Geddes Wines Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Petit Verdot 2008

Petit Verdot seems to come and go in Australia. If it has a home, it’s McLaren Vale, with some makers (notably Pirramimma) highlighting it momentarily as a varietal wine before it disappears again, declared or not, into blends. I’m not aware of it being consistently associated with another Australian wine region. Tim Geddes plays with Petit Verdot quite a bit, as did Wayne Thomas before him, and it appears as part of his eponymous label’s range with regularity.

Although he produces a varietal Petit Verdot, which I may review later, Tim has here combined it with its traditional partner, Cabernet Sauvignon. What’s really successful about this wine is its combination of intense flavour, generosity, detail and refinement. These aren’t traits that always go together, but the push-pull of this wine’s density and its fine structure makes for an ultimately elegant wine. The nose shows Cabernet notes, thicker and juicier as they sometimes can be in McLaren Vale, combined with an assortment of dried herbs and higher toned, floral notes. Berry flavours are dark and oak is assertive, positioning this wine firmly at the fuller end of the Bordeaux blend spectrum.

The palate is incredibly juicy, with masses of black fruits and herbs, underlined by black tea tannins. Weight and line are both impressive, as is a flavour profile that alternates between fresh fruit and more complex dried herb characters, with an edge of dried fruit adding further interest. Tannins develop firmly through the after palate, with good presence in the mouth and confident dryness. An extended finish.

This is an excellent wine with a complex, attractive flavour profile and a bold, well-formed structure. Although Cabernet is an evident component, I can only assume Petit Verdot accounts for its extra dimensions of floral aroma and juiciness. Certainly a wine worth some serious contemplation.

Geddes Wines
Price: $A35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Mitchell Harris Sabre Vintage 2008

This has been a long time in the making. I remember talking with John Harris about it a couple of years ago and, even though it was a long way off release, I sensed his excitement. And I feel excited too, because his tenure as sparkling winemaker at Domaine Chandon creates what I feel is a reasonable expectation of quality to this tasting. Mr Harris should know what he’s doing, a fact his still wines have amply demonstrated to me, but to which this wine brings an extra frisson of anticipation.

The nose keeps me excited and shows evidence of the wine’s three years on lees. There’s a clean, pure vibe to the aroma that absorbs bready notes into a matrix of bright fruit, clear juice and the sort of lean florals that aren’t heady so much as piercing. It’s the integration of notes that impresses most – this aroma profile is quite coherent. In the mouth, good texture and relatively fine spritz pave the way for a surprisingly generous set of flavours. The aromatic citrus fruit is as much pulp as rind, and there’s a sense of weight that carries this wine through a few levels of complexity. It’s not the most aggressively savoury wine I’ve ever tasted, and there’s enough sweetness to soften and swell the palate. The sweetness is never intrusive, though, and does not mask an inherently funky streak to the flavour profile. Notes of crusty bread and tropical fruit alternate, vying for first place. Neither wins, but it’s awfully fun to taste them fighting it out.

A very impressive first sparkling release for Mitchell Harris. The maker is serious about this style, and I look forward to the next release.

Mitchell Harris
Price: $A40
Closure: Diam
Source: Sample

Taylors Riesling 2008

In the throes of Dookie madness at the moment, although I’m enjoying a quiet weekend in between residential sessions. I’m staying on campus over the weekend, and there’s only one other student here – the lovely Lyn Rochford from Viridian Wines in Tasmania. We’re working our way through a six-pack purchased at the surprisingly spacious Liquorland in Shepparton. Amongst the delights we obtained (at 30% off, no less) was this wine, a bin end.

Not a terribly glamorous life for the wine so far, then, but it has redeemed itself on opening. Considering its price, this is very satisfying. The aroma immediately shows aged notes of toast and spice alongside a core of primary lemon juice fruit. It’s not as finely delineated as some, but this is a very correct aroma profile that shows the wine in the early stages of development. The palate is aggressively structured and the acid remains somewhat formidable, despite a few years in bottle. I don’t mind a bright wine, though, so I’m going with this Riesling’s flow of lemon, honey and toast. There’s a tropical dimension to the flavour profile that thickens it, aided by what might be a bit of residual sugar. There is some pithy texture on the back palate that contributes a fresh twist.

Overall, this is still very young-tasting, and I’d be happy to let further bottles go for a few years yet. Very nice richer style that should keep improving.

Price: $A15
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Jacob’s Creek St Hugo Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

A blast from the relatively recent past, this 2008 Coonawarra Cabernet comes later than most of its brethren, even those at the premium end.

I’m struggling with this wine a bit, because it seems to have set off a sulfur reaction in my respiratory tract that has me coughing between sniffs. Through all the sputtering, a well defined aroma profile emerges, which includes mint, spice, dark fruit, leaf and other goodies. It’s a correct, ripe aroma profile, showing the hot 2008 vintage quite clearly, as do most of the other 2008 Coonawarra Cabernets I have tasted. If I’ve a criticism, it’s that this is a little bland and tilted towards fruit sweetness, lacking the element of angularity that I feel a good Cabernet from this region ought to have.

The palate is again well built but certainly a product of its vintage, with very ripe, sweet fruit and the sort of tannin structure best described as blobby (though very fine too). Immediate flavour on entry, becoming more expansive through the middle palate. The fruit is sweet and so is the oak,  the overall impression being one of generosity but not finesse and certainly not savouriness. Having said that, this will be very appealing to lots of people for its fleshiness and relative ease. The after palate and finish are of a decent length, and there’s a welcome hit of Cabernet leaf on the finish.

Quite a long way from what I like to drink, but a well judged wine for mass appeal.

Jacob’s Creek
Price: $49.95
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Stefano Lubiana Collina 2008

It’s hard not to engage in a conversation about style when tasting Australian Chardonnay, as the varietal is currently convulsing its way through various winemakers’ ideas of what it ought to taste like, not always happily. It’s disappointing to see ongoing comparisons to Old World styles; surely the point is for us to discover, through experimentation, the most appealing expressions of the grape within our various regions. In any case, it’s a process I am watching, and in a small way contributing to, with interest.

This wine struck me as particularly interesting when it arrived in the mail. A cellar door only release, its pricing marks it as determinedly up-market. And, more or less immediately on pouring, it justified its price point. Ultimate quality aside, this wine throws a whole lot at you without so much as a breather. Aromas leap from the glass: gunpowder, oatmeal, cantaloupe, waxed lemon. It seems a heavily worked wine, but one that expresses its complexity with tight, almost brutal, focus. This isn’t a wine to relax into; rather, it’s at the top of its game, demanding that you, too, stay on your toes.

The palate begins on a cool note, sharp lemon pushing through a luxuriously slippery mouthfeel. The middle palate is marginally wider in line, though one could never describe this as loose. Fine, tight acid supports a flavour profile that is one part lemon and three parts savoury complexities. Intensity is very impressive, a sharp lift of citrus fruit through the after palate particularly striking in this regard. Oatmeal, hessian and nuts take over as the palate moves towards its close, the finish itself showing good extension and an even, elegant diminuendo.

An excellent wine, full of quality winemaking and fruit in equal measure. This makes a very convincing argument for a particular view of Tasmanian Chardonnay.

Stefano Lubiana Wines
Price: $A60
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Kingston Estate Echelon Petit Verdot 2008

This makes an interesting comparison to the Echelon Shiraz I reviewed the other day, in that it’s quite a different beast in ways one might not expect. Petit Verdot is, of course, a relatively niche varietal compared to Shiraz, our most planted red wine grape by far. This wine hails from the Riverland, a region usually associated with large scale wine production – again quite a contrast from the Shiraz’s origins in more obviously prestigious parts of South Australia. It’s all in the drinking though, and it’s here that this wine delivers.

I wasn’t a fan of Kingston Estates low end Petit Verdot, but this is the goods — if you value drinkability above all else, that is. Everything about this wine encourages smelling and tasting. The aroma is soft and purple fruited, showing a plushness of character combined with the sort of easy, rich berry notes that can be so inviting. Riding atop is a sprinkle of brown spice — presumably oak-derived — and a cooler edge of plum skin. All in all, a gorgeously accessible aroma, without ever smelling cheap or simple.

Thankfully, the palate is well structured; arguably rather too acid-driven, in fact. Entry is clean and well-fruited, showing more of those purple and red berries. Things don’t get overly expansive through the middle palate, though the wine does open up a little and spread over the tongue. It’s no more than medium bodied, which is charming considering the wine’s buxom flavour profile. Fine, silty tannins descend on the after palate and the wine tightens up through the finish, a hint of bitterness marring what is otherwise an elegant descent.

So, an easyoing adult quaffer then, quite different from its more serious Shiraz sibling. Both are good; I prefer this.

Kingston Estate
Price: $A27.99
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Kingston Estate Echelon Shiraz 2008

I suspect the very idea of this wine will offend some people. It’s the antithesis of the sort of artisanal, terroir-driven wine that is idealogically safe to like. No, this is from Kingston Estate, producer of reliable and occasionally striking value-priced wines. It hails not from a single, characterful vineyard but from three regions in South Australia: Mount Benson, Clare Valley and Adelaide Plains. No undiluted terroir here. Despite all that, I must admit I was very excited to see this sample arrive in the mail, for all I saw were the positives: a relatively expensive wine made by a producer with all the technology and know-how one could wish for at its disposal and, I assumed, a large network of growers from whom to procure good quality fruit.

The reality sits somewhere in between these two extremes. There’s no doubting the seriousness of this wine; the aroma is quite closed at present, with dense, almost inscrutable aromas of dark berries, the glossiest of glossy oak, deep spice and deeper brambles. It’s nowhere near ready to drink, really, but even at this young age it shows good depth and detail. Its overall vibe is savoury and adult, no hint of the confectionery fruit one might expect to see in this producer’s lower tier wines.

This palate isn’t as forbidding as the nose suggests it could be, although it’s certainly not in the zone at this stage either. The entry shows good attack and an elegant swell of fruit into the middle palate. Here, it becomes apparent that this wine is far from the blockbuster one might expect. Indeed, it’s wonderfully elegant, with good shape and flow, medium weight at most. The flavours here span red and black fruits, spice and cedar oak, winding around each other with good delineation and balance. The after palate and finish display a slight rawness that speaks of youth more than anything else; a year or two in bottle and the line should fill out into the back palate.

Ultimately, this beautifully made wine is both satisfying and frustrating. For, as much as I want to enjoy its slick perfection, it lacks a particular dimension, one that values exaggeration and imperfection above the ideal form. How silly, perhaps, to criticise a wine for being too good; buy a bottle and enjoy what is arguably an expression of what we do best.

Kingston Estate
Price: $A27.99
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Hoddles Creek Pinot Noir 2008

Even if it’s unintentional, I pride myself on my reliability. The last time I tasted this wine, I gave it fairly short shrift and suggested I might taste it again in a year or two. Here I am, two years after that first tasting, sampling this little number again after quite randomly having selected it from my stash tonight.

The years have been kind. Where on release this was closed and quite gruff, it’s now able to express itself with more relaxation, even as it remains a highly textural, almost rustic experience. The nose thankfully avoids the sort of glossy fruit character that dodges criticism for lack of varietal definition but which is otherwise completely without value – in its place, there’s plush Pinot fruit, bundles of damp twigs and a rough whiff of vanilla. Also bacon fat, rotting white flowers and bubblegum. Not your typical $20 wine, then, and I can’t quite believe I’m getting so much out of a wine at this price point.

The palate is bold, intense and a bit rough. There’s no doubt, in an absolute sense, that a bit of extra refinement would be welcome, but I really can’t fault this wine on many levels: its impact, its concentration of flavour, its complex and savoury flavour profile. It registers with a nice slam of fruit flavour and progresses briskly through a middle palate full of expansive savoury berries and edgy, slightly hard vegetal notes. There’s still a way to go here before the wine sheds its aggressiveness; for now, you’ll need to put up with traces of overly firm structure on the after palate in particular. But why quibble when each mouthful offers up so much distinctive flavour?

Drink this with pungently flavoured food – Peking Duck, for example – to get the most from it right now. I’ll come back to this in about two to three years’ time. Promise.

Hoddles Creek
Price: $A20
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Curly Flat Chardonnay 2008

The temptation here is to begin a long, intricate, stupefying rant about Chardonnay styles and how, arguably, some Chardonnays are more equal than others. In the interests of retaining at least some of my readership, though, I will simply comment that this wine gives ample ammunition to those Chardonnay enthusiasts who feel a worked, White Burgundy style may just be le dernier mot.

The nose is a little friend made of fruit, wrapped in a prickly, woolen jumper. Firm white peach and peach skin, mostly, with the faintest hint of rich, fine pineapple syrup. It’s all very expressive and striking, even before you really give it the time it deserves. Especially distinctive is a thread of light, powdery charcoal. There’s plenty going on, but it’s also poised, such that one has the impression of a calm, ripple-free surface under which currents flow and mix with slippery ease.

There’s a mix of plump stonefruit, caramel and rich pastry on the palate whose closest relation seems to be a particularly fine tarte tatin. Lest this suggest a cloying richness that isn’t there, I should add that a run of ultra-fine acid, gathering steam through the middle and after palates, ensures this is altogether fresher and livelier than a baked dessert. There are many other flavours — herbs, citrus peel, aniseed, flink, oak, orange juice — such that there’s plenty to see, taste and touch. Excellent continuity of line and briskness over the tongue. This will age a treat, I reckon, hopefully becoming a bit more relaxed and comfortable with its fundamentally warm, soft flavour profile.

Utterly delicious Chardonnay.

Curly Flat
Price: $A42
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Leasingham Bin 61 Shiraz 2008

I have fond memories of this label and its stablemate, the Bin 56 Cabernet Malbec. For years, they exemplified the sort of great value, regional, age-worthy red that drinkers on a budget tend to gravitate towards. Hence, I have enjoyed many vintages of this, both as a new release and as an aged wine. It’s been a while since I tasted it regularly, though, so was pleased to see it arrive in the mail and curious to understand what today’s Bin 61 is like.

I certainly don’t remember it being quite as approachable as this. One of the things I like about Clare reds is their ruggedness, usually expressed through a heap of oak and the sort of genuine, yet coarse, fruit flavour profile that suggests a slightly embarrassing, but lovable, relation. This wine retains a significant oak influence, expressing mostly chocolate notes and some dark spice, as well as hints of the vegetal, dark fruit character that seems typical of this region. There’s a sheen, though, a sense of polish that rubs out the splinters and smooths the fruit’s edgier side, making the whole thing very drinkable as a young wine.

The palate continues in this vein, with a dense burst of sweet fruit on the middle palate the dominant element. According to the press release that accompanied this sample, the Schobers vineyard, from which some of the fruit for this wine was sourced, contributes to this fuller, sweeter fruit aspect. I’ll have to take Constellation’s word for it, not being intimately familiar with the character of individual Clare vineyards; what’s undeniable is the sweet, clean fruit that flows with each sip. Some might wish for more restraint, a greater tannin influence, an edgier profile. Certainly, I remember the Bin 61 being a more structured style than this. However, on its own terms, this is a very well-made wine with plenty of commercial appeal. At a decent discount off retail, you could do a lot worse.

Price: $A26
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample