Woodlands Margaret 2011

A blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot and 14% Malbec.

This, like the 2011 Cullen Kevin John I wrote about yesterday, changed a lot over the course of my time with it. Unlike the Chardonnay, however, its evolution was entirely positive.

At first, I thought I might have wasted the $45 this cost me, as the wine I poured bore little resemblance to the deliciousness I had tasted at cellar door and on which basis I made my purchase. Masses of bright, sweet fruit — varietal enough but completely overwhelming — shot off in one direction while oak and structure scurried away separately, like friends who have just fallen out over who might be the prettiest of all. Hanging over the whole, like a toxic cloud, that unpleasant, faintly doughy malolactic fermentation smell, hammering one last nail into the coffin of a wine I was ready to write off as an unfortunate product of its warm vintage.

But what a dramatic difference on day two. After a bit of time and air, savouriness returns to this wine with a smack, and with it vastly improved integration of its elements. No doughy smells, either; indeed, this is squeaky clean. With a diminution of fruit volume, the wine’s elegance steps forward, a dusty note overlaying fresh mulberry fruit and snapped twig on the nose, brown spices and oak making a contribution, perhaps not quite as connected as they might be with more time, but nonetheless still very much part of the wine. The palate is medium bodied and, despite generous fruit, elegant, with abundant, fine tannins setting over the after palate and firm acid throughout. I was dissatisfied with the 2007 vintage due to its, for my taste, perversely light weight; the 2011 seems a more balanced wine in this regard.

I do feel this has been released very early and, hopefully, with a bit more time in bottle it will present better on opening. As it is now, be sure to give it plenty of air before any serious contemplation.

Price: $A45
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay 2011

Ideally, a wine will grow in the glass, evolving through an evening as it reveals new facets of itself. I liken it to a conversation that might meander over time, becoming deeper and richer as it goes. What’s not so pleasant is the ranconteur who seems fascinating at first, so full of delights, yet gradually reveals himself a bore, or otherwise disappointingly imperfect.

I tasted this wine at cellar door recently, then stayed with a glass over lunch and watched it develop. It’s not a bad wine by any means, but over the course of an hour or so, it became less fine, showing a broadness of fruit that went against a set of aromas suggestive of something altogether more taut.

The aroma profile shows a smokey influence, with hints of sulfide complexity and bright fruit. There’s also a background nuttiness. It’s not overly expressive but is complex enough to draw one in.

In the mouth, powerful and initially linear; flavours of citrus flesh, white stonefruit and oatmeal, with a decent amount of oak input. The mid-palate is quite fleshy and is redeemed somewhat by an after palate that is satisfyingly chalky. The issue is one of balance and, to be fair, one of taste too. The fruit’s countenance is generous and there’s a lot of it, such that it constantly threatens to overwhelm the wine’s structure and winemaking artifice. Temperature has a great effect here, the wine seeming less shapely as it warms.

While tasting recently in Margaret River, I saw a few 2011 whites that were quite broad, perhaps reflecting what was a warm growing season. This, then, shows admirable transparency to vintage, and I wouldn’t be surprised if fans of fuller Chardonnay styles will find much to enjoy here. In the end, though, I wasn’t entirely convinced.

Price: $A25 per glass (wine list)
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Frankland Estate Poison Hill Vineyard Riesling 2012

Taste through a region and its strengths become abundantly clear. Although many producers’ portfolios in Australia can lack focus and muddy the waters on paper, some variety and region combinations jump out with a bit of exploration. After a few days in Great Southern, it’s blindingly obvious to me that Riesling finds a natural home here, and I’m falling in love with the regional, and sub-regional, expressions of this variety. It’s no exaggeration to suggest I’m rediscovering the deliciousness of Riesling through these pristine, powdery, lime-infused wines.

Frankland Estate’s single vineyard Riesling portfolio is a nice crash course in Frankland River Riesling, itself subtly different from other sub-regional expressions such as that of Porongurup. I tasted all three 2012 releases at cellar door and took this one home for further examination. Grown on a strikingly chalky soil, this wine struck me as the most generous and fleshy, although this in the context of a collection of fairly austere wines.

The nose is quite expressive, though still with a bit of free sulfur, with pungent dried lime, sea spray, herbs and lemon juice notes. There’s a suggestion of something more tropical, and this edge gives the wine a fuller aroma profile than its siblings, but this thicker influence sits very much on the sidelines, more a faint imprint than something truly legible.

One expects a good dose of acid in these wines and I’m not disappointed here, though more important than quantity is character. The acid here isn’t ultra-fine; rather, it bubbles along close to the surface, pushing intense lime and herb flavours along the tongue briskly. There are savoury edges to the flavour profile, and I like the touch of mid-palate flesh that emerges before disappearing again in a cloud of torn herbs and firm texture, the latter less chalky and drying than in the other two wines.

More than anything, this is a delicious wine that, as I have discovered while tasting, pairs easily with food both savoury (green curry) and sweet (custard). I’ll have a few of these, thanks.

Frankland Estate
Price: $A27
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Moss Wood Semillon 1999

If Semillon had fashion on its side, I wonder how many more interesting wine styles we might see? Moss Wood seems to stubbornly stand by its terminally daggy Margaret River Semillon and, on the basis of this wine, I’m grateful it does.

I’ve not previously had a Moss Wood Semillon quite this old, so was very interested to see how a truly evolved examples tastes. The aroma shows notes that evidently derive from time in bottle, but the trick here is these notes show no coarseness whatsoever; instead, remnant primary notes of lemon and grass move meltingly into butter and honey, the latter more suggestions than full-throttle renditions of these broad aromas. It’s still vibrant at its core, but the overall impression is soft and elegant, like soft fabric with a subtle, tasteful sheen.

The palate has good presence and body right down its line. There’s a bit of primary sharpness both in terms of flavour and structure, but mostly this wine’s flavours are soft and delicate, rich in their way but not at all cloying. Mouthfeel slips this way and that, a slight waxiness lubricating movement over the tongue. This is the pleasure of aged white wine: sharp meets mellow, muscle becomes flesh. Quite seamless from entry through to finish, this moves with the confidence of someone only becomes more attractive with age (and who knows it).

Thank you to Mark Gifford of Blue Poles Vineyard for donating this to the party.

Moss Wood
Price: $NA
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Lindemans Bin 9003 Hunter Valley Shiraz 1995

I tasted this alongside the Tyrrell’s 4 Acres from 2006 and, although the younger wine provided more satisfaction, it was nice to see two distinctively regional expressions of Shiraz at different points in their lives.

On the nose, intensely tertiary notes of leather, sweat, spice and the sort of fruit that has become liqueur-like moments before it vanishes altogether. The aroma profile reminds me of how confronting older wines can be; while completely sound, this smells so odd, so unlike one’s idea of wine, that it may well send some drinkers fleeing to the nearest bottle of Pepperjack Shiraz. I love, though, the distinctively leathery notes this wine throws from the glass.

The palate is harder work because it has lost just slightly too much fruit through the after palate to mask its (still quite prominent) acid. There’s still pleasure here, though. I especially like its flow through the mouth. Up front, surprisingly fleshy, with leathery, spiced flavours and that residual dark berry fruit. The mid palate shows some purity before it begins to fall apart through the after palate. Flavours aren’t perfectly integrated, and there’s some oak that, for me, sticks out a bit. But this is an old wine, on its last legs really, and one oughtn’t be too impatient with its imperfections.

A gentle pleasure.

Lindemans Wines
Price: $NA
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Peregrine Pinot Noir 2009

I tasted this alongside a clutch of other Pinots, including some pretty smart Burgundies. It wasn’t the best wine in absolute terms, but it clearly highlighted why Central Otago Pinot is so attractive to so many drinkers.

Up-front aroma with an array of regional notes: dark fruits, wild herbs, spice, some oak. There’s a bit of development but it remains mostly primary. So much for what it smells of; what’s impressive here is its generosity and coherence. This is a big, bouncy Central Otago Pinot that has mellowed enough to have gained a fair bit of sophistication without losing an essentially plush character.

In the mouth, so very generous. Compared to a (rather older) Burgundy consumed at the same sitting, this is a model of relaxation. There’s structure here, but it’s subservient to a palate that focuses on fruit, spice and the sort of flow that meshes one delicious flavour against another, then another. Tertiary flavours add some complexity, and the wine is far from simplistic in its flavours. Yet none of this gets in the way of pure deliciousness.

There’s a lot of things this wine isn’t: intellectual, sub-regional (it’s a blend), or especially serious. But when it tastes this good, who cares?

Price: $NZ60
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Dodgy Brothers Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre 2011

There was a curious chap at the Geddes winery during vintage. Canadian, intense, always tending his myriad ferments, some of which were as small as a few hundred kilos. We had some good chats about yeasts and aroma compounds, and he taught me some neat cellar skills. Turns out this fellow is Wes Pearson, sensory analyst at the AWRI and the winemaking third of Dodgy Brothers Wines.

Before I get to the wine, let us pause for a moment to reflect on its packaging. I’ve seen a few tricks over the years to try and make labels more appealing, but never have I seen one applied upside-down, a design quirk which is carried through to the Dodgy Brothers Web site too. The whole is remarkably effective, helped in part by what is, on closer inspection, stock and printing of very high quality.

“Liberators of Fine Fruit” declares the label, and I suppose that’s a neat way of describing the approach taken here. Those endless parcels of fruit, from some well-regarded vineyards across McLaren Vale, come together in bottlings like this, a GSM blend from the oft-vilified 2011 vintage. Theoretically, cherry picking vineyards is one way to deal with a difficult vintage, so I’m curious to see what the Dodgy Brothers have managed to do here.

It’s certainly a lighter style, 15.5% ABV notwithstanding, and very expressive aromatically. Grenache is at the fore with pretty red fruits and delicate florals. Richer, meatier notes back this up along with a decent whack of oak. I like the way this smells; it has good freshness and definition, and doesn’t show any green or weedy notes. Placed up against a wine of a warmer vintage, it would no doubt look less dense, but that’s neither here nor there.

The palate is of medium weight and shows good continuity from the nose. Squeaky clean red fruits, snapped twig, dark chocolate and savoury dark berries. It’s not massively complex at this stage, and structurally it’s pretty easygoing, but its flavours are delicious and balanced. Alcohol gives a gloss to mouthfeel and perhaps adds to an impression of sweetness at the cost of slight heat through the finish.

Nice wine, then, and makes me curious to see what Wes has up his sleeve with his 2012s and 2013s.

Dodgy Brothers Wines
Price: $A29
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

Southern Hemisphere vintage wrap

My work at Terra Sancta finished on Sunday, so I’ve taken a few days in Queenstown to relax and reflect on what has been a hectic time.

Now that my string of Southern Hemisphere vintages is at an end, my most immediate, visceral reaction is to feel somewhat at a loose end. Harvest is such a busy time, with no shortage of things to do at any point in the day, that having to search for things to occupy my time seems alien. Moreover, as much as I might have wished for breaks during vintage to rest a bit, now that I’m no longer actively engaged in making wine, I miss it. A lot. And it’s only been a few days.

Harvest at Terra Sancta proceeded as smoothly as it started, which is to say remarkably so given the new winery. A few niggles here and there, mostly with equipment and electrics, but no more so than one might expect at any winery. The winemaking team seemed pleased with how things went, and certainly from a quality perspective I saw a lot of very exciting batches come through.

If I’m in a position to give advice to the few people less experienced than I, I would suggest doing a vintage with a good deal of lab time as well as cellar work. I did about half-half at Terra Sancta, and while cellar work is massively enjoyable, being in the lab meant I monitored and tasted everything, from the largest open fermenters to individual barrels, which isn’t always possible if one is confined solely to a busy cellar. As with previous vintages at Lake’s Folly and Dowie Doole, I was exceptionally fortunate to work with a chief winemaker whose enthusiasm manifested in a willingness to share thoughts and experiences on a daily basis. Jen Parr, just last year awarded New Zealand Winemaker of the Year at the New Zealand International Wine Show, is a very intuitive winemaker, and it was enormously educational to discuss with her the progress of each ferment, how to respond to changes, when to make additions and initiate key actions such as pressing or arresting fermentations. I’m not sure how much I was able to contribute other than to provide data, but it certainly fascinated me on a daily basis watching Jen steer each batch through to safe completion.

Jody Pagey, other half of the winemaking team, looks after cellar operations and does so most ably, as he is highly experienced across the full range of cellar activities. I will always remember a particularly fast forklift session Jody performed to weigh a large batch of fruit that was delivered just moments before home time. I’m still not a sensationally good forklift driver, but to my surprise I found myself doing the full range of forklift duties and generally zipping around the cellar when not in the lab. I still feel like I need to deepen my experience of cellar tasks, but this vintage was another step forward in that regard, especially in terms of reductively handled white wines. Towards the end of vintage, it was personally satisfying to be able to be given job by Jody and to not have to ask him to talk me through each aspect of how it should be done. Progress, I hope.

I suppose it’s natural to reflect on the differences between each experience I’ve had so far. Going from regions like the Hunter and McLaren Vale, both amongst Australia’s oldest and most traditional, to an upstart like Central Otago, provides plenty to think about.

One obvious difference, apart from simply the styles made in all three regions, is an apparent freedom to experiment in Central that may not be so readily available (or accepted by the market) in more established regions. While Pinot Noir winemaking here seems pretty consistent, with some key practices that don’t vary much between producers, there is a lot of energy and excitement directed at white and rosé styles, and much variation to be found between producers. Pinot Gris ranges from dry to moderately sweet, Riesling even more so, and I was surprised at the amount of oxidative handling given to all whites and rosés, often as a component to be blended into a larger amount of more simply handled material. Mount Difficulty’s rosé is a good case in point – it’s quite un-aromatic in style, all barrel fermented, and all the more interesting for it. Another especially interesting example is a batch of Pinot Gris we made at Terra Sancta, fermented to dryness on skins. That was really educational to taste each day, and I was fascinated by how far removed its aromas and flavours were from more traditionally handled Gris.

One might interpret all this experimentation as an ongoing search for the region’s proper styles; wine does seem to gravitate towards stylistic consensus within regions. But it’s also a lot of fun and I sense, as much as Pinot Noir is the main deal here, that more creativity is to be found in whites and rosés, even allowing for the inherent potential for more winemaking trickery with these styles compared to dry reds.

Equally, however, I continue to find satisfaction in well established styles that have been honed over many years by guardians of particular regions. Lake’s Folly Chardonnay, for example, has been consistently made over many years, and to my mind is a pinnacle of its region and style. To improve on it, one would have to branch out in a different direction, which is what Rod Kempe has done with his Hill Block bottling. It’s too easy to dismiss classic New World styles in the rush to discover even newer regions and varieties, and part of my personal wine mission is to value New World wines whose styles represent an authentic winemaking tradition, whether fashionable or not.

Not to posit regions in opposition to one another; if anything, working in three very different regions so far has elevated my sense of the diversity of wine, which is a large part of the pleasure of loving wine. As a drinker, I’d not want to be without any of the key styles I’ve worked with so far – luscious Hunter Chardonnay (yes, it’s good), flavoursome McLaren Vale reds, mysterious Central Otago Pinot Noir. They can all house beautiful wines that have a place in any sort of vinous canon one might want define.

Amisfield Pinot Noir 2009

The only recent vintage that rivals 2009 for excitement amongst Central Otago winemakers is 2012, and an unfortunate side effect of the present moment is a relative absence of both vintages as current releases. Mind you, I have been enjoying 2010s for their larger scale, and what I’ve seen of 2013 looks pretty smart too. However, 2009 remains a benchmark vintage and I’ve tried to locate what I can to taste. Amisfield is one of the few producers that still has a 2009 Pinot Noir in its range.

Although Amisfield’s flashy cellar door is just outside of Queenstown, the vineyard and winery are located in the Pisa subregion, just up the road from where I’ve been living the past month. It’s a curious landscape, the often snow-capped Pisa Ranges rising steeply in the background, several levels of topography stepping downwards from them, vines appearing as these terraces achieve a more arable altitude. It’s all quite unlikely, as most of Central Otago seems to be for grape growing.

Those used to fuller expressions of Central Otago Pinot, such as those from Bendigo, may be surprised at how fine-boned this is. The nose is expressive, showing regional herbs and spice alongside savoury red fruit. It’s not overwhemingly complex, but I welcome its savouriness and elegant scale. In the mouth, quite fleshy up front with free flowing fruit and and thread of spice that begins at the edges and works its way in. The middle palate keeps any tendencies towards flab in check as it tightens the wine’s line with acid and tannin. This remains quite structured and, while not especially fine in texture, is certainly silkier than the 2010 vintage I also tasted today. Decent, fruit-driven length.

I wish for a bit more complexity and refinement, but this is nonetheless a solid Central Otago Pinot that shows good sub-regionality.

Price: $NZ40
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail