Kingston Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

It’s time for one of my periodic forays into ultra-value territory. It’s just as well I don’t score wines, because I freely admit my expectations of inexpensive wines are quite different from those I apply to costlier labels, and those expectations probably influence my drinking pleasure as much, if not more, than any objective notions of quality.

Take varietal character. I expect most wines at the $A20+ price point to embody their varietal (and, for that matter, their regional) origins. However, I’m often happy to drink a cheap wine that simply tastes good without worrying too much about transparency of expression. So it was a pleasant surprise to immediately recognise in this wine the dusty cassis aromas for which Cabernet is so well known. It’s so correct, in fact, that it took me a moment to recognise what I think is a hint of DMS, which, in small quantities, can sometimes enhance the fruit character of Cabernet-based wines. It does so here, creating a very pure and straightforward aroma profile, fruit-focused but with just a little nougat oak to add sex appeal.

The palate doesn’t quite live up to the nose’s promise for two reasons. Firstly, it lacks drive and intensity, being quite laid back in its flow and flavour. Secondly, it shows a slight confectionary edge to the fruit flavour that isn’t really evident on the nose. I suppose it’s testament, though, to this wine’s appeal that I’m even tempted to engage it on this level. Tannins are slightly fake-tasting but technically solid and evenly spread. They’re also quite prominent for a wine that is ostensibly about quaffing. A nice dry finish ends with a lilt of oak flavour to round things off.

An excellent wine for the money.

Kingston Estate
Price: $A13.99
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Mayfield Vineyard Riesling 2008

It’s sometimes said that Riesling goes through an unattractive phase in its medium term development, becoming momentarily awkward in its transition from aromatic youth to richly honeyed maturity. Curious, then, to see this wine released at a couple of years of age rather than as a youngster, risking a less than ideal showing.

Indeed, this wine appears to occupy an in-between space, though it’s hard to say for sure, not having tasted it as a fresh wine. As it is, the aroma is a mix of extreme austerity and the beginnings of toasty maturity. There are minerals galore and some aggressively high-toned lime blossom, undercut by a much fatter yet still nascent thread of honeyed toast. Each half of the wine is almost completely disconnected from the other, but on its own terms the set of flavours is correct and pleasingly quirky.

The palate is a replay of the nose, with the addition of predictably severe acid and a mouthfeel that is impressively textured. Intensity is greatest through the middle and after palates, while the finish does a neat trick of soaring up with floral flavours even as it empties the wine of any significant body. There’s a lot going on here and it’s quite chaotic, but I can’t help thinking it needs time to collect itself.

Not a huge amount of drinking pleasure right now, but perhaps one to watch if you have a penchant for left-of-centre Aussie Riesling.

Mayfield Vineyard
Price: $A28
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Flaxman Drone Blend 2009

I never know what to expect when I open a Barossa Valley Rhône-ish blend. Stylistically, producers seem to try everything, from the richest of rich wines through to lighter, more claret-like interpretations, a category to which this wine belongs.

On pouring, it’s immediately apparent there’s no great density of colour here, and this is the first clue as to the style on offer. The second comes quickly on the nose, where instead of the wall of fruity goodness one might anticipate, there is instead an angular, prickly aroma profile that teases rather than leaps from the glass. The second interesting feature of this wine now presents: the Mataro component is very prominent. There’s some typically sweet, confectionary Grenache fruit, but dominating this note is a meaty, savoury, frankly challenging set of Mataro aromas that are really fascinating and moreish.

The palate confirms this wine’s light attitude as well as its curious savouriness. Entry is quite striking, with an edge of acid leading to a flash of sweet fruit before the meat takes over and carries this wine through to an elegant, supple middle palate. I like the way the two constituent grapes appear to fight against each other as this winds its way down the line, sweet and savoury intertwining and constantly threatening to pull apart but never seeming to go that far. A lift of well-judged oak supports the after palate and ushers in a dry, slightly resinous finish.

Be careful how you match this with food. Its distinctiveness will be lost with something too robust (like my burger dinner). A subtle, sloppy ragu would be perfect, I reckon.

Flaxman Wines
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Flaxman Eden Valley Shiraz 2008

To the many ways one might measure value for money in wine, I vote for the addition of a “cred” scale. If such a measure existed, this wine would score very highly indeed. For a mere $A25 $A45 (see below), the buyer can enjoy an Eden Valley Shiraz (ding!), made by an utterly boutique producer (ding!) from Estate fruit (ding!) grown on old vines… well, you get the idea. My pocket authenticiometre really does register off the scale here.

None of which guarantees any measure of enjoyment. But it’s a conceptual start, and if one believes wine is, ideally, more than simply what’s in the glass, such things can matter. For instance, it may raise certain expectations of style and even quality: one might look to wines like this for fashionably traditional winemaking, or a clearer view into vintage conditions, and so on.

First impressions are solid; the aroma expresses a thick, ripe plum note that seems half way between the Barossa Valley and the Grampians, in that it combines the lusciousness of the Valley’s styles with a hint of the angularity one sees in cooler climate wines. I do such a classic style a disservice by comparing it to other wines, though; this is Eden Shiraz, if a ripe, relatively forward expression of the style. There are other aroma nuances too – a hint of pepper, some twig and dust.

This fullness of expression carries through to the palate, and here the wine is likely to polarise drinkers. This is a full-throttle wine whose density of flavour alone is impressive. Right from the entry, there’s chewy plum fruit, ripe brambles (the fruit and the wood) and nervous oak. The trade-off for all this flavour is a certain brutality to the flavour profile and in the way it registers on the tongue. It slams rather than floats down, creating a vivid sense of impact but lacking some finesse. Tannins are thick and chewy, contributing to a notably dry after palate and finish.

You could never mistake this wine for the product of large-scale winemaking; it wears its imperfections too flagrantly for that. Something to be thankful for.

Update: price on the sample bottle was wrong. This wine in fact retails for $45.

Flaxman Wines
Price: $A45
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Scarborough White Label Chardonnay 2009

Few things over the past three or so years have been sufficient to drag me away from wine writing. Tasting and reflecting on wine is one of my greatest pleasures; if it weren’t, I certainly wouldn’t have co-created this site and spent so many hours contributing to it. Learning about wine is its own reward, and my involvement with the drink continues to surprise me as it takes new twists and turns.

The last couple of weeks have conspired, though, to reduce my output to zero. A gloriously non-alcoholic holiday, followed by a jet-lag infused first week back home and, finally, a messy chest cold have hardly inspired me to ponder the finer points of wine. Happily, the cold is under control, the jet-lag mostly gone and my post-holiday blues seem to be rapidly receding. What better opportunity to get back into things with this Hunter Valley Chardonnay?

I must write a whole article at some point about the intersection of taste, wine style and fashion. While on vacation, I read a slim but spectacularly interesting book about Celine Dion (yes, you read that right) that is perhaps the best summary of aesthetics by way of personal taste I’ve ever read. More on that soon; for now, suffice to say this wine embodies a firmly unfashionable style and does so with verve and dedication.

A rich, golden hue is followed by an aroma that showcases winemaking before all else. Yes, we’re in Worked Chardonnay territory here, and that will be enough to turn some drinkers off immediately. But, dammit, it shouldn’t; nothing this complex and generous ought to go unappreciated. There are grilled nuts, cream, a hint of honeycomb, herbs and finally some white stonefruit. It’s a very young wine, as evidenced by a sharpness to the aroma profile that is not entirely pleasant but which should soften with a little time.

The palate begins with the same sharpness, here translating as a slight bitterness, but quickly moves through to a set of flavours that tread an interesting line between freshly savoury and guiltily sweet. What’s clear is there’s quite firm structure at play, completely preventing the wine from being heavy or cloying. Although I’ve tasted more intense wines in this style, there’s significant impact as this hits the tongue, and its power carries right through the middle and after palates. A creamed honey lift starts towards the back of the mouth and coats the finish with a softness that counteracts a continuation of the slight bitterness that is this wine’s most distinctive flavour component. Very decent length, though a bit hot on the finish.

Hunter Chardonnay, thanks for welcoming me back.

Price: $A30
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample