Chapel Hill McLaren Vale Shiraz 2012

I’ve tasted this over three days and it has changed a fair bit in that time.

At first, the flavour profile and mid-palate are spot on in terms of regional character. There’s a particular fleshiness that, whatever misgivings one might have about warmer climate Shiraz (I have very few, in case you’re wondering), is undeniably generous and seductive, and a hallmark of this region. This has that particular plump mid-palate, full of plum flesh and ripe berries. It’s well-formed, as expected from a vintage generally regarded as excellent, though I also feel it lacks an element of distinctiveness; it conforms so closely to the regional archetype that I struggle a bit to see its own particular personality.

Now that I’m on day three, I can report the wine gradually loses its fleshy side and becomes somewhat more savoury and angular with air. I’m not sure I prefer it in this guise; it’s leaner (for those who like that sort of thing), its structure is more apparent and, certainly, it hasn’t completely fallen over in the days it’s been open. On balance, though, I prefer it freshly opened, its fruit pendulously full.

It’s a solid wine but, throughout my time with it, I couldn’t help but feel its edges have been just a little too aggressively sanded down.

Chapel Hill
Price: $A30
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Main Ridge Pinot Meunier 2012

This proved a bright spark in amongst a line-up of significantly more assertive wines, including some impressive Chardonnays and a full-throttle Barbaresco. In its own way, it provided just as much pleasure.

To be sure, this lacks the immediate distinctiveness of Pinot Noir from the same region, and as a consequence comes across with less panache. The aroma is full of spice, squashed red fruit and more savoury components, and shows good articulation and clarity. There’s a transparency without simplicity that I like about how this smells, and the aromas are clearly apart from many other wines, even if they don’t take an especially eccentric route.

The palate is light and delicious. As with the nose, spice takes centre stage and thickly overlays bright red fruit and some sappy notes. I like how this sits in the mouth; there’s good fullness of flavour through the mid-palate, even as the wine struggles to achieve anything beyond moderate weight. If there’s a flaw in its construction, it’s length; this is fairly short in terms of fruit, though I note spice does provide an echo of continuity through the finish.

Within Main Ridge Estate’s portfolio, this is clearly the odd one out varietally, but I’m grateful to Nat White for continuing to produce one of the few straight Pinot Meuniers in Australia. This quiet wine is a refreshing pause in amongst so many Mornington Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays vying for one’s attention.

Main Ridge Estate
Price: $A65
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Blue Poles Reserve Merlot 2011

Time to check in on the new release of one of Australia’s few deadly serious renditions of Merlot.

This always tends to savouriness, and the 2011 vintage is no exception. On opening, firm aromas of char, black olive, charcuterie and bitumen. There’s a sappy freshness that underlines these robust notes, giving the aroma a sweet tension that bounces between hard and soft. I like the contrasts, and it’s so beautiful to smell an Australian Merlot that has been made with angularity and savouriness in mind. Keeping in mind this is a very young wine — not yet released in fact — it’s somewhat churlish to note the oak aromas are ever-so-slightly prominent right now, but nothing that suggests any fundamental imbalance.

The palate is as uncompromising as the nose suggests. Structurally abundant, this is a fairly firm experience right now, driven by fine tannins and a firm yet well-integrated acid line. Flavours hit the tongue with impact and clarity, and it’s here the wine’s red fruit is most in evidence, gliding through the mid-palate with a certain elegance. The after palate is quite high toned and edgy at the moment, attributes I suspect will become less apparent as the wine ages. A particularly fine finish closes the line on a positive note.

History with this label suggests some medium term cellaring will bring substantial benefits, and I’d be giving any bottles a rest before tucking in. Though young, it’s a wine that shows fundamental balance and satisfying savouriness.

Update: day two and the wine is opening up nicely. Its fruit has stepped forward and is showing a sweeter countenance, making the wine somewhat easier to approach.

Blue Poles Vineyard
Price: $A40
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Robert Stein Riesling 2012

I’ve not tasted a Robert Stein Riesling before, and this aroused my interest immediately for two reasons. Firstly, its price positions it amongst the more expensive Rieslings in the country. Secondly, its winemaker Jacob Stein has worked the vintage in Germany on several occasions, so it’s reasonable to expect some influence may have crept into the approach with this wine.

Thankfully, this isn’t Mudgee forced into the Mosel, and yet it’s far from Riesling in the classically pristine, dry Australian form too. The aromatics, firstly, are infused with a mix of high toned florals and much richer, more savoury notes that move from lime pulp to paw paw. It’s a slightly twisted version of a bath bomb, with quite piercing aromas that never settle into entirely comfortable territory.

The palate has good weight and impact, with a decent amount of acid that is offset by some apparent sweetness. There’s also a thread of textural phenolics that runs through the after palate, adding a chalky mouthfeel and contributing to the wine’s apparent structure. I particularly like the purity of the mid-palate’s fruit, where a burst of citrus shines clearly before the wine moves through its more textural dimensions. While this doesn’t strike me as an austere wine, its acid and phenolics may prove challenging for some drinkers accustomed to more straightforward expressions of this variety. Having said that, the J.J. Prüm I had the other day was vastly more acidic and less approachable than this.

For my part, I think it’s great producers are fiddling a bit with Riesling in Australia, creating wines with different profiles and characters. While the purity of our mainstream styles can be wonderful, I’ve got plenty of time for things like this too.

Robert Stein
Price: $A40
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Cherubino Porongurup Riesling 2012

I had an interesting conversation with a friend today about regional styles and things that might be considered “traditional” or “typical” of a region. At the very least, such ideas are problematic and mutable, and perhaps not very useful, yet they are tenacious. I think regional stereotypes appeal to our need to create taxonomies and to contain things within easily understood boxes, and it’s true that stylistic threads which run through wine regions aren’t always without foundation. Yet with as many exceptions as there are examples, are we better advised to discuss stylistic typicité with some caution?

For example, Great Southern Rieslings have a reputation for austerity, and it’s true that some show both a finer countenance and more pronounced acid than some Clare and Eden Valley wines, for example. For me, though, this doesn’t automatically translate to a forbidding character; indeed, I find the particular aromas and flavours expressed by many wines of this region to have a deliciousness that encourages generous drinking, even as young wines. The regional stereotype of searingly acidic wines that demand cellar time might have been earned by a few bottles over time, but it does a disservice to many beautiful wines too.

This wine demonstrates my point. It’s completely dry, with nice acid (pH of 2.97 and TA of 7.8 g/L) and a flavour profile that’s more about florals and lime oil than anything pulpy or juicy. Yet in the mouth in particular it’s a wine that flows with ease, spreading fine flavour across the tongue even as it maintains good movement. The mid-palate is almost weighty but kept on track thanks to some attractive texture through the after palate. The wine rested on lees for several months post-fermentation, and this accounts for some savoury, reductive notes that lightly brush across the nose and palate. If anything, I’m wishing for a slightly more vivacious, etched experience here, and the wine borders on relaxation at times.

As with many Cherubino wines I’ve tasted of late, this isn’t structured to prevent immediate enjoyment, even as it suggests some medium term cellaring.

Update: day two and the wine’s singing even more clearly. If anything, its balance has improved after being open a while.

Cherubino Wines
Price: $35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Eloquesta A Boy with Fruit No. 1 NV

With his previous releases, Stuart Olsen with his Eloquesta label skirted the edges of eccentricity, but this release blasts through any vestigial sense of convention. Hipster-bait to be sure, this non-vintage mixed black blend (along with some Viognier) is, so declares the press release, more about region and winemaker than variety.

As an aside, how nice to see a producer acknowledge that, yes, people do play a role in winegrowing, and not just as impossibly romanticised shepherds of Nature’s Will as grapes make their way into the bottle.

No, this is a celebration of the winemaker, and it’s a good argument for placing an interesting person at the centre of a wine project. I’ve not had an opportunity to talk with Stuart Olsen aside from the occasional online interaction, but clearly there’s a curious, exploratory mind at work, even if some of the ideas being juggled (harvesting “in line with the lunar cycle”) are less interesting to me than others.

In the end, we judge these ideas through the wine produced, and I’m happy to note this is a very distinctive, enjoyable wine. It wears its eccentricity on its sleeve, and this smells notably unlike the mainstream. Its aroma is deeply fruited and forward, with a sappy edge and a general air of savouriness that underline the fruit and take it into less familiar territory. There’s an interplay of fresh, vibrant fruit, nougat oak and aldehydic cocoa powder that, for me, strikes a good balance.

The palate is very supple and establishes this as a wine that drinks well right now. It’s very giving, with a relaxed acid line that allows the mid-palate some expansiveness, perhaps at the expense of some tension and precision. Flavours are, again, an interesting mix of freshness and age, just as successful as on the nose, but with the added attraction of ripe, rather plush tannins through the after palate. Not a wine of great impact, perhaps, but drinkability is high, and the flavours are most distinctive.

I really like what’s happening with this label and I look forward to more.

Eloquesta by Stuart Olsen
Price: $A28
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Blue Poles Shiraz 2011

It appears I’ve not reviewed a Blue Poles Shiraz before, despite having tasted several. Time to fix that with this 2011 vintage release.

The fine folks here at Full Pour have never made any pretence to objectivity, and I’m certainly not going to buck that trend now. The fact is, I’m not a huge fan of what Margaret River does to Shiraz. That’s a massive generalisation, to be sure, but over the years I’ve learned to expect a middle-of-the-road expression of this variety, neither truly cool climate in style nor embracingly warm, such that it ends up occupying a middle ground that satisfies few of my urges.

Not that you, valued reader, are required to feel the same way. Indeed, for lovers of the regional idiom, this is a cracking quaffer, full of red fruited generosity and a hint of spice. There’s nary a bump along the way here, save for some acid that has yet to integrate and which ends up seeming slightly orange juicy through the after palate. But it fits within the overall briskness of the wine, all crunchy cranberries and strawberry tops, privileging freshness above complexity, movement above weight. As such, it’s a good lunch style and one that should pair with a wide range of food. In this, it reminds me of many light Italian styles.

A light, bright pop of a wine. Style aside, this would be vastly more interesting to order off a list than yet another large volume Shiraz blend of the sort that exists with depressing regularity at this price point.

Blue Poles Vineyard
Price: $A22
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Gilligan Roussanne Marsanne 2013

It’s interesting to watch Australian winemakers grapple with white Rhône varieties. Tahbilk’s prototypical, straightforward approach to its Marsanne is just one of many options, and it’s fun to see everything from predominantly textural styles right through to worked, voluptuous wines. This wine falls mostly into the latter camp.

I was most remiss in not writing up the 2012 vintage of this wine; it was a taut, linear expression of these varieties and one that was very much to my taste. This swings in a slightly different direction. Firstly, it’s packed with flavour. There’s an abundance of honeysuckle and beeswax, very ripe and plush in character. Pricklier edges pervade the aroma but never distort its fundamentally generous, round shape.

In the mouth, strikingly full and mouthfilling. It has good intensity of flavour and, despite its volume, is quite sprightly in the mouth. The mid-palate is quite fleshy and fruit-sweet, leading to a tauter after palate that shows some herbal influences. Texture transitions here to a lightly raspy phase before the wine finishes on a beautifully clean, floral note.

While I enjoyed the 2012’s uncompromising palate structure, this wine is rather more approachable and should win friends more easily. In any case, a delicious expression of these confounding varieties.

Note: the same disclaimers I mentioned in my review of the current Gilligan red apply here, too.

Gilligan Wines
Price: $A22
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Mount Langi Ghiran Cliff Edge Shiraz 2010

Langi is a curious beast in the context of Grampians Shiraz. Its site is notably apart from the bulk of the region’s vineyards, clustered as they are around Great Western, Rhymney, Moyston and Ararat. This comes through in the wines too, but what’s perhaps even more interesting is the difference between sites within the estate vineyard. The Cliff Edge is quite a different beast from the flagship label, and I’ve often found it a wine that’s easier to love. I’m revisiting this wine some time after first having tasted it, and was fortunate enough to have a glass of the 2012 in front of me at the same time. The differences are striking, as are the similarities.

Over the course of several hours, this changed quite a few times, going from a notably stalky wine on both nose and palate to something almost shockingly approachable, redolent of sweet licorice allsorts and brown spice. Initially, a certain astringency of tannin pinches the after palate, truncating the wine’s line compared to the significantly less constricted 2012. It was interesting to watch the wines even out somewhat; while the 2012 flows freely down its line right from the start, this takes its time to open out, eventually reaching a liquidity of palate structure that I find seductive.

What unites both these wines is a particularly attractive flavour profile that drips of dark fruit, spice, florals and lusciousness. While some differences in winemaking between the 2010 and 2012 are evident, the character of the fruit sings clearly and unites the two wines. I’ll save the debate on how best a winemaker can illuminate the special qualities of the fruit he or she works with for another time. The upshot here is that it’s a fucking delicious wine.

Mount Langi Ghiran
Price: $A30
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Cherubino Shiraz 2009

Stylistically, this occupies a middle ground between the Acacia and Riversdale Shirazes I tasted recently (although this wine is from an earlier vintage than either of those two). It has suggestions of the Acacia’s palate weight while channeling the Riversdale’s almost brutal savouriness and sinewy palate structure. Interestingly, the 2010 and 2011 vintages of this wine come from the Acacia and Riversdale vineyards respectively, whereas the vineyard source here isn’t specified (on the Cherubino Web site at any rate).

It’s also quite fascinating, because it’s a wine that, over several hours of contemplative tasting, never entirely yielded to me. It’s not a matter of being somehow unresolved; this is drinking quite well, really. Its style, though, with a focus on muscular savouriness, is one that can’t help but dodge easy deliciousness. I wondered at one point whether a wine style that keeps insisting on its form and sophistication at the expense of much else takes the idea too far; whether some fruit might have been brought further forward to provide a way in, and whether its noticeable reduction might have been dialled back at bit. But, in the end, I’m glad of its balance, and I enjoy the way it insists the drinker rise a little in his seat to taste.

It’s a wine that shows great tannin, and its relatively high — by mainstream Australian standards — pH of 3.9 came as something of a surprise when I looked up the technical data. Not forcing it down to a more textbook level, though, shows great winemaking judgement, because the wine’s palate structure is fantastic as is, and a brighter streak of acid might destroy the dark, dense way this moves through the mid-palate in particular. Fruit weaves in and out of this rope-like architecture, occasionally swelling to a point stopping just short of generosity, then folding back into the dark fabric of the wine. Oak, though present, seems to work at the level of density and mouthfeel rather than adding any obvious sweetness or overt flavour.

It’s been good to taste a few Frankland River Shirazes of late. It has confirmed my view that this region, and its neighbours in Great Southern, is capable of producing some of the most distinctive, challenging and sophisticated Shiraz in Australia.

Cherubino Wines
Price: $65
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail