Chatto Pinot Noir 2013

Wine communicators collectively wet themselves over this on its release. I’m tasting it for the first time tonight, and like it somewhat more than its 2012 predecessor.

It’s a smart wine. Transparent, cleanly articulated, complex; this is immediately expressive and shows a distinctive personality. There’s a bristled spice and sour tang to the flavour profile that recalls food as much as wine. I regret that sourness is almost always considered a deficiency in wine appreciation; although it can be indicative of poorly handled acid, here it provides the refreshment of a tamarind amongst pungent spice, balancing the wine’s warmer notes and creating an impression of freshness.

The palate structure is firm yet light, as is indeed the wine as a whole, but intensity is striking and flavours are confident. There’s an ease to the way this moves down its line, fanning satin berry fruits across the tongue then whisking them away with a clean flourish, teasing with a shake of tannin and a spritz of acid.

The question of longevity must, of course, be invoked, and having done so I shall dismiss it without answer. Who cares? It’s drinking fabulously right now.

Chatto
Price: $50
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Olek Bondonio Barbaresco 2010

An astonishingly tight cork. Not a euphemism.

I’ve enjoyed several Olek Bondonio wines over the past few months, and have found them unified by a sense of simplicity and deliciousness that transcends their, at times, rustic demeanour. When one starts to get up towards $100, though, it’s interesting to contemplate how far this aesthetic extends, warped as one’s expectations might be by the idea of what a $100 wine should taste like.

None of which is especially rational or aesthetically coherent – a $100 wine has no more a “taste” than does one with a blue instead of yellow label. It seems pretty inescapable that received ideas of quality start to creep in as prices creep up. Yet how boring to believe that price accords linearly to some pre-defined increase in quality factors, like every dollar you spend should buy you a dollar’s more intensity, or complexity. I’m not so romantically inclined to believe that a “story” behind a wine is worth paying money for in and of itself (not that people don’t try), but at the same time wine pricing is so deeply non-sensical that I’m forced to concede there are other factors at play.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that this, and the deeply charming Olek Bondonio’s other wines, don’t stand up especially well in terms of value for money. In most cases, better wines can be had for less. Yet I’ve enjoyed all of them very much and am happy to have purchased them, this Barbaresco included.

It’s a light wine even in the context of Nebbiolo’s tendency to deceive in terms of colour and body. Fragrance is immediately complex. There are all sorts of entirely savoury notes in the mix, including some sappy twig-like aromas, lamington, brown spice and tight red fruit. It wants a bit in expressiveness perhaps, and is very much a young wine in terms of how much one needs to coax it to the fore. I love how much is going on aromatically, though.

The palate is feather-weight and it’s here that one might start to frown. I’d never expect a fleshy wine, but I’ve had many Barbarescos with more impact, intensity and substance. This, by contrast, is a persistently light wine, its flavours existing in a high toned register that takes several leaps to its satisfyingly tannic structure. It’s not so much that there are gaps in its palate structure, but more that it’s a wine which remains resolutely at a certain level, rather than ranging wide across high, mid and bass notes. I’m not sure this lessens my enjoyment at all. For one thing, the flavours are so satisfying — vivid, complex, pretty. Very much what one wants from this variety. And the wine has plenty of structure that gives it, if not heft, then at least shape. I love how it licks my tongue through the after palate and places bright fruit flavours all the way along. Decent length, too.

I can imagine a bunch of folks ordering this wine at a restaurant, not knowing what to expect, and being quite disappointed given its price. However, as seems to be a pattern with this producer’s wines, I’m completely disarmed by how charming, flavoursome and delicious this is, even if it’s arguably an incomplete wine.

Olek Bondonio
Price: $90
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Juan Carlos Sancha Ad Libitum Monastel 2012

Part of a mixed bag of wines recently purchased from Eurocentric. This wine is made from Monastel de Rioja which, as far as I can make out, is a native variety of Rioja planted in relatively small quantities and allowed as part of the region’s red wines only as of 2007 (according to this press release, anyway). Juan Carlos Sancha has grown these Riojan bundles of joy organically which, as we know, must mean the wine is good. Promisingly, it’s sealed under Diam; of late, anything not sealed under cork instantly lowers my level of anxiety.

Colour is quite striking – deep red, dense, serious. Aromatically, the wine is fairly challenging, as it expresses a particular note that reads to me as slightly swampy. I must admit, it’s not an appealing aroma to me; for the purpose of description, it’s similar to the faux-bretty smell that Mataro sometimes gives off; that is, savoury, meaty and altogether angular. With air, I’m making more sense of this note in the context of the aroma as a whole, which is richly fruited and dark, with a hint of coffee grounds bringing up the rear.

The palate is satisfyingly flavoursome, and one could never accuse this wine of lacking intensity. At the same time, there’s an ease to its expression that belies its dark, serious flavour profile, and I rather like the tension between these two things. Black cherries, dark chocolate and mulch collide with a net of tannin that descends through the mid-palate. This is firmly structured, to be sure, yet it’s not without balance. It’s simply a big wine. Fresh fruit drives through the after palate even as tannin constricts its expression somewhat and keeps it in line. A decent finish rounds things off, as does a lick of vanilla.

There’s a lot to like here and the wine is nothing if not characterful. Might go down well with lovers of “big red wines” who are open to some different flavour profiles.

Bodegas Juan Carlos Sancha
Price: $A39.95
Closure: Diam
Source: Retail

Sobrero Langhe Nebbiolo 2011

Inexpensive Nebbiolo can be a difficult thing to locate, so it’s appealing to come across an affordable example such as this humble Langhe from Sobrero. Good Barolos and Barbarescos are so satisfying and complete, I fear a little tasting this wine and being comprehensively dissatisfied.

While this lacks some stuffing, there’s plenty of interest here and it seems quite its own wine. The nose gives up little on opening, slowly releasing iron and blood aromas mixed with prettier florals. These contradictions are the essence of the variety for me, so it’s nice to see them here, and the style doesn’t pander for a moment the way some cheaper Australian wines do, for example. Quite the opposite: this is a fairly uncompromising wine, and it takes a while for any semblance of flesh to build through the mid-palate. When it does, there’s some red fruit mixed in amongst the iron filings, though it’s kept in check not only by more savoury notes but by satisfyingly firm Nebbiolo tannin. One drinks these wines for their structure, and this has a nice lick of drying texture through the after palate.

With a day or so of being open, this does soften a little, structurally, and its reticence reveals itself as partly a function of intensity, or lack thereof. But it becomes more attractive as its fruits dare to sweeten, and there’s a definite lift in expressiveness both aromatically and in the mouth. It ends up a transparent wine and in many ways benefits from a lack of density. The word pretty keeps popping up in my mind.

To be sure, this is a fairly humble wine and I wish it had a bit more of everything. At the same time, I like what’s here very much.

Sobrero
Price: $A39.99
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Clonakilla Ceoltóirí 2013

Clonakilla’s small batch range seems to have exploded in recent years, with little rhyme or reason to its composition – not that I mind at all having the opportunity to taste a broader range of styles coming out of this wonderful producer. Some of the wines look outside the Canberra region for fruit, but this Shiraz, Grenache, Mataro and Cinsault blend is sourced from Murrumbateman, Clonakilla’s home turf.

The aroma is all about a cool climate vibe – this is an uncompromisingly spiced wine, with a range of floral and cracked pepper-like notes blanketing a layer of red fruits. There are also fragranced orange peel dimensions and a baseline of oak that, together, frame the assertive aroma, not softening it so much as completing its range.

The palate, at this stage of the wine’s life, is driven by a firm acid line and some fairly prominent tannins, and over three days it has softened only a little. To be sure, there’s no lack of flavour; as with the aroma, this is quite driven, with an aggression to its articulation that is impressive as well as a little tiring. It’s wiry and detailed and all those good things, but the adjectives I am instinctively reaching for are less unequivocally positive – lean, young and unresolved. A key difficulty for me is the way its structure sits apart from its fruit, creating a sweet-sour impression and granting the wine a fairly hard finish. The fact this is a light, transparent wine only exposes these components more.

So, to write about this as a wine of potential, or one of inaccessible pleasures in the present? It may well be both those things. Certainly, its unwillingness to tire over an extended period bodes well for its future, and there’s no denying the elegance of its flavours.

Clonakilla
Price: $A36
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Attwoods Old Hog Pinot Noir 2012

A tale of three vintages, from the difficult 2011, through this wine to the as-yet unreleased 2013. These wines are those of a good friend, Troy Walsh, who made wine school a hell of a lot more fun than it otherwise would have been for me, and who comes with a background working as a sommelier in some of London’s better-known fine dining establishments. After returning to Australia, he and his family settled in the Ballarat area, and his goal is to make exceptional Pinot Noir. He works with Geelong and Ballarat fruit, and is in the process of establishing his own vineyard on a lovely slope in Scotsburn. The best is almost certainly yet to come.

All of which makes these three wines fascinating. There’s a family resemblance, but each speaks clearly of its vintage. The 2011, long sold out, is a light wine, savoury in character and ephemeral in effect, providing a transparent look into a challenging growing season. This is a massive step up, with more of everything – intensity, structure, length, density. This is a sinewy, uncompromising style that is all about savouriness of flavour and acid-driven structure. It’s startlingly adult, in fact, and very regional in its refusal to cushion its impact with any sort of plushness. I can imagine its vibe might be too extreme for some, but for those who can get inside the wine, there’s a wealth of detail and interest, and surprising depth of flavour. A distillation of Geelong Pinot.

The 2013, though a way off release, softens the 2012’s countenance slightly with a big opening of bright fruit. There’s a good deal of whole bunch happening here, so I presume some of this fruitiness is a function of some carbonic maceration as well as extreme youth – in any case, the question of family resemblance is quickly settled as the wine breathes. Although showing some puppy fat, this is a savoury wine at heart, if one with a bit more flesh and scale than the 2012. I tasted this over several days (it was decanted on opening and stayed that way) and it never tired. It simply became darker and more like the 2012 in flavour profile. I look forward to its release.

It’s fascinating to watch this portfolio evolve through its early stages. Already, Troy is exploring his somewhat uncompromising view of wine style, and engaging strongly with the regions he chooses to work within. I see only good things ahead.

Attwoods Wines
Price: $A45
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Clonakilla O’Riada Shiraz 2011

The gulf between quality and pleasure can be vast.

One of the mistakes of wine appreciation is to assume one is equivalent to the other – that, somehow, a wine with length and complexity, one that ticks all the boxes of canonical wine quality, will taste good and provide pleasure. Or, equally, that a wine one likes must be framed as a wine of quality. Sometimes the two meet, and it’s glorious. But this intersection isn’t necessary for intense pleasure, and a wine which delivers an amount of sensual enjoyment even as it lacks some key ingredients deserves to be as vigorously defended, if not more so, than a wine of perfect form.

I’d never put this forward as a wine of comprehensive quality. In fact, it’s quite flawed on a formal level, lacking the length and definition one might reasonably demand at this price point. It’s also light on, almost exposed, and hence treads the line of being disappointingly insubstantial. All of this no doubt a function of difficult vintage conditions — if that matters.

The fact this has given me more pleasure over the past few days than any number of better wines is a matter for some introspection, and no mean challenge when it comes time to write. If there’s a shared element to those things I love despite their flaws — genre cinema, Proust, Four’N Twenty pies — it’s that their distinctive pleasures are so outsize, so overwhelming, as to obliterate (or at least make tolerable) their evident shortcomings. So this, a wine with inadequate body and length, and one which fades far too quickly with air, is also the most explosively spiced, fragrant Shiraz of any I’ve tasted in recent months. Its song on attack is so charming it carries the wine’s slight blur right through its moderate line and textured finish.

Is it wrong to enjoy a wine so much for being so little? No — indeed, what’s wrong is to contain enjoyment within the narrow confines of Platonic form. Wine is many things, people are varied, and the intersections between a wine and its audience are bound to be complex. I know this isn’t the greatest wine, yet I’m happy to have opened a bottle that made me smile, as much for what it lacks as what it gives.

Clonakilla
Price: $A35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Olek Bondonio Rosso Giulietta 2012

Humility’s in short supply when it comes to wine. Let’s face it, baked into the very idea of wine quality is the assumption that more is better – length, intensity, complexity, power. If a wine were to be described as humble, as I’d charactertise this, it’s at best a backhanded compliment, suggestive of a wine that succeeds despite itself, of something that should be condescendingly admired for its lack of pretension.

Here’s the case, then, for humble wine:

  • Firstly, a decidedly un-noble variety: Pelaverga piccolo, from a mere four rows owned by the producer.
  • Secondly, a style that’s best described as functional. Indeed, this wine presents so straightforwardly as to be completely disarming. There’s some fruit flavour, some acid, and some tannin; another sip, thank-you-very-much.
  • Thirdly, flavours that recall nothing short of fresh, rather sweet, fruit, rattling about in a cage of tannin that allows plenty of elbow-room. How wonderful to taste a wine that doesn’t demand every ounce of one’s attention, but which still tickles the drinker’s sense of deliciousness and avoids even the slightest hint of pandering. Have you ever looked past someone for an age and then realised, all of a sudden, they are intensely attractive? It’s as much to do with their indifference as your perception, and this wine just doesn’t care if you notice its curves. It knows they’re there.
  • Lastly, crucially, it fairly jumps down your throat. Low-ish (13.5% ABV) alcohol helps with this, and reminds me that I regret higher alcohol styles not because of any necessary sensory imbalance but simply because one can’t drink terribly much of them.

I’m not inclined to make statements like “this is what wine is,” simply because wine can be many things. To me, though, this represents one of the drink’s most intensely pleasurable forms.

Olek Bondonio
Price: $46
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Eloquesta by Stuart Olsen Shiraz Petit Verdot 2011

I’m not one who believes things like transparency of vintage or site are ends in themselves, but at the same time it’s nice to see a vintage shine through, making its mark on a wine and reminding us that we’re dealing with an agricultural product. Over the course of the last few releases of this label (see my notes on the 2009 and 2010), Stuart Olsen has apparently worked with, rather than against, the qualities of each vintage. Having observed that, I will also add that this, despite being a leaner, more exposed wine, is also showing a degree of polish that seems a step above what has come before.

The aroma certainly signals the sort of sappy freshness that speaks of whole bunches and considerable acid. It’s not signalling any dramatic underripeness, but there’s a lean crunchiness to the aroma that banishes any hint of abundance. It’s also emphatically spicy, which I like in the context of these aromas. Fruit isn’t the driving force here, but to the extent that it winds its way around the spice, it’s dark and sinewy in character.

The palate is a replay of the nose. There’s lean, rope-like fruit within an acid-driven structure that is both fresh and tight. If you’re coming off the back of a fuller wine, this might seem quite anaemic, yet I think it finds its own balance, even if rather tilted towards acid. On the negative side, it pulls up a bit short, exposing the finish to oak’s influence, as well as that of its alcohol.

In the context of Stuart Olsen’s oeuvre so far, this is a worthwhile, distinctive addition to his evolving Shiraz Petit Verdot project. I don’t think it’s a complete wine, but it’s one I’m glad to have tasted and which, in its own sprightly way, provides good pleasure.

Update: this certainly rounds out with some air. The winemaker believes it’s suffering from bottle shock, and my own experience with it over several days is that it benefits from considerable time after being opened. Fruit steps forward and the wine gains a distinctly more expressive balance. A very interesting wine.

Eloquesta by Stuart Olsen
Price: $A32
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

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