Domaine du Clos Salomon Montagny le Clou 2007

I tasted the 2006 edition of this wine, and on balance feel the 2007 vintage is more achieved. It retains the essentially funky character of the fruit while rounding out the style to a more generous level. Still an off-centre aroma profile, with prickles of sulfur introducing fleshy yellow peach, roasted cashews and Thai basil. It has really blossomed after a couple of hours in the glass, so don’t serve this too cold, and be prepared to give it time. It ends up in a gentle place; this is never going to knock your socks off with power, but it glows with nuance and character.

Some oxidative character not evident on the nose asserts itself in the mouth, quite pleasantly so. There’s an essential discordance to the flavour profile that I am enjoying, though I suspect it may turn some drinkers off. If, however, you can get past the idea that wines ought to be neat and tidy aesthetic experiences, you may value the clash of peach, grapefruit, bitter herbs and creamy nuts that tumble over each other as this wine rushes past the middle palate. The after palate and finish are more focused, concentrating on yellow grapefruit flavours and very fine, firm acid. Intensity does not rise above a moderate level, and there’s a nice irony, I think, to the quiet way in which this wine seeks to argue with itself.

A really interesting, smart wine for lovers of the offbeat.

Clos Salomon
Price: $A30
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Lowe Merlot 2006

An organic wine from Mudgee, this comes complete with a few years’ bottle age and a cork seal (!). It forms the latest chapter in my search for great Australian Merlot, a search that has provided flashes of aesthetic satisfaction in amongst large swathes of disappointing mediocrity. This wine is promising in terms of the manner of its creation: fruit from a single block, hand picked and passed through a largely “non-interventionist” (don’t get me started) winemaking regime. So far so good.

There was an odd sediment in the neck of the bottle that I had to dislodge before pouring. I was momentarily fearful of spoilage, but the bottle is sound. Aromas of clean red fruit, not plums so much as raspberries and brandied cherries, with a distinctive edge of undergrowth mixed with damp earth This isn’t the red earthiness of Hunter wines, but rather something more decaying, autumnal. There’s a twiggy sharpness at the back of the nose, perhaps related to oak. Good depth of aroma profile.

The palate possesses a thick, textured mouthfeel that, oddly, feels related to the earthy aromas on the nose. Immediate flavour and texture on entry, with quite bright acidity ushering complex red and black fruit flavours onto the middle palate, where they are joined by black olives and brown earth. The wine is full and rich-feeling, not plush so much as charismatic. I wish for slightly greater definition to the flavours; I enjoy Merlot that embodies the paradox of soft fruit flavours, cleanly articulated. But there’s no lack of flavour, and this continues well through the after palate, where oak and brandied fruit take over. The tannins are full and velvety, very much present even at this stage of the wine’s life. A dry, raspy finish that shoots up into higher toned fruit flavours and which persists well.

There’s a lot to like here, though the overall impression is of rough-hewn wood rather than polished sculpture. Potential plus, and a label to watch.

Lowe Wines
Price: $A30
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

Best's Thomson Family Shiraz 2006

I’ve just returned from a very exciting, though quick, trip through the Grampians and Pyrenees regions of Victoria, and find myself with a backlog of thoughts and not enough time (or energy, for now) to put them into words. I do, however, have a bottle of current release Thomson Family Shiraz in front of me now, and am compelled to make a few notes.

This is on its third day after opening. My first tasting, at the winery, revealed a wine so backward in structure that I found it hard to tease much from the glass. What I did manage to extract — classy oak, dark plums, dense spice — seemed very promising at the time, and it’s only now that I have an opportunity to retaste.

What’s wonderful about it on day three is how elegant a wine it is, perhaps unexpectedly given its initially dense structure and reluctant expressiveness. Now, indeed, this wine is classic medium bodied Great Western goodness, an array of spice notes leading the olfactory way to complex plum fruit aromas and a background of slightly charry oak. It’s less high toned than some, preferring brown spice to sharper cracked pepper. Nonetheless, the wine is regional to its core, and that’s a great thing for lovers of Western Victorian Shiraz.

The palate shows a degree of restraint that is most impressive. There’s a light, almost casual, edge to the clean plum flavours running along the line that makes me smile in this context, because such confident simplicity goes against the grain of many self-consciously brutish “reserve” level wines. No such pretension here, though. The palate structure is easy and elegant, flowing cleanly through all stages with good continuity. Textured red and black fruits mingle with a range of spice flavours and relatively restrained oak, precisely layered and all sitting within a medium weight frame. There are all sorts of complexities to the flavour profile too — some interesting tobacco notes, for example — that help the wine evolve in the glass. An excitingly extended, spiced finish is impressive in quality terms but for me comes across simply as delicious.

One would be hard pressed to find a truer, more relaxed, expression of Great Western Shiraz than this. A great example of one of our great regional styles.

Best’s Wines
Price: $A150
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

Ridge Dusi Ranch Zinfandel 2006

I’m an unabashed fan of Ridge wines, rarely having experienced a disappointing example. Ridge introduced me to the joys of Zinfandel with its Geyserville label, and continues to provide beautiful Californian wine experiences each time I am lucky enough to taste its wines. Sometimes, one connects with a particular producer’s approach beyond all reason; if I overpraise Ridge wines, understand this is as much an emotional response to context and company as to the wines themselves. 

Be that as it may, I defy anyone not to respond positively to the exuberance of this wine’s aroma. It’s powerfully fruity in a way utterly unfamiliar to me, raised as I have been on Australian red wines. There’s rich fruit cake, spice, and an overwhelming sense of completeness that makes this an envelopingly sensual experience. Forget angularity and enjoy the luxe of this wine’s blanket of aromas. 
The palate is surprisingly elegant considering the range of flavours and 15.8% abv. Yes, I consider this wine an elegant, balanced wine, despite its scale and technical measurements, which makes its achievement simply more remarkable. Masses of flavour immediately on entry, slinking to a middle palate awash with fruit cake flavours. Clearly, this isn’t a chiselled wine style, but nor is it formless. In fact, there’s plenty of structure, and my only criticism is that these elements don’t cohere as well as they might. The acidity in particular stands out a bit from the rest of the wine. This isn’t nearly enough to derail my enjoyment, however, so I prefer to focus on the immense generosity here, as well as the unexpected freshness of the flavour profile. Alcohol becomes most evident on the finish, which is noticeable hot.
An astonishing wine in many ways. Wines like this will never be considered great, but in their own way they exemplify the purity of a certain regional style. 

Price: $NA
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Bonny Doon DEWN Thoma/Chequera Syrah 2006

One of the many pleasures of a visit from my excellent co-author and his partner is I invariably end up with a wine or twelve from the USA. It seems most locally available wines from the States are very expensive, especially compared to their price back home, so I don’t often indulge. Hence, most opportunities I’ve had to drink good American wine have been courtesy of Chris and Dan.

Here’s one such wine. It’s notable for being from Bonny Doon, cult Californian producer whose driving force, Randall Grahm, caused hearts to beat faster on Twitter and in the blogosphere a few months ago when he published some less than flattering observations about Australian wine. I’ll reserve my own thoughts around that incident and simply remark this wine is a fascinating counterpoint to some Australian Shiraz styles.
A few notes. The alcohol level is 12.8% abv. The fruit comes from two vineyards in quite different areas of California: Thoma Vineyard (El Dorado County) and Chequera Vineyard (San Luis Obispo County). The label is typically awesome Bonny Doon, neo-constructivist in style. As an aside, Mr Grahm seems to have a talent for simultaneously awful and awesome wine names. Bouteille Call, The Heart has its Rieslings. Need I go on?
Forgive my digression. To the wine itself, its aroma expresses in softly cool climate Syrah mode. It’s nowhere near as aggressively floral as something from the Gimblett Gravels, for example, nor is it as deeply spiced as Grampians Shiraz. To start, the aroma profile is quite meaty, with a bacon fat vibe that dovetails elegantly with spice and fruit. It’s light and detailed, ephemeral perhaps, lacking some power and depth but showing good nuance and sophisticated balance. 
The palate is true to form, being fleet of foot and moderately intense. The flavours are delicious; red and purple berries, spice, a bit of funk. Again, it’s not a wine of overt power, and could do with some stuffing, but as an expression of restrained Syrah it strikes me as successful, not least because it’s absolutely delicious. Shared between three of us, the bottle simply disappeared in an instant. From a functional standpoint, there’s something to be said for low alcohol, subtly flavoured wines, because they are just so easy to drink, and won’t punish you for indulging in an extra glass. 
After we polished off this bottle, I opened a 2008 Dowie Doole Reserve Shiraz which, it should be said, is drinking superbly right now. The contrast couldn’t be greater. The McLaren Vale wine was powerful and rich and deep and all the things one looks for in a robust Australian Shiraz. And yes, it totally overwhelmed the Bonny Doon wine. But, a day on, I’ve retained an impression of the Californian that is firmly positive. Very worthwhile. 

Bonny Doon
Price: $NA
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Balthazar of the Barossa Shiraz 2006

Without wanting to suggest this wine is all about its 15.4% abv, smelling it reminded me of something a very clever fellow said to me the other day. And I paraphrase: alcohol can have its own smell, and it may, perhaps, be legitimate to enjoy a sweet tingle of ethanol as much as any other aroma. Food for thought, and a challenge to the reflexive position often taken that perceptible alcohol is a fault. 

And yes, this wine does show a whiff of alcohol on the nose, as well as that characteristically swollen, slinky mouthfeel. It’s also a complex and seductive wine that I am enjoying very much. The alcohol lends an air of louche decadence and seems appropriate within the context of the style. Hence, it bothers me not in the slightest. 
On the nose, hospital floors, rich earth, dark berries, cedar and tobacco. It’s quite approachable and well integrated, yet also shows quite serious levels of density and concentration, befitting its position as the premium label in Balthazar’s portfolio. It seems more approachable in some respects than its older sibling, with perhaps a slightly different oak flavour (going by my previous note, anyway). 
The palate is very impressive. On entry, quite a fruit driven flavour profile, showing sweet blackberries and some astringent plum skins alongside attractive, supportive oak. The suppleness of the mouthfeel becomes apparent as we hit mid-palate; it glides and winds its way over and around the tongue, scattering complex flavours of cigar box, blackberry, salami, spice and dirt roads. The fruit is sweet, but the overall impression is savoury. Really satisfying intensity of flavour, and the density isn’t so great as to be forbidding. Indeed, this is quite approachable right off the bat. Very good, flavoursome finish.
As with all of Anita Bowen’s wines (that I’ve tasted), this wine shows serious intent and possesses an ability to jump around under one’s nose, delivering a series of shifts and changes through what I’d suggest should be a lengthy drinking experience. Sip slowly, deliberately, sensually. 

Balthazar of the Barossa
Price: $A49.95
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Tahbilk Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

There are lots of nice things about this wine, but I just can’t get over the tannins. They are awesome. 

I’ve been tasting this over three nights and only now, on the third evening, is it beginning to tire. The nose shows as much sweet earth as it does Cabernet cassis and leaf, so one might describe this expression of the grape as “regional.” As an aside, I find certain regions quite fascinating for the overriding effect they seem to have on some varieties. Hunter does it to reds, and so does Canberra. They taste more of their geographic provenance than anything else, and so it is too with this wine. There’s ample volume and expressiveness here, which conspire to deliver a wine one doesn’t easily tire of smelling.
In the mouth, a velvet ride of sweet tannin plushness. There’s more than just tannin, of course, but I keep coming back to them as the foundation, both structural and aesthetic, of this wine. On entry, immediate red fruited goodness pushed along by fine, balanced acidity and a twang of orange juice-like sourness. Everything comes together on the middle palate, clean fruit colliding with rich soil and a hint of unexpected minerality. Texturally, an abundance of ripe tannins provides both firmness and a sense of luxury. The whole is medium bodied, with good balance and an overarching sense of down home drinkability. The after palate and finish are admirably focused, with both fruit and structure moving seamlessly through the mouth and lingering on in the form of Angostura Bitters flavour and a dry, more-ish mouthfeel.
Really nice wine, and exceptional value considering its pedigree and character. The regional style may not be to everyone’s taste, but it appeals to me greatly. 

Price: $A20
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Undurraga Reserva Chardonnay 2006

This wine starts with an over-the-top slap of vanillan, spicy, smokey, sexy, fuck-me-that-smells-expensive oak that it never entirely sheds. But it works, and here’s a lesson in ostensible imbalance tasting delicious and right. 

Not to suggest it’s all oak; far from it. There are lovely Chardonnay fruit flavours in the lean yellow peach spectrum, ripe but very well controlled. The aroma treads a nice line between full-on, quality oak and quite assertive fruit, neither of which is rich or fat. Rather, there’s a nervy freshness to the nose that belies its constituent components; when was the last time you tasted a heavily oaked Chardonnay with peachy fruit that was shapely and taut? 
The palate shows more spicy oak, delicious really, plus fruit that shifts between white and yellow stonefruit, and a bit of cantaloupe for good measure. The flavours are well-integrated and the wine is not massively worked, which shows good winemaking judgement; there’s quite enough going here as it is. The middle palate is intense and hints at opulence before fine, integrated acidity whisks away any hint of flab or excess. There’s an appealing freshness through the after palate and lingering finish, which is impressive considering the gold wristwatch oak continues to assert itself here as throughout this wine’s line.
I had this wine with a robust, Vietnamese-ish salad and it stood up well to pungent flavours, including a very salty, acidic dressing. Excellent, if oak-dependent, winemaking, and a very tasty wine indeed. Good value too. Imported by Southern Cross Wine Merchants.

Price: $A23
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

Tahbilk Shiraz 2006

I have a mini-fascination for wine labels, both new and, especially, old. A case of Tahbilk samples arrived the other day with a media pack, the first two pages of which focus entirely on the new label design being rolled out across the range. As someone who has an affection for Tahbilk’s terminally daggy yellow label, I was initially disappointed to see the modern, cleanly graphic design now applied to most wines in the range. But on closer examination, I’m forced to admit it’s a very successful design, engaging key aspects of the older label without creating an excessively modern look. 

The wine itself echos its label, a veneer of contemporary oak overlaying gleefully old-fashioned aromas and flavours. The nose is mostly savoury and slightly elusive, modulating between bubblegum and baked goods but never settling on either. It’s actually quite hard to describe, and the closest I can come is the smell and taste of blackberries that are, somehow, robbed of their sugar, leaving an appealingly plump, yet savoury, fleshiness. 
The palate amplifies this impression, a determinedly savoury core of dark berry fruit running its full length. Quite relaxed on entry, a peachy plushness develops towards the middle palate thanks to dense fruit flavours and chocolate-like tannins. It’s medium bodied and friendly, which masks to an extent the honest rusticity of its flavour profile, kind of like a farmer who scrubs up especially well. A slight objection is the prominence of nougat-like oak, which seems at times unnecessarily assertive. The after palate is dry and fruit-driven, with a slightly liqueur-like flavour. A surprisingly long, satisfying finish, filled with residual berry flavour and seductive oak.
A good wine and exceptional value for money, I reckon.

Price: $A20
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Balnaves Shiraz 2006

Shiraz plays second fiddle to Cabernet Sauvignon in the Coonawarra, and one might suggest this is a good thing, considering the classic status of Cabernet from this region. Indeed, I’ve sometimes wondered at the local tendency to plant a fruit salad of grape varieties with little apparent regard for established regional styles. Two points, then. Firstly, if it tastes good, I want to drink it regardless of region or variety. Secondly, and more specifically, Shiraz has a lineage of some magnificence in the Coonawarra. The Wynns Michael Hermitages from the 50s are an obvious card to play in this regard, and on more personal terms I’ve had many lovely Coonawarra Shiraz wines over the years, including a remarkably ephemeral Redman Claret from 1976, consumed about 3 years ago. So yes, I’ve a soft spot for Shiraz from this region, and it’s with some anticipation that I taste this reasonably priced Balnaves from 2006.

Despite 15% abv (per the back label) and an impressive sense of scale in its flavour profile, this wine manages to retain a degree of elegance on both the nose and palate. Certainly, this isn’t due to restraint in oak treatment or a lack of ripeness. The nose shows lashing of blackberry brambles, coffee grounds and a certain (attractive) twiggy aroma. It’s dense and quite heady, hints of spice adding complexity and sophistication. There’s a hot edge to the aroma, which isn’t overly distracting to me. 
The palate follows through with a good dose of blackberry and spice, framed by oak that appears less dominant than on the nose. Indeed, the oak is remarkably well integrated into the flavour profile, adding a cedary, coffeed frame to generous fruit that, after a little tussle, grabs centre stage. The entry is subtle and creeps up slowly, showing mostly oak flavour underneath a rising surge of fruit that finds its full expression on the middle palate. Though the flavour profile suggests rich, ripe berries, this wine stops short of full-on hedonism, and seems between medium and full bodied to me. I think this is a good thing; as the body is contained, a nice tension develops between flavour and structure. There’s plenty of acid and tannin to keep things lively in the mouth; all in balance and well integrated. The after palate is quite light, with transparent fruit flavours and an astringently sappy, twiggy note. The finish is quite satisfying, if a tad hot.
Given its dimensions in terms of flavour and alcohol, this is refined and elegant. Most of all, though, it has that drinkability “X factor” that is rarer than it should be. Go Coonawarra Shiraz!

Balnaves of Coonawarra
Price: $A24
Closure: Stelvin