Clayfield Massif Shiraz 2008

It’s been a few months since I last tasted this wine at cellar door. It wasn’t a rushed tasting as such, but it did take place in the height of summer, a couple of days before a catastrophic fire ban descended on Western Victoria, so you can imagine the conditions (42 degrees C from memory). I have been looking forward to tasting it again at leisure, which I did last night. Here are the results.

The nose shows thick, liqueur-like notes of plum flesh, cherry pips, chocolate dust and dark spices. This is such a deep pool of aroma one could easily, pleasurably, get lost smelling it; it’s just one of those wines. The oak is well-judged in character and volume, present yet never more than supportive. It lacks the detail and subtlety usually present in the Clayfield Black Label, but on its own terms is a lovely wine to smell, and probably easier to enjoy right away.

In the mouth, it is basically an explosion of concentrated Grampians Shiraz flavour. Perhaps not as spicy as some, it nevertheless possesses the beautiful plum flavours and general sense of elegance that are hallmarks of this region’s wines. Entry is full-flavoured and immediate, placing plum skins directly onto the tip of the tongue. Juicy plum flesh accelerates towards the middle palate, where a dense, expansive range of flavours spread generously from left to right. It’s rich for sure, and there may be some who prefer a leaner expression of this varietal from what is a cooler climate region. What astonishes me, though, is how the wine remains within the regional idiom and, at the same time, shows such scale and ripeness. Its generosity more than compensates for any tendency to stylistic brutality. Beautiful, flavoursome tannins creep over the tongue from back to front as the after palate progresses. The finish shows slightly sappy oak flavours and goes for some time.
This would be good value at $35; as it is, a dead set bargain.
Update: day two sees spice come to the fore, and the aroma now has a lovely rich fruit cake character to it. Delicious.

Clayfield Wines
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Quarry Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2009

Sauvignon Blanc isn’t a variety that immediately springs to mind when I think of the Canberra District, but this is a quirky rendition at a reasonable price. 

The nose is brightly faceted and stony with hints of brine; there’s little of the overt fruit character one sees in many other expressions of this grape (Marlborough, Adelaide Hills, etc). Because of this, the wine comes across as quite austere on initial sniff, an impression warmth and a bit of swirling changes only slightly. I like the fact this is focused away from obvious fruit flavours — its style sets it apart even as it makes it harder to embrace. 
Entry is full of zest and attack, leading to a middle palate that broadens with some interesting flavours. There’s an orange juice-like character to the mouthfeel and acidity that beefs up the body and creates the impression of thicker fruit flavours. I’m not sure the level of residual sugar, but suspect there’s a bit in here. The fruit flavours themselves are blurry, and one instead looks to savoury characters (crushed shells, that sort of thing) for definition. It’s certainly full of interest, and I note the winemaking involved some skin contact, which would have led to a higher level of phenolic extraction and I presume some of the grip I’m seeing on the middle and after palates. The after palate and finish are typically thin per the variety, though there’s a lingering lemon note through the finish that is stubbornly persistent.
The palate’s generosity is, one might argue, a slight cop-out after the lean aroma. I’m speaking to my own preferences, of course, and am mindful of not having tasted this wine when newly released. In any case, and as with the 2008 Shiraz, this wine shows stylistic interest beyond its price point. I’d be interested to taste a fresh one.

Quarry Hill
Price: $A16
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Quarry Hill Shiraz 2008

Interesting wine, this one. At the price, one might well assume the style to be an easy drinking quaffer; it’s anything but. In fact, I didn’t feel able to taste it properly on day one, so left it overnight to open up, which it has. It’s now somewhat more expressive and does not seem to be tiring. 

On the nose, dark plums, cinnamon, nuts, pepper steak and nougat; indeed, the oak influence seems considerable, yet the fruit holds its own, dense and powerful in its expression. There are some nuances — notably a hint of earth and something slightly rubbery — but I would not consider the aroma especially complex. It is, however, serious in intent and savoury in character. 
The palate reinforces the savouriness of the aroma profile. Indeed, this is an uncompromising, regional view of Shiraz, and I enjoy its confidence. The entry is mostly fruit-driven and possesses a sense of luxe that does not require fruit sweetness. I love the acidity here; it’s really well integrated and sweeps dense fruit notes through to the middle palate, where they remain well-formed even as they curl into crisply defined strands of flavour. More sinewy plums, roast beef, spice and gentle oak. This is a medium bodied wine, with reasonable intensity; certainly, there’s nothing excessive or unbalanced about the style. The after palate freshens nicely with a sappy note, then ushers in a surprisingly long finish.
This isn’t a perfect wine by any means, but I really like the direction in which it is headed and, on the basis of this tasting at least, will be watching Quarry Hill with interest. Really good value.

Quarry Hill
Price: $A18
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Dowie Doole Merlot 2009

I understand 2009 was a difficult vintage in some parts of the McLaren Vale. Certainly, compared to the 2008 Merlot, this wine shows less freshness of fruit character. It retains, however, the same sense of drinkability and charm, and for that I like it a great deal.

The nose shows plums, some spice and what smells like scorched foliage (the power of suggestion, perhaps?). There’s a prickliness to the aroma profile that may be partly due to the youth of this wine; whatever its origin, it is quite edgy, yet at the same time connects well with subtle, nougat-like oak notes. Overall, generously expressive, if a bit lumpy.
Entry is bright and fresh, with well-judged acidity carrying light plum fruit flavours through to the middle palate. Weight is light to medium bodied, intensity in a similar range, yet the components seem balanced overall. There’s an attractive icing-sugar sweetness to the middle palate, adding some nuance to the fruit flavours and contributing a welcome sense of plushness. The after palate begins to show some dried fruit notes that aren’t altogether welcome, which reside under a twig-like note and gentle oak flavours. 
A product of its vintage, no doubt, but eminently drinkable nonetheless. I like the acidity in particular.

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

Lake's Folly Folly Red 2008

2008 was a disastrous year for red wines in the Hunter Valley, and some producers — Tyrrell’s, for example — chose not to release any Shiraz-based wines as a result. According to Lake’s Folly, Cabernet fared somewhat better than its more regionally acceptable cousin, hence this wine. It’s technically not declassified, selling for the same price as the regular Cabernets. However, it has been labelled differently to mark a difference in style. 

There’s also, to be frank, a fairly large gap in quality. Whether this is an issue will depend partly on one’s curiosity for the Lake’s Folly vineyard. Certainly, the 2008 wine is an opportunity to taste a completely different expression of this site, and I value that opportunity quite apart from notions of absolute quality. 
On first sniff, it’s obvious this wine represents a vastly different style from the Cabernets, being both lighter and more fruit forward than usual. Although there are the usual Hunter influences here — damp earth, mostly — the fruit character is light, slightly confected and extraordinarily un-Cabernet like. There are plum skins and cherries and perhaps a raspberry or two; no cassis in sight. The palate confirms the light style of this wine and, overall, this seems much more like Pinot than anything else.  The acid structure is pretty fantastic, firm and fresh, carrying a somewhat dilute wash of fruit flavour through the entry and mid-palates. There’s a lovely sappiness to the after palate that communicates freshness and life. The finish is quite long, all things considered, with a lick of raspy tannins to close.
What an oddity. It lacks the complexity, intensity and just plain awesomeness of a typical Cabernets release, but despite all that it’s curiously drinkable and really quite lovely. 12% abv.

Lake’s Folly
Price: $A55
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Castagna Genesis Syrah 2005

I sometimes wonder whether the adaptability of Shiraz to an apparently endless range of regional expressions is a disadvantage. Variety certainly isn’t the issue. But, for someone like me who looks for order and coherence in most things, it can all start to look a bit scattered. Perhaps it seems contradictory to suggest such richness is anything but positive. Certainly, for the wine lover with patience and a well-stuffed wallet, Australian Shiraz on its own offers a world of exploration. 

Victorian Shiraz is my current obsession. From the Grampians to Geelong to Heathcote to Beechworth, there’s an array of styles with little to hold them together. Indeed, the fact they are all Victorian seems purely incidental. So this wine, from Beechworth, is like a bolt from the blue, expressing the most clearly defined idea of Shiraz imaginable, and seeming to set the pace for an entire region. It’s the sort of confidently styled wine I believe we need more of. 
An explosion of complexity on the nose. Meat stock, sour cherries, nougat, smashed black peppercorns, blackberries and ripe canes. There’s a nice balance between the elements, and a nice topography to the aroma profile; unlike some wines that show seamlessness above all else, this wine isn’t afraid to allow its components to stand out. I like its vibe now; in time, perhaps it will show some different, more settled faces. It’s dense and savoury, expressive and perhaps a bit of a show-off, which would be bothersome if it didn’t have such wonderful things to say. 
In the mouth, initially quite tannic. I’ve let it sit in the glass for a couple of hours and, though it remains a structured, tight experience, it is starting to unfold. Give this time. On entry, a freely expressive, textural caress of sour cherry. The middle palate shows stunning complexity; there’s so much going on here and, as with the nose, it’s not seamless so much as intricate and full of tension. Often we value flow and harmony in wine, but this is a lesson in counterpoint, contradiction and angularity. The after palate and finish show a particular glow of fruit and oak that smooth some of the mid-palate’s edges and help the wine to achieve a gentle resolution. A very, very long finish, sour cherry reverberating through a framework of gentle oak and brambles. 
What a fantastic wine.

Price: $A85
Closure: Diam
Source: Gift

Dowie Doole Chenin Blanc 2010

Whether it’s the youth of this wine, vintage conditions or a stylistic choice on the part of its maker, the 2010 Chenin from Dowie Doole is a significantly more taut, edgy experience than previous vintages (for example, the 2009). And, as delicious as the softer, fruit salad Chenin style can be, this is something else entirely, closer to the reserve Tintookie wine than to its predecessors. 

The nose shows aromas of delicate apple skins, minerals and a fairy floss note that I’m sure I’m describing poorly; fairy floss is the first thing that comes to mind, though, and it’s something I’ve noticed in a lot of Loire Chenins. It’s fresh and expressive, but not at all slutty; any seduction happening here is of the high class sort. 
In the mouth, a burst of minerality that races through to the middle palate, where Granny Smith apples mix with a hint of roasted almonds. This is so structured and alive — the acidity is abundant and natural-tasting — it takes a moment for actual flavours to register, but they are there, fresh and clean, and quite intense. Decent thrust through the after palate leads to a slight dip just before an unexpectedly long, truly impressive finish.
When opening the bottle, I expected a fresh, easy Summer quaffer. This release really is a step up, though, showing real sophistication of structure and restraint of flavour. This delivers a lot for the dollars, and I would not be surprised if it improves over the medium term. 

Dowie Doole
Price: $A18
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Rockford Black Shiraz (disgorged 1998)

I was excited to find this wine; I’ve been eagerly anticipating opening the bottle all week. From what I’ve read over the last decade, I was wondering: would it be a leaky bottle? Would the cork be too small? What would be wrong with it? And thankfully I was not disappointed: I’m now bleeding on the knuckle of my right hand as opening the bottle turned out to be a major production number: the too-small cork was firmly wedged in the bottle, and attempting to remove it using the standard methods resulted in failure along with a broken cork. Skittishly attempting to remove the final inch of it with a regular corkscrew resulted in a sudden burst of pressure and an accidental stabbing. Ouch. So how’s the wine?Thankfully, the wine isn’t dead. I bought this sight unseen, not knowing how old it is: turns out it’s a fairly old bottle. The bead is fairly anemic, but at least it’s still there. The color is an awful lot like American root beer mixed with cranberry juice: alternately nearly brown and occasionally surprisingly translucently black cherry red. It’s pretty, but could also be mistaken for Dr. Pepper.The nose is distinctly old earth, dusty loam with hints of prune, chocolate, and an intriguing mentholated eucalyptus mint note hovers over the glass. On the palate, this isn’t like any red sparkling wine I’ve had before: it’s extremely dramatic, the vinous equivalent of Norma Desmond, beautifully lit from all sides, a wine from another era. At times, it reminds me of extremely old balsamic vinegar or shoyu, with almost caramelized, umami notes. At other times, there’s a refreshing mintiness not unlike some Aussie sparkling chambourcin. The most amazing thing about the wine, however, is how long the finish lasts: minutes. Minutes, I say. Thinking about the wine long after I’ve swallowed it, I find myself thinking of hunting cabins in high meadows, cedar-smoked fire raising smoke in a starry sky, soft Spring flowers withholding the perfume for the morning.This really is a beautiful, profound, satisfying wine in a way few wines ever truly are. More than anything, I can’t think of anything else like it. This has got to be one of the most distinctive Australian wines there is – shame it’s so damn difficult to find. At this rate, I reckon I’ll next taste some shortly after retiring. Ah well!Rockford
Price: $40
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Sarantos Soft Press Moscato 2010

Moscato has quickly become quite the lifestyle product – one look at the press release that came with this wine confirms its priorities (low alcohol, wines that reflect a “way of life”). I hope this doesn’t appear cynical; although wine wankers (and I count myself amongst them) tend to revere authenticity and decry any hint of commercial reality, I’m resolutely in favour of wine styles that strike a chord with the mass market, if only because for some, perhaps, Moscato might be a gateway drug into a much wider world of wine. Even if not, I’m the first to admit some of these wines are damned refreshing and have found a place in my life.

This particular example is reasonably priced (not always a given) and stylishly packaged. It’s quite low on the spritz, which I regret a little because the varietal character of these wines can be a little cloying, and CO2 can help to cut through that distinctively sweet, grape-like character. The aroma here is actually a bit muted, with rich but subdued floral notes sitting alongside simpler fruit characters. On entry, tending towards fat, with quite rich fruit notes pushing aside subtleties of mouthfeel and flavour. No matter; there’s a lot here and it’s certainly easy to drink. The middle palate picks up a little with some textural influences that cut through the richness. Thins out through the after palate, which simply encourages another sip. Sugar levels are borderline for me, though I think ultimately well-judged with respect to the other elements, and should make for a pretty breezy experience.
I was thinking earlier today about fortified wines and how much I enjoy them. This, obviously, sits at the opposite end of the spectrum, presenting quite a different experience of enjoyment to no doubt a different target audience. No less worthwhile for it.

Sarantos Wines
Price: $A14.99
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon 2008

The Lovedale label is dear to my heart. Not only did the 95 turn me on the peculiar waxy mouthfeel that aged Hunter Semillon can sometimes show, but the 96 was the first wine I wrote up on Full Pour. 

Oh, and it’s generally a bloody good drop too. This one is not yet released. Interestingly for a wine style that tends to do quite well at the Sydney Royal Wine Show, this comprehensively failed to win any medals in its class in the 2009 show. On the basis of this tasting, it’s slightly atypical in its softness, and perhaps showing some of the coolness of the season in its flavour profile, but still an excellent wine.
Still full of CO2 spritz. Over an hour after pouring my first glass, there are still plenty of bubbles apparent and a noticeable influence on both nose and palate. Looking past the sparkling mineral water character, the aroma is already complex, if a bit all over the place. There’s lemon rind, toast, herbs and grass. I’m always impressed when young Hunter Semillon shows a range of flavours, as the best ones tend to do. The definition is slightly hazier than I’d like, but it’s expressive and seems built to accumulate aged notes.
Palate is very nicely structured. Quite full on entry, with a softness to the mouthfeel that temporarily masks a thrust of citrus fruit that shoots out from underneath and carries right down the line. More cut grass and pithy citrus; there’s good detail to the flavour profile, and it’s all quite lively thanks to the spritz and a firm, sherbet-like line of acid. It’s pretty young and raw, again with a haze of softness that drifts over the whole and adds a pretty, perfume-like influence to the wine. Excellent length.
Not remotely ready to drink, but should be fun with a few more years’ bottle age. Nice to see this with a screw cap.

McWilliams Mount Pleasant
Price: $NA
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample