Marc Brédif Vouvray 1985

There are many ways one might frame a definition of “good friends.” For now, though, my working formula is:

People who save an evening from your bottles of disappointing white Burgundy and corked biodynamic Pinot Noir with a superb aged Vouvray and a few luscious, late-night glasses of Penfolds Grandfather Port.

Indeed, dinner yesterday was bookended by beautiful wines offered by my companions, the first of which I shall discuss in a moment.

To digress briefly, wine can be the most frustrating of things, and it sometimes feels as though those frustrations come in multiples. I rocked up to dinner with a couple of bottles that promised much pleasure: a 2010 Alain Chavy Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Pucelles — not previously tasted, but for which I had high hopes considering Chavy’s powerful ’10 Puligny-Montrachet Folatières and St Aubin En Remilly bottlings — and the ’09 Hochkirch Maximus, enjoyed several times previously.

The Chavy was only okay; surprisingly for a 2010 Burgundy, it’s quite blowsy through the mid-palate, its evident complexity of flavour undermined by indistinct articulation and a general sense of blurriness. The Hochkirch would have been delicious, I’m sure, were it not for a massive dose of 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (thanks, cork). And that was pretty much that.

Perhaps the disappointment wouldn’t have been so great had the first wine, this old Brédif, been less enjoyable. There’s something about old white wines in particular that I find fascinating and, in a way, more remarkable than old reds, because they are so unlikely. Chenin Blanc gives great acid, sure, but there’s an obviousness to many red wines, structurally, that makes ageability a foregone conclusion. By contrast, when a white wine grows old with grace, I can’t help but marvel a little at how it’s happened.

This is, surely, at its peak. There are subtle signs of oxidation now — a hint of flor sherry, some aldehydic nuttiness — that overlay core notes of baked apple pie and spice, creating a wonderfully complex flavour profile that moves between these primary and tertiary notes without skipping a beat. Indeed, this kept changing over the hour or so we tasted, with some luscious dried fruit notes creeping in towards the end. It’s in the mouth, though, where this truly comes alive. An off-dry style, this still has the acid structure to create brisk movement down the line and counterbalance a lovely swell of residual sugar through the after palate. Flavours range from savoury to sweet, giving some angularity to the wine but never robbing it of its comfort. Texturally, there are several dimensions, a slippery, waxy mouthfeel giving way to raspier textures through the finish. And what a finish; exceptionally long by any measure.

A truly delicious wine.

Marc Brédif
Price: N/A
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese 2008

A tale of three Rieslings, several digressions and a good deal of tension.

Palate memory, for those of us not blessed with fantastically good recall to start with, can be frustratingly unreliable. For me, writing about wine functions primarily as a sort of personal aide-mémoire, a way to record previous experiences and subsequently recall, as much as possible, the experience of a particular wine. Words, though, are only so rich a medium, which perhaps explains why we sometimes overreach with increasingly obscure descriptors to differentiate one wine from another. Point scoring, too, can be another way of adding semantic richness to a note. Indeed, one’s perhaps feeble attempts to capture something as abstract as wine starts to make sense of, for example, Proust’s extreme longueurs in describing flowers, social behaviours and the experience of jealousy.

Given all that, it’s gratifying to encounter a wine and have it taste so familiar. Such was my experience of this Joh. Jos. Prüm Spätlese from the racy, high-acid 2008 Mosel vintage. As Mosel Riesling goes, this is right in the zone, showing the striking minerality and structural finesse I associate with a good Wehlener Sonnenuhr. Flavours are light yet rich, moving between high toned florals and richer cumquat notes. Naturally, this lacks the impact and weight of some auslese-level wines but is utterly correct and delicious nonetheless.

I tasted this wine, and those discussed below, with wine writer Jeremy Pringle. As ever when we taste together, the semiotics of wine appreciation became a topic of conversation, in this case idea of balance versus tension. I feel the J.J. Prüm shows great balance, even if tilted towards a firmer-than-usual line of acid. Jeremy chimed in with the word tension and, while I agree with his assessment of the wine, it does call into question the relationship between these two dimensions.

In a recent post on his site, Jeremy drew a distinction between the two, suggesting balance doesn’t necessarily connote the excitement that some wines generate through the interplay of their elements. Whether he is suggesting that tension, by definition, requires a subversion of balance I’m not sure. My own view is they can coexist; tension can be generated entirely within the context of a perfectly balanced wine, as with the J.J. Prüm, whose gorgeously proportioned acid structure acts as an ongoing counterpoint to the wine’s other elements. This interplay is thrilling and full of tension, as in a freeze-frame whose compositional elements are dynamic yet perfectly placed with respect to one another. It’s the character of each component, and indeed the countenance struck between them, that builds tension. This, within a wine whose balance and proportion are classically formed, whose sense of placement and symmetry are quite pristine. In this, ideas of tension in wine aren’t unrelated to those in the visual and plastic arts.

Two wines tasted alongside the J.J. Prüm amply illustrate this. A conceptual counterpoint, if nothing else, the 2012 Timo Mayer “Dr Mayer” Remstal Riesling Kabinett trocken is, unsurprisingly, of a drier persuasion than the J.J. Prüm. It’s also, structurally, quite different. Phenolics play a big role here, creating textural waves through the after palate and finish, tightening the wine’s moderately relaxed structure. Its relative lack of acid sits in stark contrast to the J.J. Prüm and, tasting them side by side, I couldn’t help but feel the Mosel wine’s even line was in all respects preferable to the Mayer’s undulating palate structure. This is an example of a wine with contrasting elements — acid and phenolics — whose lack of balance robs the wine of tension. Because there’s no unifying proportion at work, one half of the wine simply exists with respect to the other half, without sufficient connection.

Similarly the 2010 Mac Forbes Tasmanian RS20 Riesling. If the Mosel wine’s acid is high even by its own region’s standards, then this takes it several steps further, placing an even but searingly firm line at the centre of the wine and tilting its balance too far in one direction. Unlike the J.J. Prüm, this wine’s uneven proportions drain it of tension, because one element dominates all others. If a sense of precariousness can, at times, build excitement in a wine, this disqualifies itself because there’s never any question acid will end, as it starts, in first place.

All of which brings me back to the Mosel wine. The secret of great Mosel Riesling is, I believe, the interplay of acid, fruit weight, flavour profile, minerality and structure; this is true of most wines but for Mosel Riesling the balance struck between all these elements seems unlikely, almost magically achieved. Tasting the J.J. Prüm made me think back to a moment towards the end of harvest last year. I was picking grapes in terrible weather — cold, wet, foggy — in Wehlener Sonnenuhr, just wanting it to be over. It occurred to me that all this effort simply wasn’t worth it for something as frivolous, as unnecessary as wine.

And perhaps it’s not. But if one’s going to make the effort, a good Mosel Riesling isn’t a bad place to end up.

J.J. Prüm
Price: N/A
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Domaine Alain Chavy Saint-Aubin 1er Cru En Remilly 2010

I’ve enjoyed many Alain Chavy wines over the years and value this producer for the straightforwardness of his wines. These are vins de terroir par excellence, quite reasonably priced to boot. His 1er Cru Puligny-Montrachets are especially fine, but I’ve enjoyed this wine, from the lesser village of Saint-Aubin, over several vintages, and this edition is one of the most pleasurable.

Forthright aromas of hessian, sulfur, white stonefruit and flint emerge immediately from the glass, even when served quite cold. There’s a good deal of complexity, in fact, which isn’t immediately evident because the fruit seems so up-front and voluptuous at first. With time, it turns increasingly savoury, a reductive influence becoming more prominent as fruit tightens into the grapefruit spectrum.

On entry, what’s immediately striking is the power and impact of the wine’s fruit. I’ve noticed quite a few 2010 white Burgundies from Puligny-Montrachet and surrounds share this aggressiveness, which seems to stem not only from solid intensity but also from firm acid. Perhaps there’s a tendency towards shoutiness, but I value the muscularity on show and feel it may achieve better balance with some time in bottle. The mid-palate is quite minerally, though with plenty of fruit too, and leads to an after palate of powdery texture and taut flavour. Quite long.

While it may lack the subtlety and nuance of a really fine white Burgundy, this is a lot of wine for the money. There’s plenty here to enjoy.

Domaine Alain Chavy
Price: $A50
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Dandelion Vineyards Wonderland of the Eden Valley Riesling 2012

Ancient vines, single vineyard, etc. Boxes ticked, for what that’s worth. But oh, this is an interesting wine. It’s very Eden Valley in a lot of ways but is anything but middle-of-the-road, stylistically.

First of all, there are all sorts of textures going on — chalky, tingly, delightful textures that pass over the tongue in waves from quite early in the wine’s line. Working back from here, a taut flavour profile sits atop this catalogue of mouthfeels, very delicate in nature with as much minerality as fruit. It’s like a talcum powder softly fragranced with green apple, pretty but fundamentally dry and savoury. I feel a tension at play, partly a texture-flavour one, but equally between flavours, and I wonder if there’s some marginal ripeness here. Certainly, some tastes strike me as edgy and green, though this never overwhelms the experience of the wine. Acid is fine and firm, and surely contributes to the wine’s impressive length.

This certainly isn’t going to convert anyone to our dry Rieslings, but it’s a really characterful example of the intellectual end of the genre.

Dandelion Vineyards
Price: $A27.50
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Toppers Mountain Gewürztraminer 2013

Today’s delightfully unnecessary luxury product comes to me courtesy Topper’s Mountain Wines in New England. I first tasted wines from this producer about two years ago and it was immediately obvious there’s a slightly off-centre point of view at play. Not just some unusual varieties, but unusual handling of familiar varieties. This Gewürztraminer is a good example.

I fear Gewürztraminer a little because, with its monoterpene-heavy Muscat vibe, it can go from fragranced to Grandma in the slip of an incontinence pad. This treads that line finely. The aroma is, indeed, classic Gewürztraminer. Lychee and rose petals, musk and must. As with the best perfumes, though, there’s something delightfully rotten at its core, a subtle note of civet perhaps that drags the shamelessly florid dimensions of the aroma back into uncomfortable territory.

The palate is strikingly fine. What I like most here are its balance and form, which showcase a fullness appropriate to the flavour profile without ever broadening too much through the mid-palate. Flavours aren’t grotesquely proportioned either; there’s almost incredible restraint considering the variety, though this doesn’t come at the expense of any flavour ripeness. A chalky texture roughs up the after palate, absorbing some of the wine’s excesses and allowing the finish to be clean, vibrant and long.

A really excellent expression of Gewürztraminer and one I’d be happy to drink with an extravagant salad.

Toppers Mountain
Price: $A35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Mitchell Harris Sauvignon Blanc Fumé 2013

Mitchell Harris has evolved a clever direction for its Sauvignon Blanc. Whilst remaining recognisably varietal, this wine benefits from a range of winemaking inputs including a portion of wild fermentation and maturation in oak. The result is a style that contains the variety’s signature flourishes in a slinky, sophisticated package.

The aroma is equal parts gooseberry and wood, each well balanced with respect to the other, all underlined by some subtly funky notes. There’s something substantial yet crystalline about the aroma profile. Its notes possess the freshness of the variety, giving up some of the sharp distinctiveness of a Marlborough wine in exchange for an attractive depth and gloss. I can see a lot of happy noses buried in this wine in Summer.

In the mouth, a slippery, bright experience. Entry is slick, fruit flavour riding a glossy texture through to a mid-palate that broadens with tropical fruit and caramel. It’s not a confrontingly complex wine, but there’s a good range of sweet and savoury notes, and the whole is quite expansive. Texture becomes progressively more layered as the wine progresses, the after palate showing a really substantial mouthfeel, slightly reminiscent of a caramel chew. The finish is clean and herbal.

This is such a nice style.

Mitchell Harris
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2013

There are those, I suppose, who will continue to trash Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc because there are so many (figuratively) watered down examples of the style. But we don’t write off Australian Shiraz because of [yellow tail]; a style owes more to its best examples than to its mass-market derivatives. That’s self-evident, but I’m amazed how often many wine lovers use Oyster Bay and its ilk as a crowbar with which to trash a key member of wine’s stylistic lexicon.

Try this instead. As with the 2010 version previously reviewed on this site, this is a great example of the refinement, complexity and transparency a good Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc delivers. Firstly, it smells clearly of what it is. Ferns, capsicum, passionfruit, citrus; this is a catalogue of correctness and, more importantly, balances its aromas so that no one element dominates. It’s also a delicate aroma within its style, avoiding the shoutiness than can plague lesser examples.

In the mouth, textbook balance and structure. I particularly like the way the acid line is completely folded into the fabric of the wine — helped by some weight on the mid-palate — which means the wine is bright without any harshness. Flavours continue their delicate presentation and show really remarkable complexity. Again, I’m reminded of how Riesling can be when it’s young – so transparent, refined yet full of flavour. This is definitely a wine that rewards close tasting. A decent finish, all things considered.

Top wine.

Dog Point
Price: $A23
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Best’s Great Western Icon releases

My considerable regard for the Grampians is no secret. Of all the expressions of Shiraz made in Australia, that from this region seems, at its best, an ideal balance between deep, luscious fruit and cooler climate spice. Then there’s the matter of its other wines — Riesling, Sparkling Shiraz — and its long history of wine production, including a birth centred on, by contemporary accounts, sparkling wine of exceptional quality. All this without invoking Colin Preece’s name and table wine legacy. All in all, it’s a region that has long flown near the top of the quality tree in Australia, but whose reputation seems to inhabit a space somewhere between wine nerds and ageing wine lovers with long memories of Great Western.

In amongst this, there is Best’s Great Western, the oldest of the old school. Still family owned, Best’s has existed more or less quietly since the 1860s, producing wines from its renowned Concongella Vineyard in effortlessly traditional styles. It’s a seductive story and one that embodies the sort of unadulterated history that can’t be faked. As such, it’s honey to an audience of wine lovers eager to connect with producers of genuine lineage.

I was fortunate to get a preview of Best’s new releases recently and to talk with Jonathan Mogg, General Manager of Sales and Marketing. I raised the question of how to market a brand with such heritage to an audience that can be so sensitive to notions of authenticity. From the conversation that ensued, I’m in no doubt Best’s is aware, and tremendously proud, of its history. But I also sense in its wines and its marketing a genuine fascination with the past, rather than any kind of cynical exploitation of it, and an interest in shaping a portfolio that pays homage to its heritage. In this, it reminds me strongly of the wonderful work Ridge Vineyards does with its Dry Creek Valley vineyards in Sonoma.

Here are some brief impressions of the wines I tasted.

Best’s Great Western Riesling 2013 – $25

The last few vintages have seen the winery play with residual sugar levels for this label, and the 2013 edition lands at around 9 g/L. The result is a fragrant, delicate wine that shows good clarity of aroma and a palate structure that slides down the tongue before tightening with phenolics through the back palate. It’s not especially austere, quite delicious and very drinkable.

Best’s Great Western Foudre Ferment Riesling 2013

This one will get sommeliers excited. Fermented in a 2500L oak foudre before being racked to stainless and bottled. The ferment stopped spontaneously, resulting in 10% ABV. As one would expect, this has greater palate weight than the standard Riesling, along with greater perceptible sweetness and caramel oak flavour. A refreshingly mineral back palate sweeps this through to a clean finish. Totally crowd pleasing, despite its unconventional style in Australian terms, and quite unforced.

Best’s Great Western Old Vine Pinot Meunier 2012 – $60

I have a rather large soft spot for this wine, and the 2012 edition is a cracker. Explosively fragrant, this showers the taster with bright red, sappy fruit, attractive leafy notes and powdery, fine spice. The palate is light in weight, with loose knit tannins and a bright acid line. The fruit character is quite sweet but in balance thanks to those fresh sap notes. This is so delicate and fragrant, it never feels like it’s going to age when it’s young, but the label’s track record in this regard speaks for itself.

Best’s Great Western Bin 1 Shiraz 2012 – $25

What’s interesting about the three Shirazes is how consistent in character they are, with each progressively stepping up in intensity, complexity and structure.

Taken on its own, though, this is quite a serious Bin 1. Dark fruit flavours predominate on the nose, which is nicely expressive. In the mouth, structured but nimble too, with plum fruit and spice the dominant notes. It doesn’t have the liquerous intensity of the Bin 0 and Thomson Family wines, but it’s emphatically regional, and tasty too.

Best’s Great Western Bin 0 Shiraz 2012 – $85

A significant step up from the Bin 1, this is immediately more expressive aromatically, oak playing a larger role but mostly communicating a sense of intensity and youth. Tannins are the highlight in the mouth, blanketing the tongue with even, ripe texture and concentrated fruit flavour. There are some savoury complexities in the flavour profile too, perhaps slightly autumnal in tone. I loved the 2010 vintage of this wine and this release feels less slick in some ways, but is no less a wine for it.

Best’s Great Western Thomson Family Shiraz 2012 – $200

This makes the Bin 0 taste light on. It’s made from a few rows of Shiraz vines planted in 1868, which in 2012 yielded about 800 kgs of fruit.

And what fruit: plum liqueur of almost painful intensity, deep layers of spice, tannins that one simply wants to bathe in. This wine is a showcase of exceptional, though not flashy, quality. Indeed, this wine’s lack of artifice — no overwhelming oak, no overly forbidding structure — means it’s quite drinkable now, though clearly it will develop over a substantial period in bottle. In any case, emphatically the top of this range of wines.

Cherubino The Yard Riversdale Vineyard Riesling 2012

While in Great Southern last year, I didn’t get to taste all that I wanted to. In particular, the entire Cherubino range remained unknown to me, mostly due to the absence of anything I could find resembling a cellar door. I’ve been curious about these wines for a while though, so I went ahead and ordered a few to taste. This, from a sub-range designed to highlight single vineyards throughout Western Australia, is the first.

One anticipates a certain austerity, combined with delicious fruit flavours, when it comes to Great Southern Riesling, and this wine is in the main line of regional style. The aroma contains as much boulder dust as it does lime blossom, which creates an immediately savoury, and slightly funky, impression. At the moment, because of the relative dominance of mineral aromas, there’s no easy way in, but it’s an impressively taut performance, and one that doesn’t sacrifice aromatic body in the service of clarity.

In the mouth, even more tight than the nose suggests, with a dashing line of acid that carries flavours, and one suspects a few particles of cheek lining, straight to the back of the palate. Despite this structure, it’s not a thin wine, and I like the flesh this carries, noting that its body consists mostly of savoury, mineral flavours rather than anything more approachably fruity. A clean jet of lemon juice through the finish is its most obvious fruit note.

This uncompromising flavour and structure makes the whole slightly hard work as a young wine, but it all points to some productive time in bottle. I’ll be retasting in about five years, I reckon.

Note: three days on and the wine is just starting to open out on the palate. Plenty of juicy, attractive fruit. Nice wine, if quite masculine in style.

Cherubino Wines
Price: $25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Swinging Bridge Mrs Payten Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2012

I want to love every wine I taste. It seems to me there’d be no greater pleasure for a wine enthusiast than to find in each wine, familiar or not, a world of pleasure and revelation. Wines that fall short, then, aren’t just less enjoyable, they’re a little bit heartbreaking too.

Wines often brashly flash their most prominent assets — single vineyard! old vines! French oak! — and why not? In this age of obligatory opinions, snap judgements and forced rankings, producers must surely feel they are putting their wines into the vinous equivalent of a speed dating night, if not a boxing ring. You’ve got mere seconds to establish credibility and generate an attraction. So I don’t begrudge the, of late, spectacular proliferation of single vineyard wines in Australia. I will note, though, that a single vineyard wine, for me, creates a certain expectation. Of distinctiveness perhaps, and quality too, something worth singling out. I approach this wine, then, with heightened anticipation.

So as it presents as slightly blurry, without sufficient articulation of and insight into the flavours it obviously has, I feel frustrated by the opaque view it gives me of its raison d’être – the vineyard from which it came. It’s far from generic tasting, and there are some funky flavours atop fruit that veers between ripe pineapple and much more nuanced, savoury citrus. There are also darker notes that speak of lees and a certain minerality. But there’s a dull edge to the whole that, for me, obscures each component. Structure is relaxed, robbing the wine of tension and fattening its mid-palate, although I do like the chalky texture through the finish. There’s also a lack of intensity to the fruit, making the wine feel like it’s playing too quietly to get me moving. I just want more — more intensity, more definition, more overt distinctiveness. I want this wine to sing its vineyard, so I can hear its colours and enjoy its view.

It might fairly accuse me of not being a good listener; I’m just a bit sad about what we could’ve been, this wine and me.

Swinging Bridge
Price: $32
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample