Fratelli Wines Chenin Blanc 2013

It’s not great.

With that out of the way, we can tackle the more interesting question of: why bother? India’s not renowned for its acceptance of wine, with beer and whisky tending to thrive at its expense. Yet the state of Maharashtra, centre of India’s wine industry and this writer’s present location, has a long history of growing table grapes. So why the hell not?

If nothing else, it’s interesting to see the beginnings of an industry. Local wines are enthusiastically promoted on many restaurant wine lists, and it seems a few players (Sula, Fratelli, Grover, Turning Point) dominate on premise. The varietal mix is decidedly unfocused. Whites range from Chenin Blanc to Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and (inevitably) Chardonnay. Reds include all the usual suspects — Cabernet, Shiraz, Merlot — but I’ve also spotted some Sangiovese. I’ve also tasted a surprisingly palatable sparkling wine. No indigenous varieties yet spotted, alas.

The wines have ranged from cleanly commercial to downright faulty (a particular red wine I had the other night seemed a veritable catalogue of technical faults, and not in an interesting way). So far, the whites have been more successful, and this wine in particular shows some decent varietal character, if also a ragged structure and level of flavour dilution that fights against full satisfaction.

Paired with some local food, it went surprisingly well – the food’s pungent flavours didn’t entirely overwhelm the wine’s delicacy. One can’t help but think a relatively good food and wine match in this context must be more accidental than by design, though. Certainly, the prominent collaborations between Indian producers and those from (in this case) Italy and France (Michel Rolland’s name is stamped all over Grover’s wines) suggests an imported aesthetic rather than anything truly local and organic.

I hope to try a wider range over the next few weeks. Stay tuned.

Fratelli Wines
Price: ₹500/glass
Closure: Cork
Source: Wine list

Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2013

One is momentarily tempted to trot out the usual cliches when discussing this wine – that it’s difficult when young, less accessible than the Springvale bottling, and so on. None of that’s especially helpful, and it completely misses the point of this wine, which is that it’s kind of perfect.

Pleasure can be so diverse, even within something fairly limited like wine. Some wines are sloppily delightful and others, like this, are almost inhumanly well built, expressing such precision of structure that their construction becomes a source of interest and wonder. The word that comes to mind most often while tasting this is “chiselled,” and in terms of aroma this translates to a cool, savoury presence that keeps any sense of plushness under wraps. Instead, a series of shy, hard-edged notes unfold and move from one to the next, never losing momentum, always foregrounding a sense of humid minerality.

The palate is quite approachable in that it strikes me as appropriately structured given its fruit weight and intensity. As with the nose, each flavour is placed with precision and balance. It’s quite a powerful wine, yet what I find most impressive in the mouth are beautifully managed phenolics that add a chalk-like texture to the after palate. Unlike wines that are self-consciously “about texture,” this simply presents that dimension, and it adds to the pleasure of the overall package.

This is probably the last wine to convert those sceptical of ultra-dry Clare Riesling — who cares, though? I’m just happy to taste a wine of such impeccable taste.

Grosset
Price: $A45
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Tyrrell’s Vat 47 Hunter Chardonnay 2005

I remember tasting this at cellar door, along with the superb 2005 Vat 1, and purchasing immediately. At the time, though I don’t remember specifics, I do distinctly recall being impressed by its focus and drive.

That structure and linearity have served the wine well. This is the first bottle I’ve tasted in quite some time and it’s ageing in style. There are aromas that show definite bottle-age — toast, biscuits, a softening of the lemon flavours down to more curd-like notes — and in a way this reminds me of Hunter Semillon as it gains age. There’s also, unlike your typical Hunter Semillon, a good deal of oak, and I like the way the oak’s spice integrates with the fruit’s evolving aroma profile. This wine’s in a good place right now, aromatically.

The palate shows a nice lick of lemon curd that pools on the mid-palate, along with riper stonefruit flesh and sweetness that gains as the wine moves down its line. There’s a progressive richness to the wine’s shape in the mouth, leading to a rather wedge-shaped palate. Fittingly, the finish is well extended, and there’s plenty of acid to keep things alive and moving. I find this has really good clarity of articulation and, although it’s not a fine-boned wine by nature, it shows good form and drive. Certainly, within its warmer climate style, it has great balance and tension throughout.

I thoroughly enjoyed this wine and am happy to have a few more in my cellar. Given its Stelvin closure and good cellaring conditions, I think this might live for quite some time (as, I submit, many good Australian Chardonnays can).

Tyrrell’s Wines
Price: N/A
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Castelli Porongurup Riesling 2009

This is still available by mail order from the producer – I picked up a bottle a while back when I put together a mixed dozen of Castelli’s wines. I also have more recent vintages to taste – so many Rieslings, so little liver function.

This starts well. A lot of Great Southern Riesling has a particular fizzy lime character that’s quite aggressive but also rather moreish. It’s partly a function of the acid structures these wines seem to develop in the region, but also of the powdery, high toned citrus flavours one often sees. In any case, it’s here, along with a soft landing on the mid-palate and a tauter, mineral after palate. It’s pure and driven, perhaps lacking an ounce in refinement of line and mouthfeel. There are a few suggestions of bottle age, but on the basis of this bottle there’s a way to go before it hits full flavour maturity.

After a day of being open the flavours don’t tire but the wine does lose some focus on the palate. It broadens as its acid calms and, while this creates less friction, it also increases the impression of sweetness and fleshy simplicity. Perhaps it will build complexity with a bit more time in bottle. In any case, a nice wine; it just needs an extra dimension of detail and finesse to join the upper echelons of the region’s Riesling.

Castelli Estate
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Yarra Yering Carrodus Viognier 2012

The entry for Yarra Yering in James Halliday’s excellent Australian Wine Compendium (1985) reads in part: “the vineyard includes some very exotic varieties, including tiny quantities of viognier.”

It’s been a while since Viognier has been regarded as exotic in an Australian context; indeed, I can’t think of another variety that has had so meteoric, and so brief, an ascendancy. Now that it’s been largely relegated to the same figurative drawer in which one might keep incontinence pads and prawn cocktail, it’s worth remembering the variety can give rise to wines of spectacular beauty, such as this.

Unquestionably the most complex, taut and fine young Australian Viognier I’ve ever tasted. Although varietal in its expression of apricot kernels and spice, this finds a way of seeing the grape at its most crystalline, most mineral. There’s little of the voluptuousness one might expect. In its place, a positively racy palate structure, complex and orderly, sprinkling well formed flavours down the line with decisive articulation. If ever a wine were tense, this is it — there’s such a coiled intensity to the way the palate is placed on the tongue. It comes across as quite worked, with a good deal of oak input, and I like the way these winemaking artefacts are subservient to the fruit’s linear movement. Alcohol marks the after palate a little too prominently for my taste, though I don’t want to overstate its impact — there’s simply a bit of heat as the wine comes to a close.

It seems true that Viognier is a more divisive variety than many. I just wish more drinkers were able to see its expression here. An exceptional wine.

Yarra Yering
Price: $150
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

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

Willi Schaefer Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2009

It’s fun travelling through the vineyards in this part of the world because, despite a recent consolidation of holdings, parcels can still be quite small. Each is discretely but clearly signposted with the name of the vineyard owner, so to walk around Wehlener Sonnenuhr, for example, is to see a roll call of famous names: J.J. Prüm, S.A. Prüm, Willi Schafer, and so on. Joy for the wine geek.

From a vintage that yielded fuller wines comes this rather buxom Spätlese from Graach-based producer Willi Schaefer. Despite a striking richness of fruit, this has more than a whiff of Wehlener Sonnenuhr minerality, chiselling both nose and palate with angles of slate and savouriness. Fruit is very much in a tropical spectrum, with mango and paw paw alongside tauter notes of citrus and orange blossom. This requires a good deal of balancing acid in the mouth, and this wine’s particular trick is that it constantly threatens to spill out of its dress while never quite doing so. Mineral flavours are key — shapewear to the fruit’s love handles — consistently pulling the wine back into some semblance of line.

This is rather rich for a Spätlese and I wouldn’t be surprised if the fruit that went into it could have been classified riper. While I can certainly appreciate the flavours and generosity on offer, my personal tastes lean towards a tauter line with, perhaps, a bit more acid and texture. Still, undeniably sophisticated and delicious.

Willi Schaefer
Price: N/A
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

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

Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese 2012

There’s an exuberance to some Riesling styles of which one should quickly take advantage. Then there’s this sort of Riesling, one that screams to be left alone for a while and, if forced out of its bottle now, will kick and scream its way into your mouth. In fact, the bottle I had last night was pretty much all arms and legs, gangly to the point of awkwardness. Yet the components are there and, even during the course of our all-too-brief encounter, it improved considerably.

As I suggested at some length in my note on the 2008 edition, this is a wine style that succeeds or fails on its fine balance, as well as on the tension between lusciousness of fruit and taut minerality. While the 2012 is a bit awkward on entry, clumsy on its mid-palate transition and strident through its after palate, it’s clearly a wine of inherent balance and exciting contrasts. There’s an impactful thrust of almost tropical fruit at the front of the palate, enlivened by a hint of CO2 spritz. This fullness is abruptly whisked away from the mid-palate onwards by a searing cut of finely textured acid. This end of the wine fascinates me most. A streak of savoury minerality (accompanied for now by a noticeable whiff of sulfur) is inseparable from fine phenolics and even, bubbly acid. Granted, this textural component isn’t yet fully integrated with the wine’s fruit and residual sugar swell, but I’m sure it will come together with some time.

Awkward for now. Still, a delicious wine and one that promises so much down the track.

J.J. Prüm
Price: $96
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail