Dinner with the men of Lake’s Folly

As luck would have it, we processed some Chardonnay fruit on my last day at Lake’s Folly, so I was in a Chardonnay mood by the time dinner came around. It’s just as well, then, Rod had already arranged dinner for the team at the very fancy Muse. Pooling resources, we amassed quite a collection of wine to taste; about two bottles per dinner guest. Just to taste, you understand. There’d be no pressure to open everything.

I think we opened everything, with the exception of one backup bottle. The following impressions are from memory, as I did not take notes at the time.

I’m not sure whether it’s a good thing when the first wine of the night remains my top pick through the dinner, but for better or worse, a 2002 Dom Pérignon threatened to be just such a wine. Gorgeously detailed and powerful, I especially liked an array of honeyed notes through the extended after palate and the complexity of the flavour profile in general, all sitting atop the creamiest of mouthfeels. Seems in a sweet spot, showing freshness and maturity all at once.

Then came the Chardonnays. A 1991 Lake’s Folly Chardonnay was very progressed in flavour, perhaps too much so for many tastes. I did, however, like an attractive, biscuit-like note in the aroma as well as hints of cinder toffee. Despite the somewhat madeirised flavour profile, the palate structure was fully intact and showed a wine of great acid line and good shape in the mouth. For easy drinking pleasure, however, a 2001 Lake’s Folly Chardonnay was clearly the more successful wine, being much younger and less challenging in flavour. My fellow diners (and they would know) suggested it wasn’t quite the freshest bottle, but I loved its complex flavours and gentle power in the mouth. Fantastic wine.

Two white Burgundies followed. The first, a 2002 Domaine Emilian Gillet Viré-Clessé Quintaine, showed well and provided a point of difference in this lineup. I’ve tasted this wine previously, and my comments in that note stand. It was especially notable for its incredibly freshness at over ten years of age. It was also, however, somewhat outclassed in finesse by the Lake’s Folly wines and subsequent Burgundy, an Alain Chavy Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Folatières from 2010. The Chavy showed great power and purity of fruit on the middle palate, along with gobs of minerality and the sort of chalk dust texture that is curious and rather destructive of the wine’s attempts at length. I’ll put it down to youthful indiscretions.

Onto the reds. A 2010 Mount Mary Quintets was very fine, its light to medium bodied palate carrying an array of leafy, red-berried flavours. There’s something tantalising about this wine’s weight, toying with contrasts of body versus power, substance versus complexity. A 2000 Lake’s Folly red was a superb example of a mature red wine, being mellow and substantial at the same time. As an aside, I find my taste for old Cabernet growing, which can only mean bad things for my finances. So well was the Lake’s Folly drinking that it was the first wine to seriously challenge the Dom Perignon for my favourite of the evening. In this high cheekboned company, a 2010 Wendouree Malbec struggled to look attractive, its jammy red fruit and assertive tannins reminding one of hastily, generously applied lipstick. Its rusticity and youth might have appealed more in a flight of similar wines.

By this time, we’d worked our way through most of the (exceptionally good) meal, with just dessert to go. To accompany our coconut ice, we had a bottle of 2001 Château Doisy-Daëne. Not only was the wine drinking very well indeed, it proved the most startling and successful match with food of the evening. Masses of flavour but not cloying, this struck a lovely balance between sweetness, opulence, acid and texture. By the time I’d finished my glass, it had jumped into what turned out to be a three-way tie for my favourite wine, along with the Lake’s Folly red and Dom Perignon.

Life’s very tough indeed.

Note: wines were contributed by all attendees, including me. Dinner, however, was on Lake’s Folly.

Five years of Full Pour

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

For most of 2007, I had been logging tasting notes in Blogger as a personal aide-mémoire, not wanting to pollute my other writing projects with fumbling attempts at transcribing the experience of wine into words. Meanwhile, my friend and fellow wine lover Chris Pratt was also playing with tasting notes, pushing their form this way and that in his highly personal, vivid way.

To write about the wines we were tasting under the banner of Full Pour brought these threads together in a way that was, and continues to be, somewhat idiosyncratic. Our work was never going to feed an audience hungry for capsule recommendations or insider insights, an audience that was and remains well served by other channels. Instead, Full Pour became an extension of us: two friends and crazy wine people with an interest in the aesthetics of wine; in what it means to open a bottle of something in the real world, in an imperfect setting, with no objective other than to seek enjoyment from the experience, and to sometimes be disappointed. Full Pour was our taste, perception and intelligence on the line, published because we think wine matters enough warrant honest reflection.

Cut to 2012, five years later: 1022 posts, innumerable comments both kind and not quite so generous, some spectacular wines, a lot of less than spectacular ones, a few intellectual battle lines drawn and, I hope, a contribution of some integrity to the dialogue about wine. Full Pour isn’t a wine site for everyone, just as Chris and I will never please every person we meet, but I’ve connected with enough wine writers, thinkers and drinkers through our efforts here to suggest what we do holds, at least, some interest.

There are, naturally, a lot more sites about wine in 2012 than there were when we started in 2007, especially in Australia (and I’m pleased to note the best of the Aussies then (Wine Front/Winorama, Wino sapien) continue to delight today). Moreover, Twitter has happened, and the zeal with which wine people, including me, have taken to it continues to amaze and amuse me. The democratisation of wine has truly arrived, even if the excitement of self-publishing often burns brightly and even more quickly for many, and even if the conversation has, in some ways, become shallower as it has sped up.

I wonder about Full Pour’s place in all this, about the role of a conversation about wine that demands a level of engagement many may not have the time or patience for. That will, no doubt, sort itself out in time. What hasn’t changed, except to perhaps deepen, is my sense of wonder, my yearning to understand more and taste better, and my need to write and read things that make me think.

So, after five years of realising how little I know about wine, here’s to the people whose company matters to me: to Full Pour’s co-founder Chris, to wine writers who care about getting it right, to our readers who do me the honour of their time and attention, and to producers who respect both their product and their customers. I don’t know how things will look in five years’ time, but I hope to be accompanied by these excellent people as we, together, find out.

Death and tasting notes

It doesn’t take much exposure to wine to understand, then be overwhelmed by, its astounding, infinite variability. To know wine in its entirety is impossible, but the urge to experience its endless beauty is strong. We chase a constantly expanding repertoire of styles in a — perhaps laudable, perhaps gluttonous — attempt to gauge wine’s true scope. It’s easy to lose track of the aesthetics of wine amidst sensory (not to mention marketing) overload. All of a sudden, we’re talking more about what a wine represents than what it is.

On a fundamental level, wine never happens until it’s drunk, so it’s worth putting that relationship back at the centre of wine appreciation. I’m not playing a postmodern game and suggesting a wine literally doesn’t exist until it is consumed. Rather, a bottle of wine isn’t complete if it’s never tasted. Until that moment, it is just liquid potential – an idea, a “maybe.” The ideas may be interesting or fraudulent, novel or hackneyed, but without tasting, they remain untested.

And that’s true of each bottle, even if one is familiar with other bottles of the same wine. Wine drunk at one moment will be different from at any other moment, its chemistry changed, its context shifted. The only chance we get to capture the beauty within a bottle is at the moment of consumption. If you believe this, as I do, then the idea of a trophy wine, one never intended to be drunk, is an obscenity. It makes a mockery of wine and its capacity to impart pleasure.

Ironically, we destroy wine in our attempt to appreciate it, which makes the drink even more tantalising. Unlike a beautiful painting, one can’t revisit a wine exactly as it was the first (or second, or third) time. The slight sadness I feel when I open a rare bottle is, I think, related to the fact that drinking a wine involves both the creation and the elimination of its beauty. If wine doesn’t exist until it is drunk, it only ever exists in that moment too. And when it’s gone, all we have left are our memories of it, subject to the same distortions and inaccuracies as our memories of loved ones who have died.

If a bottle of wine does have any sort of life beyond being drunk, it’s in the minds of those who were there. I’ve often wondered why I, and thousands of other wine lovers, are driven to write about the wines we love. Perhaps our notes are eulogies of a sort, reminders of what we liked and didn’t like, written in the knowledge that a bottle consumed can no longer speak for itself. All that’s left are those who remember how beautiful it really was.

The Last Dookie Show…

So ends my last period at Dookie Agricultural College, which amuses me not just because it’s a tidy milestone but because I still can’t quite believe I ever started this pedagogical folly of mine in the first place. And yet here I am, just weeks away from finishing my studies for good (for now). The two weeks just passed have involved plenty of lab work and a fair few tastings, the latter of which I will summarise here. Those interested in my creative writing as it relates to spectrophotometry may contact me directly.

All wines below were tasted blind.

The most interesting session of the fortnight was a Semillon and Cabernet Sauvignon tasting. A modest pair kicked off the Semillon flight: a 2011 Peter Lehmann and a 2011 Mount Pleasant Elizabeth, the latter showing some distinct lettuce characters. These were followed by an altogether more interesting 2004 Elizabeth. With an absolutely classic flavour profile of lanolin, honey, toast and waxed lemons, this was delicious and still youthful in the mouth. By contrast, a 2002 Elizabeth (under cork) was tasting tired and washed out. I know this wine can go for a good deal longer, so I suspect we simply encountered a dodgy bottle.

A 2005 Lovedale followed; this was clearly the group’s favourite, although I felt it still too young to fully enjoy (I say this as someone who has a stash of this wine in his cellar). Quite fleshy and fruit sweet, this showed waxed lemons, a curious sense of spice and a very attractive smokey note. As an aside, am I the only non-smoker who has an embarrassing affinity with the smell of old tobacco smoke?

A bizarre 2003 Tyrrells Vat 1 was up next and, although I’ve not tasted this wine before, it struck me as highly atypical. A very neutral aroma with a whiff of cheesiness, this led into a palate that showed more lees character and a rounded mouthfeel. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has more experience of this wine than I.

Lastly, we tasted the most extraordinary Brown Brothers single vineyard wine from 1987 – the vineyard being Mount Major on Dookie Campus. Although it did not scale the heights of a great Hunter wine, this was still a wonderful bottling, showing great complexity and overwhelming notes of butter, toast and honey. The mouthfeel was rich and well matched to the wine’s deliciously indulgent flavour profile. A fabulous experience.

The Cabernet tasting was more difficult, and I struggled to locate as much pleasure. Two unexciting wines got us into the mood: the 2010 Katnook Founders Block and a 2005 Dookie Cabernet that seemed much too advanced for its tender years. The Katnook was a lot better and was a good drink, though not especially exciting either.

I quite liked the next wine, an Oakridge 2008, though no-one else seemed to. Lovely dusty nose, cedar oak and velvet mouthfeel. The finish started a bit hollow but filled out with air. The next wine, a Howard Park Leston from 2008, also confounded the group, me amongst them. Not a bad wine by any means, but it just seemed angular and unresolved. I was beginning to feel like the odd one out when the group went nuts for the next wine, a Bowen Estate 2009 Cabernet, whereas I found it initially hard and lean. Air did the wine a great many favours though, and it ended up gaining more plushness in its mouthfeel and a richer core of red fruit. Not bad.

My second favourite wine of the Cabernet section was next. With a browning rim and some sediment, this evidently aged wine showed classic dust, leather, soy and hints of dark berries. The palate was soft, elegant in the mouth and still well structured. I found the fruit fresh and extended right through the finish. The reveal showed it to be a 2003 Mildara Rothwell. From memory, this was not a hit with the group (too much oak, I think).

The last wine was clearly a different breed. All of a sudden, we had cigar box, tobacco leaf and gravel, savoury black fruits and a lighter countenance overall without sacrificing length and presence. I liked this best of all, as it seemed to have a balance and elegance missing from the other wines. This turned out to be a 2006 Moulin de la Lagune.

Ramblings: Hunter Valley

A few nights ago, I attended the Brisbane leg of the New Generation Hunter Valley’s Caravan of Courage “On the Road Again” roadshow. Lots of excellent wines and approachable winemakers, if a slightly cumbersome event name. I have a lot of affection for this region and wanted to note a few thoughts prompted by this tasting.

I think it’s from my father that I’ve inherited an interest in Hunter Valley wines, which is perhaps telling. As a region, I sense it is regarded as property of an older generation of wine drinkers; the types of men with deep memories of Hunter Burgundy and a penchant for using the region’s own anachronistic pronunciations for its key varieties (“Semilllon,” “Shirah”). To be honest, I find a view of the Hunter as a musty, old-fashioned wine region completely charming. I like that Hunter wines have lineage, that they draw on a stylistic history that few other regions in our country can provide, and that many producers continue to make wines in the well-established regional idiom. Plus, it takes my focus away from the sad fact that wine has perhaps become secondary in terms of the region’s charms over time.

In this way, the Hunter interests me in same manner that Great Western, the McLaren Vale and the Coonawarra do. Texts from the 1960s and 70s regularly call out these regions as our very finest. Yet, in each case, one could argue their glamour has faded, superceded by younger, more exiting regional starlets with less baggage and a greater willingness to experiment with style.

One might argue it’s a factor of finding better places, over time, to grow grapes. We’ve had less time than the Old World to find those special regions and sites, and perhaps the renown our younger regions enjoy is a reflection of what some believe is an inherently greater potential for fine wine in those areas. There’s no doubt that much beautiful wine is made in Canberra and Margaret River, to name two much younger regions at random. My own experience, though, and what I know of the critical consensus, suggests there are dedicated producers in our older regions making wines of the highest quality. And, although I’ve never tasted and perhaps never will taste the wines of our most exalted early to mid century winemakers, critics I respect hail the old O’Sheas and Preeces as astounding wines by any measure. Clearly, regions like the Hunter and the Grampians remain capable of spawning wines of the highest quality.

If the wines remain good, the question becomes how to get people excited, and initiatives like New Generation Hunter Valley are an attempt to provide an answer. The tasting I attended was absolutely packed, which isn’t something I expected to see (a mid-week Hunter tasting in Brisbane?!). Even more interestingly, the crowd was young, quite tilted towards women, and decidedly cool. Full credit to the event’s organisers for pulling in a good, demographically desirable crowd. If I saw more than one request by punters for the sweet Semillon, or that fun Moscato, well, it goes with the territory.

It’s not just about marketing, though. Producers like Andrew Thomas are pushing new regional styles, breaking away from traditional Hunter Shiraz styles by ramping up the fruit density, oak input and general scale of the wines. This certainly answers commercial challenges associated with old-fashioned, acid-driven, medium bodied red wines that are perhaps out of step with a lot of today’s styles. I love those traditional wines, but the revisionist view of regional style has inherent merit too; these are beautifully crafted wines in their own right. They provide substance to an argument that the region is in the process of reinventing itself in a way that supports renewed commercial interest but also invigorated aesthetic engagement. These most certainly are not your father’s Hunter wines, and they force a re-evaluation of the region’s identity.

The Hunter has arguably been left behind in the recent race by Australian producers to identify and elevate through separate bottlings every vineyard or little patch of dirt with ostensible merit. Slowly, though, producers in the region are calling out sites of particular interest, and for me these bottlings are tremendously exciting in a way that stylistic experimentation isn’t. Tyrrell’s have led the way amongst larger producers, with boutique vignerons like Andrew Thomas exploring this territory more fully, putting it at the centre of his range of wines. A delicious irony, really, that Australia’s traditional stylistic answer to Burgundy is now chasing Burgundian notions of site.

In a way, it’s more interesting to watch our established regions go about the task of refreshing and renewing than to see young regions appear, seemingly out of nowhere, unencumbered by a sense of tradition, of “how things have always been done.” I wonder if, when regions like the Hunter and Great Western, which have flown under the radar for a while now, reach the next stage of their evolving identity, they won’t just blow us all out of the water.

Mollydooker Tasting: Introduction

Tonight, we’re going to taste ten Mollydooker wines. I’ve assembled a group of friends to assist me:

  • Dan, my partner. Software engineer, regular wine drinker.
  • Rex, journalist, mostly a fan of vodka and brandy, but drinks wine when I make him
  • Roy, very modest wine drinking experience
  • Mark, mostly an Italian red drinker, regular drinker since 1998
  • Jared, normally a Bud Light drinker, been to a couple of wineries, done some wine tasting
  • Travis, Two Buck Chuck aficionado (“it’s cheap!”)
  • Henry, mostly a fan of dessert wines, Port… but when he wants a good time he goes for Colt .45
  • John, Mark’s partner, also a big fan of Italian reds but also fascinated by the Italian concept that wine is food and he’s fascinated by wine food pairings

There may be a couple more, but they’re not here yet… so I’m gonna get started!

Ramblings: wines for sad times

We drink wine for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes, we drink to celebrate life. Champagne, usually. Other times, we share a special wine — perhaps a Cabernet that has been patiently cellared — to mark the reunion of great friends. A rarity, ideally unpronounceable, would nicely convene a gathering of wine wankers eager for novelty and each other’s fevered impressions. Indeed, I can think of a wine for most occasions, which is part of the drink’s pleasure.

Wines to accompany sadness, though, are in short supply. In such times, one might hit the bottle for its function rather than aesthetic. And fair enough; we’ve all done it. Haul out a fortified, then, for its unctuous caress and spirited comfort. Or swig an obscenely overripe red whose stressed flavours echo the self-destructive desperation with which one, in more private moments, might reach for a corkscrew.

Ah yes, now we’re getting somewhere! Dulling the senses, however, seems to me a missed opportunity. Surely my intrepid journey into the aesthetics of wine would be incomplete without at least trying to find a true depression wine match, ideally as satisfying in its own way as manzanilla sherry with sardines, or Cabernet with rump steak.

So last night, finding myself in a suitable mood for such exploration, I cast my eye around the study in a frantic yet stylish search for candidates. A young, unoaked Cabernet briefly looked promising, more as a competitor to my sadness than as a true companion. In a similar vein, my fucked-up student wine called out, and for a moment I wondered if its myriad technical faults have reached the point where they are now cancelling each other out.

Everywhere I looked, wines leapt forward only to quickly fall back into the reject pile. Giaconda Ergo Sum Shiraz? Tempting, but I couldn’t possibly have done it justice and, as a gift from Chris, I’d have felt worse the morning after for wasting it on my own self-indulgence. A sharp, sculpted Riesling usually hits the spot and seemed the responsible choice. After all, no-one actually gets hammered on Riesling. There’s something about such precision, though, that can steamroll we of a more obviously flawed humanity. Next! Bottle after bottle, I went through everything in my makeshift cellar and found nothing I could bear to open. I would have ruined the good wines, and the bad wines would have ruined me.

So I went to bed without so much as a sip of anything, and woke up the next day — today — with a clear head. Perhaps I found a suitable match after all.

Ramblings: Western Victoria

Recently, I enjoyed a quick trip with fellow wine writer Andrew Graham through Western Victoria, focusing on two of the three wine regions therein. One day was spent in the Grampians and one in the Pyrenees. Henty will have to wait.

I’ve been mulling over this piece for a while and, in the meantime, Andrew has published a typically passionate account of the Grampians portion of our visit on his Australian Wine Review site. My own take centres on ideas of regional identity, both in terms of wine style and something less tangible – the feel of a region.

By feel I mean the human experience of being in that region, seeing vineyards, visiting producers and of course tasting wines. I suggest these things can be a part of a wine as much as the food one selects to accompany it, or the friends with whom one chooses to share it. Hence, understanding a vineyard or region can powerfully alter the way in which one sees the resultant wines. Not that these insights can ever make up for bad wine, but they fill in gaps – of intent, or circumstance, or personality. And that’s worth something.


We visited three very different producers in the Grampians: Mount Langi Ghiran, Clayfield Wines, and Best’s Wines.

Langi’s cellar door is the flashiest in the region, and this feels right given the unique site the vineyard occupies. The whole experience of driving to Langi is worth the visit, in fact, as it feels completely unlikely. I’ve long held there’s much beauty in the marginal, and this is a good example of what I mean.

The wines themselves, especially the reds, seem styled to reject the isolation of their provenance, and are ripe and robust. There’s also an interesting range of varietals, with quite a few Italians having been planted at the Nowhere Creek vineyard around the corner from the primary site. I thought the 2005 Langi Cabernet the most successful of the reds on tasting, and was especially impressed by the powerful, clean fruit running right down the core of the wine’s palate. The whites appealed to me more, though, especially the 2008 Cliff Edge Pinot Gris. Nice texture and generous flavour for the varietal.

It’s a shame the premiums weren’t on tasting. One doesn’t exactly end up there by accident, so it would have been nice to have had an opportunity to experience the full range.

Simon Clayfield’s operation is in many ways the opposite of Langi Ghiran, being boutique in scale and focused in range. I like Simon very much, so perhaps my view of his wines is shaped by my view of him as an engaging, highly opinionated vigneron. Certainly, his wines show a uniqueness that fascinates me because they are both strongly regional and quite different from those of many other producers in the region. Though consistently well made, with exceptional oak handling, his wines revel in vintage variation, moving from full-throttle styles like his 2008 Massif and Thomas Wills Shirazes to ultra-elegant interpretations like his 2006 Black Label, all of which we tasted at cellar door. I’m glad to report the 2005 Black Label continues to drink well, the spice having moved up a few notches since I last tried it. Simon also pulled out the 1999 Black Label for us to taste. This vintage was the first made under the Clayfield Wines label and is currently drinking at what surely must be its peak. Full of flavour, with plenty of decaying bottled aged complexity, and an array of spice notes that will be heaven to lovers of Western Victorian Shiraz. Just beautiful.

Best’s Wines was up next and turned out to be another special visit. Aside from tasting a rather large range of wines, we had the opportunity, thanks to the generosity of Jonathan Mogg, to take an extensive tour through the cellars and vineyards. I’m surely not the only wine nerd who feels a shiver when faced with very old vines, and Best’s, more than many other producers, offers a catalogue of such moments. I’ve already written up the 2006 Thomson’s Family Shiraz tasted on this visit, but the most special wine for me was a 1976 Pinot Meunier, in fabulous condition and drinking well. Amazingly, this wine developed over the course of a good couple of hours, gaining weight and fruit presence, while never losing the old red poise only bottle age can bring. Spectacular, and made more special by just having spent time amongst the very old vines that gave us this wine back in ’76.


I had never visited this region before, so was taking it all in as we drove and tasted our way through. Considering it’s adjacent to the Grampians, I was struck by how different the region feels. This is due in part to the wines, which are quite distinct in style.

Our first visit was to Dalwhinnie, which was a fairly traditional cellar door session, albeit with a backdrop that is one of the more beautiful, secluded vineyard views in the country. The wines are very impressive, the flagship Shiraz wines being predictably fantastic; I enjoyed the 2008 Cabernet most, though, for its power and elegance. It reminded me of a good Coonawarra Cabernet in a strange way, not in terms of flavour profile but more structurally, in the way it unfolds in the mouth. In any case, a lovely wine.

Our next visits were less about tasting finished wines and more about barrel samples. Aside from hurrying my next appointment with the dentist, what I took away from these experiences was a renewed sense of the passion and experimentation that is part of making worthwhile wines.

John Harris from Mount Avoca and Mitchell Harris was exceptionally generous with his time (and pipette) and showed us through a bewildering array of barrel samples. Though it’s a little meaningless to try and give a sense of the wines in this tasting context, I was impressed by the range of components John is shepherding through to completion. There’s an energy he is bringing to both the Mount Avoca and Mitchell Harris ranges that suggests both labels are ones to watch over the coming years.

Interestingly, I was especially taken by the Cabernets we tried, again impressed by the clarity of fruit flavours and classical structure in the context of what are quite full throttle styles. Shiraz remains the region’s standard bearer varietal, but I’ll be making a point of exploring more Cabernet Sauvignon from the Pyrenees in future.

John suggested we visit the Dog Rock winery, located on its own near the border of the Pyrenees and Grampians regions. Indeed, vigneron Allen Hart proposed its spectacular site has more to do with the Grampians, which might be disconcerting if the styles sought were conventional. But there’s nothing ordinary about this range, and my suggestion that many of the wines seemed designed to provoke was greeted with nods of agreement. I’m not aware of too many other producers in the region with a Shiraz/Tempranillo sparkling red, or a premium wine that is Grenache-based. Whether iconoclastic or eccentric, there’s no doubt the wines overflow with intent and rigour, and for that I value them very highly. Wines to seek out and react to.


Here are some random impressions to close:

  • For regions that possess a relatively large number of iconic wines, the Grampians and the Pyrenees have an embarrassingly low profile. Visiting in person, and talking with a range of high profile producers, I get the impression there is perhaps a lack of depth at present. So, unlike the Barossa where one can easily visit one great producer after another, these regions may be more hit and miss, which would create a less consistent experience for visitors and less popular momentum as a result.
  • Regional identity is still sorting itself out. I look to places like Central Otago for models of a well identified and marketed regional identity. Western Victoria has history on its side, but it seems there’s a mixture of slackness and confusion when it comes to clearly communicating what each region does best. The push Best’s is making towards solidifying the Great Western identity is symptomatic of what I mean.
  • Grampians Shiraz, when done well, is unquestionably amongst the best and most distinctive in the country. Although I need to get more exposure to Pyrenees wines, nothing I tasted from that region leads me to believe it is any different in quality terms.

I came away from this visit feeling excited and stimulated by what I had seen. These regions are vastly undervalued at present, showing wine styles that retain an authentic connection with the past without feeling stale. Indeed, the difficulty of making wine in such a remote area, in relatively unfashionable styles, amongst a small and in some ways fractured winemaking community, was tangible throughout. The wines taste that much sweeter for it.

Ramblings: missive from Dookie

I’m at the Dookie Agricultural College at the moment, enjoying a week-long residential session as part of my studies. As with the last session, I’ve had ample opportunity to taste many average wines and indulge in some navel gazing. There are certainly some very experienced palates amongst my fellow students, which is both enlightening and enjoyable. Several group tastings, and more than a few conversations, lead me to make the following random observations.

Palate variation is astonishing. We often talk about bottle variation and, as real as that is, I’ve been more interested this week in how different people perceive wine so very differently. On several occasions, I’ve been struck by how differently I have seen a wine from some, and how similarly to others. This certainly gives credence to the idea that one ought to align to critics whose palates are sympathetic to one’s own, but more interestingly it highlights both the (perhaps beautiful) futility of writing tasting notes altogether, and the uselessness of blood sport tasting.

On blood sport tasting — by this I mean an attitude to wine tasting characterised by a repellent competitiveness at the expense of almost everything else (enjoyment, propriety, humanity) — I find my tolerance to have diminished to almost zero.  I like to think I’m fairly accommodating of others’ views, but on this topic I am satisfyingly inflexible. As a lover of wine, to me wine is about enjoyment, quality of life, beauty, generosity. Anything else is just missing the point.

Which leads me to average wines. I realise that many, if not all, of our tastings this week were pedagogical in intent, and that great wines don’t necessarily assist with learning. As a selective taster who generally chooses wines I actually want to drink, however, it has been rather soul-destroying. I don’t know how wine judges do it.

A parade of average wines also raises the question of benchmarking. It’s clear that, amongst my fellow students, there’s a large range of tasting experiences, some at the lower end and some at the extreme high end. I find I sit somewhere in the middle, having regularly tasted local premium and decent international wines, without often having scaled the heights of vinous stardom. This would be neither here nor there, except that my fellow students and I are, in theory at least, studying to become vignerons. I suggest in this case that exposure to top wines becomes of critical importance, and wonder what might happen if we collectively fail to benchmark our palates and winemaking efforts in a meaningful way.

Ramblings: tasting Rutherglen

A weekend of tasting events, the most physically challenging of which was a tour of the Rutherglen region on Saturday. Conveniently (or not, depending on one’s point of view), our visit coincided with the Tastes of Rutherglen festival. This had three implications:

  1. Tasting required the purchase of a rather oddly shaped glass for $10;
  2. Cellar doors featured a range of live music and, in the case of the wonderfully daggy Chambers Rosewood Winery, what appeared to be a kind of blue light disco; and
  3. We often had to negotiate throngs three or four people deep to be served (though cellar door staff were invariably patient and informative).
All of which is great for the region’s producers, and there were certainly good crowds having a great time at each winery. Warrabilla in particular seemed to show a lively atmosphere, which is somehow fitting given the robustness of its wine styles. But I am getting ahead of myself. Here’s a brief summary of the highlights as I saw them.

Stanton and Killeen

Tasting selectively is a must, it seems, at Rutherglen cellar doors, simply because they more often than not have a startlingly large range. The region also seems to be the spiritual home of some unusual varieties in the local context, including Durif and Blue Imperial (Cinsault). Here, some solid, fully flavoured Durif and Shiraz Durif table wines gave way to the main event, which was a vertical of this producer’s VPs.

We tasted the 2004, 2002, 2000,1998, and 1983. The 2004, almost entirely made from the traditional Portuguese varieties, is an elegant, coherent style, with good fruit freshness and balance. The 2002 is similar, but with some distinct aged notes on the aroma in particular. The 2000 stands out a little for its volatility and larger scale, whereas the 1998 is back to a more elegant, shapely expression.  The oldest wine is quite different, mostly Shiraz, and very much the Australian VP style, with a more sweetly fruited palate and quite a different tannin profile. A nice example of VP in this idiom.

Interestingly, the Muscat and Tokay are made in a lighter style than most, the classic Tokay especially. For my taste, these wines lack some intensity and definition, but might please someone whose preference runs to a less powerful expression of these regional specialties.

Campbells Winery

At Campbells, we indulged in the $10 premium tasting, which meant a lot of back vintage table wines and the grand and rare fortifieds.

I found the back vintage reds variable, at times lacking fruit presence to balance out what are quite fierce tannin structures. The Muscat and Tokay wines are another matter entirely, with plenty of everything. The classics are satisfyingly rich and varietal. The rare Tokay was a particular highlight for me, with incredible length and drive right down the line, and the most outrageously delicious aftertaste that reminded me of barbeque chips.


After a nice burger with the lot in Rutherglen township, we hit Warrabilla for some more palate punishment. This house has a very idiosyncratic style, centred on “big red wines” that take scale and alcohol to their logical regional conclusion. Taste aside, one has to admire such clear intent, followed through so completely.

To my taste, Durif responds best to the style being sought, resulting in wines with a flavour profile that strikes me as quite achieved. The Cabernet Sauvignons are a surprise, recognisably varietal and almost elegant, within context. An oddity is the Zinfandel, made in a light red style with plenty of ease and fun. Overall, definitely worth a visit to see how one’s taste interacts with the style.

Chambers Rosewood

A time capsule. This utterly old school producer has a massive range of table wines, including what is surely the most unusual wine we encountered all day: a Blue Imperial rosé. Basically a large shed, the cellar door is mostly self-service and shows all the trappings of the Australian wine industry of yesteryear, including an alarmingly large number of wines available by the flagon.

As expected, the highlights here were again the Tokays and Muscats, made in a finer, more varietal and apparently drier style than in some other houses. The classic Muscat sings with pure, grapey Frontignac goodness, and would be great as a picnic wine, lightly chilled perhaps. The grand Tokay is magnificent, beautifully defined, unfolding in the mouth both gently and with precise articulation. No rares were on tasting, so I can only imagine what they are like.

I absolutely loved this visit.

Morris Wines

This producer showed the table wines I enjoyed the most all day. Solid across the board, though I felt the Blue Imperial to be a particularly interesting, food-friendly dry red, if slightly anonymous in flavour. The Shiraz Durif sparkling wine is also excellent and mercifully dry.

What’s striking about this producer’s fortifieds is the extreme opulence of the style at all levels, classic through rare. On the day, I liked the grand level wines the least, as they seemed to fall in a vague middle ground between classics that are light enough to show some youthful definition, and rares that are simply knock-your-socks-off wines of sensational drive and opulence. In any case, these are all benchmarks at the rich end of the stylistic scale, and I feel they are well priced for the quality.