On Friday, I was fortunate enough to spend time with Mark Gifford of Blue Poles Vineyard. Amongst the wines we tasted were his current 2007 Reserve Merlot
, and this 2008 wine, due for release in the near future. I wrote glowingly and, I think, correctly about the 2007, so it was fascinating to taste the two side by side. On Friday, I preferred the 2008 for its tautness and intellect, finding the 2007 soft-edged by comparison. The following evening, when I retasted both, the 2007 had zapped into focus, giving the 2008 a real run for its money. I still can’t decide which I like more. What’s clear is they are both exceptional wines, and in the uppermost echelons of Australian Merlot.
The aroma is heady, deeply fruited, dark and savoury-edged, with perfume-like basenotes of woody spice and spicy oak, tonka bean and juicy leaves. It’s both accessible and complex, at times almost overwhelmingly forthright but always remaining fundamentally elusive and unable to be easily dissected. There’s an element of the strip tease to this wine that is quite compelling.
Entry is dark, just hinting at a sort of plush decadence before showing controlled movement to the middle palate. Here, the full spectrum of this wine’s flavours and structural components becomes evident. Tobacco leaves; savoury berry fruits with just a hint of Merlot’s teddy bear side; abundant, sweet, textural tannins, like rough sandpaper; acidity that holds everything in its place and takes a moment to express its own flourish before whisking the whole bundle of flavours through a raspy, delicious after palate. What a mouthful. The finish is held somewhat in check right now due to all that structure, but is likely to gain greater extension and fullness once the wine has had time to relax.
One could be forgiven for thinking this is even better than the 2007.
Blue Poles Vineyard
Initially, my impression is of a dark, sweet, rich wine with some maturity to it. There’s a bit more dirt and a little bit of barnyard with some aeration, but overall the impression is of a good quality French wine, pretty much the sort of thing you’d be served at the France Pavilion at EPCOT: pretty bottle, hints of what is more typically French, and yet not altogether different than a California wine at first.I had to be patient with this wine: it took quite some time before it opened up enough to be enjoyable. At first, it seemed to be an awkward mix of outsize acidity with nothing more than sweet red fruit and barnyard; however, after half an hour, it displayed some lovely notes of cocoa and sweet, toasty oak. Even so, the wine seems to be overly ambitious to me: yes, there’s fruit weight, ripeness, oak, money here… and yet it just doesn’t hang together. Instead of charm, minerality, and any semblance of terroir, all I get here is, well, California style merlot with a bit more barnyard than usual. The tannins are still kinda huge at this state, the acidity doesn’t seem to mesh well with the wine, and overall it’s tough going and not especially pleasurable, especially not at this (discounted) price.There are, as they say, better options. I’ve seen Northstar merlot from Washington state discounted to the $20 level recently, and that wine is in my opinion a much more successful attempt at Pahlmeyer (or what have you) than this wine is.Château Carignan
Interesting wine on paper, this. It’s a new release wine yet, at five years of age, relatively old to be so. Not that this is a bad thing; one could argue a lot of red wines are released way too young. Still, it does raise interesting questions even before tasting around style and intent. To the wine, then.
Decidedly herbaceous. Not breathtakingly so, and whether you will find its piercing cut grass and mulch notes objectionable will likely depend on your tolerance for Bordeaux blends on the leaner, greener side of things. There are also aromas of (slightly too much) vanilla and and dark, concentrated fruits, sort of cherry-like but deeper than this descriptor suggests.
The palate shows considerable tannin and I suspect this is one reason why the wine has been held back for release. Entry is lean and slippery, and the middle palate does not build much in terms of volume. There’s an intense, focused streak of fruit right down the middle of the line; this feels pretty austere. Chalky tannins build through the middle and after palates, I question whether they are fully ripe; like the nose, it’s all a bit edgy without being completely over the top. Quite a long finish, all told.
A marginal wine that I suspect will divide drinkers. I like its brightness and focus, but acknowledge it will be a bit too lean for some.
The third in Yelland & Papps’s trio of new release reds (Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon reviewed earlier). I think I like the Grenache most of all, though this comes in a close second.
The nose shows brown spice, oak, liquerous dark fruits; generous and comforting without being excessively rich. It’s a very clean aroma profile with a hint of mystery too — a dark pool of smells, rippling gently and promising cool refreshment.
A gentle entry follows, showing no great rush to get to the middle palate. Rather, fruit begins to come in waves, riding slightly prickly acidity and an incline of grainy tannins. Not a highly defined wine, this is more about expressionist brushstrokes and broad statements. It’s also quite sophisticated; the flavour profile, mixing sourness and nutty oak flavours with just enough fleshy fruit, seems quite adult to me. A nice, long, gentle finish.
This held up well over three days of tasting. Give it a couple of years and then tuck in.
Yelland & Papps
Two things to note up front regarding this wine: it doesn’t smell or taste much like Cabernet, and I’ve personally struggled with it over two days of tasting. From which some readers may conclude it’s a bad wine, or that I don’t like it, neither of which is necessarily the case. It is atypical and difficult. It’s also oddly compelling and quite drinkable.
Starting with the nose: nougat-heavy, somewhat malty oak flavours cushion red, plum-like fruits and an odd tarry note. It’s very expressive in its way, though the aroma profile is angular and overwhelming in equal measure. It reminds me of a woolen blanket you’ve just taken out of storage; promising comfort but giving off strange smells that are both familiar and difficult to love.
In the mouth – plenty of flavour for sure. A rush of confectionary red fruit alongside a slightly raw, twiggy note, plus the aforementioned coal tar. In form, it’s quite uncontrolled, lurching this way and that, swelling on the middle palate and turning suddenly towards a thinner expression through the after palate. It’s also charismatic and a bit of a wag. Some heat on the finish seems oddly appropriate.
What to make of this? Bad vintage? Perhaps, though in terms of wine appreciation, that strikes me as a cop-out. Still, its aesthetics defeat me; you may have better luck.
Yelland & Papps