The obviousness of a showy wine makes it easy to write about, whether positively or negatively. Such styles get a reaction, they force you to take sides and, if you care about discussing wine in terms beyond “I like it,” to explain why.
This wine, on the other hand, has me scratching my head, not because I don’t like it (I do), but because no matter how hard I try, I find it difficult to write about in terms that adequately communicate its pleasures. I suspect this is in part because it’s an easy wine to enjoy; it dodges every attempt I make to see it as difficult. The nose gives up everything it’s got without much effort on the drinker’s part and, while there’s plenty of complexity to the aroma profile, the dominant notes provide easy regional comfort: leather and dirt, red cherries, sit-on-my-lap nougat oak, a surprising lilt of white pepper.
In the mouth, these flavours flow easily over the tongue; it’s quite spectacular how this manages to deliver the goods without any apparent effort. Part of it is architectural; light bodied and lightly structured, this isn’t formless so much as waifishly elegant. Acid makes the biggest textural impression through the after palate, giving life to the palate and drawing out the best in its transparent, squeaky red fruit. Yet the wine fights against analytical tasting and, as I sip it now, I have trouble getting past how gorgeously drinkable it is. It’s clean and sunny and not overdone in any way, a wine for drinking, not sipping, smiles of appreciation, not problematics.
I like it.
Update: two days on and it’s really singing. Still like it. Maybe even love it.
It’s a truism that fresh Hunter Semillon is tough. All that acidity, a relative simplicity of flavour, etc. Indeed, we generally focus on what the wines become with bottle age — a honeyed, nutty wonder that embodies one of the most dramatic transformations in all of wine. I wonder, though, whether our collective tendency to lump young Semillon together works to obscure the very real differences these wines can show from one another when first released. Perhaps changing the critical dialogue around Semillon; elevating the value of the young form while retaining the aged’s deservedly prized place; might help us to appreciate and even enjoy the style at all stages of its evolution.
This wine is a case in point. For a young Semillon (oops, there we go again), it shows considerable complexity and character, much more than the cliché of “lemon juice and battery acid” might suggest. It’s actually as much about funky minerality as it is citrus. I’m not sure where those flavours come from (sulfur? carbon dioxide?) but I like the vibe and don’t mind that they fatten the aroma profile somewhat, creating a broader wine, more suitable for earlier enjoyment and faster maturation than one might expect from a premium label.
The palate is a slightly noisy mix of zingy texture — showing a little spritz and more than a little acid — savoury base notes and high toned florals. The texture in particular modulates between chalky, bubbly and surprisingly viscous. It’s worth drinking for this alone. The flavour here is again relatively broad, though I hesitate to suggest it shows much, or any, development. It’s just a fuller, softer style of Semillon, easier to approach than many while retaining enough of the angularity of this style to fit within the mainstream.
I’ve no idea how this will look in ten years’ time. What I do know is that it’s a fascinating, left-of-centre wine right now.
It seems fashionable to play with Sauvignon Blanc, and the results have often divided critics. Manipulating a grape like Chardonnay is a no-brainer; straightforwardly made wines of this variety can be boring (with notable exceptions, of course). Sauvignon Blanc, on the other hand, is a variety with intense character right from the starting line, some might say too much. So the choice of winemaking inputs may be less obvious here.
Mitchell Harris has chosen two techniques — wild yeast fermentation and barrel maturation — in the making of this wine. Of these, the oak is most immediately apparent on the nose, with a distinct smokey note sitting alongside gentle fruit aromas that remind me of red papaya. The smoky note brings in hints of bacon fat, but I’m not sure if that’s just me dragging in inappropriate associations; no matter, it’s a distinctive aroma profile, though I’d prefer the oak influence to be more tightly woven into the whole. The fact that it’s not speaks of fruit character that tends towards reticence.
The palate is marked by the same sharp smokey note that floats over the entire line. Underneath, a slippery, cool wine that slides along the tongue with a rather beguiling texture. I’ve learned to expect a degree of acidic bite from Sauvignon Blanc wines, and this has a decent spine of acid to be sure, but it’s the wine’s satiny voluptuousness that stands out for me most. As with the nose, fruit flavour could be more forward; as it is, there’s a slightly hollow impression to the profile, as if it needs to step forward a bit. Yet it manages decent impact and drive down the line, and the more time I spend with the wine the more I am appreciating its subtle complexities. The caramel finish is especially enjoyable.
An odd wine in some ways, and one I suspect will challenge peoples’ idea of the varietal. Nonetheless, I am enjoying its distinctiveness and hand-made vibe. Great value for the style.
One of the benefits of writing a not-for-profit wine blog is that I can skew my tasting towards wines and producers in which I have a particular interest. So, when this wine arrived today, it shot straight to the top of the sample pile and indeed was quickly opened when I sat down to taste. I’ve enjoyed all the Karra Yerta wines I’ve tasted, to varying degrees of course, and I believe this is the first straight Cabernet I’ve tried from this producer. Grapes are sourced from High Eden, thirty two cases produced.
I was half expecting the down-home, earthy style I’ve enjoyed so much in Karra Yerta’s Shiraz and Shiraz Cabernet wines, but this is a different beast, stylistically. The nose is positively squeaky with bright fruit and high toned aromas. I don’t look to Barossa Cabernet for (what I consider) varietal character, and I’m not getting a lot of the cooler climate leaf and cassis typical of, say, Coonawarra Cabernet. In its place, a simpler and more accessible aroma profile, with edges of well-judged nougat oak.
The palate was initially both disjointed and confected, and for a moment I thought this might be the first Karra Yerta wine that disagreed with me. But just a few minutes of air has seen this really come together with dramatically increased complexity and a satisfying, acid-driven structure. It’s a fundamentally bright, crowd-pleasing wine in style, though, and may not be everyone’s idea of Cabernet. No matter – entry shows a gentle attack that builds quickly to a red fruited middle palate, all riding nicely textural acidity. Oak is a discernible yet subtle influence throughout, contributing vanilla and nougat in turn. The after palate gently darkens in profile before a soft, lightly tannic finish rounds things off.
Karra Yerta Wines
I’m enthusiastic about this producer’s wines. They are invariably informed by a seriousness of intent that makes them difficult to dismiss, even if the wines themselves are not always perfect. So it was with this wine when I first tasted it some time ago. 2006 was a notoriously difficult vintage in Margaret River, red grapes often proving difficult to ripen sufficiently to make an acceptable wine. I chose not to write this up initially, as I found it challenging to the point of significantly reduced enjoyment. Too green, too aggressive, too hard. But I pulled out a bottle tonight and thought it might be time to see how it has moved along.
As it turns out, it’s significantly more drinkable at this stage of its life. It will never be a charming beauty like the 2007, but the astringent aggressiveness I remember has faded significantly. The nose shows typically Cabernet Franc aromas – fresh red capsicum mostly – floating over the top of richer, more plush Merlot fruit and a pile of pencil shavings. It’s completely varietal, though certainly on the lean, mean side. I can still see the green edges that I found difficult, but they’ve softened into the wine, becoming part of its aroma profile rather than pulling it apart.
The palate tells a similar story, though the transformation is perhaps more dramatic here. Again, I doubt this will ever shed its fundamentally lean vibe, but the elements are now well balanced for drinking enjoyment. In particular, the acid works really well to create impact on entry and power through the middle palate. It’s the sort of orange juicy red wine acid that is mouthwatering and a bit edgy. Fruit flavours are bright and firmly in a red berry spectrum, though edges of oak drag the flavour profile in a somewhat darker direction at times. Light to medium bodied, there’s a slight lack of drive through the after palate and finish, and the wine threatens to expose its slightly green core at times. It manages to complete the journey, though, thumbing its nose at a bad vintage even as it works hard to deny the scars it bears.
A very pleasant surprise.
Blue Poles Vineyard
I was a big fan of the 2008 Moppity Reserve Shiraz. This is the standard Shiraz and, at less than half the cost of the reserve wine, it would be wrong to impose the sort of lofty expectations one might reasonably hold of a $60 wine. Still, as I opened the bottle I was hoping for good things.
My initial impression of the nose was of overripe, prune-like fruit. Happily, this has largely faded into a much more pleasing aroma profile of fresh plum skins, hot blackberries, flowers, spice and dust. Complex, varietal and more than a bit angular, this isn’t a plush expression of Shiraz so much as one that emphasises the variety’s ability to be simultaneously sharp and juicy. It’s a disconcerting start, though, and the lesson here is to give this wine a bit of time to open up.
The palate is bright, having an acid-driven structure and only moderate weight. Good attack on entry, tingling with acid before red fruits creep across the tongue. The middle palate is highly textured and pretty aggressive, showcasing acid and uneven, chalky tannins more than lightly juicy fruit. Even more than the nose, the palate needs a good deal of time to calm and allow its flavour to work its way past all that structure. I don’t have any experience with this label and how it ages, so I’m not sure how the acid will contribute to the whole over the medium term. The after palate is savoury and more fruit forward, and the finish is light but long.
A very interesting wine, rather too young to fully enjoy right now. I wish the acid were less strident, but perhaps a little time in bottle will see to this.
After suffering a significant loss of his estate crop due to frost in 2007, Simon Clayfield sourced grapes from a range of other vineyards in the Grampians region in order to produce this wine, a reserve-level version of his Massif label. This wine changed significantly over the course of two days, and my note (hopefully) reflects this progression.
Initially, lots of oak on the nose: mostly coffee grinds and vanilla milkshake. Swirl by swirl, the oak melts back into a fabric of dense berry fruit compote and plum flesh, iodine and brambles. The fruit doesn’t really begin to sing for a couple of days; it ends up gaining character and purity, becoming a thoroughly regional expression of Shiraz fruit aromas. The oak remains sexy, though, and the wine’s aroma is intensely sensual, almost gropable. This is an aroma profile with hidden, shaded places, suggestive of late night coffees and early morning walks home.
In the mouth, the wine swells quickly to fill the middle palate with soft, pliable volume. Intensity is only moderate, though it gains some weight over a day or two of air. One might wish for more, but by the same token this restraint allows the wine’s most interesting parts — flow, mouthfeel, sensuality — to shine. The after palate has a sweet, liquerous edge before the finish brings stubbly oak back to the foreground. Tannins are loose-knit and sweet, acid very well integrated. The alcohol level (15.1% abv) doesn’t translate to any objectionable heat, though it’s certainly present – I suspect its effect is more strongly felt via the wine’s slippery mouthfeel and its presence in the mouth.
A really earthy, sexy wine.
Thanks to Jeremy Pringle (of Wine Will Eat Itself) for sharing this with me. I believe it’s imported by Eurocentric.
The nose is complex and mostly savoury. As it unfolds, there are notes of unripe banana, some pretty fermentation esters, raspberry-flavoured boiled lollies and ripe, juicy weeds. The fruit character in particular seems to slip around with each sip, modulating between medicinal and sharply sugared. As it warms, a stronger thread of vegetation lifts above the fruitier, prettier dimensions, the whole becoming thicker, headier, more intoxicatingly perfumed. It ends up a really striking aroma profile, both comforting and sharp, like a warm jumper laced with thorns.
In the mouth, sharp and cool on entry, showing prominent acid which is well integrated into the flavour and flow of the wine. The fruit’s medicinal character comes to the fore here, and it’s surrounded by an array of complexities like banana skins and twigs. Weight-wise, this is lean the way a model is lean, not ungenerous so much as elegant in a highly particular, angular way. The after palate is the most fruit-driven point of the wine’s line, with more boiled lollies and the beginnings of a dry, raspy tannic influence that carries through the finish. Its tannins are worth lingering over. One might describe them as slightly green, though for me they are rough in a more positive sense, in the same way a banana that’s not quite ready to eat has that curiously powdery effect on one’s tongue.
A really fabulous wine whose complexity is especially remarkable given it sees no oak and is so young. Great value at $A30.
Domaine Jean-Marc Burgaud
Yesterday’s Pinot Grigio underwhelmed me, and I wondered at the time whether it was my general lack of enthusiasm for the style as much as the wine itself. On the tasting bench tonight, I have a wine from the same vintage and producer, but made from a grape for which I have much more affection: Riesling. Let’s see how we go.
The nose is subtle, with prickly wisps of lemon rind, minerality and edges of candied peel. It brings to mind watercolour and pastel shades, which is pretty I suppose but also a bit wishy-washy. I want more here: some impact or at least a twisted sense of humour. Some air and a warmer serving temperature help it to show to better advantage. As it warms, there’s greater volume and an emerging thickness to the aroma that you may or may not like.
he palate is altogether more satisfying. Entry is tingly with sherbet-like acid and some straightforward lemon juice flavour. This lemon juice is the most prominent flavour component right along the line, though it’s joined through the middle palate by savoury minerals and higher toned florals. I find the flavour profile a bit clumsy and straightforward, particularly for a wine style where delicacy and finesse are often highly valued. The acid is also a bit tiring after a few mouthfuls. However, it has impact and decent intensity. After palate and finish show good persistence.
>Another mixed bag here. Neither Louee wine tasted has nailed the style sought, but both are cleanly made, so perhaps a bit more experimentation is in order.
I don’t remember ever having tasted a Pinot Grigio from Mudgee, so this wine is a first for me. The back label suggests the Grigio style (earlier picked, lower alcohol) suits this vineyard’s grapes well. Key words are light, fresh and clean. No argument from me there. This is a dry white made in a mode unlikely to cause offence.
If you think that’s a dig, then you’re probably right, although there’s a lot right with this wine. For starters, it’s very cleanly made, showing sharp aromas of quince, white flowers and the heat of Summer on ripe foliage. It strikes me as an aroma profile that lacks character and distinctiveness but which is nevertheless very correct.
The palate shows lovely acidity and really well-judged phenolic bitterness. So, mostly a structural experience, and the flavour, such as it is, serves to illustrate the wine’s foundations rather than take centre stage. The entry is deceptively light, filling quickly through a middle palate that hints at a more satisfying opulence of mouthfeel. Flavour is at its most intense through the after palate, where a nice lilt of honeycomb and florals carries through to a mostly textural finish.
You’ll get more flavour from a good Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc but, as it is, not a bad example of the style.