Pizzini Rubacuori Sangiovese 2005

Self-appointed benchmark wines perform an interesting function in our wine scene, especially when made from varieties still considered “alternate” in Australia. Unlike wines that sit atop the tree of our few truly indigenous wine styles, wines like the Rubacuori seem to inevitably prompt comparisons, both stylistic and pecuniary, with their Old World counterparts. However, I prefer to see these wines as arguments for local expressions of their varieties, ones that are, in this case, joyously Australian in their richness and generosity.

This opens with a lot of oak, but give it some time in the decanter and it rebalances most pleasingly. The aroma blossoms with a whole pantry full of notes – bitter almond, white flowers, sawdust, broom cupboards, dried fruits, even a bit of mint. Pretty evocative, then. It’s a changeable aroma profile that benefits from slow contemplation rather than hurried evaluation.

The palate is remarkable for its slap of intense fruit within a dense, medium bodied frame. The mid-palate simply lights up with pure, clean red fruit, then splinters into an array of notes as the wine drifts towards the back of the mouth. Here it settles in its fragmented beauty, intensifying as abundant tannins release seemingly unlimited reserves of fruit and texture. Length is most definitely a highlight. Flavours are sweet and savoury, texture alternately silky and velvet.

A truly delicious, fine wine.

Price: $A110
Closure: Diam
Source: Gift

Château Chauvin 2005

Another Costco purchase. I have no prior familiarity with this estate.

The nose is quite heady, with pungent brambles, some dust, brown spice and oak resin. There’s a thickness to the aroma profile that, while communicating a sense of generosity, also masks detail and makes the wine smell a bit monolithic. There’s also a slight suggestion of meat and band-aid.

The palate validates all these impressions. It’s bold and liquerous, entry and mid palate full of juicy, dark berry fruit. Thankfully, it’s not an overly sweet flavour profile, and there are attractive hints of savouriness right along the line. The oak, while very prominent, also helps the wine stay on the right side of fruit sweet. Through the after palate, tannins begin to appear, adding texture and variation, but arguably going beyond where they ought in terms of dryness.

A very drinkable wine, perhaps more so with food, but not great.

Château Chauvin
Price: £27
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Domaine Rapet Père et Fils Pernand-Vergelesses Les Combottes 2005

After a rather poor run of white Burgundies, I was half expecting this to be oxidised, corked or both. Happily, and despite a rather spongy cork, this is in excellent condition. In fact, its fruit is remarkably vibrant and is a real feature of this wine.

Primary fruit, though, isn’t the first impression this wine makes. Rather, a mix of aromas deriving from winemaker input emerge from the glass first, and I let out a little cheer for highly interventionist winemaking when I gave it a good sniff. Chardonnay is, let’s face it, often ripe for a bit of rough handling, and styles like this justify such treatment. Nougat, caramel, oats, cream. It’s a tight aroma despite the range of notes, and I like how its aromas feel packed into a small space, jostling for attention, a little rambunctious perhaps but in their own way disciplined. Fruit is there, pushing through; when it breaks out, I see crisp grapefruit and hints of fuller white stone fruit.

The palate’s acid structure echoes the coiled aroma and complements the character of the fruit. Here, as with the nose, the vibe is complex and fresh at the same time. Again, there are caramel, nuts, nougat and citrus fruit, wrapped in a savouriness that sings of acid minerality. Texture is a comparative let-down, and I feel a wine with this sort of flavour profile and structure deserves more textural interest. As it is, a slippery, full, somewhat one-dimentional mouthfeel. It’s not a ruinous feature, though; there’s more than enough flavour interest and intensity to make this wine a very enjoyable one.

Good value wine.

Domaine Rapet Père et Fils
Price: $A30
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Domaine Gautheron Chablis 1er Cru Vaucoupin 2005

If old wines in general are an acquired taste, then surely old white wines in particular are especially so. Without suggesting one must like these wines, I do feel there’s value in at least understanding how a wine ages over time, whether it adjusts its balance and flavours and, ultimately, whether it tastes better at some points than others. This well-priced Chablis is a good example of a wine that has really come into its own over the last three years. When previously tasted, this came across as tasty but awkward and clumsy, fighting within itself for poise and balance. What a transformation. I believe it’s delivering maximum pleasure right now.

The nose is highly expressive and distinctly honeyed, floral and mineral. In other words, showing a range of aromas from primary to tertiary. What I like most, though, is that it presents as a single, complex note rather than a series of discrete ones, no matter how complementary. The sign of a wine in its prime.

The palate’s greatest feature is its multifaceted texture. The acid has folded back into the wine, allowing its fullness of mouthfeel to present unobstructed, yet it’s a still firm, shapely wine in the mouth. Flavours are again tightly integrated and complex, with more mineral notes, honey and citrus. Intensity isn’t outrageous, nor does it lack flavour; just enough, I’d say. Good extension through the back palate.

This is drinking far better now than three years ago and, although it’s not a blockbuster style, it’s an extremely enjoyable, sophisticated wine.

Domaine Gautheron
Price: $A38
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Seppelt Jaluka Chardonnay 2005

Another chapter in my ongoing mini-fascination with this wine, which on release seemed so full of potential yet reluctant to convey pleasure. Two years ago, it had begun to show signs of relaxation, and in August 2011 it continues to slowly unwind, release its secrets and allow me in.

Tertiary characters haven’t advanced markedly in the intervening time, a light caramel note remaining the key indicator of age. What has changed, though, is the grip this wine exerts on its sensual dimensions. From an uncoercible stranglehold to more expressive muscularity, this is finally starting to celebrate its gorgeous primary fruit: grapefruit, white peach and fresh herbs.

The palate simply explodes with intense fruit flavour, remarkably fresh in character and precise in expression. It amazes me that a mid-priced Australian Chardonnay could taste so new at five years of age; this has a vibrancy many wines would covet on release. It’s the crispness of iced drinks in summer, cool beads of condensation on a glass, the tingle of salt and lime taken together. Indeed, it feels odd to be drinking this wine on a Saturday evening. In its current state, this would ideally be enjoyed well chilled in the pursuit of staying cool on a hot day. Except that framing it as pure refreshment is hopelessly reductive; it has qualities that point clearly towards the high end. The palate is now quite full without losing focus, oak is well integrated (though still abundant), the finish long and pure.

This is just getting started.

Price: $A30
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Ridge Lytton Springs 2005

Wine lovers are often bargain hunters too, perhaps by necessity. Back in 2002, Chris and I happened to be in the same city at the same time (Sydney), and experienced the joy of locating, then purchasing, an entire stash of 1994 Ridge Geyserville from a little bottle shop in Chinatown. To find such a wine was grand enough, but the proprietors of the bottle shop in which it lay clearly had no idea what it was, and were happy to sell us the lot for (from memory) about ten dollars a bottle.

Of course, wines of such dodgy provenance often prove disappointing, let alone ones made of a grape (Zinfandel) whose ability to age is contested. But the first bottle we opened that night — before our most memorable dinner — was good, and so was every bottle tasted thereafter. I’ve long finished my half of the stash, but the memory of both the find and the consumption remain vivid. Chris regularly stokes these fond recollections by providing a bottle or two of Ridge wine whenever we meet to drink, so over the years I’ve been lucky enough to taste everything from various Monte Bellos to a spectacular Syrah that gave a bottle of 2001 Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier tasted alongside a run for its money. I remember approaching that Syrah after some initial courses of German Riesling and so on; we were at that point in a grand dinner where the company, food and alcohol begin to meld into a single warm sensation. I smelled it once, not knowing what to expect, and was completely unable to control a spontaneous éclat of laughter. It was so wonderful.

All of which makes it difficult for me to write objectively about Ridge wines. In a sense, though, to approach this wine through a lens of dispassionate evaluation is to miss both what it means to me and what it represents, stylistically. Although I had never tasted this particular vintage before last night, the warm prickliness of its aroma was immediately transportative. To me, this smells of Californian wine, and for that alone I grant it enormous value. Each time I taste a Zinfandel-based wine, in particular those by Ridge, I love the difference of its flavour profile. Here, there’s intense spice and fruit cake, abundant chocolate, coconut and cherries. It’s as if someone stuffed a Cherry Ripe into the ripest, richest Christmas cake imaginable. Hence, it’s not an elegant wine in either character or footprint, and I love that it presents its notes with such blustery confidence.

The palate rebalances the aroma’s intense spice by providing a core of sweet, bright red fruit that cools the flavour profile. Entry is crisp and immediate, starting dark but quickly brightening to show a mix of red and black fruits. These fruits are juicy and perfectly ripened and provide much of the pleasure of eating freshly picked berries. Swirling all around this core are warm, rich spice notes, well-balanced mocha oak and a streak of bright orange juice. The finish leaves one with a lingering impression of the purest, sweetest fruit. Structurally, this is quite spectacular, the acid totally integrated and the tannins chewy and sweet. It’s taken a day to really open up, so I’d be leaving further bottles in the cellar for at least two to three more years before retasting.

In a sense, tasting a single wine prompts one to reflect on the entirety of one’s tasting experiences. This is what makes wine a pastime that becomes exponentially richer as the years pass, and also what can magnify the experience of one wine beyond all proportion. Happily, this wine was able to bear the full weight of my memories.

Price: £25
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Mount Langi Ghiran Nowhere Creek Vineyard Shiraz 2005

This producer seems to take a view of Grampians Shiraz that is, stylistically, larger in scale than most, much to the consternation of some of my wine writing colleagues (who shall remain nameless :)). I’ve tasted some delicious Langi wines that have aged a treat, and others that have fallen apart and lost their fruit after a relatively short time. Hard to generalise, then, about the effect of this stylistic intent. What’s certain is these wines can have great impact.

This wine is a good case in point. It’s a luscious, ripened style that is highly satisfying in its way. As I sip, though, I wonder whether there’s a suppression of regional character at play. I’m not familiar with this site’s wines, so it may well be a terroir thing as much as anything else. The nose is more cherry liqueur than fine plum, and there’s a hint of the alcoholic headiness that goes along with my liquerous descriptor. A hint of bottle age completes the dense, slightly blunt aroma profile.

The palate is where this wine’s compromises, as well as its strengths, play out most obviously. There’s no questioning the amount of flavour here; this is the sort of soft, generous red wine, full of chewy fruit and rich oak, that causes some drinkers to slump with pleasure. The middle palate is especially full, as the structure is relaxed enough to encourage spillage of the wine’s fruit across the tongue. There’s some bitterness on the after palate, though, and some heat intruding on the finish too. There’s also a stressed dimension to the minor spice notes in the flavour profile. It’s almost the flip side of all that richness, as if the fruit couldn’t quite be coaxed into such a full expression without rebelling in some way and losing the sense of elegance for which this region’s Shiraz is famed.

Not a bad wine by any means, but a polarising style for lovers of Western Victorian Shiraz.

Mount Langi Ghiran
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Morandé Edición Limitada Cabernet Franc 2005

I’m developing a mini-obsession with Cabernet Franc lately; it’s such a distinctive variety, and has a relatively low profile as a varietal wine. I’m sure weedy (or worse) Loire reds haven’t done it any favours over the years, even they have a certain austere appeal. This wine, from Chile, sits at the opposite end of the spectrum from something like a Chinon, being full flavoured and bodied. It manages to retain some of the angular elegance that I like in Cabernet Franc, though, and for that at least strikes me as worthy of attention. This is imported by Southern Cross Wine Merchants.

In the past, I’ve sensed a red capsicum note in Cab Franc that I’ve assumed is one of the more obvious varietal characters. This wine doesn’t have that note, but it still shows some vegetal influences, here — and oddly enough — closer to the crunchy gooseberry skins of Sauvignon Blanc. It’s a fresh and frisky influence on what is otherwise a dense aroma profile, with ripe raspberries, tobacco and dash of the earthy rusticity that I associate with many Chilean red wines. Coherent and fun to smell.

The palate was initially too tannic to approach with much enjoyment, but a night’s rest has turned formidable tannins into a much more velvet-like mouthfeel. In fact, texture is now a real highlight of this wine. Lots of savoury berry flavour on entry, the sharper edges to the flavour profile provide movement to the middle palate, where pepper and tobacco spread over the tongue. Although it’s quite a structured wine, there’s good generosity of flavour and relatively unimpeded flow through the mouth. It’s fairly complex and what impresses me most is how well integrated the flavours are. Lovely buzzy texture through the after palate, and a decent finish, if perhaps slightly too influenced by nougat vanilla oak that is otherwise quite well behaved.

Good wine, well priced.

Price: $A30
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

Castagna Genesis Syrah 2005

I sometimes wonder whether the adaptability of Shiraz to an apparently endless range of regional expressions is a disadvantage. Variety certainly isn’t the issue. But, for someone like me who looks for order and coherence in most things, it can all start to look a bit scattered. Perhaps it seems contradictory to suggest such richness is anything but positive. Certainly, for the wine lover with patience and a well-stuffed wallet, Australian Shiraz on its own offers a world of exploration. 

Victorian Shiraz is my current obsession. From the Grampians to Geelong to Heathcote to Beechworth, there’s an array of styles with little to hold them together. Indeed, the fact they are all Victorian seems purely incidental. So this wine, from Beechworth, is like a bolt from the blue, expressing the most clearly defined idea of Shiraz imaginable, and seeming to set the pace for an entire region. It’s the sort of confidently styled wine I believe we need more of. 
An explosion of complexity on the nose. Meat stock, sour cherries, nougat, smashed black peppercorns, blackberries and ripe canes. There’s a nice balance between the elements, and a nice topography to the aroma profile; unlike some wines that show seamlessness above all else, this wine isn’t afraid to allow its components to stand out. I like its vibe now; in time, perhaps it will show some different, more settled faces. It’s dense and savoury, expressive and perhaps a bit of a show-off, which would be bothersome if it didn’t have such wonderful things to say. 
In the mouth, initially quite tannic. I’ve let it sit in the glass for a couple of hours and, though it remains a structured, tight experience, it is starting to unfold. Give this time. On entry, a freely expressive, textural caress of sour cherry. The middle palate shows stunning complexity; there’s so much going on here and, as with the nose, it’s not seamless so much as intricate and full of tension. Often we value flow and harmony in wine, but this is a lesson in counterpoint, contradiction and angularity. The after palate and finish show a particular glow of fruit and oak that smooth some of the mid-palate’s edges and help the wine to achieve a gentle resolution. A very, very long finish, sour cherry reverberating through a framework of gentle oak and brambles. 
What a fantastic wine.

Price: $A85
Closure: Diam
Source: Gift

Karra Yerta Bullfrog Flat Eden Valley Shiraz 2005

There’s a reason why I’ve not posted recently, and it’s not entirely related to a lack of time. I have indeed tasted several wines this week. And they were all crap. Which does wear one down after a while. The point of my drinking, or so I have convinced myself, is to enjoy moments of abstract sensual pleasure. I drink wine for the same reason I listen to music; to hear, feel, disagree, discover. In other words, I drink to experience beauty. So a series of ugly wines gives me absolutely nothing to write other than tiresomely self-reflective introductions like this.

Anyway, it’s Saturday night and I’m worth a good wine. So out popped this sample from my tasting pile, a wine that has been waiting a few months to be experienced. I tasted the companion Barossa Shiraz a few weeks ago and found it intensely pleasurable. So it was with pleasure that my first smells and tastes of this wine revealed a similarly characterful, regionally-driven wine. Which you prefer may simply come down to your passion for one region’s flavour profile over another. 
Fabulous aromas of dirt roads and crushed stone, along with warm blackberries and well-judged, nutty oak. This is one to smell through the course of an entire evening, and to watch duck and weave through its full range of expressions, including the merest hint of aged leather. To be sure, there’s a lot in here, yet it’s not a self-consciously difficult wine. It just is, with a sense of easy, natural vibrancy that speaks both of its origins and its intent. 
Entry brings dense, liqueur-like fruit into focus at the temporary expense of some minerality, but the latter is flung back into the picture on the mid-palate, which is the wine’s high point of complexity. The structure is notable at this point, with firm underlying acidity and plush tannins keeping things in shape without ever seeming like the main event. A bit of vanillan oak pokes out its head through the after palate, but this wine is and remains all about spectacular fruit character; squashed blackberries and stones and dusty summers. 
What a treat. This is easily a $40 wine.

Karra Yerta Wines
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample