative. But, as with my experience of the Dowie Doole portfolio generally, drinkability and real world satisfaction are put ahead of intellectual conceit and pretentious winemaking. I’m having a serious craving for croquettes.

Dowie Doole
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Tyrrell's Belford Semillon 2009

I remember tasting a 1995 Mount Pleasant Lovedale years ago and, more than anything else, what struck me was its mouthfeel. The closest I can come to describing it is “waxy,” which doesn’t do it justice but nevertheless communicates some of the curiously slippery, yet finely textural, impression the wine made on my tongue. It was totally beguiling and has become something I look for in Hunter Semillon. 
And this wine has it, though embryonically. First to the nose, which is surprisingly open at the moment, showing citrus flowers and powdery perfume, high toned and with good detail. There’s also just a hint of something less straightforwardly fruity — minerally perhaps — adding darkness and some mystery to the aroma profile. 
The palate is, structurally, quite complex. Entry is flavoursome and lively, with a good dose of acidity and a squeeze of lemon juice. The wine then smoothes out a little, and that nascent waxy mouthfeel creeps in, helping the wine to relax and express itself with less edginess. It’s like a translucent sheen over the wine’s flavour and structure, perhaps robbing it of some detail but also cushioning its impact in a very sensual, attractive way. The after palate regains some more discernible texture before a reasonable finish exhibits one last, teasing flourish of softness.
What a pleasure.

Price: $20.33
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Tyrrell's Johnno's Semillon 2009

Tyrrell’s has long made a habit of highlighting single vineyards in its Semillon porfolio, and this label continues the tradition. Small batch (250 dozen), old vines (1908), sandy soils; it oozes cred simply for what it is. Tyrrell’s has gone a step further here and vinified the grapes in a deliberately old fashioned manner, sending things off the authenticity scale entirely. Indeed, it’s the kind of wine that is so tantalising on paper, one half suspects it will be a disappointment in the mouth.

In fact, it has quite exceeded my expectations. I’ve drunk this over two evenings and it has hardly moved, perhaps softening slightly on day two. The nose shows typically straightforward young Semillon citrus, in this case surrounded by a range of other flavours, from chalk to cheese, that add complexity. It’s still austere and quite etched, just with a wider range of aromas than usual. It’s also quite expressive, something one can’t take for granted with young Hunter Semillon.
The palate is a wonderfully textural experience. The entry is immediate and flavoursome, tight acidity helping pure citrus flavour to burst onto the tongue. Before long, a mouthfeel that is part chalk and part sandpaper begins to register, along with increasing complexity of flavour. The wine remains very focused and intense, as befits its status as a quality Semillon, but the textural influences create a feeling of generosity, if not downright drinkability, that makes the wine quite accessible as a youngster. The finish is extremely long and fine, with great delicacy to its gradual taper.
I’m quite excited about how this wine will age. I hope Tyrrell’s persists with the style.

Price: $A33.33
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail