Mollydooker Gigglepot Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Mollydooker were kind to send me an entire case of press samples earlier this year; I finally got around to sharing and discussing them with a bunch of mates last Saturday night. Sadly, though, I don’t have anything particularly good to say about them other than that I’m grateful that they sent press samples. I’m sure that even Alder Yarrow would agree that they did it right: they sent the wines, offered literature, and tactfully didn’t offer up any more than that.

As a result of last Saturday night, I’ll go about all of this entirely wrong and discuss one of the two wines that I purchased with my own money last Saturday afternoon, shortly before the tasting. I went to two shops in San Diego hoping to find a bottle of the Mollydooker ‘The Scooter’ merlot, a wine that I’d bought in the past and enjoyed well enough. Instead, I bought two bottles from their 2009 vintage: a ‘Two Left Feet’ shiraz-cabernet-merlot (which meant we could do a 2007-2008-2009 vertical of that wine) and this bottle, a 2009 cabernet sauvignon. This is the second time I’d purchased wines in their 2nd tier; I’d bought a bottle of Blue-Eyed Boy shiraz a couple of years back for a friend’s 39th birthday party and thought that bottle was pretty fab at $50. In the meantime, though, the Australian dollar has strengthened – and oddly enough the Mollydooker wines in this range have become ever so slightly less expensive at $45 or so a bottle. (For comparison, a cleanskin Napa cabernet from one of the more prestigious AVAs in the district comes in at about $20, Bordeaux is about $25 for something very good indeed, high end Washington state cabernet is perhaps $50 (what I paid for Cayuse Camaspelo last year), and the Ridge Monte Bello is $80 on futures.) In short, this wine is priced fairly highly, at least in terms of my wallet and other wines. Of course, though, I’m hardly the target market for this wine (or winery).

At the wine shop last Saturday, I overheard a typical conversation between a clerk and two customers (who had arrived shortly before I had; they were driving a Porsche Cayenne SUV). They’d apparently stopped in to buy a case of Rombauer chardonnay, which is a $30 wine from Carneros, a relatively cool California winegrowing area just down from Napa. The clerk gently offered assistance with perhaps trying something new; he mentioned that they had some terrific white Burgundy in stock at clearance prices (and he wasn’t kidding; they had some gorgeous Pouilly-Fuissé, Meursault, and even Puligny-Montrachet at prices equal to or much lower than the Rombauer). The woman gave him a slight smile, and chirped “Well, we do like our points!”Our points. In short, very American. But I digress.

Before I get on to the wine itself, let’s just have a quick discussion of the marketing. There was exactly one single bottle available of this wine at the wine shop in San Diego. The sign above it said something along the lines of “Hurry up and buy this before the point scores are released!” (They were released last month – a somewhat anemic 90 from the Wine Spectator, I believe.)

The winery have taken it upon themselves to register more domain names than I thought could ever be necessary for a single winery; apparently, there’s a  single domain name for each individual wine they produce. In this case, we have; its primary feature is a YouTube video. I won’t transcribe it for you, but I’ll give you the talking points; it features the winery owners themselves discussing this wine. Here’s the gist of what they have to say:

  • This wine is named after their daughter Holly
  • This wine is “amazing” and they’d probably have to say that it’s their favorite wine this year
  • This is a “step up” with “Marquis Fruit Weight™” of “80%”
  • Complex, long, beautiful example of what they can do with cabernet
  • The fruit from this comes from two of their friends’ vineyards in Langhorne Creek and McLaren Vale
  • They didn’t make any of this in 2008, and only 127 cases in 2007, so the supply has been very low and there’s gonna be a lot of demand when they release it

In short, this is for me a dramatic departure from the kind of things I’d like to know about wine before buying it: there’s no discussion of how it was grown, where exactly it came from, no real mention of taste descriptors (other than that it has “lift and character”), no talk of how it was made (oak, yeast, organic, nothing technical). Instead, you get two lovely Australians telling you about their family, mention of a trademarked marketing term that is – how to put this gently – is essentially bullshit, more marketing about how you should “step up” to a more expensive wine, a reference to their winemaking skills as being the relevant thing here (much along the lines of how any wine that, say, Heidi Barrett has touched must be a good wine, placing the locus of wine quality in a person and not in the landscape), and finally a lot of talk about how, well, there isn’t a lot of this, the supply’s really low, and there’s gonna be a lot of demand, so… well, you know, you should probably buy some.

It’s no coincidence either that the word “Buy” features so prominently on their Web page.

So: how’s the wine? First off, I’ll give you raw tasting notes from last Saturday night:

Mark: Grape Kool-Aid with cranberry sauce, but it’s really tasty in an odd way.

Henry: This isn’t as piquant as the Blue-Eyed Boy shiraz. Bitter, flat pomegranate juice… not the sweetened stuff, but the plain pomegranate juice they sell at Whole Foods.

JP: Yeah, pomegranate. Not sure what else.

Rex: This is completely uninteresting.

Yada: This tastes like burning.

OK, so not exactly the most enthusiastic bunch there. Right now, I’ve got a glass of it in front of me – when a dozen red-blooded American males don’t finish a bottle of free wine, you know there’s something wrong. It’s been open for nearly forty-eight hours now. Let’s see how it’s faring:

Color: Super dark, inky black. You could probably fool someone into thinking they were eating squid ink pasta just by passing some of the pasta through a glass of this wine. Obvious legs and clear rim indicate huge amounts of alcohol, but this is actually the least alcoholic of any of the wines we tasted at ‘only’ 15% abv.

Nose: Curious Asian spices of indeterminate origin, and very odd. Smells like cosmetics? More than anything, just smells like generic red wine, almost like an inexpensive fortified dessert wine. There’s kind of a curiously high, plastic, cherry-red note that doesn’t sit well; it’s like it’s been flown in from Beaujolais. I don’t really discern anything by way of cocoa, toasty barrel char, or other oak-derived interest here; instead, all I get is alcohol, that odd star anise-like note, fake-y red fruits… I really have to wonder: this is Cabernet? All of the things that make a good Cabernet interesting to me are MIA here: no tobacco or cigar box, no interesting green flavors, no spicy oak, no rich mulberry fruit… this just seems perverse.

Taste: Huge mouth feel (hello alcohol) on the entry followed by a surprise intrusion of acidity and again no particular varietal flavor that I can taste. Instead, there’s a mildly unpleasant tannic puckerfest towards the finish, which is admittedly quite long and mouth-filling (this is I suppose the quality that the winemakers are attempting to describe as Fruit Weight). I think the burning that Yada described here is simply overly enthusiastic alcohol levels (and in some part the surprising acidity, which doesn’t really make this feel fresh, just a little out of joint); it really doesn’t benefit from those, aside from a certain sweetness and fatness that I suppose are hugely appealing to its target audience.

More than anything, though, the most disappointing thing about this wine to me is this: it doesn’t really taste like anything in particular. It reminds me most of Jonesy port, a cheap and cheerful $8 fortified wine from South Australia (I think): it’s red, it’s deeply colored, it’s alcoholic, and it tastes of sweet, simple red fruit with a hint of spices. I can’t for the life of me imagine who would find this a good value at $44 – it’s not dramatically different than the Pillar Box Red wine sold for $7 at warehouse stores – unless I think back to the Porsche SUV driving soccer mom in the wine shop last weekend who did like her points. I imagine that Mollydooker have coasted a long, long way on that initial 99 point score for their Carnival of Love wine from their initial vintage; that and the huge score for The Boxer shiraz seemed to cement their reputation as makers of world class wine with huge point scores at low prices… even if that doesn’t seem to be the case four years on. Heck, even I bought a bottle of the Carnival of Points when it first came out; it was $55, I think, and I felt like it was worth it. But something seems to have changed in the interim: this wine isn’t particularly good (and by that I mean that it isn’t making me feel something other than pleasantly flush with alcohol), or at least not particularly unique, and charging this much money for it seems to be the height of chutzpah, especially given the easy availability of, say, Yalumba ‘The Menzies’ cabernet, which doesn’t cost any more than the Mollydooker but speaks (again, to me, at least) of a real sense of place, has a long, proven historical track record of high quality, ages well, etc. etc. etc.

With all due respect, I’m not giggling.

Price: $44
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Reichsrat von Buhl Dry Riesling 2008

Dry German Rieslings interest me for at least two reasons. Firstly, I rarely see them for sale locally. Secondly, they inevitably invite comparison to local Rieslings, which to my mind are amongst the best, indeed are perhaps the very best, dry styles in the world. Ironically, just as dry Germans seem to be coming into vogue, Australian makers are chasing off-dry styles that model Old World wines. One wonders sometimes whether adventurous winemakers are motivated by the pursuit of beauty or simply by boredom.

Anyway, there’s no mistaking this wine for an Australian Riesling, which in theory is a good starting point. There’s a bit of spritz evident on pouring. The nose is broad and shows slightly dull tropical fruit notes (think jackfruit) alongside a touch of sulfur and some minerality. The aroma profile lacks the immediacy and piercing clarity of many Australian dry Rieslings, substituting a certain rich fullness. Being critical, this lacks oomph in the upper registers, and I would have preferred greater definition. It all smells a bit lazy to me.

The palate shows more life, thanks in part to that bit of spritz, which contributes impact and a sizzled mouthfeel. Flavoursome on entry, with a mixture of citrus and tropical fruit flavours, plus a streak of more angular minerality that carries right through the middle and after palates. Good intensity and generosity for sure, though the flavour profile for me is again rather broad, suggestive of some oxidative handling, and lacking the precision and focus I admire in good Riesling. A nice, dry, minerally finish is most pleasing.

Not a bad wine, but too hazy to truly press my buttons. Still, a flavoursome drink by any measure.

Reichsrat von Buhl
Price: $A27.90
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Taltarni Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

I struggled a bit with the 2007 version of this wine, even as I ended up enjoying its down home company and forgiving its less polished edges.

This wine seems to me an improvement, although I qualify this impression by saying if you are averse to tannins, then skip this completely and take the next train to flabby Merlot; you’ll probably hate this wine. Personally, I’m kind of a tannin addict, and enjoy being roughed up occasionally by a brute of a red like this.

I’m mindful this is a pre-release, though, so one would expect some calming of the tannin profile by the time it’s widely available. In a way, it’s fun to taste now, with those rip-snorting, black tea, fuzzy-tongue, rough wood tannins overwhelming what is very clean, high quality Cabernet fruit expressed in a regional-eucalypt idiom. The fruit takes a while to resolve in the glass, so let it breathe a bit and you will be rewarded by increasingly focused, clean fruit that isn’t outrageously varietal in terms of flavour profile but is definitely Cabernet in terms of its weight, structure and sense of clarity.

One to watch.

Price: $A35
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

Mollydooker Tasting: Introduction

Tonight, we’re going to taste ten Mollydooker wines. I’ve assembled a group of friends to assist me:

  • Dan, my partner. Software engineer, regular wine drinker.
  • Rex, journalist, mostly a fan of vodka and brandy, but drinks wine when I make him
  • Roy, very modest wine drinking experience
  • Mark, mostly an Italian red drinker, regular drinker since 1998
  • Jared, normally a Bud Light drinker, been to a couple of wineries, done some wine tasting
  • Travis, Two Buck Chuck aficionado (“it’s cheap!”)
  • Henry, mostly a fan of dessert wines, Port… but when he wants a good time he goes for Colt .45
  • John, Mark’s partner, also a big fan of Italian reds but also fascinated by the Italian concept that wine is food and he’s fascinated by wine food pairings

There may be a couple more, but they’re not here yet… so I’m gonna get started!

Yalumba The Menzies Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 1998

After accidentally reorganizing the JK Carriere and Cayuse racks in my wine cellar, I finally found what I’d gone in there to look for earlier this evening: a bottle of wine that would hopefully be so good that I could forget about the corked Penfolds I ran into before. This is why I’m looking at this bottle now: it seemed like the best thing I could find to remind myself that not all cork-finished wines are bad. Thankfully, this one isn’t.Like India ink cut with cherry juice, the wine’s beautiful in the glass with virtually no signs of aging. It’s only when you peer carefully at the rim that you notice that aha! yes, this wine is getting on in years, with very fine particulate matter silhouetted against a slightly darker brown, now tending towards watery rim.The nose is absolutely massive, monolithic: it brings to mind fresh pumpernickel, dark brown sugar, good Cuban cigars, and ripe blackberries trod into freshly tilled soil. In short, it’s ravishing. Drinking it’s quite another matter; it quickly asserts a rather more European personality, savory yet with tell-tale Coonawarra sweetness, eucalyptus, and (most of all) mint. Most surprising of all is the nervy acid perched atop a thickly tannic spine, deftly holding it in balance – or, rather, tension – between the simple pleasures of the overly ripe New World and the more challenging, introspective beauty of the Old. The more you drink, the less focused and resolved it all becomes, with plum tart, dusty cocoa, bramble, and sweet malt pastilles all jostling for attention. In fact, my only criticism at all would be that I have absolutely no idea what this wine wants to be – but honestly? That’s just fine by me. It is what it is, it tastes delicious, and it could easily go another five or ten years before fading.My only real complaint is that I don’t have any more of this wine. Delicious.Yalumba
Price: $33
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2002

Winemaker comments from Penfolds Rewards of Patience, Sixth edition, 2008:COLOUR Medium deep red.NOSE A lovely vintage. The wine is fresh and primary with blackberry, liquorice, camomile, spice aromas.PALATE Sweet plump blackberry, liquorice flavours and dense, ripe, generous, chocolaty tannins. Delicious to drink now but will steadily improve for another ten years.My comments from Full Pour, unlimited edition (unlimited supply!), 2010:CAPSULE Medium deep red. Southcorp branding machine in full effect here as it’s been changed from previous vintages in favor of a slightly naff plastic number. Wonder what Pantone number this exactlyCORK Oh fuck me, it’s another cork. Sure hope this isn’t a bad bottle. Shouldn’t this cork be slightly higher in the neck? Hm. Well, here goes nothing… (Chris removes cork with corkscrew bought at a SAQ in suburban Montréal) Well hey, at least this isn’t a composite cork. Still looks kind of half ass and cheap, though. What’s this? “Australia’s Most Famous Wine?” That nice, but is that supposed to, you know, entice me? I mean, come on. Men At Work is still Australia’s most famous band, but given the choice I’d rather listen to Scattered Order. I wonder if I should be a complete toff and smell this thing?Ugh.This doesn’t bode well.COLOUR Shiny in that filtered to death kind of way. Deep dark opaque monster.NOSE When I was a kid, Mom seemed to enjoy eating peanut butter sandwiches with sweet pickles on them. Those were disgusting, but not as disgusting as this wine. We’re dealing with the worst kind of cork taint here: that entirely subtle amount of TCA that’s like a slow, fat person walking in front of you on the Tube. You know where you’re going, but damn it, you just can’t get around that person to get there. It’s a bummer. No matter how you try, just as you think you’re about to smell delicious, older Aussie shiraz, you get a snootful of vile, cardboardy, annoying, frustrating cork taint.PALATE Who fucking cares? This is going right down the sink. Shame I didn’t save the receipt from when I bought it five years ago so I can drive the 1100+ miles back to the shop where I bought it to get my money back. Instead, I’ll make a note not to buy any more Penfolds wine unless it’s either screwcapped or on incredibly deep discount, which given the near-parity of the Aussie dollar with the US dollar is about as likely as me voting for Meg Whitman next month.Sigh.Penfolds
Price: $20 that I could have spent on
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Ross Estate Shiraz 2002

After quickly dismissing the five geese Shiraz last night as being essentially boring, I realized over the next couple of hours spent with the wine that it wasn’t boring, really, but rather incredibly elegant. If you like your Syrah unencumbered by challenge – and I really don’t mean for that to sound as condescending as it undeniably is – then the five geese is really a lovely wine (and excellent value for money). Everything about it was absolutely even-keeled, with that lovely South Australian rich red fruit well supported by oh-so-tasteful oak. It’s just that it left me feeling, well, just a little bit bored.This wine – which is from a warmer wine growing region about two hours’ up the road from McLaren Vale – cost roughly the same amount of money, but doesn’t seem at all stylistically allied with the five geese. Instead, the Ross Estate seems much more idiosyncratic, offering up all kinds of sensory experiences that you can choose to view as either charming or annoying, depending on who you are and what you want from a bottle of wine.This wine looks much darker, denser, and older than the five geese. It’s nearly black in the glass with some browning/fading at the rim; it looks very much like soy sauce or old balsamic vineyard. On the nose, it seems to offer up a whiff of volatile acidity, dill pickle, dusty old barrel, neglected library books, and unaired cupboards. It also offers up finely ground cocoa powder, rich spicy oak, elegant, serious red-black fruit, and freshly baked pecan pie crust. In short, it comes at you from all sides at the same time; it’s either woefully backwards or tantalizingly, classically Old World depending on what kind of a mindset you’ve got.Simultaneously somewhat thin (at first) and paradoxically very mouth filling (thanks to lovely fat tannins that are not yet fully resolved), a mouthful of this wine strikes me as being frankly pretty massive, but not alcoholic. It tastes of lush red fruit coated in spicy cocoa nibs, all with refreshing acidity and moderately huge tannins that would work incredibly well with roast mutton. The finish stays around for a good long while, with faint hints of white pepper and dried herbs; there’s also a suggestion of butter toffee walnuts or burnt sugar. It’s much darker and somehow more serious than the five geese, but the acidity and relatively wild aromas on the nose could be less than appetizing for some folks.To sum up, this wine is more like what I’m looking for when I drink syrah, but from a technical standpoint isn’t necessarily better or worse than the five geese. If your preference is for wines of subtlety, balance, and elegance, choose the five geese; if you like it a little rough, with heavier, darker, cocoa-dusted edges, then this is probably a better call. Either of them are drinking beautifully now, and I’d reckon they still have a few years left to go before fading into obscurity.Really good stuff.Ross Estate
Price: $16
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Taltarni Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Balance is one of those elusive concepts in wine that’s difficult to defend because, to my mind, there’s a continuum in which a wine style can exist, and the point of imbalance on that continuum is pegged differently by different drinkers. 

This wine’s an interesting example of what I mean. I’m not averse to some green flavours in Cabernet. In fact, I’m probably one of the few people who have semi-fond memories of some green-ish Coonawarra Cabernets from the 1990s. But there’s a point at which the green stops being challenging and angular and stylish and becomes simply unpleasant. Does this wine cross that line? I’m not sure. It certainly did on initial opening, offering clearly unripe notes and raw, puckery tannins as proof. Curiously, it also showed the most seductive, plush fruit aromas that created an interesting push-pull aesthetic.
On day two, the wine is tiring a little, but also evolving to show more complex fruit and spice influences on the aroma, and deliciously tart orange-juice like notes on the palate. The green, curiously, has receded a little, dragging the wine back into the land of characterful balance. Tannins are better behaved, though ultimately still a bit aggressive, and it’s here the wine’s questionable astringency remains most present. Overall, though, there’s a sense of honest regionality with this wine that I am enjoying, despite the rough edges.
I also have a 2008 vintage in the pile and will taste it with interest.

Price: $A35
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

2002 five geese Shiraz

Dusty and mostly forgotten, this bottle’s been hanging on my living room wall for nearly for years now, apparently and rather sadly consigned to the role of wall ornament, not wine. Coming home from work today in the cool San Diego rain, though, I figured it was time to actually drink the stuff.Showing only faint traces of age at the rim, the wine looks like your standard Aussie shiraz: opaque, with nearly invisible particulate matter that suggests fine tannin. In short, just fine by me. The nose is more interesting than many wines in this price range, with oaky raspberry accompanied by suggestions of Medjool dates and Moroccan olive; it seems clear that this wine has seen plenty of oak, but it seems integrated and not overly showy.Mouthfeel is lovely, especially given the age, with moderately fleshy fruits tempered by a more serious backbone of absolutely correct, if slightly humorless oak. There’s well judged acidity backing everything up, resulting in a wine that is just serious enough to potentially pass for Crozes-Hermitage but which is still obviously ripe enough to please anyone who enjoys a glass of red with their meal. In short, everything’s in its right place, but the overall effect is strangely nowhere in particular. Other red wines from the McLaren Vale seem to show a lot more exuberance and joy than this particular bottle; that may result in wines that are alcoholic and faintly ridiculous, but isn’t it better to create something that uniquely speaks of place rather than keep it tastefully in check and wind up with a wine that is tasty but somehow vacant, devoid of personality? I’m not sure about this wine. As an aside: my French is rusty, but shouldn’t Sue Trott describe herself as a vigneronne, not a ‘female vigneron?’five geese
Price: $14
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail