Mount Pleasant OP&OH Shiraz 2002

I’m off on a big adventure, one which I hope to write about soon and at some length. For now, suffice to say that my first stop is the Hunter Valley and, one day after leaving Brisbane, I’ve already hit a bit of a snag. Along with many others I’m sure, I am cut off by flood waters and being forced to stay put, in my case in the Thora Valley. This is highly bearable, I might add, due to the excellent company I am enjoying, as well as a constant flow of good food and wine. Being stranded has never felt so luxurious, I bet.

This wine was consumed last night in the midst of howling winds and relentless rain. How ironic that it evoked nothing less than than the turned red earth in which its vines were grown, only five hours south of here by car, and in conditions far more pleasing than those we’re currently experiencing. This is a good old(ish) Hunter, with aromas of earth, leather, red fruits and some oak. Old red wines seem to acquire a mellowness along with their tertiary flavours, and this is starting to smell settled, comfortable and luxurious.

The palate has a mouth-coating quality that places flavours on the tongue evenly and persistently. Very much a repeat of the nose’s profile, this wine’s flavours are well integrated and showing a range of tertiary notes alongside primary fruit and oak. It strikes me as old-fashioned in style, showing a level of rusticity (not a euphemism for any sort of bacterial spoilage, by the way) that I find appealing. I also feel it needs more time to become truly distinctive and suspect it will drink even better as a fully mature style. Still, there’s a lot to enjoy right now in its regional flavours and beautiful mouthfeel. Tannins in particular are delicious and fine.

Hunter Valley, I hope to see you soon.

McWilliams Mount Pleasant
Price: N/A
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Domaine de la Bongran Viré Clessé Cuvée Tradition 2002

I have a few Jean Thévenet wines in my cellar and they always provide a completely different view of white Burgundy from pretty much anything else. This wine, from the Mâconnais, is startlingly young for its age and shows the distinctive, botrytis-tinged character that I’ve come to enjoy from Thévenet.

I experienced not-entirely-irrational anxiety as I was opening this wine, based partly on a ridiculously oxidised 2005 white Burgundy I was excited, then disappointed, about last week. This wine’s cork, on extraction, proved to be long and of an apparently high quality. Colour in the glass is beautifully golden, with not a hint of the distressing brown hue that I had feared. So far so good.

What’s really enjoyable about this wine is how it flips between the mineral-driven austerity of tighter Chardonnay styles and the opulence granted it by a hint of residual sugar and botrytis. The palate is grippy and textural, combining with a grapefruit-accented flavour profile to give the impression of pith and pips. So it moves between modes, tight then loose, acid and slight bitterness an intriguing foil to notes of marmalade and richer, riper fruit. If there’s something missing here, it relates to intensity of both aroma and flavour. This isn’t a blockbuster as its 14% ABV and slightly hot finish might suggest. Instead, the wine’s demeanour is laid back, and I suspect what it loses in impact it makes up for in food friendliness.

Cleverly made and provocative in style. Given its freshness, I might taste this again in a few years’ time.

Domaine de la Bongran
Price: $35 (ish)
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Domaine du Meix-Foulot Mercurey 1er Cru Clos du Château de Montaigu 2002

Cheap Burgundy. I can see you shuddering from here.

A lovely orange-red Pinot colour, not especially dense. The nose is really appealing and quite youthful considering the wine’s age and modest status. Prickly mushroom and fresh red fruits, some sap and minerality as well. The whole is laid back, a comforting blanket of nougat oak underlining the fundamentally quiet, almost cuddly aroma profile.

The palate is similarly constructed: light, nimble, pleasing flavours and a distinct lack of aggression. Entry is brightly acidic, flavours starting at red fruit and moving through to a more complex mix on the middle palate, then turning quite savoury through the after palate and finish. It’s a lean flavour profile, focusing on astringency and savouriness rather than fullness of fruit. I like it, but can see that it would puzzle some. Certainly, it would be misleading to call this wine generous in any way, but in a sense that is its strength and charm. It caresses the palate so easily, with such little effort, that its relative lack of stuffing matters very little. Its pleasures are to be found in its ephemeral presence on the tongue, the clarity of its components and the way it never forces any of its points.

A delicious, refreshing Pinot for not a lot of money. I think it has a few years left in it too.

Domaine du Meix Foulot
Price: $A42
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Clonakilla Riesling 2002

The observant amongst you will have realised that I’ve been tasting a fair few wines from my cellar of late. I retrieved four dozen wines a few weeks ago, mostly things that are either not worth cellaring or that are due to be retasted. As an aside, I do love getting wine out of storage. There’s a whole ritual to it: browsing my little collection, constructing a cart, waiting for the delivery to arrive. Good friends have told me I need to get out more.

I last tasted this in 2008 and found it interesting but somewhat incoherent, as if going through an unfortunate stage in its development. The bottle I’m tasting tonight, by contrast, is quite well developed, expressing what seems to be the full extent of its potential as an aged wine. I was a little worried on pulling the cork, as I’ve seen stoppers in better condition, but the nose doesn’t seem excessively oxidised or otherwise compromised. It does, however, show a wide range of aromas, from honey and grilled nuts to biscuit and a bit of lemon curd. A small kerosene note quickly blows off, leaving the residual aroma clean and correct.

The palate really shows how developed this wine is. At its core, a thrust of full throttle tertiary sweetness runs right down the line, colouring the entire flavour profile with fullness and attack. There’s a multitude of other notes, most centred on nuts, butter and sweet lemon curd components. Acid remains a tad coarse, something this wine may never escape, but the structure is well integrated and supportive of the wine’s flow, while being prominent enough to keep the whole fresh and lively.

This, for me, is drinking at an ideal point as far as aged Riesling is concerned. It is showing a full spectrum of aged notes while retaining a firmness of structure and significant primary fruit. Maximum complexity, good bones, lots going on. If this bottle is representative, I’d say this wine is right in the zone.

Price: $A25
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz 2002

The lottery of old wine. Chris tasted this a couple of years ago and, it appears, was unlucky enough to encounter a Brett-affected bottle. I can see a very low level of the taint here too, but I’m not finding it in any way distracting, which leaves all the beautiful, interesting aspects of the wine noted by Chris firmly intact. This is a fascinating wine.

Despite being a $20 wine that’s coming up for ten years of age, and one that was pretty approachable on release as well, this doesn’t strike me as overly developed. It’s showing bottle age, for sure, but the nose remains thick with dark, savoury fruit in addition to rich spice and cedar oak. It’s such a dense aroma, luxurious and almost tactile in its detail and texture.

The palate’s most impressive dimension is definitely its mouthful and structure, which Chris describes well in his note and which strikes me as hitting an ideal balance between shape and flow. Some wines articulate cleanly but tend towards nerviness, others sacrifice precision for easy movement; this just gets it right. Flavours are dark and full, combining black berry fruits with tobacco, brown spice, quite glossy oak and a range of aged notes that bubble to the surface on the middle and after palates. The finish resonates with spice and oak, and goes on for a good long time.

Excellent drinking.

Price: $NA
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Clayfield Black Label Shiraz 2002

“Go to town on this one.”

So said Simon Clayfield as he gave me this bottle during a recent visit to the Grampians. We had just finished tasting through his range and, of the 2006 Shiraz, he remarked the spice had receded, but would be back. As an example of what it might become, he suggested I try the 2002 wine, noting it is drinking well and showing plenty of spice character.

He wasn’t wrong. This is essential Grampians Shiraz, a regional style that appeals to me very much. Of course, quality matters even in the context of an attractive style, though it can be more difficult to sort through. Spotting a diamond in the rough is easy; sifting through wines that you like right off the bat for their collective flavour profile necessitates a closer look to stratify quality.

This wine, in any case, is top shelf. The spice notes here — in fact the aroma profile in general — is both regional and quite transcendent of its origins, being utterly integrated and complex in its intense exoticism. There’s an enveloping blanket of spice and pepper, akin to a fine curry of the highest order, a multitude of ingredients fusing into a single wall of finely detailed fragrance. Great wines taste of themselves first and foremost.

Notable is the oak character, which is perfectly matched in character to the aroma profile, bringing a cedar influence up to, but stopping some way short of, the spicy fruit.

In the mouth, what’s immediately striking is a burst of fresh plum fruit atop what devolves into a cascade of aged, sweet leather, more spice and a well integrated structure. The high toned flavours are almost overwhelming in their intensity and persistence, and might threaten to unbalance the wine were it not for a firm line of plum underlining the whole. While the mid-palate shows the greatest concentration of spice, the after palate reveals a liquerous expression of plum-like fruit, bringing a sense of harmony to the flavour components and a curiously fresh resolution to the overall profile.

This wine was an interesting counterpoint to the 05 Castagna Un Segreto tasted immediately prior to it. I’d characterise the Castagna as in many ways a baroque wine; sinewy, complex, full of intertwining themes that echo and complement each other, but with a slightly hard aesthetic that tilts away from sensuality at times. This, by contrast, is like a Debussy tone poem; its face is atmospheric, its mood emotional, its construction crystalline. Fucking beautiful.

Clayfield Wines
Price: $NA
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Domaine du Meix-Foulot Mercurey 1er Cru Les Saumonts 2002

First impressions consist of a freshly picked field mushroom tossed on last night’s campfire. Quite a puzzling nose, actually. Pleasantly so, for it’s elusive and smart, like a subtle conversationalist who prefers to hover at the edges of the discussion. I’m trying, a little unsuccessfully, to pick out threads. There’s the aforementioned mushroom and charcoal, but what is most striking after some time in glass is a thrust of minerality that sits right between sour cherry fruit and musk. This wine is making me work and I’m really enjoying it. 

In the mouth, an elaboration of the aroma with some elements filled out. The entry is subtle, consisting more of a sulphur-like prickliness than any sort of substantial flavour. This fans out to a decidedly savoury middle palate. There is fruit of a sort, again in a sour cherry spectrum, yet flavours are so integrated it’s unsatisfying to pick this out as a discrete thread. Rather, there’s a detailed tapestry of elements, all bouncing atop a layer of well textured acid. The whole is light bodied, lacking much in the way of bass notes aside from some vanilla-nougat oak. It tastes marginal, as if ripeness were only just achieved. Raspy tannins rattle along the tongue with increasing presence. Sappy flavours take off on the lifted after palate and persist through a peacock’s tail finish that resonates with attractive flair. 
I like this sort of wine. It never yells yet has so much to say. The way it is building in the glass suggests a happy future. 

Domaine du Meix Foulot
Price: $A41.80
Closure: Cork

Amberley First Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

An inviting, lush nose with just a hint of varietal leafiness. It’s not the gravel-fest one might expect from Margaret River Cabernet but, if you can get past the absence of outré regional character, the aroma profile is gently approachable and attractive. Good complexity, with oak playing a relatively prominent role in vanilla custard mode. The fruit character seems rounded rather than intellectual and angular, perhaps a function of bottle age as well as style.

Château de Tracy Pouilly-Fumé 2002

It’s Sunday afternoon and the storms keep threatening to hit, but never quite do. Still, the air is thick with humidity and the smell of imminent rain, and it’s moments like this where I tend to reach for something in white. If it’s pungently aromatic, then so much the better.

Golden colour, pretty and showing signs of bottle age. A really striking nose, intoxicatingly rich with aromas of honey, tropical fruit and a little flint. There’s also a sour floral dimension that reminds me of the smell you get when you shake a flowering weed. Sharp, astringent, yet oddly pretty. Taken as a whole, it reads as a dessert wine with considerable edginess.

In fact, it’s a dry wine that tightens considerably on the palate. Immediate, intense flavour on the tongue as the wine enters the mouth. Acidity provides immediate textural interest and accentuates the wine’s fruit flavours early. In fact, this wine’s acidity is worth a few more words. Sauvignon Blanc-based wines often have quite aggressive acidity, which can be fun, but here it’s on an altogether more sophisticated plane. If one were to consider a wine’s acid visually, this wine would show a straight line from left to right, fine and firm and absolutely mouthwatering. Fruit weight gathers steam and, by the mid palate, there’s a gorgeous richness washing through the mouth. More honey and sharp tropical fruits, with a sideline of minerality that blends well into the acid structure. The sweetness of fruit and bottle age resonates through the after palate and continues well into the finish. A slight bitterness here is the only element that disrupts an otherwise harmoniously balanced flavour profile.

This is surely drinking at its peak, with a range of youthful and bottle aged characters existing in complementary fashion. I love this expression of Sauvignon Blanc and would happily drink this as an aperitif or with smoked salmon canapes.

Château de Tracy
Price: $NA
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: November 2008

Sagelands Pepperbridge Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

Frankly, the nose on this puppy is generic. It smells like, well, a standard issue Washington state red wine – that is, tending towards mentholated cassis, fairly bright, fairly rich, and inviting. It’s almost as if the ghost of the now-pulled Welch’s grape juice vineyards are hiding on the periphery; it’s unchallenging but delicious.

In the mouth, it’s more interesting than you’d expect. Typically Washingtonian high and tight acidity predominates at first, falling away to reveal a rich, plummy core of bright black olives and blackcurrant fruitiness. The supporting oak is tastefully done, giving a solid, unexceptional tannic base that sets the wine off nicely; it’s all somehow reminiscent of a McVitie’s dark chocolate covered digestive biscuit. As Borat would say: I LIKE!!!

Serve this wine with something huge and meaty – venison stew would work wonders. It’s also probably fantastic with Stilton or pecan pie.

Price: I’m guessing about US$20 (I can’t remember)
Closure: Synthetic cork
Date tasted: November 2008