De Bortoli Rococco Rosé NV

This is an attention-grabbing wine. Despite the classically Champenoise varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier), this is about as far from Champagne as you can get. The nose is fruit-driven and almost tropical in profile, with red fruits, citrus, florals and sharper, sourer aromas akin to kiwifruit. There are some sweetly bready complexities but they are reticent and ultimately don’t hold a candle to all that fruit. If I have a criticism of the aroma, it relates to a slightly messy, confectionary edge that may be a result of the level of dosage as much as the inherent fruit character.

In the mouth, a very smooth and easy experience. I really got the point of this wine once I tasted it; this is the silicone breast implant of Australian rosé sparklings. Niche, I know, but there’s a time and place for most things, and in the case of this wine, I feel it should be served at the start of a very messy evening. Quite full-flavoured, the palate is all about quite luscious red fruits with edges of passionfruit and tropicals. For the most part, mouthfeel is soft (within the constraints of the style) with just a hint of texture through the after palate. Again, it’s a bit sweet for my taste but there’s certainly enough acid to keep it lively. A bit more bready complexity rounds the flavour profile out.

Labelling notwithstanding, this is a thoroughly modern wine style.

De Bortoli
Price: $A22
Closure: Diam
Source: Sample

Waipara Hills Marlborough Cuvée NV

Dedicated readers of Full Pour (and I thank you both) may have noticed a relative paucity of posts from me these last few weeks. I’ve been busy finishing off semester two of my winemaking studies, and am happy to report the year’s last exam was taken yesterday. So, for now, I am free of the little nagging voice that has been urging me to study rather than taste wine or, generally, have a life.

I thought I’d drink something special to celebrate this milestone. Instead, I’ve opened a bottle of sparkling Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

Okay, so that’s a cheap shot. Indeed, this is better than my recollection of the only other wine in this style I have tasted, the Mount Riley Savée 2007, and demonstrates how the style may need to evolve to be taken (relatively) seriously. Unlike the Mount Riley wine, this shows only hints of the overt varietal character that is so apparent on still wines of this grape and region. Personally, I believe that’s a mature stylistic approach – after all, one doesn’t drink Champagne to experience sparkling white Burgundy. A sparkling ought, in my opinion, to be a reinterpretation of the variety, reframing its character on quite different terms from any still wine that shares its parent grape. The mousse here is pretty aggressive and short-lived, leading to a surprisingly fine bead. There’s still some grassiness and a bit of passionfruit, but it’s muted and accompanied by a general savoury vibe that contributes complexity and grown up-ness.

This is less lively in the mouth than some sparklings, which was signalled by the bead and may be attributable to this bottle as much as anything else. No matter, there’s plenty of acidity and an astringency of flavour profile that together generate a lot of impact. The primary fruit flavour is again cut grass and some passionfruit, with a whole bunch of savoury detail around the edges. Sophisticated? Not especially. But not a bad attempt at balance given the raw materials and class of wine. A nice twist of honey through the after palate, and a lightly citrus-driven finish.

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc polarises drinkers and this wine can’t escape the legacy of its heritage. However, for those with an open mind, it’s an interesting exercise in what might be for not a lot of money.

Waipara Hills
Price: $A22
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

Punk Bubbles Rosé 2005

Look, I’ll be honest here: it was a categorical imperative that I buy and drink this wine. Take a look:

(Credit goes to beth elliott design for these labels. Beth is awesome.)

How could I not? Any discussion of the wine is probably going to be secondary to a discussion of the semiotics of the packaging (and price point). This wine was released for about US $35 by The Grateful Palate, a now-apparently-bankrupt American wine importer that originally made its mark working with Sarah and Sparky Marquis to import super-huge, über-alcoholic wines made by Chris Ringland (and others) and marketed as Marquis-Philips (Dan Philips is the man behind The Grateful Palate). After an apparently-acrimonious breakup, Dan went on to a whole series of occasionally brilliant, always interestingly packaged wines (Boarding Pass was always a favorite of mine) that promised good value, hugely entertaining and highly original graphic design, and at the very least enough alcohol to keep the party going. Some of the wines were duds (Darby and Joan cabernet, Bitch Bubbly); others were as good as anyone could possibly have hoped for (Bitch, First Class, Green Lion).

At some point last year, they came out with Punk Bubbles in both rosé and ordinary variants. These wines were not cheap, being (presumably) traditional method sparkling wines priced at about the same as well-known Champagne such as Piper-Heidsieck and Veuve Clicquot ($30-$40 US). However, what set them apart were the labels: awesome, beautifully ugly cutups of classic punk rock tropes complete with scrawled text that said stuff like FILTH and STENCH. My first thought was damn: how perfect. Expensive Australian sparkling wine with confrontationally ugly labels released just in time for old school punk rockers’ 50th birthday parties.

Then, sadly, apparently no one bought the stuff, even if they even had special variant labels only available at momofuku restaurants in New York City. Oh well, can’t win ’em all, I guess. I bought three bottles of the rosé on closeout for $25 – still well north of high quality California sparkling wine (figure $13 for Chandon or $18 for Roederer in these parts), but with a label that says FOR HUMANS on the side of it, which makes me giddy in a way I probably should be ashamed of.

But: how’s the wine? The mousse is absolutely spot on perfect:a lovely, fine froth around the rim of the glass. The bead is spot on as well, a thin, elegant column of fine bubbles vigorously rockieting upwards from the bottom of the glass. The color is wonderfully vulgar, reminiscent more of a Champagne with still Pinot noir added before secondary fermentation than a blanc de noirs. It does tend towards onionskin, but on the whole it really is tween-pink more than respectably pale, anemic salmon.

The nose is surprisingly bready, with autolysed yeast characteristics, reminiscent of fresh toast. It’s quickly augmented by wild strawberries, pink peppercorns, and a sort of violet-raspberry note. It’s all rather enchanting and much more grown up than the color suggests. Refreshingly acidic, the wine is alas just the tiniest bit of a letdown on the palate, with relatively simple, somewhat wan flavors of strawberry lip gloss and not a whole lot else. The finish is fairly short, with a mild pepperiness tinged with violets and strawberries.

Is this wine worth $35? Frankly no. But is it worth $25? Well… yeah, probably. It’s not the best pink sparkling wine I’ve had, but it’s good enough – and the slight price premium is worth it to me to enjoy the label. Shallow? Or merely cognizant of the fact that not everything that makes a wine enjoyable is in the bottle itself? You decide.

The Grateful Palate
Price: $25
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Windowrie Family Reserve Sparkling 2010

Curiously, the label makes no mention of the grape variety from which this wine is made. A quick search shows the answer to be Chardonnay, which means this is a blanc de blancs. So much more enticing, no?

In the end, I wanted to like this wine more than I did. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it; in fact, it went quite well with a mid-week fish and chip fest. The disappointment for me here lies in this wine’s coarseness of texture, something that will hold any sparkling wine back, so dependent is the style on a certain finesse of spritz and delicacy of palate. No, this is full-throttle, more soft-drink than Champagne in terms of its mousse and bead.

On the plus side, there’s real flavour locked in this wine, the fruit clearly possessing a degree of power, if not subtlety. Almost tropical in character, this flavour profile is about as far away from Champagne as one might get, but I don’t believe that automatically devalues the style. What I miss from the model, though, is the savoury complexity that transforms the best sparkling wines from frivolous fun to something worth considering as more than a simple accompaniment to miniature deep fried food. There are hints of brioche and mushroom, but they don’t stand a chance against all that buxom fruit flavour and what appears to be a reasonably generous dosage. The after palate and finish are rich and clingy, not quite showing the freshness one might look for.

There are better value wines at this price point (the standard Brown Brothers springs to mind), but I am glad Windowrie is trying something new and upscale with this wine. The packaging is quite beautiful and, although it’s not pressing my Champagne-loving buttons, this is undeniably flavoursome and fun. I hope it finds an audience.

Price: $A25
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

Rockford Black Shiraz (disgorged 1998)

I was excited to find this wine; I’ve been eagerly anticipating opening the bottle all week. From what I’ve read over the last decade, I was wondering: would it be a leaky bottle? Would the cork be too small? What would be wrong with it? And thankfully I was not disappointed: I’m now bleeding on the knuckle of my right hand as opening the bottle turned out to be a major production number: the too-small cork was firmly wedged in the bottle, and attempting to remove it using the standard methods resulted in failure along with a broken cork. Skittishly attempting to remove the final inch of it with a regular corkscrew resulted in a sudden burst of pressure and an accidental stabbing. Ouch. So how’s the wine?Thankfully, the wine isn’t dead. I bought this sight unseen, not knowing how old it is: turns out it’s a fairly old bottle. The bead is fairly anemic, but at least it’s still there. The color is an awful lot like American root beer mixed with cranberry juice: alternately nearly brown and occasionally surprisingly translucently black cherry red. It’s pretty, but could also be mistaken for Dr. Pepper.The nose is distinctly old earth, dusty loam with hints of prune, chocolate, and an intriguing mentholated eucalyptus mint note hovers over the glass. On the palate, this isn’t like any red sparkling wine I’ve had before: it’s extremely dramatic, the vinous equivalent of Norma Desmond, beautifully lit from all sides, a wine from another era. At times, it reminds me of extremely old balsamic vinegar or shoyu, with almost caramelized, umami notes. At other times, there’s a refreshing mintiness not unlike some Aussie sparkling chambourcin. The most amazing thing about the wine, however, is how long the finish lasts: minutes. Minutes, I say. Thinking about the wine long after I’ve swallowed it, I find myself thinking of hunting cabins in high meadows, cedar-smoked fire raising smoke in a starry sky, soft Spring flowers withholding the perfume for the morning.This really is a beautiful, profound, satisfying wine in a way few wines ever truly are. More than anything, I can’t think of anything else like it. This has got to be one of the most distinctive Australian wines there is – shame it’s so damn difficult to find. At this rate, I reckon I’ll next taste some shortly after retiring. Ah well!Rockford
Price: $40
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Stefano Lubiana Brut NV

I’m sad tonight for two reasons. Firstly, the ferment on my sad little student wine appears to have stuck, and secondly, Dan flies home tomorrow morning, so I shall shortly be deprived of his compelling company. To make the most of what remains of his visit, though, we’re currently working our way through a selection of wines. First up is this sparkling from Tasmania, which is being rapidly consumed as we await a delivery of assorted Dominos pizzas.

Colour is a rich golden hay, with quite vigorous mousse and a very fine bead. Pungent aromas of brioche, rich fruit, some cheese, etc. Basically, it smells very much like a sparkling wine on the fruitier, richer end of the scale. It also smells great, inviting, and flavoursome.
The palate confirms these impressions. Full but well weighted, the wine enters with a lovely tingling on the tongue and light nectarine fruit flavours, before switching gears on the middle palate and expressing more power and weight. The fruit flavours become a tad simple at this point, but remain delicious and brisk. A lively after palate leads to a finish of reasonable length.
This seems to me a fruit-driven style of good balance, if slight coarseness on the palate in terms of the straightforwardness of its fruit flavours. Crucially, the acidity is in balance, avoiding the harshness of some local sparkling wines. 

Stefano Lubiana
Price: $A35
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Oddero Moscato d'Asti Cascina Fiori 2008

On the drive back home from a dear friend’s 35th birthday dinner, my partner and I were discussing what we’d like to drink. Sadly, the restaurant had a 500% markup on their wines, so even the lowliest Australian imported viognier was going for $40, so we had a beer and decided to hold out for something better. What sounded good? Something festive, something without too much alcohol to make tomorrow morning a slog… so how about a Moscato d’Asti? Five per cent alcohol, enough sparkle to add some Christmas spirit, and… well, how’s it taste?The wine smells of clover honey, rich and complex, with hints of spearmint and hay. It does  seem just a bit more complex than most moscato d’Asti I’ve had, though, with just a hint of an alkaline dryness. Vigorously bubbly in the mouth, perhaps just a bit too much for my tastes, the carbonation recedes eventually to reveal a fantastically delicate, balanced wine, not overly sweet, with a slightly herbal quality that shows well against the soft, honeyed texture. The finish stays with you for a long time indeed, again with a spearmint-orange peel character that’s absolutely charming.Somewhat more expensive than supermarket Moscato, sure, but worth it? Absolutely.Oddero
Price: $15
Closure: Other
Source: Sample

Grampians Estate Rutherford Sparkling Shiraz 2005

I shared this with colleagues over dinner on Monday evening, so my recollections of the moment are as much social as vinous. Still, this wine went down easily and accompanied our Indian meal rather well. 

An extremely vigorous mousse, almost as aggressive as Diet Coke when poured into a fresh glass. As an aside, are there any more wonderful sights in wine than sparkling Shiraz as it fizzes and foams on pouring? There’s something gloriously vulgar about the purple mousse, profoundly unnatural yet appealing. It reminds me of Christmas, somehow. But back to the wine; a nose that seems even-tempered, recalling a still wine more than a sparkling one. It’s blackberried and plummed in equal measure, all sprinkled with dark spice.
The palate shows me why some of the best sparkling Shiraz wines come from the Grampians, home of the style and long renowned for its elegant, medium bodied Shiraz-based table wines. Sparkling red wines, especially at the low end, can tend towards too much sweetness, with a rough structure and obvious fruit. This, by contrast, showcases its moderate body and relatively subtle effervescence, creating an impression of elegance and style rather than skirt-raising good times. A nice, lively spritz on entry, followed by a middle palate that shows great balance between savoury spice and fruit sweetness, between spritz and linearity. It’s all quite restrained, really, almost quiet, which only serves to highlight the tasty, if simple, flavour profile. The whisper of a middle palate surges again through the after palate and finish.
I wouldn’t call it a great wine, but the elegance of its palate weight and structure really impresses, and turns what can be a neon style into something subtle and alluring.

Grampians Estate
Price: $A45
Closure: Crown seal
Source: Retail

Torre Oria Cava Brut NV

God only knows why I’m suddenly drinking what are essentially holiday party wines – cheap sparklers that most folks should enjoy – but what the heck, why not, right? This is another inexpensive sparkling wine that’d probably work best served to friends and family around the winter holidays. It’s a fairly pale yellow and appears to be somewhat bubblier than most sparkling wines, which makes it look incredibly appealing in the glass. The nose is subdued, offering up white sage, honey, and Meyer lemon, but the taste of the stuff is all smooth white flowers, clover honey, and gentle acidity (to me, much less than is usual in cava).Fun, nothing too challenging, and just sweet enough to be acceptable to basically everyone, this would be another great choice for your next holiday party. Yes, there are better sparkling wines out there, but they cost at least four bucks more than this one does, so get out there and get drinking!Torre Oria
Price: $9
Closure: Cork

Cricova Soviet Red Sparkling Wine

Much to my amazement, this wine is available in the USA. It’s been nearly eleven years since I first had a glass of this stuff; back then, my parents were Peace Corps volunteers in Moldova and welcomed us to their apartment for Christmas with some of this stuff, bread, and salt.If you can get past the packaging – it’s frankly pretty dire, which isn’t a big surprise considering how poor Moldova is, and the whole ‘Soviet’ thing seems designed to cater to Russians living in the USA – this isn’t at all bad for the price. The color is similar to an Australian sparkling red: this isn’t even remotely pink, but rather a rich, dark red with some browning at the rim. The bead is good and steady, the mousse a little anemic but really not too bad. The nose is somewhat simple, basically simple red fruits with a whiff of camphor and toast, there’s really just a bit too much sugar here (but again, consider the target market; Russians like their wines sweet), but the finish is satisfyingly complex, with full tannins, good acidity, and note of clove, cinnamon, and plums.Oddly enough, this stuff should be an absolute smash at Christmas parties: it’s sweet enough for everyone to enjoy, it looks fantastic and festive, and it’s cheap enough to serve with reckless abandon. Still, though, I’d argue that this is secretly better than it has any right to be. It was produced using the traditional method – I’ve visited the winery and yes, they still do things the old fashioned way there – and lurking behind the sugar is a wine of real character, interest, and complexity. Just don’t let the sugar put you off too much – it’s worth it!Cricova
Price: $9
Closure: Cork