Offcuts: tasting Dookie

It’s a strange thing, tasting in a classroom. In a sense, it’s completely divorced from wine’s natural context: with food, with friends. I’ve long been an advocate of structured tastings, though, as the best way to learn about wine and, hence, to get more from it when consumed for pleasure. There’s simply nothing like a well chosen lineup to draw out the differences between wines and to build confidence in tasting acumen. So, although many of the wines I tasted last week as part of my wine studies weren’t enjoyable on their own terms, I appreciate their educational value.

What was truly fun, though, were the wines that just couldn’t help but bring a smile to my face, and to those of my fellow students.  These wines shone through a somewhat clinical setting and suggested the enjoyment they are capable of providing. Some of the more interesting wines tasted during the week are briefly noted below.

The 2010 Petaluma Riesling is a fairly exuberant expression of Clare Riesling, with the sort of wild, high toned aromatics and reasonably weighty fruit that can be very appealing if you’re in the right mood. It’s a broader interpretation of this regional style, for sure, and this translates to an approachable wine in relative terms. No bad thing. By contrast, the 2004 Petaluma Riesling is only just showing signs of development, which suggests it was a tight little monster on release (I don’t remember tasting it young).  Butter menthol, a bit of toast, with some youthful citrus fruit remaining. For my tastes, this isn’t in an ideal state for full satisfaction, lacking fruit on the palate but not yet showing the full spectrum of bottle aged characters. Perhaps it’ll sing in a couple of years’ time.

Another new-old couple, the Tahbilk Cabernet Sauvignons 2007 and 1997 both showed very well. The younger wine is, as expected, a straightforward expression of this quite distinctive regional style, with not-especially-varietal red and black fruits, earth and nougat. Heaps of delicious silty tannins, of course. The older wine is everything one could wish for from an older Tahbilk Cabernet, full of tobacco, leaf, surprisingly pure cassis fruit and sweet earth. It’s drinking well right now.

I was out on my own in enjoying the 2008 Shaw and Smith M3 Chardonnay. I found it a balanced drink whose fruit has relaxed back into the fabric of the wine, bringing a fine acid structure into clear focus and creating an impression of gentle elegance. Mostly, the group preferred the 2008 Stonier Reserve Chardonnay for its generosity and power, though I must admit I found its peach fruit a little blunt, its acid spiky and its oak too straightforward.

Two exceptional Hunter Semillons graced the week. First up was the 2003 Mount Pleasant Lovedale. Only just starting to show development, this wine is all potential, with lemon curd, soap and the beginnings of that most delicious waxy mouthfeel that lovers of Hunter Semillon adore. Intense, highly structure and just so shapely. I hope I get to taste this again at some stage. Even better, in my opinion, was the 2005 Tyrrell’s Vat 1, which is, for all intents and purposes, a perfect expression of this style. I remember it being fairly approachable on release and it remains quite drinkable in its adolescence, but surely one would be advised to leave it alone for a few more years yet, so that its nascent flavours of toast and honey can evolve much further.

As nice as the Lovedale was, it was equalled in its bracket by the 2008 Best’s Bin 0 Shiraz. This wine stopped the class in its tracks and seemed to be most peoples’ favourite wine of the session. Utterly typical ultra plum fruit character, plenty of complex spice and fine, chalky tannins. An excellent wine and an emphatic validation of the style.

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