Holidays leave little time for blogging and, interestingly, for drinking too. However, a few items have been consumed along the way so far, brief impressions of which follow.

Continuing on my supermarket wine odyssey for a moment, I had a bottle of ASDA’s 2009 Montagne Saint-Emilion (£6) last night. there are precious few details on the bottle as to it provenance, but the wine itself turned out to be very drinkable, slightly simple and confected red fruit flavours forming an appropriately light layer atop a well balanced platform of acid and tannin. A really nice bistro-style wine that I could happily throw back by the carafe-full at lunch.

Rather more spectacular was a bottle of Morris Grant Liqueur Tokay NV ($A35). Morris’s house style is typically fuller and sweeter than other Rutherglen producers, and this wine was a powerhouse of coffee, tea-leaf and toffee flavours. Incredible length and drive, exciting intensity, complex flavours. Not the most elegant Tokay I’ve ever had but oh-so satisfying.&

I wasn’t, and am still not, sure what to make of a bottle of 2005 Glaetzer Godolphin (£30), more from a stylistic perspective than a quality one. There’s no doubt in my mind this is the wine it sets out to be, with gobs of dense fruit and oak on both nose and palate. The fruit’s character is typically Barossan too, with the kind of warm juiciness fans of this region will value highly. If it’s not my cup of tea, being a little garrulous and brutish as a style, then perhaps that’s simply my loss.

Ridge Lytton Springs 2005

Wine lovers are often bargain hunters too, perhaps by necessity. Back in 2002, Chris and I happened to be in the same city at the same time (Sydney), and experienced the joy of locating, then purchasing, an entire stash of 1994 Ridge Geyserville from a little bottle shop in Chinatown. To find such a wine was grand enough, but the proprietors of the bottle shop in which it lay clearly had no idea what it was, and were happy to sell us the lot for (from memory) about ten dollars a bottle.

Of course, wines of such dodgy provenance often prove disappointing, let alone ones made of a grape (Zinfandel) whose ability to age is contested. But the first bottle we opened that night — before our most memorable dinner — was good, and so was every bottle tasted thereafter. I’ve long finished my half of the stash, but the memory of both the find and the consumption remain vivid. Chris regularly stokes these fond recollections by providing a bottle or two of Ridge wine whenever we meet to drink, so over the years I’ve been lucky enough to taste everything from various Monte Bellos to a spectacular Syrah that gave a bottle of 2001 Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier tasted alongside a run for its money. I remember approaching that Syrah after some initial courses of German Riesling and so on; we were at that point in a grand dinner where the company, food and alcohol begin to meld into a single warm sensation. I smelled it once, not knowing what to expect, and was completely unable to control a spontaneous éclat of laughter. It was so wonderful.

All of which makes it difficult for me to write objectively about Ridge wines. In a sense, though, to approach this wine through a lens of dispassionate evaluation is to miss both what it means to me and what it represents, stylistically. Although I had never tasted this particular vintage before last night, the warm prickliness of its aroma was immediately transportative. To me, this smells of Californian wine, and for that alone I grant it enormous value. Each time I taste a Zinfandel-based wine, in particular those by Ridge, I love the difference of its flavour profile. Here, there’s intense spice and fruit cake, abundant chocolate, coconut and cherries. It’s as if someone stuffed a Cherry Ripe into the ripest, richest Christmas cake imaginable. Hence, it’s not an elegant wine in either character or footprint, and I love that it presents its notes with such blustery confidence.

The palate rebalances the aroma’s intense spice by providing a core of sweet, bright red fruit that cools the flavour profile. Entry is crisp and immediate, starting dark but quickly brightening to show a mix of red and black fruits. These fruits are juicy and perfectly ripened and provide much of the pleasure of eating freshly picked berries. Swirling all around this core are warm, rich spice notes, well-balanced mocha oak and a streak of bright orange juice. The finish leaves one with a lingering impression of the purest, sweetest fruit. Structurally, this is quite spectacular, the acid totally integrated and the tannins chewy and sweet. It’s taken a day to really open up, so I’d be leaving further bottles in the cellar for at least two to three more years before retasting.

In a sense, tasting a single wine prompts one to reflect on the entirety of one’s tasting experiences. This is what makes wine a pastime that becomes exponentially richer as the years pass, and also what can magnify the experience of one wine beyond all proportion. Happily, this wine was able to bear the full weight of my memories.

Price: £25
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Closerie des Alisiers Meursault Vieilles Vignes 2008

Onwards with my British supermarket wine odyssey. Last night I was browsing in a Sainsbury’s and gravitated to the “fine wine” section. Out jumped this little number, a village-level white Burgundy priced at a reasonable (in Australian terms) £20. Unlike the recent Tesco disappointment, this wine is not a house-branded wine.

An interesting nose, mutable and complex, showing by turns savoury minerality, rich peach syrup and lemon thyme. There’s a bit of marginally distracting sulfur that emphasises the savouriness of the aroma profile. Is it an attractive wine to smell? Not in a conventional sense; it’s too angular and too full of contrasts. But there’s a lot there and overall the aroma communicates a nice sense of sophistication.

The palate is shockingly acidic at first, and this acidity briefly masks an array of quite fabulous flavours. Things seem more coherent in the mouth than on the nose, due in part to a rounding out of each flavour component. The fruit is now juicy and fleshy, the nutty creaminess a much more significant influence. Add to this a buxom mouthfeel and the wine really starts to come alive as you work your way through the first glass. By way of criticism, intensity is only moderate, and this jars when placed against the plushness and weight of the wine. Also, the flavour profile as a whole continues to lack a sense of wholeness that one would ideally see, but each element is pleasing on its own terms, and I wonder whether a bit of a rest in bottle might bring things together.

Not bad at all.

Closerie des Alisiers
Price: £19.95
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Casa Vinicola Luigi Cecchi & Figli Chianti Classico 2008

Also known as Tesco’s generic Chianti Classico. One of the things I’ve been amused by on my visit to the UK is the reorientation required when browsing supermarket wine aisles. Italian, Argentinian, Chilean and South African wines all seem to vie for cheapest spot, while the Aussies are off to one side with either unexpectedly expensive wines (for example, Jacob’s Creek) or really boring looking labels that seem to equate “export only” with a complete lack of personality on the shelf. Meanwhile, Tesco’s shelves seem heavily occupied with its own “selections” that encompass the usual regional suspects: Rhône, Burgundy, Bordeaux and various Italian regions, including of course Chianti.

So, browsing my local Tesco Express last night, I decided to do as the locals do and pick up a bottle of Tesco’s 2008 Chianti Classico to go with an Italian meal my host was preparing. There are few wines I prefer to drink with robust food more than a good Chianti, and I was curious to see how Tesco’s buyers had chosen to navigate the dangers of overcropped Sangiovese with their selection.

As it turns out, not all that well. Despite being varietally correct, this wine shows a degree of dilution that robs it of a lot of enjoyment. Sharp aromas of red cherries, twigs and raw almonds on the nose. It’s what I’d expect from such a wine, perhaps a little simple, but certainly correct. And volume isn’t the problem; what’s there is expressive. It’s just so thin, lacking in the kind of meaty density that makes any wine enticing to smell.

Again, totally correct with very attractive flavours on the palate; some marzipan thrown in amongst a big hit of sour cherries and vanilla. I’m also pleased with the wine’s mouthfeel, as it shows just enough of the rusticity that I look for in Sangiovese. But oh, how dilute are the flavours! It’s really quite tough to sit with a wine that hints at such satisfaction but which never actually delivers. Each mouthful is a struggle to get what I need from it.

Often, “food wine” is code for “not very good.” For me, though, food wines often bear the heaviest burden, as they must live up not only to their own potential but that of the meal too. The exceptional quality of my meal last night made this wine’s shortcomings even less acceptable.

Casa Vinicola Luigi Cecchi & Figli
Price: £10
Closure: Diam
Source: Retail

Clayfield Black Label Shiraz 2008

I’m in the UK enjoying a rather overdue holiday. My current locale is the North East — County Durham — where each day is marked by lashings of rain, wind and the occasional burst of lovely sunshine. Certainly a dramatic change from the floods, cyclones and general sub-tropicalness I left behind in Queensland, but no less invigorating for it.

One thing I didn’t leave behind, though, was this bottle of wine. I brought it along to share with my host here as (what I hoped would be) an example of one of our great Shiraz styles. Three nights ago, we sat down to to a richly aromatic lamb pot roast and I thought it the right occasion to crack this open.

What a disappointment (bear with me, though). On opening, it was disjointed, overly chocolatey and lacking in the particular Grampians fruit character that makes this style so enduring and exciting. Surely this couldn’t be a representative bottle. Simon Clayfield is a painfully talented winemaker, so I had difficultly interpreting this wine’s ungainliness, as did my host, who felt it smelled overwhelmingly of dusty Christmas ornaments in musty packaging (and he’s not even a wino… impressive). We left it aside after a glass each and it’s only now that I’m returning to it, on the chance that something interesting has happened in bottle.

And boy, has it ever. The lesson here is to give this wine plenty of time and air. Three days after opening, it’s just beginning to sing with the most charming and typical plum fruit character, brown spice, flashes of red berry, brambles, dust and cocoa powder. Such complexity and luxe, it’s a wonderful wine to keep smelling. I should note, though, this is definitely a product of its vintage, being a richer wine with less classically cool climate character than is sometimes found in wines of this region.

The palate is most dramatically changed from a few days ago, showing an elegance of line that simply wasn’t present at first. It’s also pleasingly fresh, the bright fruit character and juicy orange acid contributing most to this impression. Overall, it’s medium bodied in weight and brisk in movement, scattering fruit, freshly ground spice and subtle oak across the tongue. It all culminates in a long, rustic finish whose tannins rasp the tongue coquettishly, both sweet and rough. There’s some heat on the palate, unsurprising given its 15.7% abv; whether this is an issue may vary from drinker to drinker.

So glad I waited.

Clayfield Wines
Price: $A65
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Monte Xanic Chardonnay 2007

It’s a funny thing: if I stand up on the roof of my house, I can see Mexico. The city where I live used to be Mexican, most of the workers in Californian vineyards are Mexican, and yet finding Mexican wine in these parts is dang near impossible. Sure, San Diego’s just an hour’s drive away from the finest vineyards in Mexico – and yet it’s easier to find Uruguayan tannat or Romanian fetească albă here than a simple Chardonnay grown just down the road.

This bottle was retrieved from Costco Mexicali; I would hazard a guess that it represents solid middle class Chardonnay in Mexico. Given the high taxes on wine in Mexico, it’s roughly twice the cost a similarly positioned California chard would cost, which is a real shame.

The wine is strikingly clear, somewhat pale gold with a tinge of green. The nose is quintessentially Burgundian, with matchstick, cashew, and cream in abundance. There are also hints of pear and toasty oak as well as something approaching cherimoya.

Unabashedly fat, the first impression I get here is frankly that of a clumsy hommage to the likes of K-J Vintners Reserve chard. This doesn’t quite hold true, though, as there appears to be no residual sugar here; more tellingly, there is plenty of acidity on the back palate to hold off the initial creamy onslaught. Even so, the overall effect is of dairy cream candy a thousand miles away from Chablis – until the finish, that is, when the acidity takes over and almost allows the wine to finish on a refreshing note… almost.

This is a curious wine and damn near a very good one indeed. My only real problem here is that it seems to be somewhat undecided about what it wants to be: all signs point towards creamy, lees-y, over-the-top Californian chardonnay, and yet that finish betrays its European side more than anything else. Ultimately, though, it’s a lot more interesting than other wines in its price class and definitely worth checking out. (Just don’t try to bring more than one bottle back if you’re a California resident and you’re driving yourself back across the border – I learned the hard way that Draconian laws here will result in a lengthy detention in secondary inspection while la migra waits for you to empty all of your other bottles into a sink. Oops.)

Monte Xanic
Price: $20
Closure: Diam
Source: Retail