Chambers Rosewood Vineyards Grand Muscat NV

After indulging in so many fine wines over Christmas, the challenge isn’t finding wines to write about but choosing which to spend time on! A particularly good small grower Champagne was tempting, but the best wine of the period was this one, a spectacularly lovely Rutherglen Muscat. The wine is so good, and the style so terminally daggy, I feel some Full Pour attention is deserved.

Those unfamiliar with the wide variation between house styles may be surprised to learn how different a wine this is from, say, the same grade of Muscat from Morris. Whereas the latter pursues a rich, treacled expression of the style, the Chambers wines are always at the light, delicate end of the spectrum. There is no sacrifice in intensity or complexity, however. These are just less full bodied styles, arguably allowing nuances of flavour to more clearly express themselves. Certainly, the Chambers Muscats and Tokays Topaques Muscadelles are amongst my favourites of the region.

To the wine, then, this presents complex, floral aromas that surprise with their freshness and vivacity. Plum pudding, spice, fresh berries – the list of flavours goes on, and is less interesting than their tight integration and subtle expression. There’s just a lot going on here but, aside from its complexity, there does not at first seem much to differentiate the aroma from some of the lesser Muscats made with younger material.

It’s only on the palate that the wine’s quality becomes fully apparent. The nose’s complex flavours are articulated with utmost clarity and impressive impact, making sense of the aroma profile in retrospect while adding whole dimensions of interest. This has the thrust and drive of all the upper echelon Rutherglen fortifieds, but its charm lies in its transparency. This seems totally effortless; it simply unfolds in the mouth and does its impressive thing. No cloying sweetness, nor sticky mouthfeel, nor distracting alcohol, nor roughness. It might be the closest these wines come to elegance, and indeed that may be off putting to some. For me, it’s just one more reason to love both this house and the regional style.

At $50 or so for a half bottle, this isn’t cheap. But it’s several times cheaper than its Rare stablemate ($250 for 375mL) and about as good a wine as one could reasonably want.

Chambers Rosewood
Price: $A50 (375mL)
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Tyrrell's Vat 5 NVC Shiraz 2003

Having last tasted this wine in 2008, I felt it was high time to crack another bottle and see how it’s tracking. The short answer is: very well indeed.

The nose is a little muted, though some encouragement via swirling releases dense, liquerous fruit aromas that suggest dark plums and black berries. What’s especially gratifying, though, is a sense of definite bottle age that runs through every aroma, adding complexity and decaying elegance. Tobacco, leather, earth; this is just so regional.

The nose’s casual whisperings give way to a full-throttle expression of Hunter Shiraz on the palate, packed with density, impact and, happily, freshness. This is absolutely in the zone for my taste: it doesn’t want for primary fruit and structure, yet the tertiary notes are in full flower too. Flavours span a wide range: minerals, dark berries, earth leather, spice, tobacco. Structure remains firm and highly textural, slightly rough acid giving the line flow and sparkle, silty tannins contributing volume and texture.

As per my previous note, this is in some respects an atypical Hunter Shiraz, lacking the measured body and fleet flavours of some. But it’s a compelling view into the region in its own right and shows how great this style can be at the seasonal extremes. I’m thoroughly enjoying this.

Price: $A30
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Yelland & Papps Divine Shiraz 2009

I pondered the stylistic choices made in last year’s model, and on pouring it’s immediately obvious the same path has been pursued here. This is a wine that leaves one in no doubt of its position at the top of the range.

The nose is dominated by the most seductive, expensive oak. Coffee, brown spice, Muscovado sugar; it’s quite overwhelming and, it has to be said, impressive. Slowly but surely, a rich vein of Barossa fruit starts to emerge, forcing its way through the planks. It’s distinctively regional in the blockbuster sense, redolent of plum liqueur and fruit cake. I’ve only been sitting with this for an hour or so, and have no doubt the fruit’s emergence will continue for some time.

The palate is more immediately fruited, which may come as a relief after the hyper masculine, somewhat forbidding aroma. On entry, spurts of fruit outrun enthusiastic oak and land on a middle palate that is highly spiced and less brutish than one might expect. Indeed, there’s a pleasing levity to this wine that is at odds with its confrontational flavour profile and which grants it welcome light and shade. Structure is ever-present, as much driven by slightly hot acid as by chalky tannin. The after palate is driven by coffee and spice, the finish long.

It’s hard to assess such styles when young. I do know it’s a dense wine, full of impact and designed to wow. What I’m interested to see is how this ages; whether the fruilt and oak will achieve balance, how the flavours will evolve.

Day 2: the wine has markedly lost its roughest edges and fruit is flowing more cleanly now. Still a massively dense wine, but much more drinkable and balanced. The fruit itself is most attractive. Give it ten years.

Yelland & Papps
Price: $A75
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Salo Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2010

Made in tiny quantities, lots of whole bunch action, an apparent passion project; this is practically collapsing under the weight of its own cred. What’s gratifying, therefore, is its relative subtlety. The nose, especially, starts almost mute, gradually releasing aromas of flint, oatmeal, linseed oil and, eventually, some white stonefruit. It’s never especially expressive, and I do wish for a bit more volume (in time, I think), but its complexity is undeniable.

The palate is powerful and quite masculine in character, as if a taciturn character gives way to a muscular bulk it just can’t hide. A sharp, clean entry broadens to a middle palate awash with fruit and savouriness. Peaches, herbs, minerals. The standout dimension is texture, and I love the way this wine moves over the tongue with a deliciously tangible, mealy texture. Intensity is impressive, but it seems to trade some definition for all its power and complexity. Everything here points to a focused articulation of flavours, but just before the money shot, it loses concentration and blurs its form. Reasonable people can disagree about whether this is desirable; personally, I yearned for it to go all the way and express each of its components with crystal clarity.

A very interesting wine.

Price: $A40
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Thomas Kiss Shiraz 2009

This is the second of Andrew Thomas’s 2009 Shirazes that I’ve tasted. The first impressed me a good deal with its uncompromisingly regional style. This beast is a little different.

A deep, earthy, spiky nose. The words “clean” and “Hunter” haven’t always gone together, but they find compatibility in this wine’s aroma profile. Regional dirt and rustic red berries expressed clearly in a nose that’s both typical and glossily modern. What I like about this expression of Hunter shiraz is that it does not forsake regionally for style; this is a true interpretation of modern Hunter, looking for new ways to say the same old things. It is, however, clearly different from more traditional styles, and may lose as many fans as it gains because of this.

The palate is quite structured, driving a firm line right through to the finish. Lots of bubblegum oak tannins, evenly spread and, for now, contributing an astringent, bouncily sweet influence to the flavour profile. Is the character of the oak here an ideal match to the fruit flavours?  I’m not sure — at times, it feels too sweet — but most of the time it just tastes good, so I’m happy to go with its stylistic flow. Riding atop is a dense whack of regional red fruit squished into the dustiest of dirt roads. There’s an ease to this wine which belies the amount of oak that’s present. The way the palate unfolds is powerful and confident.

Ultimately, the fruit is just so gorgeous here I could drown myself in it with or without the level of oak. I don’t feel there’s a lack of balance; rather, the winemaking choices frame the fruit differently from how it often is and, personal preferences aside, there’s no doubting the coherence of the style.

Thomas Wines
Price: $A60
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Clonakilla O'Riada Shiraz 2010

You’ve got to love a Shiraz that looks like a Pinot.

And that’s the first impression of this wine; shockingly light in colour, lacking the density that regular drinkers of Australian Shiraz might easily take for granted. The fact that I could see light pass right through it in my glass had a profound effect on me. That a well-known producer might release a wine so flagrantly at odds with conventional expectations of this varietal made me feel all of a sudden that Australian Shiraz has come of age, that there’s legitimacy to the wide range of classic styles we produce, that we are, indeed, the true home of this chameleon-like grape. That’s a lot to pile on a single wine, let alone one that is effectively a second label. But as the shining, ruby-like liquid poured into my glass, I felt lucky to be able to enjoy such confidently different expressions of our great grape.

There’s no disappointment here. A cursory sniff immediately establishes this wine’s cool climate credentials. Red fruits abound, but what strikes first is a cascade of pepper and spice, dried flowers and etched detail. I can understand why cool climate Shiraz challenges some drinkers, but there’s such pleasure in these perfumed aromatics, which seem closer to fine fragrance than to anything agricultural. Especially beguiling is a shake of dried herbs that darts in and out of what is a complex, constantly shifting aroma profile.

The palate is light to medium bodied, as the wine’s appearance and aroma suggest. A spiced attack leads to more expansive flavours on the middle palate, always focused but with greater range and more fully fruited. There’s a nice meatiness to the flavour profile too, and I would love to try this wine with some top quality snags or a juicy rack of lamb. Smoked herbs dominate the after palate before a detailed, savoury finish lingers on. Acid is bright and fine, tannins sandpaperish.

An utterly satisfying wine and one that banishes all thought of cool climate Shiraz sitting anywhere near the stylistic sidelines in Australia.

Price: $A35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Kingston Estate Petit Verdot 2010

While I rather enjoyed Kingston Estate’s upper end Petit Verdot, my memory of the prior release of this wine isn’t an especially fond one, so much so that I don’t believe I wrote it up. There’s interest for me in these accessible wines, though, especially those made from alternate varieties. It’s good to have options at the lower end apart from Shiraz and Cabernet (and the occasional Merlot), and I believe any encouragement of variety in drinking ought to be positively noted.

So I wholeheartedly applaud the idea of this wine, which is, needless to say, a different thing from enjoying the wine itself. Again, as with the previous release, this doesn’t entirely satisfy me. There’s the more expensive wine’s purple fruit and plushness of character, but with a coarse edge and sense of less than ideal ripeness. Volume isn’t in question, though. There’s plenty of aroma to go around, and just the slightest hint of confected berries.

The palate flows cleanly, starting with a soft entry that rests almost entirely on ripe red berries. The middle palate shows a touch more acid and, less happily, a distinctly overripe fruit note. Density seems to recede the further the line progresses, with the after palate speaking more of soft structure than fullness of fruit. The finish is lean and mean, lacking the soft landing such a style would really benefit from.

This isn’t without merit, and would go down a treat as a slightly different BBQ red. There’s just a little too much to distract, though, for it to be truly enjoyable in more contemplative circumstances.

Kingston Estate
Price: $A14.99
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample