Clayfield Black Label Shiraz 2002

“Go to town on this one.”

So said Simon Clayfield as he gave me this bottle during a recent visit to the Grampians. We had just finished tasting through his range and, of the 2006 Shiraz, he remarked the spice had receded, but would be back. As an example of what it might become, he suggested I try the 2002 wine, noting it is drinking well and showing plenty of spice character.

He wasn’t wrong. This is essential Grampians Shiraz, a regional style that appeals to me very much. Of course, quality matters even in the context of an attractive style, though it can be more difficult to sort through. Spotting a diamond in the rough is easy; sifting through wines that you like right off the bat for their collective flavour profile necessitates a closer look to stratify quality.

This wine, in any case, is top shelf. The spice notes here — in fact the aroma profile in general — is both regional and quite transcendent of its origins, being utterly integrated and complex in its intense exoticism. There’s an enveloping blanket of spice and pepper, akin to a fine curry of the highest order, a multitude of ingredients fusing into a single wall of finely detailed fragrance. Great wines taste of themselves first and foremost.

Notable is the oak character, which is perfectly matched in character to the aroma profile, bringing a cedar influence up to, but stopping some way short of, the spicy fruit.

In the mouth, what’s immediately striking is a burst of fresh plum fruit atop what devolves into a cascade of aged, sweet leather, more spice and a well integrated structure. The high toned flavours are almost overwhelming in their intensity and persistence, and might threaten to unbalance the wine were it not for a firm line of plum underlining the whole. While the mid-palate shows the greatest concentration of spice, the after palate reveals a liquerous expression of plum-like fruit, bringing a sense of harmony to the flavour components and a curiously fresh resolution to the overall profile.

This wine was an interesting counterpoint to the 05 Castagna Un Segreto tasted immediately prior to it. I’d characterise the Castagna as in many ways a baroque wine; sinewy, complex, full of intertwining themes that echo and complement each other, but with a slightly hard aesthetic that tilts away from sensuality at times. This, by contrast, is like a Debussy tone poem; its face is atmospheric, its mood emotional, its construction crystalline. Fucking beautiful.

Clayfield Wines
Price: $NA
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Petaluma Piccadilly Valley Chardonnay 2005

Q: What do you do in the event of an earthquake?A: Well, if you’re me, you quickly check to make sure none of the wine fell over and broke (it didn’t) and then grab the first bottle you can find to calm your nerves.Thanks to the vagaries of the international wine trade, the local bottle shop had a dozen of these for a meager $14 a couple of months back. Sadly, the first two bottles were corked and nonrefundable, but this one appears intact.Not visibly old at all – it still looks bright and clean – the nose tells quite another story, with hazelnuts, burnt matchsticks, and pineapple clotted cream cake coming together to suggest a wine that’s been around for a few years. Rich, unctuous, and ever so slightly overwhelming (think California style) in the mouth, there’s a thick seam of rich, buttery pear and roasted nuts to be found here. The finish is plenty long, with just enough acidity to make it easy-going enough to please most anyone, I reckon. In short, this would be the ideal wine to serve in Qantas business class: rich, stuffed with enough flavor to register at even thirty thousand feet, and fat enough to please folks who don’t enjoy their wine unless it’s got a certain sense of luxurious, hedonistic plushness to it.The only thing I am is surprised: I love Petaluma’s riesling and viognier, both of which are wonderfully expressive and full of character – and yet this wine seems a bit vague (in the international style, at least). It doesn’t compare well, I think. to the Grosset chardonnay (which is presumably made from fruit from the same general area)… but it is at least a surefire crowd pleaser. Shame about the dead tree stopper, though. Petaluma
Price: $14
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Castagna Un Segreto 2005

A Sangiovese Shiraz blend from Beechworth.

This wine raised a lot of questions for me – on the role of blending, on whether a wine is worth ageing, on what is value for money. It also had quite a few of the answers once I came to terms with it. 
For me, on the basis of this wine and a couple of others (notably the much cheaper Pizzini), Shiraz and Sangiovese are undoubtedly synergistic companions. The way aromas intertwine on the nose here is very exciting. Orange peel, almond meal, tonka bean – it all begins to smell rather like a Guerlain concoction before a big hit of nougat and vanilla oak reminds me it’s for drinking, not just smelling. 
The palate is sinewy and intricate, with an array of sensational, intense flavours. Black pepper, dried cherries, unfolding ferns, dark fruit. The fruit character reminds me of the strange little dried things my grandmother used to hide inside dumplings on Chinese New Year – savoury, dehydrated and intensely juicy at the same time. This seems designed to age in that its flavours hint at the sort of complexities that will develop with some time in bottle without yet possessing any such notes. Quite the opposite of a sweetly fruited wine whose vibe might contest developed flavours. Medium bodied, the structure is particularly sophisticated, with acidity blending beautifully into fabric of the wine, and chalky tannins providing textural counterpoint through the after palate.
An intellectual, strong, elegantly masculine wine. Classical sculpture and proportion. Just lovely.

Price: $NA
Closure: Diam
Source: Gift

Karra Yerta Barossa Shiraz 2005

My acquaintance with Marie Linke of Karra Yerta Wines has been rewarding in all sorts of ways; it has provided me insights into the world of the boutique micro-producer, into the trials associated with just getting your wine out there in the public eye, into the challenges of juggling family and work life. And, not least, it has provided me with the opportunity to taste wonderful wines, borne of passion and commitment to regional tradition. My view is producers such as Karra Yerta are the backbone of the industry, providing a philosophical base around which trends and companies may come and go.

Case in point: this wine. It’s identifiably Barossan in character, with that luscious, irresistibly drink now fruit character starting to come up against some more adult, bottle-aged aromas. So, it’s very much in transition. I sometimes read that as a mark of disinterest, but that’s kind of like saying teenagers aren’t interesting because they’re neither children nor adults. Surely there’s a particular fascination in the confluence and clash of nascent maturity? That’s what I’m seeing in this wine’s aroma. 
The palate is full of flavour in a characterful way. An interesting counterpoint to this wine was a 2006 Penfolds Bin 407 I tasted just the other day. I didn’t write it up because it was pristine, perfect, clean, and faceless. This is precisely the opposite; it’s tangibly textured, imprinted with imperfection in the most positive manner; from entry through finish, a dense wave of regional fruit, roughed up by an edge of earthy, spiced humanity that puts corporate swill to shame. This isn’t trying to win medals, it’s simply a reflection of its place and maker, and is utterly worthwhile for precisely this reason.
Perhaps not much of a tasting note, then, but, one hell of a worthwhile experience to taste. Highly recommended.

Karra Yerta Wines
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample