Irvine Grand Merlot 1996

This smells nothing like a fifteen year old Eden Valley Merlot. The absurdity of that statement will, of course, be evident to those with a knowledge of this wine’s place in the Australian wine canon – it’s probably the only Eden Valley Merlot you’d think about cellaring for anywhere near this long, so it in fact tastes exactly like what it is – an exceptionally good fifteen year old Eden Valley Merlot. And, on the basis of this tasting, it’s a shame there are so few such wines.

When there’s a level of quality present, as there is with this wine, one’s experience of drinking it is as much a matter of timing as anything else. So the question becomes: are the elements ideally balanced right now? There’s a gorgeous smack of sweet primary fruit of a red berry character, a firm overlay of tertiary aromas and a dark framework of firm, coffee-tinged oak. So far, so good.

The palate makes my own answer to the question clear; this is surely drinking at its peak. As fascinating and beautiful as fully resolved old red wines can be, I usually prefer them in a state of maximum complexity, displaying a mixture of old and young wine characters. This retains an abundance of primary fruit, sweet and luscious, alongside the old leather and mushroom notes that accumulate only through an extended afternoon nap in bottle. Though, structurally, this has enough grunt to go even further, I like that its tannins remain slightly aggressive and primary, because they provide a link to its origins, allowing me to experience several moments in time all at once. The wine is simultaneously young, middle aged and old, jumping between all of its dimensions with elegance and poise, accumulating pleasures with each leap.

Ultimately, what is most astonishing about this wine is its freshness, and how that freshness is utterly transportive. I see in this wine its formative moments — vigorous green vines collecting energy to fill the beautiful berries that in turn filled this bottle — and through it my own life and the sense of discovery that characterises adolescence but which fades into rarity as one grows older. Thank goodness for those things that help me to remember.

Price: $NA
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Château le Crock 1996

No doubt many have remarked that French wine labels often lose something in translation. This wine, a Cru Bourgeois from Saint-Estèphe, suffers more acutely than most from this phenomenon, especially in an Australian context. What’s in the bottle, thankfully, is anything but a crock.

Classic nose of varietal fruit (perhaps a little DMS-y, but not unpleasantly so), dusty leaf and cigar box. It’s clean and rings as clear as a bell in terms of its definition. Although still quite youthful, there’s just enough complexity and hints of tertiary development to draw you in and sniff more deeply each time.

The palate confirms this wine’s substance. I’m not sure what pleases me most on entry, the textured, fresh acidity or the fact that flavour fills out immediately the wine strikes the tongue. From this point, there’s no great crescendo or exaggerated dimension of line. No, this wine is about measured elegance and quietly spoken confidence. Medium bodied, the palate shows a firm yet gentle progression of flavours through the middle palate. More blackcurrant, cigar box, and hints of spicy cedar oak. Acidity injects some sourness, to me delicious, into this flavour profile. Flavours are very well integrated and the wine tastes more of a single, multi-dimensional note than separate strands. The after palate shows some lift, which helps the flavours to come into sharp focus just before things conclude in a long, slightly sweet finish. Tannins are soft and totally integrated — one isn’t prompted to consider them as a separate element.

Very moreish, this one. The only point of contention for me is the fruit character, which is perhaps slightly simple on the nose and teeters on the edge of being “too clean.” Taken as a whole, though, there’s plenty of complexity and interest on the palate, and it’s hard to argue with such a classically structured wine. Lovely.

Château le Crock
Price: $NA
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: September 2008

Château Moulin Riche 1996

This is the second wine of Chateau Léoville Poyferré and, without wanting to spoil the fun, is bloody good. I’m on to my second glass now, and the aroma profile keeps refining its silhouette, shifting from one version of itself to the next.

It opened a bit stinky, perhaps seaweedy, with wisps of cedar and other complexities coiling around each other. After a while, the stink has blown off, leaving pencil shavings and berry fruit elegance behind. It’s all highly sniffable, and remarkably complete purely in terms of its aroma. The palate doesn’t disappoint, as it carries forward many threads from the nose while adding significant textural interest. Smooth and subtle on entry, the wine builds flavour towards the mid-palate, which is medium bodied at most. There’s more blackcurrant and cedar here, perhaps a hint of leathery bottle age too but no more than a hint. If it never quite realises the degree of intensity one might have expected (or desired), there’s delightful compensation in the integrated, luxurious tannins that creep up from behind and delicately claw their way on to the tongue. Decent, fruit-driven finish with a suggestion of tertiary sweetness (which I’m a sucker for).

An excellent, balanced wine that’s all about style.

Château Moulin Riche
Price: $NA
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: September 2008

Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon 1996

These were on special at cellar door a year or so back — apparently there’s an issue with sticking corks. No such problem last night; in fact, the cork came out a little too easily and was quite wet. There were signs of leakage under the capsule, so I was prepared for the worst.

I remember having a bottle of the 1995 Lovedale some years ago and finding it at an excellent stage of its development. Gloriously waxy mouthfeel, flavours of lanolin and honey, just gorgeous. What’s amazing about the 1996 is how relatively undeveloped it is, at over ten years of age.

On the nose, toasty notes betray some bottle age, along with hints of sweet honey, and that peculiar cork (as opposed to “corked”) flavour that a lot of aged Semillons have. Relatively reserved, but complex and beautiful. The wine’s entry sizzles with spritzy CO2 and leads to a focused mid-palate of delicious, complex flavours that echo the nose. More toast, caramel and delicate honeyed notes sit alongside residual signs of the wine’s youthful citrus flavours. It has the beginnings of that distinctive waxy mouthfeel that so pleased my palate with the 1995 wine. The wine’s sweet, aged flavours linger with satisfying persistence.

Acid, though, remains a defining feature of this wine’s structure and it is still a fairly dominant presence. I can only imagine what this wine was like as a youngster. I prefer to drink aged Semillons in the full flower of their maturity, and am eager to experience this wine again in a few years’ time, when the aged flavours will, I hope, display greater intensity and complexity.

McWilliams Mount Pleasant
Price: $A30
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: November 2007